I was planning to put up the next installment in my experimental fiction series today (part 1, part 2), but school has interfered. (I’m writing a paper on Dickens’s use of the narrative present in Great Expectations, plus grading 40-something research papers written in response to Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.)
In the off chance that you’d like to read something new by me, I recently published an article at the film site Press Play, “Are Animated Gifs a Type of Cinema?” Since then, Landon Palmer has responded with an article at Film School Rejects (“Animated Gifs are Cinematic, But They’re Much More Than Cinema“), as has Wm. Ferguson at the 6th Floor, the New York Times Magazine‘s blog (“On the Aesthetics of the Animated GIF“). I’m planning a follow-up post as well as an interview with Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus, the directors of the gif anthology film twohundredfiftysixcolors, whose premiere I managed to catch a few weeks back. And the Press Play article is itself a follow-up to two articles I posted at Big Other in early 2011: “How Many Cinemas Are There?” and “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?”
I’m only just beginning my studies on the gif, so I appreciate any and all feedback.
As we await Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, which seems like a sexual extension of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character in Antichrist (2009), we are given — in the teaser poster — suggestive syntactical vulva by way of parentheses, which may bring to mind Seymour’s “bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses” in J.D. Salinger’s Seymour: An Introduction (1959). The impulse to render images using syntax turns <3 into a ♥, distilling language back into the Lascaux cave drawings, cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and early Chinese characters. Perhaps we want to move backwards, scratching images into dirt. A more meta interpretation of () might be the excised (implied) parenthetical note, though that is unlikely. This contributor, whose brief up-close encounters with female genitalia have been mostly with eyes closed, offers a more explicit rendering — the “i” perhaps hopeful first person, as in the first person to third base. If there is a douche in this enterprise, please apply your gaze at Lars himself, who seems obsessed with destroying the women in his films. Martyr is just a fancy way of saying mommy. His films are slow and gorgeous, into whose pretentiousness one simply caves. A common still shows Gainsbourg sandwiched between two black men as Oreo coitus. Shia LaBeouf’s in it, and you get to see his dong. The spectacle just wants eyes, not approval. I’ll see you in line.
GOOD DAY TODAY: David Lynch Destabilises the Spectator
By Daniel Neofetou
Zero Books, 2012
93 Pages, $14.95 (buy it at Amazon)
The initial conceit of Neofetou’s Good Day Today is one that I inherently agree with, and one that I think should be considered in larger terms of not only film studies, but an understanding of how to watch movies in general. As a theoretical construct it was first introduced to me in Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression by Martine Beugnet, a brilliant study of affect found in the mileu of the “new french extremity,” the art house mavericks Bruno Dumont, Philippe Grandrieux, Catherine Breillet, and so on. While Beugnet’s book does lose itself to a final chapter devoted to a Deleuzean study of film & embodiment that, in my opinion, adds nothing to the first two-thirds of the study, overall the book presents and articulates, with careful, pointed examples, what cinema can do for the spectator.
Neofetou’s book, while seemingly not indebted to Beugnet’s book at all (something that I would argue is, in a sense, unfortunate) takes certain theories that have formerly been applied only to experimental (non-narrative) cinema, and looks at David Lynch’s films within this context. His thesis is that these modes of cinema, particularly within the diegetic sway of a narrative & representational film, serve to–as the title would suggest– destabilise, disorient the spectator, the viewer of the film. As such, the book offers a very close reading of a number of Lynch’s films–though the titles of note are, of course, Inland Empire, Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive–& the scenes therein, showing the reader just exactly how Lynch manages to simultaneously play with affect while still insisting upon the “rules” of narrative/figurative/”realist” cinema to the point where when the rules are broken, we are destabilised not because said scene doesn’t make “sense,” but because the scene violates the inherent logic of the film & undermines the authority of an omniscient narrative position.
And the book does this well. Neofetou, throughout the book, takes examples from a number of canonical experimental films (Meshes of the Afternoon, Flaming Creatures, Gidal’s Epilogue) and compares their techniques to the techniques of certain scenes found in Lynch’s films, highlighting both the similarities between the scenes & the differences that arise out of the context of the films as a whole. There’s also a brilliant chapter near the end of the book dedicated to the idea of Lynch’s use of pop-music, absent dialog, and sound, that is a great chapter in its own capacity in looking at the way audio works toward the viewer in a cinematic exegesis.
