Monday, April 29, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: RIVER

The new documentary by Bill and Turner Ross River is having its premiere on Wednesday, May 1st at 7PM at the Innis Town Hall.

Monday, April 22, 2013

La Cinémathèque française: L'espace vidéos

The Cinémathèque française in Paris was founded in 1936 by Henri Langlois, Georges Franju and Jean Mitry. It has a rich history: Langlois is famous for his early film preservation and programming (cf. Entretien avec Henri Langlois, Cahiers N.135). It played an important role in the development of French film culture. Along with curating many important full director retrospectives, it has also works on restoring films. Its archive is an important resource for film scholarship. It has evolved with time to adapt to new technologies and cultural institution guidelines. In 1998 the Cinémathèque moved to its current location in the former Frank Gehry designed American cultural center at 51 rue de Bercy in the 12nd Arrondissement.

At the Cinémathèque there are movie theaters, an exhibition space, a museum, a permanent collection, and a library. On their website these different areas are updated regularly to reflect their newest programs and content. Their film programming and exhibitions reflect the vast diversity of film history and is organized with a flair and adventurousness. The exhibitions that they currently have on are Le monde enchanté de Jacques Demy and Exposition Maurice Pialat: Peintre et Cineaste. The Musée de la Cinémathèque has on display a variety of memorabilia from throughout the history of cinema (cf. the English audio guide). Its director general Serge Toubiana, a former chief-editor of Cahiers, also maintains a good blog.

The film magazines Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif, amongst its local film coverage, regularly publishes dossiers to correspond with the programming and exhibitions at the Cinémathèque (cf. Hallucinations cinématographiques).

But I want to focus here on the video section of the Cinémathèque which is perhaps one of their greatest online resources. The rencontres à la Cinémathèque française are events at the Cinémathèque where they get film scholars to "talk about films, filmmakers, cinema, films movements, and technical aspects. The goal is to create cinema through its discussion, to talk about everything that makes cinema so alive and an evolving art form that is constantly re-inventing itself." The talks are just as good as any published French film criticism but they are of special interest as they put faces and the dynamism of speech to writers that one might only be familiar with in print.

In this video section there are: dialogues and cinema lessons, round tables, conferences, presentations and lectures. The sections are further divided by themes. But if you go to the Voir toutes les vidéos you can see all of them (the current count is 304).

Some highlights:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Paul Schrader at The Royal (7PM, April 21st)

Paul Schrader will be attendance at The Royal for an exciting screening of the new digital restoration of Taxi Driver and an exclusive clip from his new film The Canyons as part of the The Seventh Art Live Directors Series on Sunday April 21st at 7PM.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Images of the Mind: Cinematic Visions by Raymond Durgnat

This great documentary is from the new Raymond Durgnat website, which has also been doing a good job updating its publications section that show the amazing depth and breath of Durgnat's interests and of his vast published work. - D.D.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Images Festival 2013

My favourite time of the year: Images Festival!!!!!!! A week packed full of experimental delights!  Opening night (Thursday, April 11, 2013 @ 8PM at St. Anne's Anglican Church) is not to be missed... Musician Tim Hecker with experimental filmmaker Robert Todd.  

Check out a program of local work while you are at it with mmNemonic DVices (Saturday, April 13, 2013 @ 10:30PM at Jackman Hall).

A re-embodied performance of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope arranged by local performance artist Francesco Gagliardi (Friday, April 12 @ 3PM, Saturday, April 13 @ 3PM, Sunday, April 14 @ 3PM and Tuesday, April 16 @ 7PM at Theatre Centre) is a must see!

I would also highly recommend Jody Mack's Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project (Friday, April 19 @ 10:30 at Cinecycle).   

