Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The World Forgetting, by the World Forgot

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd"- Eloisa to Abelard, Alexander Pope
There was only one film viewed in class today, Chris Marker's San Soleil (1983). The way they describe Marker in the articles is as if he is like some Banksy-esq character; no one really knows much about him or where he has come from, all they know is that he knows how to make films and influence other people throughout the industry. The extent to which he has done both is unknown.
Out of all of his films, San Soleil is perhaps his best known. It explores the ideas of "memory, history, and representation" through footage from Japan, Africa, Iceland, France, and San Fransisco (Lupton 152). The idea of this film reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004), one of my favorite films. Both films play with the idea of memory and how we as humans remember and recreate the events of our past in our minds. Together the films look at memory and how it creates both the past and future, as well as the identities of those that share in the collective memory.
The narrator of San Soleil, Alexandra Stewart, quotes from a letter wondering how people who do not video tape or photograph memories remember them. The film questions the central notions of what makes up such things as individual and collective memory. There are no answers, just more questions posed as to the notion of what makes up how we remember our past.
With its reoccurring images, the film itself becomes a memory. Throughout the film several images reappear: cats, the wing of the plane, the children playing on the hill in Iceland. Seeing these images again serves as an instant creation of memory in the mind of the viewer. The audience is able to think back on the first time seeing the image which has become part of the memory since seeing it in the beginning of the film. This is a very powerful effect.
Another effect that worked well in the film was the use of synthesized images. These images that have become mutated represent what film cannot express. Through the grainy, strange colored pixels we "see" the Japanese unmentionables, the horrors of soldiers preparing for war, and at the end of the film, images from the entire film. These images represent the way memories themselves appear in the mind, blurry and without real definition. The outline can be seen, but there is no clear image and it is up to the mind to fill in the spaces and create the image and memory.
Source:  Lupton, Catherine. "Into the Zone." 148-163.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

City Love

The films viewed in class this week all dealt with urban settings and the way the filmmakers portrayed such environments. The films displayed cities as diverse as Odessa in Russia, Montreal in Canada, and New York in the United States. Each film served as a kind of postcard to these locations and the feelings they brought to the director.
Man With a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov (1929)
Man with a Movie Camera is a symphony of the Russian cities of Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. An important element of the film is the use of editing and how it creates not only the rhythm and pace of the film, but also how it creates the film's self reflection. The fast pace cuts in between scenes serves to capture and transmit the high energy life of the city. The film seems to constantly be moving, whether it is through the image itself or the editing. The scenes that compared film editing to women in a beauty parlor and using sewing machines were some of the best edited scenes. It flawlessly combines the production of a film with other commercial goods and the movement of the city showing how the creation of films can be incorporated into the flow of society. Vertov is showing at the power of cinema in transforming images into meaning as the filmmaker's job compared to all the other working people seen throughout the film.
Silvercup, Jim Jennings (1998)
This film was of a slow ode to a city than a symphony. It is a drastic change in pace from the first film because of its slow moving pace and quiet. The cuts of the film are quick, but there is slowness in subject matter that makes the movie feel almost languid. Jennings mixes urban and natural scenes to create a multifaceted picture of a city; he works to show not just the busy life, but also the slower moments.
Confederation Park, Bill Brown (1999)
This was probably my favorite film of the week because it truly was about one man's love for numerous cities and how they have come to affect his personality. While Man With a Movie Camera could be called a symphony of a city, Confederation Park is more of a love song to Canada. The voice-over narration plays an integral role in the film because Brown is proving his own narration to the landscapes that seem so important to him. The language is very beautiful and has a very poem-like quality to it. Most of the time the image could be of any city, the important thing are the memories he has and how he attaches them to the location. The pace of this film is much slower and gives more time to appreciate the natural beauty of the environment.
Castro Street, Bruce Baillie (1966)
 This portrait of a city was much different than that of the first two films. There was a semi-narrative flow that went along with both two earlier films as well as sounds that played an important role in the viewing experience. Castro Street is a more abstract, silent appreciation of a city. The close-up, overlapping images make it hard to always tell what is being depicted. The fact that the pictures are not as clear makes the idea of a specific city hard to see at all times. There are a few times when monuments like the Chrysler Building can be seen through the slots in the bridge, but at the same time most of these images could be of any industrial area of any city.
 The last two films had to deal less with specific cities and more with urban settings in general. They also made use of voice-over narration, similar to Confederation Park.The Girl Chewing Gum, John Smith (1976)
In this film, Smith uses the technique of voice-over narration to display his power as a director over the action that occurs in his film. Almost humorously the narrator of the film comments on and directs the movement of the individuals and the camera. In doing so, it seems that the narrator is the director himself. As a director he is showing his complete control over all elements in the film. Small things, like the image not matching up perfectly with the sound or the directing of birds to fly in certain directions makes the viewer aware that the sound was recorded after the fact. The playing around with sound and image makes this film playful and at the same time makes the viewer aware of the fact that we are watching a film and the affect that sound has on the way we interpret images.
The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal, Matt McCormick (2002)

