Thursday, April 28, 2011

Relax, Turn Off Your Mind, & Float Downstream

So this week, the films we watched in cinema were all focused on the film at the simplest level: that of the frame. The films either used the element of the flicker film or paid close attention to the use of the individual frame and speed. The thing that struck me this week was the experience I gained from watching these films. As my professor said, these films are the "yoga of cinema." Each person mediates on them in their own way and comes from them with their own interpretation. And while most films are like that, I feel like these films are that much more individualized because there is no narrative structure to guide the viewer. Each person completely creates their own perceptions, so I realized for the first time while looking around the class that every other student was thinking something different about the images on the screen. I just thought that was kind of cool.
Also, this week was the exact opposite of last week. While last week in class we focused on new kinds of narrative structures, the films this week in no way even attempted to have a narrative, they were much more open ended. 
Also also, this is my last journal entry/post about avant garde films!
Serene Velocity, Ernie Gehr (1970)
This film takes an ordinary hallway (one from my university in fact) and with a stationary camera zooms in and out, capturing all the distances of the camera. The pulsing motion created by the movement of the camera for me brought back echoes of previous films, specifically Paul Sharits' T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G. I did not know that I even remembered that film, but somehow watching Serene Velocity the repetition of the word "destroy" came into my head, sounding to the rhythm of  the movement on screen. Also, since I have been in this hallway before, I could hear the sounds of the hallway and the echoing of footsteps and people talking. It was a strange combination of sounds going on in my mind, especially since the film itself was silent.
Market Street, Tomonari Nishikawa (2005)
This film was made by a professor in my university (seemed to be a theme this week) who I will actually have next semester for my video production class. This film showed images of San Fransisco flashing by pretty quickly. I felt like I was in a car looking out the window at the landscape as it went by. Sometimes the car flipped and the images turned upside down. I really liked how the film stopped abruptly because it was like the car had paused at a red light to let people cross the street. It reminded me of a cartoon where the car is going very fast but stops just in time to let the little old lady/cat/small child cross the street before driving away. This film had a more interesting subject matter because it was not just one room, it was a changing landscape shot in multiple directions and layered in different ways.
Mothlight, Stan Brakhage (1963)
This film was interesting because Brakhage taped moth wings and plant life to the film itself. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between which was plant and which was animal, they all look the same at the most basic level. There was a very natural feeling about this film, it seemed very organic and textural. It seemed almost like looking at slides under a microscope. The way the film transitioned seamlessly from plant to animal parts really speaks to the interconnectedness of nature, especially on such a basic level.
What the Water Said #'s 1-3, David Gatten (1997)
I think the concept of this film was the most unique. Gatten placed the film stock into crab traps and placed it in the ocean at all different times of day and tides. The images on the film stock are a result of the natural weathering that occurred in the water. I think if I did not know how the film was made, I would have just seen it as another film with scratches on it. Due to the fact that I know how it was made, it added another element to the film. I found myself questioning how the film had gotten that way. What caused that color? What was the ocean like that day? All these things heightened the experience of watching the film for me. The sound created by the ocean was very interesting as well because some days it actually sounded like the ocean whereas other times it sounded more like popcorn in a microwave or other garbled sounds. It brought the viewer that much closer to the source of the film. I could almost imagine the ocean as I watched the film and what it must have looked like on that specific day and time.
The Flicker, Tony Conrad (1965)
This film was an experience to say the least. I found myself thinking of a roller coaster early on in the film because it started slow and then built up in speed. I found myself focusing not on the screen itself, but on the exit sign to the left of the screen. It seemed like it was moving due to the flashing screen and the neon green color of the lights added a new element to the film. For awhile I sat transfixed; I literally could not look away from the screen despite the burning of my eyes. I lost sense of time and location. There was this great sense of lethargy created as well. It was a very strange experience. I like how Conrad describes his film. He say that, "it is a space you can enter-in the way you can enter the narrative space of a regular Hollywood cinema" (MacDonald 67). You never really think about cinema as a space, an actual location. Sure, in watching a film with a good story the audience is drawn in and forgets the world around them. It is only when the lights come up that we realize what has passed. Conrad is drawing attention to this fact by constructing this very specific space in for the viewer to become involved. Since there is no narrative and the mind is permitted to wander, there is more of a sense of awareness of the space being created.
Source: MacDonald, Scott. "On the Sixties." A Critical Cinema 5