Finally, the OPEN SCREEN is back!!!!!!!!!  If you make films and videos bring them out to Cinecycle on Friday, April 19 @ 11:30PM!!!!! - Clint Enns

Images Screenings in a Nutshell 
(be sure to check out the Images website for a full listing of events including PARTIES, talks and exhibitions):

Thursday, April 11, 2013
8:00PM @ St. Anne's Anglican Church.
Opening Night Gala: Live Images w/ Tim Hecker + Robert Todd, SlowPitch 

Friday, April 12, 2013
3:00PM @ Theatre Centre
Film: Rope - Francesco Gagliardi 
6:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO 
Canadian Spotlight
A Memory Lasts Forever: Althea Thauberger
not afraid to die - Althea Thauberger
Oh Canada - Althea Thauberger
A Memory Lasts Forever - Althea Thauberger
Northern - Althea Thauberger
Zivildienst ≠ Kunstproject - Althea Thauberger
Msaskok - Althea Thauberger
9:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Suitcase of Love and Shame - Jane Gilooly

Saturday, April 13, 2013
3:00PM @ Theatre Centre
Film: Rope - Francesco Gagliardi
6:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Leaf in the Wind
Next Week - Guy Wouete 
Fleurs de Lys - Michèle Magema
Leaf In The Wind - Jean-Marie Teno 
8:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
All That Is Solid
Un film inédit - Gordon Webber
Museum of the Imagination - Amit Dutta
Quartet for the End of Time - Deanna Erdmann
A Third Version of the Imaginary - Benjamin Tiven
48 Heads From Merkurov Museum (after Kurt Kren) - Anna Artaker
In My Room - Chance Taylor
The Invisible World - Jesse McLean
10:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
mmNemonic DVices
Curator: Blake Williams, Julian Carrington, Nick Benidt
You Are Here - Leslie Supnet
Shadow Puppet - Yi Cui
Oracle - Mani Mazinani
Half Way There - Karen Henderson
The Timeslide - Ariana Andrei
Christ Church - St. James - Stephen Broomer
Days of Future Past - Joe Hambleton
Separate Vacations - Cameron Moneo
The Pool - Christine Lucy Latimer
Ten S̶k̶i̶e̶s̶  - Clint Enns
rapidTransfer - John Creson & Adam Rosen
Summer Solstice, 11 pm, Jordaan - Albert Wisco

Sunday, April 14
3:00PM @ Theatre Centre
Film: Rope - Francesco Gagliardi
6:30PM @ Jackman Hall 
Sleight of Hand
Torque - Björn Kämmerer
Ten Minutiae - Peter Miller
Early Figure - Brian Virostek
Passage Upon the Plume - Fern Silva
Sugar Beach - Mark Loeser
Stone - Kevin Jerome Everson
Maître-Vent - Simon Quéhiellard
addy CHOO - JB Mabe
9:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Lukas The Strange
Light Streaming - Kathleen Rugh
Lukas nino (Lukas The Strange) - John Torres

Monday, April 15
6:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO 
Borders/Bodies: International Student Showcase
Curator: Taimaz Moslemian, Cameron Moneo, Zoë Heyn-Jones
Poppy Fields Forever - John Warren
A Changed Landscape - Tijana Petrovic
Heart of Durham - Joel Wanek
Trying to Build a Sentence - Susanna Flock
Factory - Bruno Ramos
Snail Trail - Philipp Artus
Ground and Body - Undine Sommer
White House - Georg Koszulinski
To Love is to Let Go? - Sausan Saulat
Harbour's Puddle - Lucie Mercandal
King Kong - Gurpreet Sehra
Young Money - Jennifer Chan
9:00PM @ Jackman Hall
Rhythm and Reflection
Bloom - Scott Stark
I Remember A Film About Joe Brainard - Matt Wolf
Pastoral - JB Mabe
Dad's Stick - John Smith
Charlie's Proof - Kevin Jerome Everson
Woolworth's Choir - Elizabeth Price

Tuesday, April 16
7:00PM @ Theatre Centre
Film: Rope - Francesco Gagliardi
9:00PM @ Cinecycle
Scoring Cinecyle
Lina Allemano Four Scoring 
The Existentialist - Leon Prochnik 
Allures - Jordan Belson 
- Eucalyptus Scoring 
Del Bel Scoring 
Überfall - Adolf Trotz

