Monday, November 12, 2012

Documentaries by Philippe Grandrieux and Eric Khoo

There were two really interesting movies that played last week here in Toronto as part of the Reel Asian film festival that I think deserve more attention. They are both documentaries about artist by esteemed world filmmakers. These two artist have paved the way for the kind of films that they themselves are making and explore certain ideas about art that they are interested in. These two films are by a younger generation than their subjects, and the filmmakers are paying their debts to these artists. In both films the director and subject are in collaboration with one another. The two films are different from one another, in terms of both content and form, but they are similar in that they take an unconventional approach to the documentary form.

The two films are Philippe Grandrieux’s Masao Adachi Portrait, the first episode of the collection The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness; and Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi, which is based on the Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s memoir, A Drifting Life.

Philippe Grandrieux is the experimental full-length feature director of such films like Sombre, La vie nouvelle, and Un lac. With The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness, Grandieux brought forth a lot of his techniques from his fiction films to the documentary like out-of-focus imagery, shaky camera-work, and digital video. Along with the conventional trope of documentaries like interviews with the subject and insertion of film-clips, there is an interesting placement of poetic images that resonate with the content of voice-over conversations. Adachi likens this technique, which he also uses, to his discovery of André Breton's Manifesto of Surrealism and their tricks. You can find some of Masao Adachi Japanese experimental/political films on YouTube: Red Army - PFLP: Declaration of World War and CINEMIX /// AKA Serial Killer.
While Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi is about the Japanese manga artist Tatsumi’s who popularized a new genre of manga in the sixties, the gekiga ("dramatic pictures"). Khoo only made fours films previously in a career that spans over fifteen years, and Tatsumi is Khoo's first foray into animation. Tatsumi was highlighted in Cahiers du Cinéma's Most Anticipated Films of the 2011 issue (N.663), and in Jérémy Segay's Khoo de pinceau, Khoo speaks about his desire to make an animation film: "my desire to make an animation film really comes from Yoshihiro Tatsumi." The film is divided into five chapters of Tatsumi's life (where Tatsumi provides his own voice) interspersed with five adaptations of Tatsumi's graphic novels.
It is this homage to artists that are made in interesting ways, which makes Tatsumi and The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness so fascinating.

These two documentaries are less like Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Lincoln, which uses the fiction film to dramatize the American democratic process by way of Abraham Lincoln trying to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representative, but more like James Benning use of the experimental documentary in Two Cabins. Benning meditates on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ted Kaczynski as in a single, extended shot the viewer is shown the view from their cabin looking outward toward nature. The Thoreau episode includes a cabin with a larger window and the emphasis is on what is going on outside, while the Kaczynski episode has a smaller window and its emphasis is on the sonic component. Just like how Benning experiments with form and uses these tableau's to "reflect on utopian and dystopian versions of social isolation," Grandrieux and Khoo reflect on these artist figures from an older generation to better understand the present.

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