Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Departures at Cahiers (Serge Toubiana and Charles Tesson)

Everything good comes to an end. And there’s always something next. Serge Toubiana, who miraculously re-launched Cahiers in the late Seventies, and then spent over twenty years there as the chief editor, sometimes with others, spearheaded it to the forefront of relevance, reconnecting it to is past glory, and successfully made it more international. His legacy is important there today in the Stéphane Delorme years even though this influence is invisible. It is one of unabridged cinephilia, generosity, seriousness and criticality. As the director of the Cinémathèque he brings the heritage of the magazine and of cinema to a national and international level. As his recent interview in Cahiers (N.699) attests he continues a tradition started with Henri Langlois. Toubiana might be less known for his criticism (though some of his critiques are amazing, the one on Deconstructing Harry comes to mind) than for the guiding and composing of the issues, evolving with the times, and recruiting and refreshing a good team of film critics. He imposed himself on the issues through his pressing editorials, Cannes coverage, and by the implementation of the Le Journal section. Serge Daney would be his intellectual and spiritual counter-part. So where Daney kept on the Godardian tradition of cinema as a tool of social protest where images held a Bazinien ontology that interrogated the world, Toubiana kept the Truffautian tradition of spectatorship reverie, biting polemics, and of an optimism mixed with melancholy. The book Postcards from the Cinema (unfortunately out-of-print), which is a lengthy interview between them, concludes their beautiful friendship. When the magazine updated it’s format in the early Nineties and they featured Jacques Doniol-Valcroze it was a subtle reminder of this mise en page tradition that Toubiana himself was keeping on. As well with Antoine de Baecque’s two-part history being published in this period this was when a Cahiers self-consciousness was emerging.

If one looks at the subsequent chief editors one can make certain assumptions of their guiding taste by the representative American directors they most associate with: For Thierry Jousse (‘91-‘96) it is David Lynch, Antoine de Baecque (’96-’98) it is Tim Burton, Charles Tesson (’98-’03) it is Martin Scorsese, Jean-Marc Lalanne (’01-’03) it is James Cameron, Emmanuel Burdeau (’03-’09) it is M. Night Shyamalan, Jean-Michel Frodon (’03-’09) it is Clint Eastwood, and for Stéphane Delorme (’09-’14) it is Steven Spielberg.

If Tesson’s editorialship is so highly regarded it’s for the generosity of his prose, knowledge of Cahiers history, and openness to a social and poetic cinema. It stands in opposition to his successor. Some problems with the Frodon editorialship includes: a self-important tone, too much reliance on the business instead of the art of cinema, too much reliance on journalism instead of criticism, not having too strong of a personality, being guilty of a weird favoritism, poor economic practices and unsuccessful managing of the magazine, and branching out the magazine too thin by exploring new outlets, publishing and distribution. His contribution to the Les petits Cahiers on “Film Criticism” is especially unnecessary. But it was also a complicated post-9/11 period with the rise of the internet and its new register of digital images, the growing DVD market and the autodidact cinephile, and the declining relevance of cinema as a social-communal past time.

Tesson, on the other hand, is a pure Cahiersiste. It is a spirit that animates the magazine from within (see how he refers to the magazine as having a heart) and it comes from a place that holds the magazine at a very high esteem – an instrument and measure of the cinema and of our times. In his texts he shares the personal experience of being within – almost like a making of (c.f. Fissures at Cahiers). Tesson now programs at the Critic’s Week at Cannes which continues his criticism in a different register. He has a close relationship with the Delorme editorialship as he programs the films Cahiers champions and sometimes contributes to the magazine, notably his piece Peut-on être rohmero-rivettien? in the Rohmer memorial issue (N.653).

The following is Toubiana’s farewell letter from when he left the magazine in 2000 and Tesson’s when he would leave too a few years later. – D.D.
Aux lecteurs,

It’s with sentiment and friendship that I inform you of my departure from Cahiers du Cinema. I’m leaving in effect, at the end of February 2000, my post of chief editor, as well as co-runner of Editions de L’Etoire. This decision has been brewing in me for the last few months. I needed to make this decision, and it was difficult to make. One never easily leaves a magazine, especially this one, where one has spent twenty-five years of the important years of one’s life. But it is now the case… I’m relieved that others, those who are younger and newer, are assuming to be in charge and to guide, orient, and enliven this magazine that we hold in such high esteem, you and me. Cahiers imperatively needs a new spirit, a new perspective, because the cinema is changing, evolving, transforming, just like its environment. A new spirit and a new dynamism, founded on a critical approach and oppeness, because at Cahiers, more than elsewhere, is entrenched in this experience for half-a-century. The history of this magazine, rich and fecund, allows to imagine the present and the future with serenity and confidence. There is then all the reason to believe that Cahiers will soon be ready for this new start, that its rendezvous will be met this year, 2000. Its writers see themselves as reinforced by the arrival of Franck Nouchi, who will be in charge of the direction of the magazine, with beside him Charles Tesson. He is coming back to prepare a new format to the magazine, to respond to your expectations, and those of the cinema. I wish them good luck, and I address you, dear reader, my most loyal thoughts.

Serge Toubiana
Aux lecteurs des Cahiers

The editorial that I wrote for the summer issue (N.581) ended with serious thoughts about the obstacles that was shaking up the magazine last January (a project to reorganize the editorial team) where we proposed to share our solutions in September. The editorial of September, which was signed by Jean-Michel Frodon, who was named the director of the magazine on the first of July, was itself an answer to the previous editorial. His nomination to a poste that was removed since the return of the magazine to Le Monde where Franck Nouchi ended entirely my functions as chief editor all the while giving them to Jean-Marc Lalanne. Since then, there has been more changes: departure of Lalanne, which was voluntary or was expected by several writing comity members, and instead there was the nomination of a new chief editor, Emmanuel Burdeau, who himself was an old member of the writing committee…

At the time of leaving this magazine, I wanted to saw a few things. My first thought goes towards the reader, numerous, anonymous, and familiar. There is the writer that one imagines and that we are addressing when we put together each issue. There is the other one (the same?) who is there (even though he might be invisible) when we write. We can write a review by addressing the film, cinema in its entirety, to be read by the director, or even with the desire (crazy, but actual) to be read by such and such actor or actress. There is no true art of aimer without a certain (critical) sense of declaration, for its form and its depth. We can also write for those who are no longer with us (the dead) or just for oneself (a long monologue to help guide the cinema or to thank, ad infinitum, the vital pleasure that is procured of renewing one’s relationship with cinema). We can be attached for one’s whole lifetime to only one aspect of this writing or by changing, according to the nature of each film or the times or one’s relation to them. Adressing others, however the form it takes, seems to me to be essential. Without this conscience towards others (to convince, enlighten, share an emotion, build upon its foundation, etc.) there is no veritable critical impulse. History, in its long form, and not being lonely, and to share with words, with films, is one of the pleasures that makes life livable.