Wednesday, April 17
7:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Babette Mangolte Spotlight
Edward Krasiński's Studio - Babette Mangolte
Water Motor - Babette Mangolte
There? Where? - Babette Mangolte
9:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO 
Beautiful People - David Wojnarowicz

Thursday, April 18
6:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Before Our Eyes
Sight - Thirza Jean Cuthand
This Town of Toronto... - Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof
Strata of Natural History - Jeanette Munoz
memento mori - Dan Browne
9214 - Takahiro Suzuki
Underscore (_) Subguión - Jorge Lozano 
9:00PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Maintenance - Adele Horne

Friday, April 19
6:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Your Day is My Night - Lynne Sachs
8:30PM @ Jackman Hall, AGO
Curator: Elena Duque
Etude Cinematographique sur un arabesque - Germaine Dulac
Pixelación Laboral - Chus Dominguez
Les Coquelicots - Rose Lowder
Ecosystem-6-A Sort of Mycelium - Teruo Koike
Photomatons - Eugeni Bonet
Zebra - Maarten Visser
Through the Miniscope - Ian Helliwell
De jamones y monjas - Daniel Cuberta
Escultura fílmica No3 - Alberto Cabrera Bernal
Confessions through an open curtain - Eli Cortinas
Desert - Daniel Cuberta
75 Cuts for Carl Andre - Alberto Cabrera Bernal
Blanket Statement #1: Home is Where the Heart is - Jodie Mack
10:30PM @ cinecycle
Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project - Jodie Mack
11:30PM @ cinecycle

Saturday, April 20
4:00 @ Mocca
grain(s) - Tanya Lukin Linklater, Duane Linklater
8:00PM @ St. Anne's Anglican Church.
Closing Night Gala
David Mott, Hamid Drake Scoring 
Corredor - Alexandra Gelis

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

John Gianvito by Nicole Brenez

To accompany a recent blog post on John Gianvito I've translated an article about him by Nicole Brenez that first appeared in the Journal section of Cahiers du Cinéma (March 2012), which was published in conjunction with his visit to Paris for Le Cinéma Du Reel. 
Brenez is the programmer of experimental films at the Cinémathèque française (a position she has held since '96) as well a professor and author of many books. Her first collaboration with Cahiers was in their 2000 Hors-Série issue Aux Frontières Du Cinéma, which corresponded with a massive program of French experimental films that she curated Jeune, Dure et Pure (the issue also includes a good article by Stéphane Delorme, Found Footage, mode d'emploi). In the interview Brenez praises René Vautier, "The most important film in the history of cinema is Afrique 50." Since then she started to occasionally contribute to Cahiers and when she does it really stands out. Some of her most recent pieces includes reviews of Film socialisme, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Go Go Tales, and reviews of books about F.J. Ossang and Akram Zaatari.
Brenez has collaborated with Philippe Grandrieux on a documentary about Masao Adachi, Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre resolution.
Brenez's only English language book is on Abel Ferrara, which was translated by Adrian Martin who also recently published a book where he explores figural film theory in her writing, Last Day Every Day. Brenez has an assortment of contributions in a variety of academic film books including ones on Ken Jacobs and Jean Epstein. In her contribution to Robert Bresson (Revised) she writes about Marcel Hanoun, "an extreme-leftist Bresson, whose superb work deserves also to be seen around the world."
Brenez’s writing carries a revolutionary charge: whether it is through programming the films of the Jocelyne Sabb or her text on Carole Roussopoulos in Caméra militante (a perfect title to describe Brenez's ethos) there is an emphasis on using film as tool of social activism. This continues the politicized tradition of the seventies and might just make her the most Godardian writer today at Cahiers. - D.D.
John Gianvito, and productive contemplation. by Nicole Brenez 

Sometimes a work arises that reassures us about the capabilities cinema has to fight on every front and to also achieve an incredible totality: formal radicalism, activist requirements, and speculative autonomy. The work of John Gianvito not only achieves this ideal but also continuously intensifies his interventions on this ground by creating sites of protest, through his films, about imperialism in his country, ""There is no decent place to stand in a massacre,"says Leonard Cohen in his song,The Captain. To live, like for myself, in a military society, which is the most aggressive one in the planet, forces one to measure his own responsibilities in regards to the action of the state towards what they do at home and internationally. Neutrality is not an option."

