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Sunday, February 4, 2018


 Jane Fonda as Gloria in Sidney Pollack’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969, ABC Pictures; Palomar Pictures; distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation) personifies the depression that overshadowed life in 1960s America. It was a time when bleak outlooks were the rule rather than the exception. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and it was a senseless, conscienceless commodities crusade with no morality curve, no human rights banner to unfurl in its wake. The 1950s Civils rights movement peaked, our great moral leaders were gunned down while we witnessed our parents and politicians react in disbelief and shock. As youth, we understood to soon what it meant to be helpless and lost on the way to a grim destiny.  Our major networks broadcast grainy images of burning villages, napalmed bodies and screaming children running naked and in tattered clothes from the smoke of battle in a world most of us had heretofore heard of – southeast Asia. Lack of cultural context created a confusion in our minds that, in retrospect, would defy any young person’s attempt to sustain a sense of self.

American politics on both sides of the aisle shared a national malcontent which too often terminated unexpectedly in someone’s personal desperate measure. We wondered, where was the America of our idyllic 1950s, where everyone-has-a nice-house-on-a-nice-block-and-yes-boys-get-guns-and girls-get-dolls for-Xmas? British rock music invaded the airwaves, Nixon was in the White House, Khrushchev was a threat, contraband substance abuse was ubiquitous, the proverbial “walk on the wild side” was a perilous rite of passage for we who now passed from adolescence into adulthood. Disillusionment with the “American Dream” brought on a loss of faith in traditional values, and riots, protest marches, jailing, new allegiance to outsider religions of superstition, cult ritual and the serendipitous signs along the highway of life ensued. We ran on empty, without purpose often ambushed by our own demons who, like leering clowns escaped from a once lovely now shredded big top, were all too terrifyingly real. 

The new American cinema itself was the only viable escape. I say “new” because presentation and distribution changed the cinema experience that we had known in our childhood. Gone were the big plush palaces, the curtained drama of the 1940s and 1950s and in their place the widescreens of a new generic kind of movie house became our shared social mirror. Together, in the cinema, we reflected, pondered, and entered mise-en abyme into the projector’s beam of light, witnesses to the historic upheavals of our time. In its own youthful rite of passage from “real primitive” childish myth to mature narrative of social conscience, the cinema of the 1960s illustrated -as did no other decade’s cinema prior to or after it- the premise of 20th century film theorist André Bazin that cinema itself has not yet been invented. This idea was realized in us. We were the mythical state of cinema, blurred between the screen world inside and the real world outside. We embodied the clear state of suspension that Bazin envisioned the real cinema to be. Wrapped softly like so many embryos in a shared diffused glow, the time and space between the imagined and the real was to each of us our own. I now appreciate the earlier film viewing o“They Shoot Horses...”  in the context of Bazin’s words. Viewing the film almost 50 years later, I remember how it felt to hear a stupefied Robert say “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”  

 After last week’s screening of the film I heard shocked protests from other audience members, most of whom were the same age as I was when I first viewed the film. To persons who have not experienced those times, I realized, a film such as They Shoot Horses Don’t They? was offensively depressing. Without a timely or socio-historic context, such as those broadcast images of the Viet massacres of the 1960s which shocked us in our youth, this film is cruel, a senseless documentation of man’s inhumanity to man, of the conscienceless exploitation of poverty as a marketable commodity, of betrayal by authority of the general population, of ipso gratis ubiquitous and systemic misogyny and of a war economy which, in its absence, spurs suicide, heart failure and economic depression. And, the narrative’s running metaphor is the Great Depression of the 1920s. Must history always repeat itself?

In 1969 this film was not depressing, it was uplifting. We understood that someone understood Gloria, and Gloria was us. She was blown away by a friend, shot from a dumpy dark dock and propelled (by jump cut) into a sunny, soft, glorious wheat field of dreams. Real world or art fantasy?As it does in Winslow Homer’s post-Civil War painting of The Veteran in A New Field, (1865, oil on canvas) the waving wheat which literally fields her in her death throw represents immortality and predicts a good harvest, a prosperous economic future. Gloria was saved by an American buoy on a desperate sea of global sorrows, her last wish fulfilled. I related to Gloria (and still do), to her feeling that her life is taken from her by social conditions beyond her control, and her every excellent effort to advance herself, literally holding up and advancing her fellow man until the point where there's no point or where she can't see what she wants anymore is vetoed. Labeled a loser by the MC-boss Rocky (Gig Young) of the Dance Marathon and offered a cheap sellout option to further defile herself by marrying for show money, Gloria is robbed of her own juice. She can’t make the final play on that oval dance floor, an elusive carousel of potentiality. Her deadened spirit is paralleled to a body that is reduced to live on a life support system. Robert (Michael Sarrazin) helped her out.