My second thought goes towards those who I've worked with at the heart of this magazine (who I've met and learnt to appreciate, and to those that have I've become friends with, which I'll need to thank Cahiers for bringing us together at an important time in our lives) as well to those that I've had the pleasure to meet, whether it is in France or at the four corners of the planet, through the function that I've occupied. A great moment of happiness for me were the exchanges with those, who were really attached to the magazine, that wanted to dialogue with those that contribute to it, and not only through written correspondences. That said, internally, once we start to have some responsibility in creating this magazine, everything changes. Because the job of being the chief editor is one that is learnt and it has strictly nothing with that of the exercise of criticism. Because the pressure is there, and it's enormous. Because one has to learn within the heart of these multiple tensions, between the divergent points of views and the sensibilities of the writers expressions. And especially, being able to accept and overcome them, as soon as they manifest themselves at the interest of the magazine, so that it can become a living space, that is also rich in contradictions. So that it is not a space that is too homogeneous (the terrorizing and terrorist phantasm of a sole editorial line, where truth is incarnated in only one person, with an uncomfortable corollary, which leads to a written film criticism that is cloning and uniform, within an absolute and unique model) nor too heterogeneous (the heteroclite cohabitation of diverse interests, in a Proteus form, for a reader that can't make sense of everything, who is usually a minority, and who would not be able to draw pleasure). In the context and with the conditions that were particular to my experience, between the participation and majority financial takeover of the magazine by Le Monde in 1998 and my nomination to an important role of responsability that lasted until July 2003, I've tried to bring my best all the while sharing the task and responsibility with others. Between 1998 and 2003, amongst a changing team, I've with Antoine de Baecque (up too April 1999), with Serge Toubiana (up to January 2000), with Delphine Pineau (up too September 2001), with Frank Nouchi (from February 2000 to December 2001) and then with Jean-Marc Lalanne, starting in October 2001.

My last thought goes to two people, who if it wasn't for them my adventure at Cahiers, fabulous and unique more often than not, awful sometimes, would never have happened. Serge Toubiana, firstly, who, in May 1998, proposed to me to work beside him, as the director of the magazine and then as its chief editor. And afterwards Serge Daney. I started out just reading him, I followed at the time his courses on the cinema at the Censier and I've confided in him my desire to write at the Cahiers, a crazy dream (but true nonetheless) because I was really intimidated, see very perplexed, with the idea of concretely sharing the pages with those that I've enormously appreciated their writing  (aside from Daney there was Oudart, Bonitzer and Narboni). One day, Serge Daney sent me a message (I didn't have a telephone at the time), marvelously laconic, that only said this: "there are two or three films that Cahiers risks not discussing in their next issue. For you to see them." In this list of three films, there was a Japonese film, An Actor's Revenge by Kon Ichikawa. I saw it at the cinema on that day, and I wrote the critique in a rush, and Serge Daney accepted the text immediately, without any hesitation nor any modifications. It was published in the June 1979 issue (N.302). I was then the happiest that I can be. For a long time, a really long time, writing at Cahiers, being part of this magazine, to be installed more or less comfortably in its lifespan made me happy. What more could one ask for? Shortly before the death of Serge Daney in 1992, between other things, he confided to me his surprise and regret that I never got the chance to further excel and take on more responsibility at the heart of this magazine. He had his own thoughts on this issue. I explained to him the diverse reasons. Without knowing it, several years later, Serge Toubiana exercised Daney's wish, which was also my own, but sadly arrives negatively, because Daney didn't see this, which is a regret. The world is sometimes good to you even though life in general, under certain circumstances, with no relation to the other things that are going on, can show itself to be cruel.
To the reader of Cahiers, which I was once one, with fervour and passion, directly, starting in the mid-Seventies, month after month, and then the catching up as much as I can with all the ancient issues that were available. So before I even started writing and reading it, in a different life but with the same sentiment, then joining and participating in its elaboration, and becoming attentive in a different way to those that read it and to the remarks of those that write here. To be finally under the obligation to quit these responsabilities for good does not leave one indifferent, this goes without saying. But at Cahiers, where one becomes tied to an intricate bond with others and the network that one creates - with the past, present and future - never leaves one indifferent. Except when the unsaid makes on cringe (irritation, a bad conscience) and the explicit also bothers (unanimity, and the misplaced).

It was my status of a young subscriber to this magazine that I owed my first visit to the Cahiers offices, which was already at Boule-Blanche, because I need to ask for why each month I was getting the magazine so late when it was already on the newsstands. Going through the office doors has become for me a regular ritual with slight variations depending on the occasion: bringing in an article, to learn about press screenings, to take part in a group meeting or to attend an informal discussion on a film that’s puzzling the magazine, with the desire to discuss or to run the risk (sometimes) of bothering them, depending on the availability. Before knowing how it is like from the other side, to live through the transition into the team, as a paid writer. I don’t need to get into what it’s like to join Cahiers and what that experience was for me (that’s another affair, another story, which is really complex, and that I’ve interiorized. I have the feeling of having lived there during those months, constructing its table of contents and pages).

To be a reader of Cahiers, that is what I’m returning to, like before, but also not like before. It will be a new pleasure, that I haven’t experienced for a while (that of not knowing what will be in the next issue), which will be richer because of what I’ve experienced at the heart of the magazine.

It’ll be a new chapter for me of reading Cahiers, attentive, exigent and engaged, like always: reading it is a critical activity in itself, a prolonguement of the gesture that created this magazine, transmission.

Charles Tesson, December 2003.

Serge Toubiana on 40 Years of Cahiers

When I met Serge Toubiana it was at the gift store that I work at. It’s in a cultural organization and I just got the job of also ordering the books and DVDs. He was just a customer and he was talking about visiting from France to see the Burton exhibition and that it was going to travel there. He introduced himself Toubiana, Serge.” Cool! “I read your blog!” I ask him, like I do to every French cinephile (there aren't many that come through here), do you read Cahiers? What do you think of the new Cahiers editor and team (without knowing that he used to be there for a long time). Oh you like it? Still young, I thought that people were just meant to criticize Cahiers because that's what the older American critics did (cf. Cahiers Criticisms) and I bring up that one of its past writers was complaining about them on the internet – something regarding how they were wrong about their rave reviews of The Other Guys and Machete. He laughed it off. But I still feel bad that I criticized them and since then I've tried to make it up by talking and writing about their recent years. Every new issue is really good and it's my favorite monthly film magazine. If at the time I knew more about who I was talking to and more about what Stéphane Delorme was trying to bring to the magazine I’m sure the conversation would have been different. Anyways, Mr. Toubiana was nice and I purchased the copy of Truffaut that, by chance I prominently displayed, and he kindly signed it. There aren’t many direct bonds between Toronto and French cinephilia (with a few exceptions on social media) so if I blog a lot about French film criticism and on Cahiers today it’s to create and strenghen a bond and to make up for that earlier gaffe. 

Right now I'm working on my MRP which will be on Cahiers in the Eighties and their relationship to American cinema. This period is too little explored and I think it’s essential to understand the magazine today. As I plan to argue Toubiana and Daney’s reconnection with Truffaut was the catalyst for their shift from purely intervention and third world films towards cinema in its entirety, and they needed to catch up and the media landscape had rapidly evolved. Daney on Toubiana when he left in 1981, “He has a precise idea on the magazine: to return it towards the center of cinema. This idea has a future. My idea is less clear, not really defined, more vagabond. It is better if he realizes his goal, even though I don’t share with all of his decisions.”