History Lesson
Starting with his first video-essay, according to Gianvito, cinema's potential lies in its fight against institutional oppression: Schooldeath is a "super 8 semi-surrealist short-film that was filmed to capture the perspective of the objections toward, and the obstruction of, the scholastic administration during my studies in an Jesuit military institution in Manhattan." Informed by the films of Alexander Mackendrick, Richard Leacock and Don Levy; a passionate reader of Becket, Vitrac and Joyce; Gianvito still claims that his major influences are the films of Jean Eustache and Philippe Garrel. But it's Andrei Tarkovsky whom he writes a book about in 2006. From 1978 (The Direct Approach) to 2001 (The Mad songs of Fernanda Hussein), Gianvito multiplies his stylistic experiments and structures, ranging from documentary to fictions, individual works to that of collectives (Address Unknown, 1986), that manifest through their parallel montages a melancholic rage that boils within himself about the state of the world (The Flower of Pain, 1983, What Nobody Saw, 1990). The United States appear as an inhospitable territory, haunted and in ruins, to the point that morals have crumpled in rubble and are being transformed into concrete debris like in Puncture Wounds (2002), or where September 11th in America is contrasted with that of Chile, or how it feels like after coming back from Iraq and being in New Mexico like in The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein.

In 2007, blending the influences of Trop tôt, trop tard by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (1982) with that of Howard Zinn, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind is a heightened visual hymn about the history of emancipatory struggles on American territory, from native resistance all the way to the manifestations against the war in Iraq. Then, for four years, Gianvito dedicates himself to a considerable visual terrain: "a critique of the American military in regards to the toxic contamination around an ancient American base in the Philippines (the largest overseas installation before Iraq)." So is born Vapor Trail (Clark) (2010) that prolongs and radicalizes into the present the "history lessons" of Profit Motive and will eventually be completed in an accompanying film Wake (Subik), which will be about the naval base in Subik.

Meanwhile, Gianvito started another project, and this time it is a collective: Far From Afghanistan, which is a critical examination of the ten years of the American invasion and its human, ecological and economic toll. Like for Chris Marker in 1967 when he brought together many directors to make Loin du Vietnam, Gianvito brings together the strength of many activist filmmakers from different generations and countries: Travis Wilkerson, Jon Jost, Minda Martin, Soon-Mi Yoo. Partly funded by crowd funding, and diffused for a few weeks on the internet in a "October Edition", Far From Afghanistan's strengths are that of the power of documentation, reflection, description, imagination, and conviction against the discouraging evidence of what has been happening and the instituted injustices in Iraq: fighting against "imperial impunity."

On Alert
Establishing history, transmission, and intervention: these three functions, when used in his films, is where Gianvito excels. As before he was a filmmaker Gianvito was a programmer at the Harvard Film Archieve and MIT, a professor in direction and production at the University of Massachusetts, and a film-critic. Which goes to say that when Gianvito creates an image he knows what context it is being inscribed in, what it represents, and what artistic and social sources it can build upon for the greatest effect. "To talk about politics, for me, means talking about the politics of images. I usually begin my class 'Cinema and Social Change' by introducing the book The Media Monopoly, which was first published in 1982, by Ben Bagdikian, a media analyst. Bagdikian observes the consequences that comes from media control by 50 firms. Four years after the book's first publication the number drops to 26, and by 1990 the total is 23, and by 1996 the total is 10. In the book's latest edition, Bagdikian explains that 5 giant conglomerates control the media: Time-Warner, Dines, Murdoch's News Corporation, Viacom and Bertelsman in Germany. One must also include General Electric. What do they own? All of the television broadcasting networks, all of the Hollywood studios, 4 out of the 5 companies that sell 90% of the music in the US, the majority of cable television etc. The failure to recognize this as a major obstacle to our understanding limits our experience of reality, which is a symptom of their "success.""

