Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Enter the Void

So the theme of cinema this week was montage and mind control. Some veered a little more to one side than the other and all used different techniques (as always) to get their feelings across.
Since I ended the last (avant garde) post about Kenneth Anger, that's where I'll start today.
1. Scorpio Rising, Kenneth Anger (1964)
With Scorpio Rising, Anger uses montage to tell a story about a biker and the world he inhabits. An important technique he uses to tell this story is setting. Setting helps to establish the character. In the opening scene, Anger uses the setting of the garage to establish the Scorpio's masculinity. He is seen surrounded by tools and parts of motorcycles and clearly feels comfortable in this environment. This image of masculinity is juxtaposed with the pop music. Anger uses this music to call attention to the images on the screen. He choose the songs specifically for their lyrics and how they will work with the images displayed on screen. In one part of the film, as the cyclist is getting ready for the night we can hear the threatening lyrics "my boyfriend's back and there's gonna be trouble..." playing. This synchronicity between image and lyric occurs throughout the film. Anger edited the film so that the "punch shot" will match up with the "central phrases" of the song lyrics  (Sitney 104).
Later on, we see Scorpio in another setting he is equally comfortable in: his bedroom. The walls adorned with pictures of James Dean and Elvis and the TV playing The Wild One with Marlon Brando.This is one of the first examples of the idea of an idol as shown throughout the film. Idols are shown in various forms from the repetition of the skull and scorpion representing the gang to the actual celebrity idols of Dean and Brando. These representations of idols show how culture has moved away from worshiping God or other religious ideas and has placed undo importance on commodities.
2. Invocation of My Demon Brother, Kenneth Anger (1969)This film leans more towards the mind control side of the spectrum. Here Anger uses sound to get his point across. The music was a droning sound made by Mick Jagger and I felt like it was drilling a hole into my skull. There was a definite trance element that came into play that comes from the sound mixed with the images.
The images themselves are intermixed pictures of war, sex, religion, drugs, and destruction. The message here is about the aestheticism of violence in popular culture and what it does to culture as a whole. The images of soldiers exiting helicopters are contrasted with those of a man preaching on a pulpit and the of the albino man who began the film. The film is seen through his eyes; he witnesses the violence and corruption of the world. The film is not only our brainwashing, but his as well.
3. Cat's Cradle, Stan Brakhage (1959)
This film was on the side of the montage, but unlike the films of Anger, there is less of a narrative structure. Brakhage is appreciating the small details of life and spends time showing them all. I felt like the cuts between images occur too quickly; he does not allow for a connection to be created between the images.
These quick cuts reminded me of other films I have seen in which the director is trying to portray the effects of drugs on a character. I do not believe this was Brakhage's intention however I feel like that is the response gained from the quick moving images and lack of sound.
4. Gently Down the Stream, Su Friedrich (1981)
This was one of my favorite films of this week. It was simple, but it worked so well. The words scratched onto the film read very much like a poem. The film uses montage, but this time it includes words along with the images. It gives the film a much different feeling because the viewer has to pay attention and read what is going on as well as look at the images. The words carry so much meaning, but when paired with the images they are given even more. One of the lines that stood out to me was "Which is the original?" To me, that comments on the notion of cinema and art in general and how nothing can ever really be original. Friedrich and these other film makers are trying to change this notion and create completely new forms.
The images of water scenes such as swimmers and people using rowing machines all tie the words together nicely. It adds a flow and calmness to the words and helps to make it more of a story.
5. Black and White Trypps #3, Ben Russell (2007)
This film uses both the montage and mind control aspect. In the sense of mind control, it immerses the viewer completely in the act of viewing a live concert. It is a film that anyone who has ever been to a concert can relate to. The film captures the heightened, almost animalistic feelings caused by fans and their love for the music and band. These people are reveling in their idols, similarly to Scorpio in Scorpio Rising.
In terms of montage, the film focuses on the different concert goers and their responses to the music. The camera tries not to remain on one individual for too long. The images create a semblance of a story of these people, brought together by their love of music and the primal pleasure that comes with seeing a band live. The unconventional, narrow framing helps focus the viewer's eye on a specific image. In such a location as a concert, it is extremely helpful to be told where to focus your attention.
6. Whispering Pines, Shana Moulton #6-8 (2006)
I also liked this film because of the kitschy colors and surprising twists. This film falls into both categories as well because it uses images to tell a story as well as to play with the viewers. The effects of the film are purposefully low budget; you can tell Moulton is not in the scene. Most of the time it seems like an episode of Blue's Clues, the actor is the only real thing in the room and is surrounded by a green screen location. This effect adds an ethereal quality to a mundane beginning of the film. Also, through the way she films, Moulton is making a statement about society. She is the only real thing in this film. Even when she takes the ladder to the party, the viewer cannot see the other party goers faces. They do not seem like real people, only projections. Moulton seems to realize that herself when she ends up in crying in the corner. The only way to return to her world is by throwing up (literally) everything inside of her.
Source: Sitney, P. Adams. "Magnus." Visionary Film: the American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000. 3rd Ed. University Press: Oxford, 2002. 3-15 and 89-119.

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