This was another one of my favorite films this week. I loved the approach and subject of the film, having recently seen Exit Through the Gift Shop. The voice-over narration served a very different purpose in this film worked differently than in the previous films. Here, the narration was used to add an "authenticity" to the documentary like style of film. Through the style and type of narration, the film was taken by some as a documentary critiquing graffiti. However, I believe that the piece actually works to satirize the bureaucracy that goes into removing art by calling the removal process art itself. It is a pro-graffiti film because it considers it a form of art. The film works to get its point across about a serious subject through the use of a playful tone.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lost & Found (Footage)

This week was by far my favorite in the world of the avant garde because I found the films viewed in class to be entertaining and enjoyable. The theme was also very interesting: found footage. None of the directors this week shot their own material, they solely used footage they had found and reassembled the images to create new meaning. This was a very interesting premise which created some unique results.
Report, Bruce Conner (1967)
This film dealt well with a very heavy subject: the assassination of a much loved president and what it did to a nation. At the same time, it comments on the issues of the media and the ways in which it portrayed the event. By making a film that criticizes the media, I feel that Conner is being contradictory. Through his film he is saying that the media took advantage of Kennedy's death, but at the same time he is doing the exact same thing. However, Conner's film does not exploit the event. The moment of the assassination is not even shown in the film; at that moment there is a cut to a screen that resembles one of a flicker film. We can hear what is being said by the announcer but we cannot see the actual action. This makes the moment of Kennedy's death more personal to the individual viewer. This flickering, image-less screen made it easier to be absorbed into the moment. There was nothing to distract from the words being said. I felt myself tearing up because I was able to put myself into what it must have been like to suffer such a tragedy as a nation.
Home Stories, Mathius Muller (1990)
I really liked this film for its use of sound and editing techniques. The music and sound effects helped to heighten the tension of the film and add a sense of paranoia. It allowed the viewer to become a part of the film and experience the same emotions as the women in the scenes. The editing of Home Stories was also really well done because it helped to tie these diverse images together into a cohesive story. Muller picked images of women that are typical of classic Hollywood films. With the use of editing he was able to tie the images together to create a seeming narrative flow different than that of the narrative from which the image originally came. As stated in the article about Home Stories, "Thoughts on the Transformation of Meaning in Found Footage Film," by Lucy Reynolds, the film only gains meaning through its dual layers. The "original histories inscribed in the found footage images" is used in order for the film to comment on another societal issue (p 3). There cannot be an idea of subversion without the original idea already in place. In this film, Muller seems to be subverting the idea of the female character in classic Hollywood cinema.
Removed, Naomi Uman (1999)
I felt that this film was similar to Connor's in its contradictions. Through her film Uman is commenting on the female body and how it is exploited by men through pornography. In those types of films, women are seen solely as objects of sexual desire. Through removing the female figure, with nail polish remover, a very female object in and of itself, she is taking away the idea of women as a objects of desire. At the same time, she is exploiting the female form for the sake of her art. She is using the void of the female body to make a point and to make a film.
Somewhere Only We Know, Jess McClean (2009)
This film used reality television clips to express the obsession of Americans of the genre. Through here film, McClean is showing the range of human emotions of people getting their dreams crushed and comparing them to the very real event of an earthquake. In doing so she is showing how unrealistic reality television can be. I would have liked her to compare the faces of the people losing competitions with people suffering actual devastation as a result of the earthquake or other real events. I think that could have added a stronger emotional impact and a larger social commentary.
Rehearsals for Retirement, Phil Solomon (2007)
Hearing that this film would use clips from the Grand Theft Auto video games, I assumed that there would be violence and maybe some commentary on violence of video games and the affect it has on children. However, I was hugely mistaken. This film takes a somber look a life all through the use of actual video game images. I thought the concept was interesting, but I'm not sure if it was executed in the right way. The scenes of the cars flying and the people just walking did not seem true to real life game play. Also, I wasn't sure where the film was actually going for the most part.
For a Blonde...For a Brunette...For Someone...For Her...For You, Mike Olenick (2006)
This film was unique because of its interactive experience. At first, I was afraid that no one in the class would be interested or enthusiastic about reading the lines aloud. I was surprised at the response at which we all joined in and took part in the film. There was a feeling of collectivity that came with the experience of reading it together; it took away the act of the film as an insular, personal experience and made it a group event.
Security Anthem, Kent Lampert (2003)
There is something very strange and haunting about this film. Lampert uses simple phrases to create a haunting poem that to us living in the post 9/11 world seems like a morbid threat to our security. The words being said are all banal but it is the way they are read, the expressionless tone accompanied by the alarm sound in the background that creates the air of creepiness and paranoia. Phrases such as "they have only one son" and "the car is going too fast" no longer seem like simple statements but warnings of violence and loss. There was also something hypnotic with the way the words were being read that pulled the viewer in and never let go.
Passage A L'Acte, Martin Arnold (1993)