In the battle that rages between free media and the conglomerates, and contrary to arguments against the inefficacity of art, Gianvito situates with precision the responsibilities of cinema: to invite a "productive contemplation", transmit the memory of struggles, strengthen the courage of those who fight, and ignite debates. "If films were unable to bring about any change, why have so many of them been banned and censured in so many countries? Why was there a lot of effort that went into stopping the production of Herbert J. Biberman's Salt of the Earth (1954) at each of its different stages? Why did Raymond Gleyzer "disapear"? Why is Jafar Panahi under house arrest and under surveillance? Why was the Tibetan filmmaker Dhondub Wangchen imprisoned and tortured?" In My Heart Swims in Blood, the episode by Gianvito in Far From Afghanistan, Minerva's owl does not fly by day or night, she just remains there: alert and obstinate. 

Profit motive and the whispering wind (John Gianvito, 2007)

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Films of John Gianvito

In The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein a teenager Raphael (Dustin Scott) discovers the personal toll for standing up for his convictions. Set in New Mexico during the Persian Gulf War, the high school student is angry about his country's militarism. Encouraged by a teacher, he distributes leaflets about unreported war crimes. He attends peaceful gatherings, protests at a park, gets into fights with his parents, runs away from his home, and becomes a homeless vagrant.

By following the premise that the US is responsible for crimes against humanity and that this needs to be protested, Raphael’s idealism and his descent embodies the difficulty of social protest. There is an irreconcilable gap between his personal beliefs and a desired social conformity. Raphael’s journey leads him to another protester, an older woman, who teaches him about the symbolic value of smaller scale social movements and tells him, "I realize that it hasn't stopped anybody from carrying on that war but I feel that there is something that you say to the universe that says this isn't the way it should be and there can't be more wars that never solve anything."

The two other main characters of Mad Songs are a Mexican-American woman Fernanda Hussein whose two young children are tragically abducted and killed based on their Muslim last name, and a returning soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who is having difficulty returning to his normal life. These people, along with the film's many peripheral characters, are what makes this social mosaic so complex as everyone in some way, whether psychologically or socially, internalizes the negative effects that arise when America continuously stays at war.

Howard Zinn describes the methodology of A People’s History of United States as,
“...[being] skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest. I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another, as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.””
Zinn's monumental study of American history focuses on the perspective of the working class and the poor. He emphasizes the large divide between the needs of the people and the policies of the electoral government. It is a history that progresses through protest movements and social clashes where change, however small or large, is possible. The belief and actions of people are important, and Zinn's research unearths many underwritten cases of courageous protests. There is a moral quality to Zinn’s writing as he is speaking for a larger demographic about problems with the country that go unnoticed in the mainstream press.

There are similarities between Zinn and Gianvito (who dedicated Profit motive and the whispering wind to People’s History). There is a utopian drive common to both thinkers, who both hope for the possibility of a better world while being aware of the difficulty of attainting it. For the two of them the ideal site is one of protest against the status quo and its forms of oppression through social movements that incorporate creativity (e.g. the excitement of protests at the end of Profit Motive). Gianvito incorporates a variety of social documents in his films in a way that is similar to Zinn’s use of quotations from books, polls, legal documents, and newspaper articles. Whether it be archival or television footage, the Naseer Shemma music sequence in Mad Songs or the animation in Profit Motive.

What makes Gianvito's cinema so important is its effectiveness. When Gianvito's films are screened in an auditorium they have the remarkable ability to transform the theater - a space that is often associated with escapism and entertainment - into a site of social protest. When his two most recent documentaries played in Toronto, whether it was Vapor Trail (Clark) at Jackman Hall or Far From Afghanistan at the AMC, there is a striking juxtaposition between the film's content and the traditional viewing experiences associated with those dispositif.

