low key like sea shells
Know the male
but keep to the role of the female
And be a ravine to the empire.
Know the white
but keep to role of the black
And be a model to the empire.
Filling out forms for home contents insurance, whilst drinking alone. I’ve ‘popped to the bank’ during my lunch hour twice this week, and ‘had to quickly take this call’ more times than that.
I’m 22. What exactly happened here?
'Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block,
Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible’
#019 A Century of Birthing (2011, Lav Diaz) (HR)
#018 Landscape Suicide (1986, James Benning) (HR)
#017 Je Tu, Il, Elle (1975, Chantal Akerman) (R) (T)
#016 Le 15/8 (1973, Chantal Akerman) (WL) (T)
#015 Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Giraudie) (R)
#014 Pickup on South Street (1953, Samuel Fuller) (WL)
#013 Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche) (R) (T)
#012 Bastards (2013, Claire Denis) (HR)
#011 Shock Corridor (1963, Samuel Fuller) (R)
#010 Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju) (WL) (T)
#009 Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau) (R) (T)
#008 Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011, Johnnie To) (R)
#007 The Passenger (1975, Michelangelo Antonioni) (HR) (T)
#006 Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuaron) (WL) (T)
#005 Throw Down (2004, Johnnie To) (HR)
#004 It’s the Earth Not the Moon (2011, Goncalo Tocha) (R)
#003 Blind Detective (2013, Johnnie To) (WL)
#002 Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer) (WL)
#001 The Selfish Giant (2013, Clio Barnard) (R) (T)
Great month. The latter end includes a run of films that gave that ‘film is worth all this time after all’ feeling of perfection. And seeing The Passenger big was revelatory.
In Dec, Gone With the Wind and It’s a Wonderful Life are lined up. Not looking forward to either particularly, but worth catching while they are at the cinemas for sure. And continuing Akerman with Jeanne Dielman will be a highlight. At home, general year end cleanup, and maybe start some Raya Martin and Alexandser Sokurov if I feel like being challenged/punished, or some Huston, Hawks or Ford if I feel like being placated.
Thanks for listening. Have a great December.
#290 A Century of Birthing (2011, Lav Diaz)
Watched this at home, in a single setting, with a friend. Not ideal, but could be absorbed in a worse environment. It was something to behold, straggly, wandering and difficult, but entirely of its own.
It was (understandably) rougher around the edges than Norte and less immediately accessible and gratifying - with less of a simple narrative structure, less forward momentum, rougher, shakier camerawork and considerably less tight editing - but because of and in spite of this, A Century of Birthing has heights than Norte didn’t reach. Some outstanding scenes, and characters and plot arcs given more time and space.
Norte was, for better or worse, loaded with activity in every scene. Unhurried and willing to linger though it was, in each scene every segment of the frame filled with action and event, whether trivial or overtly dramatic. This in direct contrast to what would be expected of ‘slow’ or long-length cinema. A Century of Birthing is closer to the expectation. Scenes (such as the one with the girl practising her lines) allowed to play out for no reason other than to establish character and presence, flesh out the film’s space rather than its story. This made for a wider, more breathing world than that of Norte, but also a number of moments that either seemed out of place, or made no real register.
By the end, I wasn’t sure what to make of it - overwhelmed by many moments, a bit lost by others. The film within a film, for instance, shot on lower grade digital, completely went by me, and I found myself wanting to go back to the regular scenes most of the time. Still, as a six hour experience, with peaks and luls, the end result is quite something, and despite Diaz’s ironic jabs at himself from the filmmaker character who is almost certainly semi-autobiographical about his film’s meaninglessness and lack of conclusion - the end of this is quite finite and rewarding.
Interesting to see Diaz in black and white, as opposed to the unusual use of colour in Norte. Norte made great use of the colour, giving warm and vibrancy to the landscapes of Illoces Norte. This, with the b/w, was a lot starker, a lot colder and lot more hostile. The above scene for instance is an image of great desolation, and wouldn’t be so bold without the colour drained.