This film, with all its stuttering and stops reminded me of a broken down animatronics ride in Disney World or as someone put it in class "a DJ mixing on a turntable." Arnold was able to take such a simple 15 second scene and break it down so far as to be able to see every small detail, and then some. There is a musical quality that comes from this breakdown of image; the characters seem to almost dance and create music with their bodies and the objects around them. He is taking a very serious movie and removing the realism, breaking it down to its most simple cinematic form. The film reminded me of a flicker film in the way that it distorted language until there was almost no meaning and the way the images flashed on the screen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Structure of Avant Garde Film

This week was all about structure, and to some extent deconstruction and the differences between these two different types of forms. There are many specific techniques that go into a structural film which are used to make the film more complex in structure than the average avant garde film.
1). Kiss, Andy Warhol (1963)
This film was the only film of the week to represent deconstruction. Warhol's process was mostly indifference to cinema; he believed in "turning on the camera and walking away" (Sitney 349). Kiss shows Warhol's disregard for cinema because it does not use any classical cinematic or avant garde techniques. The film is solely images of different couples kissing. It is awkward to watch because the viewer feels like they are intruding into these personal moments. However, there is also something beautiful in the watching of the couples expressing their love for each other.
2.) Wavelength, Michael Snow (1966)
This film by Snow was very different than that of Warhol's; there was a definite structure and technique that went into the film. One of the most important elements that Snow brought into his film was the sound of the sine wave. In the beginning of the film the sound is a deep buzzing noise that lulls the viewer into a trance. I found myself watching the film, but not really focusing on anything in particular. The action on the screen was occurring without me being mentally present. However, when the pitch changed I was immediately jolted back into watching the film. The higher sound pierced my consciousness and made me pay attention to what was going on.
As the camera moved closer and closer to its final objective I was slightly disappointed at having done the reading. I knew that at the end of the film came a picture of the waves. While I was still tense with anticipation to actually see this picture, the fact that I knew what it would be made it less exciting. When the picture finally did come and was accompanied by silence and I could almost imagine the sound and smell of the waves crashing. It was a very calming moment that seemed like it took years to get to.
3.) Lemon, Hollis Frampton (1969)
I honestly did not expect this film to be so literal. It was very representative of one of the main ideas that expressed through film: cinema is light. Your eyes automatically are attracted to the light that is the lemon, the one bright spot on the black background. As the picture gets darker with the shadow moving across the screen, the image resembles the phases of the moon. The eye goes to the piece of light that is the remaining part of the lemon.
4.) (Nostalgia), Hollis Frampton (1971)
This film seemed to be one of the few we've seen this semester that actually has a narrative structure. However, the way Frampton went about it was very unique. I did not realize until halfway through the film that the images and sound were not synchronous. When that happened there was a very jarring effect, almost like when you are trying to remember something but realize that your memory is wrong. As soon as I became aware of the change, I wanted the picture he was describing to burn so I could see the actual image he was describing. The film created a strange mix of language and image that lead to the image matching what was being said even though they were dissimilar.
Also, the burnt pictures themselves seemed to take on a life of their own. As they burned, they moved and disintegrated in different way. It seemed like a much more final process than deleting a picture from a camera; burning them made the memories come alive for an instant and then die in front of another camera. It was interesting subject matter for a film because it seems to be about the destruction of memory. By creating a film out of this material it seems paradoxical because the film will be a memory in and of itself. 

5.) T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, Paul Sharits (1969)
This was my first experience with a flicker film and I have to say it was a very unique one. I felt that the feelings created by the film were akin to those of being brainwashed or what Alex had to go through with the Ludovico Treatment in A Clockwork Orange. The images assaulted your eyes and induced a trance like state; I could not look away. Despite the fact that the reading said that the film, "represents the viewing experience of erotic violence" that is not what I experienced (Sitney 362). To me, the film was more about a personal experience, I don't think it could be said that everyone saw the same things. The way the images flash before your eyes creates this dream-like state where the images and words began to lose meaning and everything began to blend together. The word repeated over and over in the film was apparently only said "destroy" but throughout the course of the film I heard many different things from "you must be strong" to "it's gone"; sometimes I heard nothing intelligible at all.
Source: Sitney, P. Adams. "Structural Film." Visionary Film: the American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000. 3rd Ed. University Press: Oxford, 2002. 348-370.