These recent screenings instigated interventions for the subjects of the documentaries. When Vapor Trail played at Images, Gianvito and Myrla Baldonado (with one leg in a cast) from the Alliance for U.S. Bases Clean-up, Philippines (ABC) was there to discuss the social realities of her country. When Far from Afghanistan played at Wavelengths, Gianvito and Minda Martin (one of the other collaborative filmmakers) talked about friends and family who were affected by the war, and their views on the current state of political affairs.

Gianvito’s films, with their focus on contentious issues within the American landscape, operate as political gestures. This is similar to Barbara Hammer’s Resisting Paradise which was filmed as part of a residency project in Cassis: after hearing about the outbreak of war in Kosovo, the film's content shifts away from the purely aesthetic towards the political. It becomes a documentary about the history of the French Resistance in Cassis during WWII, featuring interviews with some of its key figures, and an interrogation of the complicit politics of the French painter Matisse. It is this shift from the formal to the political that makes these kinds of filmmakers so vital. There are sometimes more important things than the beauty of a shot or particular camera movement. It is this tradition of political filmmaking that is currently lacking in American independent cinema. Gianvito's cinema is a beacon, speaking out against the injustices of the world in a courageous and humble manner.
Gianvito's recent contribution to the Sight & Sound ten greatest films poll contextualizes the political film tradition that he works in. The list included: 1. The Age of the Earth (Clauber Rocha), 2. La Commune (Paris, 1871) (Peter Watkins), 3. Earth (Alexander Dovhenko), 4. Evolution of a Filipino Family (Lav Diaz), 5. The House is Black (Forough Farrokhzad), 6. Kuhle Wampe (Slatan Dudow), 7. Reason, Debate and a Story (Ritwik Ghatak), 8. Shiranui Sea (Noriaki Tsuchimoto), 9. Story of Kindness (Tran V.T.), 10. West Indies (Med Hondo).

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (John Gianvito, 2001)

"Well I think that no matter what is going on people need to make some sort of a statement about peace, and I can't accept the fact that what I have done hasn't made a difference. I realize that it hasn't stopped anybody from carrying on that war but I feel that there is something that you say to the universe that says this isn't the way it should be and there can't be more wars that never solve anything."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Far From Afghanistan

On June 7th 2010, the US war in Afghanistan surpassed Vietnam, at 104 months, as the longest war in US history. Launched in October 2001 as “Operation Enduring Freedom” this fall will mark one decade of involvement in a war that has seen at least 2,300 Coalition military deaths and over 10,000 wounded. Meanwhile, US-led forces have killed thousands of Afghan civilians, with 2010 the deadliest year thus far.
What do the people of Afghanistan have to show for ten years of war and occupation? Average life expectancy there is barely over 40 years. 700 children and 60 women die each day from hunger and lack of health care. The illiteracy rate is running at 70 percent in the cities and up to 99 percent in the countryside. Only a quarter of the population has access to clean water and just 10 percent have electricity. According to the UN Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the most underdeveloped non-African country in the world.
But while the war grows ever more costly, news coverage within the US about the war in Afghanistan has declined to its lowest level since the warʼs launch. In the most recent congressional elections, the war barely registered. And Hollywood movies, of course, have little or nothing whatsoever to say. And yet, while the media turn away from the gruesome reality of war, polls indicate 63% of Americans oppose the war and want our involvement to cease. And as Tunisia and Egypt have recently reminded us, even the most dormant of people can suddenly re-awaken and change the course of history…
For more information about the Far From Afghanistan project see their website