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Art of War

"Darkness and light. Strife and love. Are they the workings of one mind?"-Pvt. Train

The Thin Red Line (Terrance Malick,1998) was nothing like I expected. And that is one of the things I liked about this film. I find it amazing that having seen so many war films (I took a class last year called "Cinema at War"), that each film can bring something new to the experience of war.
The new element that Malick brings to the genre of war is a sense of humanity and hope. So many war films aestheticize violence; they make the spectacle of war into something to behold. This film did not do that. War was seen as something gritty and depressing, it takes the life from men. The beauty came from the nature that existed outside of the war. Through this juxtaposition, Malick was able to create a film that asks central questions about war and life itself. How can something so devastating happen in a place so beautiful? How can we as human beings commit such atrocities against our fellow men? It is these probing questions, not the action that really makes the film.
There is a definite style that defines the film. There is this beautiful, slow pace that allows plenty of room for contemplation. At some times the pace did seem almost too slow, but for the most part the film was not about the pacing or its relationship to war. It was about the characters and their individual experiences and how that defined their war.
I really loved the element of the voice over narration especially the fact that we got to hear from more than one character. It provided insight into what characters were thinking, which often times contrasted with what they were saying. These prose like narrations propose some of the film's central themes and just sound beautiful. Lines such as " Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed to this night?"are pure poetry. It was a heightened film experience with lines that sounded like they could have come straight out of a Whitman poem.
Overall I really liked this film. It was different and had this feel to it that was all Malick. It made me really excited for Tree of Life this summer and more Malick films.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Story Telling 2.0

This week's film were avant garde, but attempted to have some sort of narrative structure whereas most of the films we have watched so far do not try and even pretend to make a cohesive story. The films deconstructed or experimented with the idea of narrative so there was still an abstract element that was going on.
Hold Me While I'm Naked, George Kuchar (1966)
Hold Me While I'm Naked is a film about film; it shows an independent director and the struggles he is having in making his masterpiece come to life. He faces many obstacles on the way to making his creation: the lead actress quits and the director cannot find a replacement. The director himself is a weak and almost pathetic character as all his attempts fail. He lives miserably with his mother and cannot achieve his dreams. This film would be horribly depressing if not for the stylistic element of camp. The film is so over the top and overly dramatic in terms of acting, the setting and costumes are garishly bright. This helps add some humor and some good natured self deprecation to the film. Kuchar is showing that all artists struggle for their art, it is just the way in which some go about it that is better than others. Also, the campy-ness makes the film more fun in general and more visually pleasing.
Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me, Ryan Trecartin (2006)
Move 40 years away from Hold Me While I'm Naked and you get Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me. This film takes camp to a completely new level. The colors are even brighter, hair make-up, furniture, nothing is safe from paintbrush like hues. The use of camp in this film seems to apply more to the currently social issues rather than just poking fun at a small group like Kuchar. The over the top acting and colors, along with the use of digitization for the actors voices makes the film seem artificial. There seems to be an emphasis on superficiality throughout the film from the way the characters are dressed to the things they discus, everything is just noise, excess, fluff; there is nothing substantial going on. This idea seems to mirror Trecartin's ideas of society. With the reliance on technology, people have become increasingly fake. There is a distance and a disconnect that individuals experience from each other and that viewers feel in watching the film because of the surrealist aspect caused by the film's campiness.
Nest of Tens, Miranda July (2000)
I was not a fan of July's first film and I feel the same way about this one. Her attempt at narrative was disconnected at best. The jumble of the four separate stories confused me because they all had so little connection to one another. One thing July did do to bring together the dissimilar stories is through the use of a sound bridge. Especially with the man reading the list of phobias, the sound could be heard over the images of the next scene, bringing with it some sense of cohesion. There is just this element of questioning that comes with all her films. I found myself constantly wondering why the characters were doing what they were doing; part of me believe that the film was occurring in medias res.
Guest Filmmaker Melika Bass
The guest filmmaker this week had a very specific style. Her two films Songs from the Shed and Shoals both had this very vintage, ethereal feel about them. The characters and settings could have been from modern times or years in the past; there was this sense of frozen time or the fact that time did not really seem to matter in her films. This sense was also conveyed by the length of the films. They were both rather long and seemed to drag the viewer into this strange dream-like state.
I also liked hearing her speak at the end about the use of sound and how important it is to her. She films sound first and then develops the film around that, something I found very interesting.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Dilemma and the Decision