This presents to the spectator a moral dilemma that every war presents: where does the battlefield end? Is every citizen fighting at the front, a warrior? In peace, life is sacred, hari-kari is murder and murder is wrong. In the place of battle, blood is shed, the rules of the game change. We fought for peace, marched for peace, protested for peace. As in the Homer painting, Fonda's figure in the American wheat field represents the dreamer. Homer's character is a farmer, as most Civil War soldiers were farmers. Fonda is the farmer betrayed. America's wheat fields provided a bread basket for the world. Wheat is the grain that gives us bread, daily bread, bread to be blessed, the daily bread of our Judeao-Christian mainstream religions. Homer's soldier has dropped his war uniform, gun and cap and picked up a scythe to harvest, he has kept his faith. Fonda's corpse is landing in the field of wheat, her hope and her faith have been raped from her, she is a bloody victim of a different war and incongruous to the historic wheat field. Or, is the waving wheat field sprung from the blood of victims like her? Our wheat fields in the Vitetnam War era were our battlefields overseas, i.e. unlike the Civil War, there was no emancipation proclamation, no fight for the betterment of humanity, no struggle for truth. Fonda, in both her private life and in the roles she played, fought for peace. She was an advocate for equal rights. Herein lies the power of Fonda. 

As the film nears its semi-centennial, Gloria crystalizes as a heroic casualty of a fight for fair play. There is no final justice in her metaphor, there is only more self-questioning. She cannot sell her dream to win the contest short, in defending her honor she betrays Robert's trust and he, in his childish delusion, equates her with an injured horse of his childhood. She sets herself up to be a victim of her own crime at his hands, and he will be held responsible for it. In a way, she kills him too. Is she a martyr for a cause or a mass murderer, criminal or criminally insane?

Or is she, like Homer's farmer, a metaphor for the grim reaper?  Her mise-en-scene misery dismantles in its motion between frames just as Homer's farmer has shed his uniform on the canvas. Past roles are referential in the lower right corner of the picture window. Looking forward, moving backwards, Gloria in her death bears witness to the alienation and moral struggles of the 1960s. Clearly, she encapsulates the era and her missile is launched into our present day still packing a punch. The final brutal shot and cut reflects the hope of that time- the space program and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Guided by the great director, dressed in the brilliant mise-en-scene and voiced from the powerful writing, Jane Fonda takes a giant leap for all kind.
2:50 pm est | link          Comments

Friday, February 2, 2018

Bazin vs. Fan

The Gaze https://vimeo.com/77459857 vs.

Ballet Mécanique https://youtu.be/oWa2iy-0TEQ

  webassets/balletmecanique.jpg   webassets/thegaze.jpg

The Gaze https://vimeo.com/77459857  

Directors: Even Wu & Yiyang Liu; Cinematographers: Even Wu & Yiyang Liu; Producers: Even Wu & Yiyang Liu; Editor: Even Wu; Official Selection of 2014 Cannes International Film Festival(Short Film Category)

This short 2014 experimental video by Even Wu & Yiyang Liu is an interesting example of a cultural fusion of Asian and Western concepts.  The central theme of The Gaze also illuminates the glance of the viewer through a frame window, in a reflexive imperfect state, and exhibits a potentiality that invites the spectator to move toward the total reality of the act of seeing without really "seeing" at all. The split screen explorations allude to the idea of stereoscopy, the invention of which coincided with that of photography and which ainspired the first animated pictures in the history of cinema. It brings into play concepts argued by Bazin and Fan this week, it is a new take on the possibility of human and non-human perceptions, especially, the eyes and gazes of humans intercut with the activity-response of machines and insects in an age of digital reproduction. The idea of spectator as voyeur, extends the experiences of the various clips last week and it also brings to mind Victor Fan’s thoughts on the possibilities of a joint cinema experience between East and West. I think that Victor Fan raises an important point-in this week’s reading- that there is a vibrant global cinema beyond the borders of Europe, Japan and the Americas. I agree with his point that Chinese filmmakers and critics between the 1920s and 1940s considered their product to be part of a cross-cultural dialogue with the cinema of all nations, and that this consideration remains one which has never been rightfully reciprocated. It would be interesting to approach this new video, The Gaze" with more understanding of Asian cinema theory. Experiences like this support his advocacy. I do not, however, agree with his idea that “Bazinian ontology” needs to be reworked to align itself with another theory, or that there is necessarily an “aporia’ within its very paradigm. Fan maintains that Bazin’s core construct lies in the guarantee of a “direct relationship between the image consciousness the viewer apprehends and the reality to which it refers” This is not only a European concept, it may be seen as a universal one. He further states that 1. Bazin assumes a true cinematographic image “is a trace of reality” and 2. this is challenged by the “digital image” which is too easily constructed and manipulated.