The following is Toubiana’s essay ten years onwards after taking the helm, L'âge de déraison (The age of unreason), it's one of his most reflexive pieces, from their special 40th anniversary issue (May 1991, N.443-44). - D.D.

L'âge de déraison

Cahiers is now forty years old! We had to get ready for this anniversary during the last few months and we wanted to avoid the “commemorative” aspect of it. Instead we wanted to seize its joyous pretext to further enliven this magazine towards the present. Cahiers like a site of passage, and not like an “institution”: that’s it, this is what we were thinking. And then, people’s sentiment about the magazine are not the same, and I’ll assume vary from the old writers to the contemporary ones. Amongst the young ones, I bet that they can’t even imagine being attached to a magazine for forty years! They are hardly even half of that! For me, being the age of the magazine, and having grown with it, it’s different.

What astounds the most, is this strange sentiment that Cahiers, is never more than a small group of people, during each period, who decide to be responsible. By choosing how it will brand itself by picking who it will identify with. This has not always happened without there being tensions and creating friction amongst people. These groups don’t always get along with those that have contributed to it in the past, the “Cahiers family” is large. Truly, how many successive generations are there really to have passed through this “site of bearing witness,” which is Cahiers?

This magazine is a site of passage and of writing, or of cinema apprentice for those that take the leap to the “other side of the mirror.” For this current generation, there is the sentiment of speaking or writing in a long history that includes those who have already spoken, and already written. Differently, depending on the period and by temperaments. This is what makes us feel that there actually exist a “history” to this magazine, with its past, the glorious and non-glorious years, and a present that is unfolding, but which is harder to define. There is a tortuous filiation, that even though there are changes and an evolution, there is a common unifying trait to defend and love: the cinema.

These forty years for Cahiers, we wanted to mark them with this sign that animates its writers for the last ten years: openness, curiosity, and questioning. Two issues divide this period, but presented in a unique form, emerges at the occasion of this anniversary. In one, more than one hundred filmmakers, actors, artists and producers tell their memories about cinema. The ensemble draws a strange constellation that is deep down harmonious: the “I remember…” becomes a pretext to share a little story, a brief movement, that is intense too, where each of us and others get to tell our story…

This other issue – the one that you are holding in your hands – there is also this movement, deep down, which returns towards the past, and which draws several points of passage between the different periods of the magazine. And which returns towards the present: the present of cinema and the present of Cahiers.

What surprises, is to what point being part of Cahiers changes that trajectory of people, individual paths and those of collectives. They don’t always resemble their period, but usually they do. The Nouvelle Vague, for example, which associate so well with this passage, this major shift, from the black and white of the after-war years and the end of the Fifties, towards the bright colors and euphoria, towards the “new cinema” of the early Sixties. But also the other periods, where the heart of the writers use the magazine as a tool of investigation, an arm of combat, a space of passage. With each new group, there are strong relations, and a passion for cinema. A gamble of “all or nothing.” All the way towards and even during the Seventies, where Cahiers lived their “maoiste” period, alone against everyone, after severing themselves from an established cinema. Of course, with patience, we were able to return to an equilibrium.

To be forty years old in 1991 necessarily forces us to interrogate the future of cinema. To ask ourselves if there are still a few good cards to be played, to live new adventures. Are we optimist? And at what cost? Cinema no doubt has a big field in front of it, on the condition that it does not trip too much on itself. That it does not fall for the game or looks too much at itself, which is caused by a “catch-all” audiovisual terrain. That it knows that through a facilitation towards new funds and mediums, it’s its identity itself that could be put into question. For ever. Its horizon would only enlarge on the condition that cinema remains on its guard and remains vigilant. Cahiers counts on helping this.

To turn forty in May (some will no doubt notice a light shift in the history: our first issue actually came out in April 1951), is to say right during the Cannes festival, implies the idea of a celebration. With its friends, Cahiers proposes an rendezvous on May 18th, to celebrate this unreasonable age.

Serge Toubiana

Whoa ! (Serge Toubiana on France Inter)

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost....” – Charlie Chaplin

“Is your spirit melancholic?” asks Éva Bester*, and Serge Toubiana**, in a lucid manner, describes how sadness can take over him, though never in a debilitating way, and how he eventually overcomes it and finds pleasure. The conversation brings to mind the tape-recording scene in Manhattan. One can sympathize with Toubiana as he shares not-usually-discussed real human anxieties on life. Some conclusions that he draws is that being melancholic is normal and solitude is important, but regardless one must experience life and engage with the world. One comfort: films. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, “Which is made all the more relevant today with what is going on in the world.” Chaplin’s speech of peace and acceptance, spoken to the world against the darkness that would befall Europe, has urgency and is inspiring, traits that he feels are lacking today. Toubiana describes Chaplin as “an absolute genius of the 20th century”, and has worked on the MK2 Chaplin DVDs. Listening to him brings to mind Jean Narboni’s great book on the film Pourquoi les coiffeurs? (Capricci), Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes (which has a still from it on its cover), and the upcoming The Charlie Chaplin Archives (Taschen). Toubiana then transitions the conversation towards Chaplin’s last film A Countess from Hong Kong, which was a commercial and critical failure, but that is actually one of his favorites and that's what he told to one of its stars Sophia Loren when he saw her. It's a passionate cinephilic gesture that recalls Henri Langlois' contribution on Land of the Pharaohs in the Fifties Cahiers Hawks dossier. Toubiana’s blog at the Cinémathèque is a great resource, too. Toubiana continues on Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, one of the key films of his life, and La Strada, a terrifying experience that he elaborates on in Cahiers N.700 (which aligns him with the stradistes). His childhood in Tunisia. How he forgets. Jerry Lewis. La Maman et la Putain, “One of the greatest French films.” 

There is a great story about François Truffaut, which Toubiana describes as being an important experience for him. In 1975, after taking over Cahiers a year earlier with Serge Daney, they go see Truffaut, who was angry at the magazine, and after they speak Truffaut tells them, “You should never have made Cahiers an ultra-leftist Maoist magazine. It’s unreadable and too theoretical. That’s not what Bazin wanted. You should have created another magazine.” And, “I’ve listened to you, and moving forward I’ll have an open neutrality towards the magazine.” This was Truffaut’s way to test them and to see if they would change. It was the start of the magazine’s return towards its original cinephilia (Truffaut would help them get financing, too). Toubiana describes how the Eighties Cahiers interview with Truffaut was a highlight of his career and it was the start of a truly valued friendship. Since Truffaut’s untimely early death (he was only in his fifties), Toubiana at the time featured an issue of Cahiers on him, wrote a biography (with Antoine de Baecque), and now there’s an upcoming Cinémathèque exhibition. One can see the Truffaut influence at Cahiers in this period through their reconnection with the original nouvelle vague but also on some of their miscellaneous interest, in particular that of a sensitivity and representations of childhood. For example, there is the cover feature they dedicated to E.T., which after seeing it at Cannes, Truffaut reportedly send Spielberg a letter that said, “You belong here more than me.” (Godard, on the other hand, aligned himself more with the American cinema of Woody Allen, who he would cast in his King Lear). Spielberg is also important at Cahiers today and whose reevaluation started in the Two-thousands (in face of reluctance since some of its past chief editors like de Baecque and Emmanuel Burdeau would never be described as Spielbergian.). Toubiana is a big fan of Raymond Devos, Andy Warhol (“he understood that we’re living in an era of reproduction;” and Toubiana also owns a revolver drawing and a Campbell Soup painting), Aragon (he recites a great poem), Charles Trénet (they play the song Boum, and Cocteau was also a fan), Sils-Maria (and the new Assayas film), and (finally) pastis. The episode of Remède à la mélancolie ends with Toubiana in a charming manner asking Bester out for a drink. If the weather’s nice, try to enjoy it!
* Bester’s interview with Antonin Peretjatko is well worth listening, too.
** The France Inter interviews with Toubiana are a lot better than those on France Culture especially the one with Michel Ciment, which was poorly put together. The episode of Le Festival en 18 Palmes on Billie August’s The Best Intentions is especially good.