"The time has come" (the walrus said) "to talk of many things..." Well, actually it is just one thing: my Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Dilemma. With the date of the movie quickly approaching, Warner Brothers has wasted no time in created a buzz. Now mind you, the buzz doesn't need to be created by Warner Bros. there are millions of Potterheads worldwide salivating for this film but needless to say, it is happening. Now here's the rub: what's a fan to do? I am torn. Part of me realizes, although doesn't want to accept, that this is indeed the last film. After this, Harry will remain in my life, but it will not be the same. There will be no more midnight premiers,no more worrying about what scenes will be cut from the films, no more explaining what they missed but why I love it any way to my family on the ride home from the theater. So here are the two sides of this dilemma:
1.) The Surprise Side
Part of me doesn't want to know what scenes have been left out or what the score sounds like beforehand. I want to go into DH part 2 like I went into Inception, with complete and utter surprise. (That was probably a bad analogy, I will know the outcome and story of DH, it will be the details for me that I am missing). I want to have that wonder. I want to be surprised one last time.
2.) The I-Need-to-Know-Everything-Side
I like being in the know. I'm a nosy body. I need the details, the scoop. I like to tweet, to talk to people about what is going on. I feel that in order to be truly surprised I'll have to avoid all my usual means of social networking and communication. I admit, I've already given into this side of me by watching the first four minutes of the movie that leaked online and I've had to try desperately to stop myself from reading the things posted on Leaky from the Chicago screening (yes, I'm a Leaky girl since reading Harry, A History). So far that is holding up. I have seen so much already; I've seen the prologue pictures, some other stills, the trailer so part of me is like "what's the point in trying to keep anything else a surprise?" The hardest thing I know for me will be once the reviews start coming out because I read and check rotten tomatoes incessantly. Since the second film I have gotten every newspaper and magazine review and cut them out and hung them up on my bulletin board. I'm afraid that by ignoring news about the movies, I will miss out on these things. So I'm going to have to find the way to a.) collect the info and b.) not read the info once I get it. It is going to be difficult.
 So here is my pledge: I really am going to try. I am going to try to not go out of my way to look up info, click on links, or read things about DH part 2 (having this here in black and white should help a bit). This however, will not include trailers because they don't give too much away and I love trailers sometimes even more than I love movies themselves. I will make a folder on my computer and save all the links I want to read until after the movie. I will read the book one last time before the film comes out. And I will go to the midnight premiere. I will dress up. I will cry and I will not be ashamed. I will love every minute of it.
Harry has grown up, but the even scarier thing is, I have too. This is the end. I'm going to do it right.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Outerspace & Our Space: Deborah Stratman Films

This week in cinema a guest director Deborah Stratman, came in to speak about her films. I found that staying for the question and answer session after the film really helped me gain new insight into the world of the film and what goals the director was trying to achieve.
These Blazing Starrs (2011)
The contrast of silence and sound made an impact in this film. For the most part, the silence accompanied the images that came from the still images from books and paintings. It gave the viewer more room to think about the images and follow along with the words on the screen. The noise from the electromagnetic spectrum is paired with the images from NASA of actual comets. This created more of a connection because it was possible to hear the diegetic sounds of atmosphere of the planet. These two seemingly separate parts of the film blended well together to create a cohesive film about our fear and wonder over these spacial bodies.
O'er the Land (2008)
I found the discussion about O'er the Land fascinating. Hearing the director speak firsthand about how she viewed the film helped to inform my own opinions and shape them in new ways. I saw the film as a representation of violence created because of the amount of freedom in the country. The overt displays of power with the flamethrowers and men shooting guns seemed to show American freedom as destructive and irresponsible. However, Stratman discussed how to her the film is a representation of "ritualized warfare" and "war as theater." Having taken a class entitled "Cinema at War," I understand all about the glorification of war and its representation throughout our culture. At the same time, the film did represent the more subtle side of freedom with the long shots of nature and Niagara Falls. I think it was the juxtaposition of the two elements that says a lot about America as a nation.
Another interesting point brought up by Stratman is how freedom has become inextricably tied with boarders. There are many images that define boarders in her film whether it is the Mexico/US border or the air as protected by planes. Seeing these images while watching the film made me confused. I was not really sure what birds or bombers had to do with freedom. After hearing her speak about her reasoning for these images, I understood the film and her goals much clearer.