First of all- all images are constructed. All images are manipulated. No technique in this video is new and untried. In the analog era, cineastes composed in16mm and 8mm, and even before the auteur-accessible video cams & omnipresent digital technologies, there were many ways to superimpose, overexpose, alter fps, turn the world upside down, flash, solarize, stop motion, freeze frame the film in the camera- A-B-C roll in an optical house, bi-pack, optically print, and more on a printer---there has always been image manipulation.(As seen in the 1924 Ferdinand Léger film, Ballet Mécanique.) Granted, fewer people had access to technology in the analog era than they do in digital age- but this is not about the numbers of the makers of a cinema. I disagree with Fan that Bazin is a small-minded provincial with an aporia “heart” issue, what Fan does at times imply. Bazin himself has written that “cinema has not yet been invented”, yet lies in a myth generated in its “real primitive”: not the “actual total real” of narrative. 

What is not forward in the writing of Fan or Bazin is the concept of the LATENT image. This was so much a part of the philosophy of cinematography and photography before video/digital. Without latent image, the very real construct and essential cinema planning of the latent image, the making of (and therefore the presenting of) cinema became a changed game.

The split screen conflict between what the eye expects to see and the very real inescapable fact illustrated here is that the cinematographer’s eye and hand materially records the “real” world and the viewer is a suspended receptor (As seen in the 1924 Ferdinand Léger film, Ballet Mécanique.). When, once upon a time, one was not sure of the outcome of the latent image exposed inside of the camera, on the film, before the application of development chemistries, the intuitive and scientific skills of the cameraperson was a vital link between the world of the human body and that of the eye’s perception. The camera person, as the first spectator, really did embrace the absolute understanding of something that “can be understood as a potentiality that can drive the spectators towards total reality, without fully actualizing it”, as Fan says. A viewer can feel that cameraperson’s uncertainty and trust in the final cinematography. It is in the picture and the editor responds to it too. It’s just a different feel. So, I disagree- it is not digital technology that “short-circuits” a perceptual-referential relationship, it is the poetics of the process of creating the cinematographic image itself. In this short digital film you can sense the relationship of the camera to the subject to the spectator. It is nuanced by there is no sense of urgency, no anticipation of a latent image. It is simply not analog. This doesn’t mean it shorts circuits- it is just different.

I do vote for a better, more inclusive way to access different global concepts and would be very interested in reading more Asian film theory. A comparative theory volume would be terrific. Maybe the inclusion of the act of the camera is one such potential connector between Asian and Western, analog and digital thought. I also agree with Fan’s observation that retroactively labeling a set of critical writings on Asian cinema as “cinema film theory” may risk an imposition of an inappropriate temporal and cultural construct onto those writings. 

6:58 pm est | link          Comments

Friday, January 26, 2018

Roll on Easy Rider

Easy Rider is now a vintage work. The iconic road film (1969, directed by Dennis Hopper, produced by Peter Fonda, written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, filmed by László Kovács and Baird Bryant, edited by Donn Cambern, starring Hopper, Fonda, and Jack Nicholson) is American cinema’s first truly “Independent” blockbuster feature. Costing under $400,000 to make, it grossed over $60 million at the box office. Easy Rider rolls out the odyssey of three bikers who lay open to all the wonder and dread of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Like a genie with a magic carpet, the screen opens with a song and quickly whisks you onto the mighty landscape of the southwestern United States, a world populated by stoned urban rebels and treacherous country cutthroats, two groups with conflicting ideologies for which they will literally fight each other to the death. You begin your journey with Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) and it is a first names only relationship. They are later joined by a third biker, George Hanson (Nicholson). The bikers have a purpose and it drives the film’s dialogue. Their journey redefines freedom, and, as George (Nicholson) says, who is free among us. “They'll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.” There is a slower pace here, life is to be contemplated, relished and memorized, love is to be made and brotherhood cherished before the final bloody battle of conflicting ideologies begins. 