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Case for a Gentler Cinema

"“Art imitates life, and life imitates art. I don’t think you have to choose between the two, and I think…I think we’re a violent people.” James Gillham says this to his co-host Matt Gamble about an hour into a recent episode (4.3 – “At the Movies”) of their podcast High & Low (Brow) in which they discuss, among other things, the role violence plays in contemporary media. It is a very wise statement, and it neatly sums up a few things that have been on my mind for some time now – especially recently, what with the increased discussion of gun control in the USA following such horrific incidents as the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my personal tastes in films and how they have changed over the years, but also about peculiar little things I’m taking greater stock of – like how, in the midst of the talks and debates about gun control, while the abovementioned incidents are still fresh in people’s memories, films like A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation keep filling the multiplexes."
To read Marc Saint-Cyr's great article The Case for a Gentle Cinema in its entirety check it out on his blog Subtitle Literate

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cahiers du Cinéma and M. Night Shyamalan - Part II

To accompany my recent post on the reception of M. Night Shyamalan’s films at Cahiers du Cinema, here are two more smaller pieces from the magazine about Shyamalan. Where the last post consisted of selecting the ostensible reviews of his films as they were being released in Paris, instead here the two pieces are brief overviews and critical evaluations.

After Cahiers acknowledges the importance of a filmmaker this position then becomes integrated into the magazine. For example, Steven Spielberg, who is a championed Cahiers director (e.g. War of the Worlds was voted as one of the 10 best films of the 00s), his legacy is rearticulated by Cahiers through their championing of films that have been inspired by his (J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, which made their cover) as well as by comparison. So like how in their review of The Tree of Life they compare the dinosaurs to those in Jurassic Park and in their review of Moonrise Kingdom they compare its coming of age tale with E.T..

To offer another example on a different topic, in Jean-Philippe Tessé’s review of Spring Breakers, Fluo et sang (N.687), he writes that “Spring Breakers is like Film Socialisme and Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which described a terminal state of the contemporary capitalist civilization. With these three films we have a kind an irreconcilable triptych of our times.” This judgment by an important Cahiers critic cements the importance of these films at the magazine. So you can now expect that these films (and perhaps also Holy Motors and Lincoln, which were also deemed important) to reappear in later writing at Cahiers and perhaps also in their highlights of important films from the first decade of the 21st century.
100 Cinéastes Americains (Cahiers, May 2003, N.579)

The opening essay Les nouvelles têtes du cinéma américain is by Olivier Joyard and Jean-Marc Lalanne (and is accompanied by a photo of Shyamalan on the set of Unbreakable). To accompany a previous issue that had interviews with people from the American film industry, this unique feature is a critical biographical dictionary of 100 directors, “An exercise to clearly articulate our relationship with these American cineastes.” The emphasis is on new directors of the last decade (starting in ’92) instead of a reevaluation of the perennials (Lynch, De Palma, Carpenter, Van Sant etc). After acknowledging a disappointment with the quality of many new American films, they note, “Some new names by emerging directors show us that auteurs are still being made: the Farrelly brothers, Sofia Coppola, James Gray, M. Night Shyamalan and Larry Clark count for some of the best new discoveries from America.” The survey is also interested in less singular authorial figures so people like Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro) as a way to hypothesize what makes some of their films good or bad. The selection is full of interesting choices. The evaluations are varied from standard observations to eccentric readings: curiosity with Albert and Allen Hughes, appreciation for E.H. Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, fascination with Joseph McGinty Nichol (McG), interest in Jim KcKay, admiration for Raphael Nadjari, skepticism regarding Christopher Nolan, reserved admiration for Andrew Niccol, interest in Peter Sollet and Stephen Sommers, fondness for Barry Sonnenfeld etc.
M. Night Shyamalan
How to rank the Indian of Hollywood, Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan? People are talking about this everywhere and especially here. Those that are against him accuse his films of an integral range of stylish disguises, that they are awful post mortems of recanned goods, gray scenarios about bereavement, a cinema for old people. The people that are on his side are praising a totally different Shy. He is less the juvenile genius that he rapidly became known for with one (Sixth Sense), two (Unbreakable) and then three (Signs) films. But instead his cinema is that of the X mark, which is the exact spot, where a well-constructed story and a doubt of today’s cinema can be found. X, crossed at least three times. One: the return of the heroic father (Bruce, Mel) isn’t separated from the tropes of the genre – terror, action, fantastic – which reinvents it. This is closer to the narrative science of David Lynch with his dry irony, allegory and mystery. Two: the apparent classicism of the process – frontality, framing, shot-reverseshot, unrivaled fluidity of editing – radicalize the actuality of the evolution of its images. It fuses bodies in familiar spaces and creates an incorporation of domestication. Three and go: Shyamalan is sneaky and with him there is something cooking. Look at his films that are so smooth and so cryptic. Look at him, there, with his cameos and in the interviews. What a bizarre mixture of seriousness and buffoonery. In America, like elsewhere, the range of postures for filmmakers is never like this. Those of the 21st century might be like the nice Manoj, which is a little charming and a bit of a swindler. At this hour, it is too early to say. – Emmanuel Burdeau
Les meilleurs films des années 2000 (Cahiers Jan ’10, N.652)