Good to watch another Diaz, but like watching a Tarr, or anything of similar length and pace, not to be undertook again for a while.
#289 Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1975, Chantal Akerman)
Going through Chantel Akerman with a nos amours. All of her single-screen work, to which I arrive blind, on fiendishly sourced and meticulously selected prints, over an 18 month run of screenings. This is the sixth work, the first narrative feature, and the most accessible/rewarding. Though matched with Hotel Monterey in accomplishment I think.
Over 3 connected but disjointed sections, a mix of formalism and personal examination of the self. First, a scene wherein a terrific reinvention of the dumped-girl lying on the sofa eating ice cream routine, that by its end has Akerman lying in a self created room-cum-cell, the room stripped of all but a mattress, she of all but a sheet, eating sugar with a spoon. An image of utter desolation, and the perfect application of the minimalist aesthetic and formal principles the director had been working on applying to this point.
In the next, a truck driver she hitches with turns from (after an offscreen, perversely self-narrated “its growing” handjob) an enigmatic, silent and brooding architype of masculinity to a completely vulgar approximation of maleness, spouting off after complete silence about quick screws in the back of his truck, and his attraction to his daughter.
In the last, a lesbian sex scene longer, more passionate and weirdly rougher than any in Blue is the Warmest Colour. A wrestling match with a lover she arrives on the door of, and a oddly apt culmination of the sexual and emotional confinement of the previous two scenes.
As can be seen from my purely literal descriptions, there is the potential for interpretation within these scenes, in a way that is more overt than anything seen in her other films so far. I can’t see, on more than a surface level what these scenes mean, but I can see how with the eye for analysis I don’t possess, this is rich material. For me, the most successful combination of Akerman’s influences - the minimalist striped down style and the radical, deeply subtextual content so far.
Greatly anticipating Jeanne Dielman next month.
#286 Landscape Suicide (1986, James Benning)
What finer opening and clearer statement of a commitment to duration, deliberate pacing and style than a looped clip of a woman doing a tennis serve over and over. Next, a shot of the other side of the court, served balls scattered abstractedly. What to expect.
This - a look at two American murderers, Ed Gein and Bernadette Prott, and the placing of them within American society in a wider sense - is a fascinating film, as much for its content as its style and its presentation. Amongst the landscape shots are scans of documents, pages and cuttings amongst re-enacted/performed testimonies and contemporary music - signifiers of Americana, specifically the American midwest, pasted and organised in a context of examination and elucidation through detached observation. The American psychological and geographical expanse, cut, spliced and examined under the lens.
And the title. Landscape Suicide. There is and will never be a better title.
I like the black pauses between shots in this, like full black title cards. They interupt the image and in turn make you more aware of it. The difference between each frame and the transition between them is hyper-accentuated, making each more pronounced. This is an image. Cut. This is an image.
It may be a little ahead of myself to say this (one film in), but James Benning film’s change the way, or at least make you think about, what cinema is and what it should be. My friend watched Ten Skies, wherein ten seperate cloudscapes are displayed for 10 minutes each attentively, and by its end thought that he should have gone outside and just looked at some clouds. That way he would have got what Benning’s film provided him, plus air and with his select of the field of vision in which to frame the clouds. Of course, in making him think about this, about the value of looking at things, at clouds, and the manner in which things are framed and viewed, Benning’s film has achieved a, if not its only, purpose.
As is often the case, I googled the film to look at some writings, shortly after having posted my own gargle on here - only to find a point/image I was making written infinitely more acutely by an actual writer of the internet. On the opening tennis sequence, from The Seventh Art: This banal sequence does two things. One, it habituates us to the rhythm and the mode of discourse of Benning’s film. It announces to us that the major events the film deals with and their consequences will largely be kept off-screen. Two, it acts as an abstract to one of the major questions of the film – Does the sum of human actions, however insignificant individually, have an effect on the environment they live in? We are products of our environments, naturally, but is our environment a product of our actions too?”
Seek this film.