Serge Toubiana & Jean A. Gili

Jacques Rivette


Eric Rohmer

+ Soirée en hommage à Eric Rohmer.

Jean-Philippe Tessé and Ariel Schweitzer on Cahiers

Cahiers du Cinema's editor tells Haaretz the journal still has a role to play, not least facing the glut of Internet film critiques (June 21st, 2012) |

Film Comment on Toronto Film Review

"While the stark design bespeaks utilitarian concerns rather than voguish minimalism, a great deal of care is put into this particular public scrapbook. Curated by unabashed Francophile David Davidson, the “found” items on Toronto Film Review largely consist of Cahiers du cinéma and Positif articles from various eras, some translated, others summarized, and all lovingly prefaced."
Read Violet Lucca's great coverage of TFR in the new issue of Film Comment.

Island Day !

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What’s Shyamalanian ?

“That’s what I’m trying to do, too – have an original voice. Say something new. I’m trying to take a chance.” – M. Night Shyamalan

 “I believe, writes M. Night Shyamalan. Period.”

Manoj (Night) Shyamalan: (born 6 August 1970) director of Praying with Anger, Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth. After the monumental commercial and critical success of his third film The Sixth Sense, which grossed over six-hundred million dollars worldwide, the typical narrative of his career is that the artistic ambitions of his projects overshadowed the commercial prospects, and like other talented directors to emerge in the early Two-thousands, his subsequent career has been reduced to making middling summer blockbusters. But what Night is best remembered for in his films is naïvely peering at the supernatural and the fantastic, and creating these unique moments that blend the burlesque with the sublime.

-       Praying with Anger: loosely based on Shy’s relationship with his wife. Jeff Giles: “Bhavna’s family was from the north of India and his was from the south, and he was slightly young. Those things are deal-breakers in India, of course.”
-       Shy, on his wife, from I Got Schooled: “And finally to Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan. She was the one that brought public school education to my attention. Her training in research and statistics guided the book’s academic standard. She probably should have been the one to write this book; it would have been much better. I got A’s in college to impress her, and I think I wrote this book so she’d still think I am smart.”
-       I, and others I’m sure, actually prefer his really early films Praying with Anger and Wide Awake (cf. Shy's early films) because they show an interest in spirituality, ghost, and relationships that he would later further develop. They’re really of their time.
-       The special feature on his DVDs. Especially his introductions and his teenage short-films. Donnie Wahlberg talking about his “method” is unlike anything that you’ll ever see! The short-film that anticipates Signs is one of the most hilarious thing ever. Ever!
-       Spielberg did the ghost film first with Always, which itself was a remake of an old Victor Fleming film A Guy Named Joe.
-       Shyamalan’s is really a post-Spielberg cinema. Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s producer, even produced a couple of his films.
-       Night’s Top Ten Films of All Time, from an old Newsweek feature, included two Spielberg titles (Jaws and Raiders), along with the “transcendent” The Godfather, and The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, Rocky, Dead Poet’s Society, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars and Psycho.
-       Night wrote Stuart Little. hehe
-       His Twitter profile pic where he’s wearing an old Converse shirt. hehe
-       His "official" spooky website. I don’t get how it works…. hehe
-       That he has a whosay account and regularly updates it...
-       Bryce Dallas Howard: Ron Howard’s daughter, who starred in The Village, Lady in the Water, and will be in the next Jurassic Park. Love her.
-       That in Lady in the Water, she plays something that is called a "Narf" and that its name is Story. Interpret that how you will…
-       I don’t care what people say She’s All That, which Shy ghost wrote, shows many Shyamalanian themes.
-       That weird Shy doc is fascinating. I really want to party with him! And by the way, I want to know more about this doc and its filmmaker. What is it really about? Who is this guy? Why would Shy let this director spend so much time with if it were just to fail? It can't just be a hokes. Seems very atypical...
-       The holy Night trinity: Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water.
-       Could Lady in the Water be Shyamalan's equivalent of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs? An artistic summit of his art, an ode to the creative process, a glorious failure that would negatively affect his subsequent career (forcing him to take more for-hire jobs)?
-       And if this is the case then would the sports journalist Michael Bamberger's great making of Lady in the Water book (which I suspect Night only coincided to because Bamberger also wrote a note-worthy book Wonderland on a year in the life of an American high school; education being an important social issue for Night) be his Noël Coward's Hollywood sur Nil?
-       There’s a strong emphasis on childhood, education and learning throughout Night's filmography, which culminates in his most recent book I Got Schooled. Not to be scoffed at. Night wants to change the world and make it a better place. Can't say the same thing about a lot of other people.
-       The less said about his The Happening and Night's subsequent career, the better.
-       The Cahiers guys are big fans.
-       After Earth sucked!
-       It had potential. But didn’t work.
-       The closest thing to a Shyamalanian director in Toronto are Matt Johnson (dude’s the best) and the C & Y guys, who have openly discussed that they're fans.
-       The pool scenes in Matt Porterfield’s cinema (Putty Hill, I Used to Be Darker) are reminiscent of Shy’s. (M. Night Porterfield, perhaps?)
-       Hopefully Sundowning will be great. The way that he's been tweeting about it makes it sound that it'll be! A return to form, perhaps?

Night's Viewfinder

Shy's Early Films


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lady in the Water

Marc Saint-Cyr on Humanist Cinema

One Wonderful Sunday, Dodes’ka-den, Drifting Clouds, and The Man Without a Past are all masterpieces of humanist cinema. They all impart valuable instruction on how to work with what you’ve got in life, even if it amounts to very little. They all tell you how to do so with the utmost dignity and courage. They all place faith in the everlasting possibility that lights can be sparked in the dusk and shadows can be banished from paradise. They all champion those forces that can defeat misery and bring back happiness, be they dreams and plans for the future, acts of charity, love, or luck. They show that such forces can amount to as little as a shared beer or cup of coffee, a comforting hand on a shoulder, or a single date with someone special, and yet can still mean so much. Most of all, they provide that bit of faith in yourself and other people that you sometimes need to keep moving forward despite the troubles that hinder your steps.
Read all of Marc Saint-Cyr's essay Down and Out in Helsinki and Tokyo: Aki Kaurismäki and Akira Kurosawa’s Humanist Tales in the new issue of Senses of Cinema.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Nest

Visualizing Social Experience by Samuel Adelaar

To accompany the Early Monthly Segments screening (July 14th at 8PM at the Gladstone hotel) of Robert Gardner's Rivers of Sand I'm grateful to my friend Samuel Adelaar for letting me put up this essay that he wrote on it. - D.D.