As a contemporary noir with groundbreaking cinematography, action alternately peppered by revving engines and lulled by iconic music, juddering interplay of light and shadow, moving landscapes, unbalanced framing, tilted camera angles, and a slow-flow timeline strategy, Easy Rider has become the cornerstone of an era. The film’s plot blurs the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and in the end it embraces a motif of alienation. The freewheeling soundtrack with music by The BandThe ByrdsThe Jimi Hendrix ExperienceSteppenwolf.) is choreographed to a moving image-picture design that prefigures the music videos of the 1980s. Easy Rider is a herald of cinematic worlds to come: for the popular music compilation track (such as the 1973 George Lucas film debut coming of age comedy American Graffiti.) and with Its use of a drawling, laid back production style it does, in retrospect, auger Robert Altman’s films. It is a rite of passage of youth into adulthood.

During their road trip, the initiates encounter various subcultures of their own countrymen and women, who are also listening, ready to lend a helping hand. If religion was their spur, one might say that they were missionaries for a righteous cause. But they are not. They are moving a large quantity of cocaine for a drug lord. In the opening scene, the interaction of the two pushers with the drug lords leads to a rendezvous with an unidentified organized crime team whose leader is carrying a black cane with a white skull crest. (An homage to the Mexican feast of the Day of the Dead?) Post-drug deals, the two roadies upgrade their bikes and roll on, with an accent on their costumes. There’s the American flag stamped, black leather-clad, helmeted, zoned Wyatt and the buckskin wrapped, un-helmeted, cowboy-hatted, stoned Billy. After being jailed for parading without a permit by country sheriffs, they luck into detoxing cellmate George, a local alcoholic attorney who quickly becomes their get-out-of-jail-free card. George meets Wyatt’s requirement to wear a helmet by retrieving his gold local high-school football helmet that his nostalgic mom had saved. The three then head off to New Orleans and jubilantly arrive there in time for Mardi Gras.

The female characters in the film are secondary to the male characters. They are decadent, mealy-mouthed, dopey but stylish plot décor and include Nicholson’s absentee mother, free-love commune hippie chicks, high school girls in a roadside diner infatuated with longhairs on motorcycles and prostitutes in an upscale New Orleans bordello. It is during the encounter with roadside diner girls that ominous hostility manifests what will become later become murder in cold blood- a product of unrequited vengeance left over from the Civil War, 100 years yore. Local reactionary cutthroats, jealous of the attention that the high school girls give the liberal roadies, agree that “they won’t make it past the parish line”. The use of then-new quick-cuts, A_B_C_ rolled superimpositions as seen in the glorious cemetery scene where the roadies and their two bordello babes drop acid and decode their gory tragic death (shot point blank off the road by a country cutthroat in a pickup truck with a sawed-off shotgun) confirms Easy Rider's alignment to the avant-garde films of the New American Cinema of those times. 

For me, the re-viewing of this film was a happy trip back to the days when, as a teen-ager, I was fascinated by the 1960 counterculture paradigm. Love! (I have since purchased the film’s sound track on Amazon.) Once again, I am diverted, into my own purposeless void, hopping on a bike in the sun or the rain and going everywhere and stopping anywhere. I will definitely want to see this film again. 

11:43 am est | link          Comments

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


(Nuovo) Cinema ParadisoItalian pronunciation: [ˈnwɔːvo ˈtʃiːnema paraˈdiːzo], "(New) Paradise Cinema") is a 1988 Italian drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, with outstanding cinematography by Blasco Giurato and a sensational score by Ennio and Andrea Morricone.

The film opens in a high room overlooking the Mare Tirreno on the western Italian coast.  An unnamed older woman is foregrounded at a table before an open window with a view of the sea, she is making a telephone call to an unnamed starlet resting on her large suite in urban Roma, Italia. The call is a death announcement to be relayed to the protagonist of the tale, a ficticiously famous Italian film director named Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin as an adult, Marco Leonardo as an adolescent, Salvatore Cascio as a child). Salvatore returns home late that evening to learn from his girlfriend (in the bed) that his mother Maria at the window (Antonella Attili as a young woman, Pupella Maggioas an old woman) had called to say that someone named Alfred(Philippe Noiret) had died in their Sicilian hometown, and that he had inherited something. Salvatore agrees to come home to retrieve it and to attend the funeral.