This is from the Cinq cineaste pour les années 2000 section, which also included short-takes on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Gus Van Sant, Wes Anderson (written by Miguel Gomes) and Pedro Costa (written by Olivier Père).
M. Night Shyamalan
Born in France at the end of the 19th century, cinema relived the history of the narrative arts that preceded it: myths, epics, tragedies, comedies, realism and satire. In one century, that of the cinema, they have been degraded to the point that they have now been deteriorated into an irreversible irony. The heroes of the 2000 years, a synthetic hero, have been invented by Stan Lee and his blood relative Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine. They have our neuroses and our powerlessness. The only “marvel” that the cinema can produce is those from “Marvel.”
            Born in Indian in 1970, M. Night Shyamalan incarnates more or less his own role in his first full-length feature (Praying with Anger, 1992), returning to India from America where he learns to pray to the Hindi divinity. This film has barely been seen. The next one, Wide Awake (1998), tells the story of a boy that is searching for God in a catholic school that Shyamalan went to during his childhood in Philadelphia. His difficult school year relies on the discovery that his friend that has been helping him survive remains invisible to everyone except himself. Shyamalan directed a remake of Wide Awake – a cataclysmic commercial failure – and entitled it Sixth Sense, a commercial success so enormous that he has never bee able to live up to or forget it.
            Then mounting criticisms and commercial failures has handicapped him in the 2000s, despite his decision to remain with the fantastical which has been nourishing Hollywood during this decade: ghosts stories, comic books, science-fiction, gothic, fairy tales, and animation. There have been many sublime moments that have been reached through the descent into the grotesque and profound confusion. But this parallel search for the treasure chest, today is pilled against much more inferior works (toys, video games), which ends up deceiving the public that made Shyamalan “bankable.” Someone must have misread the instructions on the back of the cereal box…
            The characters in the story of Lady in the Water are trying to find their place (which isn’t even a story but a game – this film really anticipates The Last Airbender: cinema as virtual reality) but don’t know their significance, just like the stories that are told between the eccentric and comic tenants of this apartment building (like quirky characters from an unmade TV pilot). The experts talk about a “Grand Narratives” of the American national cinema, which is a contested term; but Lady in the Water is the story of these stories.
            Shyamalan, like Joe Dante two generations before him, is the anti-Spielberg of his generation. He is a make believe prophet whose capacity to find in an animated TV cartoon an eschatological has always been his strongest asset (he is about to film Avatar: The Last Airbender). A force that is revealed at the spot where for Spielberg is a weakness, where everything is inevitably revealed: at the end of the film. The end of Lady in the Water, when the residents of the apartment see the young women being picked up into the sky by the eagle, is as beautiful as that of The Space Children (Jack Arnold, 1958): it is a poetry of recycled religiosity. By daring to speculate onto the screen a message of salvation, the importance of his body of work will only be revealed when he will be dead or killed. This makes M. Night Shyamalan the last rock star of the 60s. – Bill Krohn