            The aim of this essay is to explore how David MacDougall's distinctive vision for visual anthropology sheds light upon Robert Gardner's ethnographic film Rivers of Sand (1973). I will begin by explicating the key facets of this vision. In order to do so I will synthesize MacDougall's various elaborations and articulations of it across several articles. Then I will mobilize his critical lens not only to examine the film, but also to assess criticisms of it from the field of anthropology.
            MacDougall begins his inquiry into the epistemological dimension of visual anthropology by posing these questions: "what can images convey that may lead to new knowledge, and when is such knowledge relevant to anthropology?"[1] At the level of individual images, he argues that cinema expresses "knowledge by acquaintance," which consists of, amongst other things, "direct awareness of sense-data." Spectators apprehend not only ideas about a thing, but a mimetic reproduction of the thing itself. According to him, this form of knowledge differs from that of writing, which delivers "knowledge by description." Knowledge by description holds a thing at a distance, occluding the possibility of getting a sensorial grasp of it. Put another way, he explains, this form of knowledge is engendered by the "generality" of language, which he opposes to the "specificity" of the image.[2]
            One critique of visual anthropology, he notes, is that is has less control over the encoding and decoding of meaning than writing. He explains that the source of this lack is the specificity of the image. Because it is an iconic signifier the image will consist of parts conveying meaning not intended by the filmmaker. This excess presents the possibility of modifying, contradicting or muddying the intentional meaning. In terms of reception, this offers the spectator excessive interpretive freedom.[3] However, he argues that visual anthropology elicits a different kind of reception than written anthropology. He describes this as "exploratory" and "imaginative." From the aggregate of shots and cuts the spectator is engendered to apprehend meaningful juxtapositions and note motifs and themes created by larger structural patterns. This points to the idea that film viewing is an imaginative activity in which the film as a whole exists only in the mind of the spectator, and the thoughts and feelings it conveys are therefore made intelligible in the process of interpretation.[4]
            He also examines the mode of reception elicited by the form of knowledge produced by visual anthropology through a concept he calls the "cinematic imagination." The cinematic imagination denotes the idea that the construction of texts is designed to create "an interpretive space for the reader or spectator."[5] A text whose form is guided by the cinematic imagination, he writes, exemplifies "a multi-positional perspective that acknowledges the fragmentary nature of experience and, by extension, the constructed nature of human knowledge. It also involves a displacement of the reader/spectator from the margins of the work toward its center."[6]  In terms of technique, the cinematic imagination prescribes a filmmaking practice that depicts actions, scenes and spaces in a piecemeal fashion. Put another way, it suggests the use of what David Bordwell calls constructive editing, in which actions, scenes and spaces are never depicted in their totality, but rather realized through an accumulation of various perspectives. This yields gaps in which the spectator mobilizes her interpretative capacities.[7]
            He links the image's knowledge by acquaintance to the anthropological concept of relational knowledge. This is the concept, he explains, that cultural meaning is immanent to, and therefore can only be made intelligible at the level of, actions and events. "Many cultural institutions..." he writes, "should not be understood primarily as communicating specific symbolic or social messages. Their meaning resides as much, or more, in their performance."[8] The aim of anthropological interpretation then is to avoid abstraction from the data. In practice this involves forging a network of relations between data points rather than connections to other facets of the culture. According to him, relational knowledge generates "more intimate anthropological truths that can only with some absurdity be developed into general statements [emphasis mine]." In short, cinema produces relational knowledge by "direct acquaintance with social moments, physical environments, and the bodies of specific social actors."[9]
            Beyond relational knowledge, he argues, cinema can also produce "explanatory" and "affective" knowledge. Explanatory knowledge comprises theoretical statements about data. Cinema can furnish this form of knowledge, he asserts, through its comparative and aggregative features. By contrast, affective knowledge is a function of the triangulated relation between the things depicted by images, the actions they are involved in, and the spectator. From this relation, he argues, the spectator apprehends "the quality of experience" of the potential of the thing in action.[10] This is a felt, embodied form of knowledge. According to him, written anthropology privileges the explanatory over the relational and affective; visual anthropology reverses this hierarchy.[11]
            In terms of written anthropology, alternative forms of knowledge elicit transformations in the relationship between author, text and reader. Therefore, he examines how the reader, or rather the spectator in this case, apprehends the author's placement in anthropological texts. This relationship is addressed through the concept of self-reflexivity. "Reflexivity..." he explains, " involves putting representation into perspective as we practice it."[12] He argues that cinema fosters a deep reflexivity, which denotes the idea that filmmakers are inscribed within the ensemble of sounds and moving images constituting their films. He cites James Clifford, who writes, "it has become clear that every version of the 'other,' wherever found, is also the construction of a 'self.'"[13] Moreover, MacDougall argues that deep reflexivity reflects the process of anthropological work. This process is defined by a shifting, evolving relationship between the anthropologist and her subject. He also asserts that the practice of filmmaking corresponds to the anthropologist's "consciousness of inscription" in her work.[14] This consciousness, he explains, is evoked by the stylistic character and content of each individual shot. He further shows that deep reflexivity mirrors one of the objectives of documentary cinema in the 1960s, which was to "[embody] the perspectives of actual observers, even if these observers were not seen."[15] In terms of cinematic technique, this aim was achieved through camera movements that expressed the corporeality of the filmmaker. He explains that in this period self-reflexivity constituted an ethical imperative. It "[permitted] a more contingent and historicized basis of social and cultural description."[16]
            MacDougall's examination of the specificity of the medium of cinema fosters a conceptual pathway between forms of knowledge created by, and fields of inquiry of, visual anthropology. He argues that one of the key "expressive structures" of cinema is designated by "the principle of co-presentation."[17] This is a feature of the medium's fundamental unit, the shot. He argues that shots exhibit an intrinsic "multivalency." Shots are ambiguous because although their contents are concretely unique, the ways in which their distinct parts interact yield not only an uncontrollable polysemy, but also an unsignifying cinematic excess. According to him, the simultaneity of the interaction of the elements of the shot is expressively powerful, but also problematic. He compares the expressivity of shots to our phenomenal experience of the world, arguing that shots must offer form, and therefore delimit this experience, but also enrich it through explanation and understanding. The construction of a film involves harnessing, controlling and eventually giving in to the chaotic nature of a shot's "combinative power."[18] Moreover, he notes the multi-sensory experience of simultaneous sound and image and the synaesthetic effects it has on the spectator. "A shot of a child's fingers rubbing across the surface of a balloon,"  he writes, " evokes more than the actions and sounds involved: it suggests the way the balloon must feel, and even an imminent explosion". The more evocative of our corporeal experience, the more a film can provoke memories of our own experiences, which can function as a model for understanding the film.[19] In this light, co-presentation also signifies the simultaneous reproduction of the sensory qualities of the shot's elements, that is, he writes, their "form, texture, color, and volume."[20]
            According to him, co-presentation allows cinema to render the various dimensions of interaction between individuals, which is a powerful tool for understanding the lived experience of both the everyday and the ritual in culture. Moreover, because these dimensions can be depicted simultaneously, human interaction can be captured in its complexity. These dimensions, he writes, include "gesture, facial expression, speech, body movement, and physical surroundings."[21]
            He also asserts that co-presentation offers a distinct understanding of how objects are experienced within a culture. The mediation of objects by images grasps the fact that the former are experienced by individuals both in terms of their symbolic meaning and their raw materiality. Moreover, objects might only exercise a symbolic function as a part of a set. This constellation can be uniquely captured by the shot's property of simultaneity. Co-presentation, he explains, also points to the fact that whenever an object, action, place, event and so on is reintroduced in a film the fullness of its sensory quality is reiterated. He argues that this is an interpretively valuable feature of the medium because it fosters the perception of connections.[22]
            He claims that narrative resists and delimits the shot's chaotic multivalency. Narratives exert an "explanatory power" that can "[make] clear the forces working on the protagonists." This explanatory dimension emerges from the fact that cinema is a medium of succession, that actions accumulate as the narrative's duration unfolds. Another dimension of film's explanatory power is its ability to juxtapose things, and therefore make connections between them despite their potentially disparate identities.[23]