Viewing the international cut of Cinema Paradiso(123 minutes as opposed to the 51 minute longer running time of the extended Italian cut) is always a trip down memory lane. If you’ve seen the film multiple times, as I have, the re-viewing conjures up spectres of prior screenings and brings to mind those locales and audiences that one can only overlay onto the present screening's time and place. It is a portal to nostalgia.

Of course, the movie's mis-en-scene articulates all that is forever gorgeous to life on planet Earth- Toto the impish boy child, Maria the sorrowful WW ll widow, the throw of moving images onto a screen in a darkened room, an octagonal c.e.1608 stone water fountain frothing in an ancient Sicilian piazza, the sun-drenched Tyrrhenian seacoast, the historic Palazzo Adriano and the warmth of the local Sicilian people who support a cast of excellent actors. Maybe it’s my southern Italian-Greek roots, but I will always love the ebb and flow of sunlight in this film.

However, with every screening, a disturbing thought prevails. The thought becomes a question that I leave each screening with, and the question remains as eternal as the film in my experience as a spectator. The question is this: Why is it always a film about simpatico and loving connections between generations of men that predominates the canon of world cinema? As it well deserves, this film is listed in the 'Top 100 Films of World Cinema'. However, it's more than time to rethink this axiom. Why are there are very few films that celebrate relationships between generations of women that even survive the battlefield of the post-production room? (This was something that, as an experimental fimmaker, I addressed with my own mentor, Shirley Clarke, in our work “Shirley Clarke in Our Time”).

Today, simultaneously, here in 2018 at 721 Broadway and there in 1988 south of Palermo, Italia on the Cinema Paradiso screen, a totally genderist spectacle unwinds this ultimate film experience and features a montage of jump cuts in which we move from a solemn funeral procession to a jet taking off to a private screening room where the unraveling of a 35mm reel of heterosexual kisses on film, all recorded and directed by males, and, having been collected by a older male to be the inheritance of a younger male, is observed now tearfully by that male, projected by (all of them are white) another male to the exclusion of all females- including the ones in the kisses in the screen.

As a viewer I am inundated by a final collage of nitrate kisses in the last scene of Cinema Paradiso. Confusion reigns. How can I possibly leave the theater feeling included in this story? I am an outsider looking in, looking on. So is every woman character in the script, including Salvatore’s mother.

In the extended version of this film, there is a love scene in which Salvatore finds his lost adolescent love Elena (Agnese Nano as a young woman, Brigittte Fossey as an adult in the extended version only), and, in a simple reunion scenario we learn that she had written him a note as to her whereabouts, but Alfredo, with intentions to shepherd Salvatore onto a path that would lead him out of his home town and into the big world of filmmaking, kept her note from him, just as he protected him from the ire of his mother over the misappropriation of grocery lire as a boy.

Although, in my opinion, the longer "new" version destroys the cinema of the film by creating a soap opera schmaltz waltz at the end, it does do one thing right: it gives voice to young Elena's mind and passion and reveals to the spectator the proverbial glass ceiling laid onto her honest effort to chose love by irrascible old Alfredo. So, as usual, I try to analyze my audience experience. Salvatore (a name which means “savior”) saves Alfredo’s life. As a spectator I am thus easily seduced into pledging my allegiance to Salvatore, and, therefore, to the world of Salvatore. It’s interesting that in this experience, I lose all sense of my spectator gender and fall in love with the film. It’s pure entertainment value, like a ride in an amusement park. Alfredo is in effect Salvatore’s mentor, Salvatore’s life is a film within a film within the film, and it is through this time machine that his cinema is born. It becomes evident to me that perhaps the director's true intentions were not met, that he had neither the experience nor the skills nor the historic protocol to script out such a powerful revolutionary scenario as one which would give full voice to a woman's active desire in a classic of cinema such as this one. It is a clear that the time to set up the protocol for inclusivity of intergenerational character development in relations between women and other minorities in world cinema is NOW. Change the trope. And from the perspective of diversity.

Ultimately what we experience in this story is the genesis of a filmmaker, how an oeuvre is made. Yet, once the credits roll and the lights go on, this great story is not really one in which I can ever hope to play a part. In its terminal exclusivity I am reminded that "great" cinema is once again defined by maleness, male achievement, and the severance of all that is lovely, intelligent, strong, influential and female. Depressing.


5:22 pm est | link          Comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2011



Program by MM Serra, FMC Executive Director and Peggy Parsons, FIlm Curator, NGA.

Brilliant screenings by Ken & Flo Jacobs & by Jonas Mekas.  Program continues next week! Cool



12:59 am edt | link          Comments

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