            Cinema's capacity to individuate people, he argues, is derived from both the uniqueness of mimetic reproduction and the linkage of voice to body. A person's face is the key to the process of individuation. Perception of it fosters the viewer's identification with the person which in turn can elicit a better understanding of "the emotional content of social interaction and agency." Moreover, all of the features of the face are simultaneously presented in their mediation through film. The interaction of these features, when depicted in close up, opens up a continuum between the visible and the invisible, that is, between the surface of the face and the person's thoughts and feelings.[24]
            He asserts that cinema's medium specificity allows for an examination of the "the aesthetic dimension of social experience."[25] This is the idea that humans are shaped by, but also shape, their sensorial experience of the environments they inhabit. An emphasis on the sensorial foregrounds the idea that this experience does not need to coalesce consciously in the form of language. He writes, "it is possible (and in fact normal) to go through life participating in social rituals, reproducing aesthetic forms, and obeying rules of behavior chiefly because not to do so invites criticism. At the same time, one is shaped and, in terms of personal pleasure, rewarded by these forces and in subtle (and sometimes more definitive) ways one has power to transform them."[26]
            MacDougall's theorization of the features of the medium of cinema most beneficial to, and the collateral forms of knowledge produced by, visual anthropology point him towards a prescriptive delimitation of the areas of inquiry visual anthropology suggests a proclivity for examining. In general, visual anthropology endeavours to understand, he writes, "how people perceive their material environment and interact with it, in both its natural and cultural forms, including their interactions with others as physical beings."[27] More concretely, MacDougall divides social experience into four "conceptual domains:" the topographic, the temporal, the corporeal and the personal. Each conceptual domain comprises a broad range of issues, subjects, themes and so on. Therefore, I will outline those that I think are most relevant to an analysis of Rivers of Sand. The topographic domain, then, comprises "the anthropology of space and place" and "the study of social life-worlds as they are materially and culturally constructed." The temporal domain designates "socialization, cultural reproduction, and social change." The corporeal domain consists of "the anthropology of the senses; studies of sexuality, gender, movement, posture, and gesture; the forms of intersubjective behaviour... patterns of self-presentation and the rituals of everyday life." Finally, the personal domain constitutes "social identity... family roles" and "hierarchy."[28]
            Rivers of Sand depicts the social experience of the Hamar community, which is located in Ethiopia. The film's duration is dedicated to elaborating the idea that the Hamar culture is largely defined by its patriarchal social relations. Charles Warren sheds light on the historical context informing the film's feminist perspective: "Rivers of Sand's mood of social critique... resonates with much thinking worldwide in the later 1960s and the 1970s."[29] In an interview with Ilisa Barbash, Gardner not only affirms this idea, but also adds to it a personal dimension: "Indeed [the film] does owe something to the climate of thought about the situation of women in the late 60s, but it also owes something to what was happening in my own life as a father and husband." He goes on to say that he took for granted, and therefore exploited, his own role as patriarch. He was made aware of the power afforded to him in this position by his experience in the Hamar community.[30] Rivers of Sand constitutes a "dialogue" between an interview with a woman of the Hamar community and long observational sections depicting both everyday and ritual practices. My analysis will focus on the interview and everyday life in the Hamar community.
            The interview features the woman, named Omali Inda, describing the typical social experience of a woman in her community. Throughout the interview she articulates this in terms of family roles, cultural reproduction, ideology, ritual, and material culture. More specifically, she describes transitional moments in the lives of Hamar women, which function to place them in subordinate positions determined by the culture's patriarchal structure. For example, she describes the ways in which a husband disciplines his new wife in order to establish and maintain his dominance. Two critiques of the film from the field of anthropology elaborate their complaints by pointing to problems with the interview. Jean Lydall and Ivo Strecker accuse Gardner of framing subjective impressions as an objective account of Hamar culture.[31] Not perceiving the film as an act of deceit, Jay Ruby, finding fault with its animating principle, charges it with being driven by a personal vision, rather than an ethnographic impulse.[32] I will return to these central claims in my analysis of the film's deep reflexivity. Both of them are reasoned, however, by figuring the interview as a deliberate misrepresentation. According to Lydall and Strecker, "instead of recognizing that Omali Inda's account was a conventionalized story of womanhood, Gardner treated it as though it were a factual commentary."[33] Commenting on this assertion, which he also cites in his text, Ruby argues that Gardner has conflated anthropological "truth" with "data."[34] Distinguishing between story and fact, or data and truth, Lydall and Strecker explain that although Omali Inda describes a Hamar Woman's process of socialization, she herself was never subject to its disciplinary tactics. Moreover, they argue that the observational sections illustrate the bits of interview they follow, putting forth a perspective that affirms Omali Inda's account.[35]
            It seems to me, however, that this critique is partially determined by an inability to grasp the film as mode of visual anthropology. Lydall and Strecker posit the effect of Gardner's treatment of Omali Inda's account, without addressing how it was achieved. Focusing on this gap suggests that the misrecognition of her story of others' experience as her own personal testimony is engendered by cinema's capacity to individuate the subjects it depicts, which is a function of the specificity of images and the principle of co-presentation. More specifically, the majority of the interview's duration is shot in close up. This fosters an extended contemplation of her face. Therefore, she becomes recognizable; she is the only member of the community we grasp as an individual because we can clearly differentiate her from the others. Also, typically the bits of the interview begin in long shot before zooming in to a close up. This stylistic feature allows us to see her beside her home, her habitual environment, which evokes domesticity, her role within the family ("she has always been a model wife,"[36] write Lydall and Strecker). Therefore, our apprehension of her―as the exemplary Hamar Woman, occupying her typical position within the culture―makes possible Lydall and Strecke's feeling that Gardner's mediation presented a story narrating the Hamar Woman's process of socialization as an account of lived experience.
            The film's central claim―that Hamar culture exhibits a gendered division of social experience―is a form of explanatory knowledge that emerges out of the gestalt of the film. This argument assumes the form of relational knowledge at the level of individual scenes, mainly those depicting the practice of everyday life. Put in terms of knowledge by acquaintance―within conceptual parameters delimited by material culture and the aesthetics of everyday life―the claim is that Hamar men's and women's experiences of sonic and corporeal rhythm, time, space, individual and intersubjective behaviour, and self-presentation are gendered. In other words, the film depicts female bodies of labour and domination and male bodies of play and repose. Commenting on the film's main theme, Gardner asserts that "[it] is an attempt to disclose not only the activities of the Hamar, but also the effect on mood and behaviour of a life governed by sexual inequality."[37] Karl G. Heider's reflections on the film illuminate the process of translation from relational knowledge to explanatory knowledge. The film, he writes, centres on "a particularly nonvisual subject," that is, "cultural attitudes and values."[38] He suggests, moreover, that the film examines this topic through contextualization, which is, according to him, the concept that "things or events must not be treated in isolation; they have meaning only in context." This conception resonates with MacDougall's definition of relational knowledge. Contextualization, Heider asserts, is furnished by the film's "meandering, often repetitive" form.[39] That is, the sections of the film depicting everyday life constitute a series of scenes iterating the dichotomy of the social experience of Hamar men and women.
            Hamar culture's gendered division of social experience obtains in two areas of inquiry: everyday actions and personal aesthetics. In terms of everyday actions, the majority of the time we see the women at work; by contrast, the men's time is split between work and recreational activities. For example, in the morning women head off to complete the day's tasks. Meanwhile, the men stand idly by their abodes; later, they play a game in the shade. Also, there is a qualitative difference in the kind of work each gender do. A Hamar woman's work conforms, in a sense, to Fordist logic―large tasks are subdivided into a series of smaller, simpler and more repetitive jobs―whereas a man's work resembles more so non-alienated, artisanal labour. The  forms of labour we see the women partake in include the process of making edible the sorghum plant, and the extraction of water from the sandy riverbed. The former involves stripping the grain off plant stocks and grinding it against a stone. Recalling Heider's analysis of the film's form, Peter Loizos writes that through the repeated articulation of the "Women grinding sorghum" motif, it "becomes a running metaphor for the gendered division of labour, for the integration of person in direct production, for bodily grace confirming lived-in acceptance of a gender role, and for the drudgery that is the lot of women in a male-dominated culture."[40] The way in which the process is depicted in the film reveals its sensorial and relational dimensions. For example, two tasks in the process exhibit sonic and corporeal repetition: the back-and-forth movement and the swish of sweeping the ground (one of the initial tasks, we learn earlier in the film, involved in the man's "domestication" of the woman), and the undulating thrust and scrape of grinding the grain. This conveys the idea that Hamar women's bodies are regimented. This practice of corporeal discipline is another means by which Hamar culture subjugates them. Moreover, through the principle of co-presentation the film grasps the social dynamic of the process: we simultaneously see one woman grinding grain, while another delivers her more of it, and tends to a child. The harvesting of the sorghum plant is also exemplary of the film's synaesthetic effect on the viewer. A series of shots depicting a woman scooping and pouring grain into a sack evoke the visual, aural and tactile qualities of the task, namely, the sensation of the bowl plunging into the grain, and the grain brushing up against the woman's hands. Women's labour is not only managed corporeally, it is also responsible to time: while Omali Inda is being interviewed we see her order other women to fetch water before the sun sets.
            By contrast, Hamar men's work is independent, relaxed, less regulated, and imaginative. The tasks we see the men perform include upkeep of a firearm, fabrication of a stool, and hunting for an ostrich. That the men's work is qualitatively different from the women's is reflected in their experience of doing it. In general, this experience manifests either an irregularly rhythmic or non-rhythmic physicality. Whether it is a man fixing a gun or whittling away at his stool, the film depicts the process as marked by pauses, breaks, moments of reflection on the task. There is no sense in which a goal has to be achieved by a deadline. During the ostrich hunt, the film figures the men's bodies as peripatetic. This freedom of movement is reflected in the cinematographic style. The camera lopes alongside the men, panning back and forth to capture visual phenomena as it happens to enter the frame. Even feeding cattle, a job ostensibly similar to those of the women, is experientially different. The scene in which this work is depicted, realized in an enervated, digressive style, not only shows the cattle's idle grazing, but also suggests that the men are equally idle, sometimes directing the livestock, other times fixing each other's hairstyles. Daily prayer, another practice of the everyday life of Hamar men, speaks to both the form of knowledge created by, and the features of the cinematic medium mobilized by, visual anthropology. The film's depiction of this mundane ritual marshals the principle of co-presentation to yield relational knowledge. We see men, sitting in a circle and reciting a prayer, its form a call and response evoking a sense of musicality. The prayer also involves spitting coffee, ingested from a bowl. Because of the specificity of the image, however, the coffee and its container not only convey their symbolic function, but also assert their brute materiality. "Inherently a theatrical piece of ritual," this practice, writes Loizos, "makes abundantly clear...the extent to which certain rituals are performances."[41]   
            The aesthetic dimension of the Hamar's social experience is also gendered. Loizos notes that the film not only depicts the women at work; we also see them at leisure, at play. However, he argues, this depiction of a time away from work is militated by the "Women grinding sorghum" motif, in that it conveys the idea that a Hamar women's lived experience, in comparison with that of a man's, is still consumed by labour. Moreover, some of the activities he outlines, as in, as he puts it, "playing a melodious phrase on a flute in the afternoon heat," seem to offer the women relief from the roles assigned to them by the patriarchal structure of the Hamar culture.[42] Yet I deviate from this perspective in that I argue that the Hamar woman's subjugation subtends other leisure activities, namely those centred on personal dress and cosmetics. In her interview, Omali Inda says that "they pound on neck rings and fill you up with things." What she is referring to is the process of socialization whereby metal rings are fastened around Hamar women's ankles, wrists and necks by hammering them shut. One of the film's most striking moments involves the way in which it evokes the ring's symbolic meaning―men's domination of women. Mobilizing the technique of the montage of attractions, Gardner cuts from the fixing of a ring onto a woman's neck to the branding of a cow, recalling the scene in Fritz Lang's Fury (1936) in which clucking chickens are juxtaposed with talking women. Moreover, the dual existence of the rings as both symbol and material thing speaks to the fact that their signification pervades the Hamar Woman's social experience, hovering just below the threshold of enunciability. For example, the film's depiction of Hamar women's work and leisure activities, namely grinding sorghum grain, and dancing at a ceremony, includes a focus on the rings they are adorned with. The aim of this is to show that the rings constantly assert their presence, that they are always felt by the women, both tactilely and aurally, in that they emit a rhythmic rattle during these activities. Therefore, the film posits that they are perpetual reminders of the woman's servitude. Yoking the symbolic meaning from everyday cultural objects is a preoccupation of Gardner's filmmaking. Commenting on this tendency, he says that "finding small and insignificant items to draw from the actual world... that can signify more than themselves has seemed to me one of the few ways there are to convey meaning pictorially in films."[43]
            The film also manifests a link between the dress of a member of the Hamar community and her work. A woman's dress, for example, embodies her life of labour. Several times throughout the film's duration we see a woman walking along a path, clothed in a heavy dress adorned with many rings, as well as other decorative ornaments, transporting jugs―either fixed to a cloth strip and slung over her shoulder, attached to her garment or carried by hand―and often a child. Hamar women, then, are literally weighed down by the sensory-aesthetic mark of their culture's patriarchal structure. By contrast, Hamar men's clothing is light and minimal. This corresponds to the practice of their everyday lives: typically, they are not burdened by arduous work; they exercise unimpeded mobility; they are free to apply themselves to their artisanal tasks, lounge and play games, or roam.
            Lydall and Strecker's, and Ruby's critiques of the film, which I introduced earlier, can be explicated and mitigated by illustrating two features of the film that designate it as a mode of visual anthropology: the mode of reception it elicits, and the deep reflexivity it exemplifies. But first, I will elaborate on their principle claims: according to Lydall and Strecker, the film's portrayal of the Hamar culture's gendered division of social experience "derives from [Gardner's] own view." Furthermore, they argue, the film disingenuously puts forward this view as "'an accurate portrayal of the essence of Hamer [sic] traditional life.'" They also find Gardner's use of formal strategies, such as the arresting juxtaposition I illustrated earlier, to be problematic, in that they "[succeed] in distorting rather than recreating the meaning and rhythm of Hamar life." Ultimately, they implicate the film in the practice of using ethnography "to indulge in prejudiced visions that have little to do with the people under 'study.'"[44] Ruby echoes the thrust of Lydall and Strecker's argument, adding: "The artistic vision of Gardner as auteur dominated the project."[45] It seems to me, however, that these criticisms, although valid in that the film, in the last instance, fails to depict Hamar culture on its own terms, represent something of a category error. That is, they do not grasp the fact that as a mode of visual anthropology the film exercises an anthropological methodology and form of knowledge alternative to that of the dominant paradigm of the anthropological discipline. Recall that, according to MacDougall, the form of knowledge produced by visual anthropology places a greater interpretative obligation on the spectator―it requires her to mobilize a cinematic imagination. This further accounts, I think, for the misreadings of Omali Inda's interview I posited earlier. Loizos' analysis of Lydall and Strecker's critique speaks to my assertion. Loizos writes, "[they] seemed to have been hoping for a conventional descriptive-analytic ethnographic film... Such a film tends to define and specify, to reduce uncertainty." He calls this type of film a "relatively closed text." By contrast, he argues that Rivers of Sand is a "relatively open text" in that it furnishes the viewer with "puzzles, contexts for reflection, and [adds] to the list of questions [she] might have about human natures and human cultures."[46] Addressing the interpretive openness of his film, Gardner says, " I feel I am accountable for the particular [arrangement] called... Rivers of Sand but not for the meanings [it engenders]."[47]
            Moreover, it seems to me that examining critiques of the film under visual anthropology's paradigm effects a redistribution of the sensible, an idea put forth by Jacques Rancière.[48] That is, from this alternative episteme, an ethical weakness ascribed to the film, such as the presence of an authorial vision, becomes a virtue. In fact, that is how MacDougall's concept of deep reflexivity qualifies this feature. Deep reflexivity reflects an awareness of the unavoidable fact that anthropological practice involves a mediation of other cultures. In her interview with Gardner, Barbash notes that translation of a subject's speech is always determined by the ideological position of the translator. In response, Gardner adds that translation is a process that is not only mediated by ideology, but also by other "filters" such as "personality." He goes on to say, "I think the important thing is that knowing this about translation, whether in the narrow sense of rendering verse from one language to another or in the larger sense of portraying an entire culture in images, should not paralyze the effort to do all these things in the most discerning and sensitive way possible."[49] Rivers of Sand's deep reflexivity, I think, addresses this central issue of ethnographic filmmaking in that it makes visible its process of mediation by foregrounding the fact that it is authored. The film's depiction of the Hamar's harvest dance ceremony exemplifies its deep reflexivity. Many features of the scene point to Gardner's presence behind the camera. For example, it takes place at night, and yet it is illuminated wholly by the camera's light. Therefore, the camera is confined to picking up only portions, details, or snatches of action. Moreover, the camera swings erratically, fixating on a sudden movement. The composition's are chaotic―bodies move towards the camera, dominate its view, and block out the light. Also, a freeze frame highlights a man's coat lifting off his body as he dances. These formal features suggest that Gardner was absorbed in the lived experience of the event; they represent attempts to inscribe the film with the affect of its unfolding on his sensorium. 

[1] David MacDougall, "Visual Anthropology and the Ways of Knowing," in Transcultural Cinema, ed. Lucien Taylor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 76-77.
[2] ibid., 78.
[3] ibid., 69.
[4] ibid., 70-71.
[5] David MacDougall, "Anthropology's Lost Vision," in Film, Ethnography, and the Senses: The Corporeal Image (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 245.
[6] ibid., 246.
[7] MacDougall 2006, 247.
[8] MacDougall 1998, 79.
[9] ibid., 80-81.
[10] ibid., 82.
[11] ibid., 84.
[12] ibid., 87.
[13] ibid., 89.
[14] ibid.
[15] ibid., 86.
[16] ibid., 87.
[17] David MacDougall, "Voice and Vision," in Film, Ethnography, and the Senses: The Corporeal Image (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 42.
[18] ibid., 40-42.
[19] ibid., 42.
[20] ibid., 49.
[21] ibid., 50.
[22] ibid., 50-52.
[23] ibid., 54-55.
[24] ibid., 55-56.
[25] ibid., 59.
[26] ibid., 58-59.
[27] David MacDougall, "New Principles of Visual Anthropology," in Film, Ethnography, and the Senses: The Corporeal Image (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 269.
[28] ibid., 272.
[29] Charles Warren, "The Music of Robert Gardner," in The Cinema of Robert Gardner, ed. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 25.
[30] Ilisa Barbash, "Out of Words: A conversation with Robert Gardner," in The Cinema of Robert Gardner, ed. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 107.
[31] Jean Lydall and Ivo Strecker, "A Critique Of Lionel Bender's Review Of Rivers of Sand." American Anthropologist, New Series vol. 80, no. 4 (December 1978): 945.
[32] Jay Ruby, "An Anthropological Critique of the Films Of Robert Gardner," Journal of Film and Video vol. 43, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 11.
[33] Lydall and Strecker, 945.
[34] Ruby, 12.
[35] Lydall and Strecker, 945.
[36] ibid.
[37] Peter Loizos, "Robert Gardner's Rivers of Sand: Toward a Reappraisal," in Fields of Vision: Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology and Photography, ed. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 316.
[38] Karl G. Heider, Ethnographic Film (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 36.
[39] ibid., 75-76.
[40] Loizos, 320.
[41] Loizos, 321.
[42] ibid., 319.
[43] Barbash, 95.
[44] Lydall and Strecker, 945.
[45] Ruby, 11.
[46] Loizos, 316.
[47] Barbash, 113.
[48] Jacques Rancière, "The Emancipated Spectator," Artforum (March 2007): 277.
[49] Barbash, 103.