Another strong point of the book is that within his examination of Lynch as a filmmaker who works with affect more than representation, Neofetou does an excellent job of both rejecting and explaining this rejection of the idea that Lynch’s films are “puzzles” to be solved–closed films where there is a literal solution. This, of course, is ridiculous, and a repeated mode of viewing that I personally find insufferable because, as Neofetou points out that Sontag mentions in her essay Against Interpretation, this mode of viewing “blinds [the spectator] to the work’s sensual facets”.
The book is not perfect, however, and there are two major faults that certainly don’t kill the book, but strike me as perhaps frustrating. The first being a short 7 page look at Lynch’s films through the eyes of the ‘Bechdel Test,’ ultimately considering accusations of Lynch’s films as misogynistic. Unfortunately the chapter ends up sounding apologetic instead of actually engaging with the idea, as its idea loses itself in a self-aware politically correct feedback loop that undermines any sort of look, thus rendering the chapter as blank space in terms of critical thought. I’m curious as to its place in the book, as there are repeated comments regarding Lynch’s ostensible a-political stance.
Which, in a way, leads to my other complaints–the subtitle of the book, the copy on the back, leads one to believe that after introducing (& proving) the idea that Lynch destabilises the spectator, there is little suggested beyond this in the text itself. There are a lot of directions that this could be taken, and the copy suggests that the book will take this idea in the direction that it helps to shake the politically hegemonic mode of representation, which helps to destabilise the idea of binary, simplicity, homogeneity.
April 30th, 2013 / 3:58 pm
2. I saw the film on 14 March at the Logan Theatre in Logan Square, Chicago. It was a special event. About 70 people were in attendance.
4. Pirooz gave me a poster and a button and a DVD copy of the film. Thank you, Pirooz!
5. I’ve read Shoplifting maybe half a dozen times. I’ve also taught it twice. It’s my favorite of Tao’s books and I consider it something of a masterpiece.
6. Some people persist in thinking Tao isn’t a stylist, but I think he’s a brilliant stylist. Although maybe people are nowadays more convinced of this? I don’t know.
7. As Tao himself has pointed out (see here for instance), all of his books are written in different styles, something that I think obvious when one really looks at them.
8. I suspect some people really aren’t looking at them.
April 15th, 2013 / 8:07 am
Anybody else not that big of a fan of Spring Breakers? I didn’t hate it, but I also never felt that excited by it. It felt more like watching MTV mimicking Korine’s prior styles, which I guess is maybe part of the point, but if so I don’t care for the point. I imagine if it’d been listed as directed by Todd Phillips, and that doesn’t seem impossible, no one would have given it a second thought. Having seen Holy Motors shortly after, I can’t help thinking I wish that had been Korine’s next film somehow, at least in breadth.
You’re one of my favorite directors. You made over 200 films, of which I’ve seen at least 50. Within those fifty films I count some of the most inspiring and entertaining moments of cinema ever, elements of narrative and visual ideas that have crept into my own praxis. I want to celebrate your life for as long as possible.
It starts with a crash. You do not see the crash. You hear it. You see the aftermath. Typical. A dead swan splayed over the hood of a white Ford Mercury. The first time I typed that, I typed Mercy. Different cars are very much different sorts of animals. Domesticated animals, of course. Crossbreeds. It is said that the different sorts of hominids did not, could not, cross. Put that in my zonkey’s ass. The woman driving the car, who will be accused of taking mercury to procure an abortion, is named Bewick. The Mercury is no longer produced. You could say it is extinct. It was Ford’s answer to the Buick, you could say it was a fake Buick, a car that would no longer be were it not for waning appeal among wealthy Chinese (the last Emperor drove one, so did my grandma). Rauschenberg was born in the same town as my mom. This scene, the first of A Zed & Two Noughts, looks like something he might have filmed in the sixties, if only he had combined his interests (visual & performance art) into film, the way he did with found objects, like his notorious American bald eagle (an animal that will be mentioned later in this film when a prostitute named Venus de Milo asks the zookeeper for the tail feathers of that bird in order to write a dirty story, the same zookeeper who will later threaten to tell the director of the zoo, who is in fact the director of the film, about the brothers bringing the dead dalmatian into the zoo because it is “an abomination”). But then Rauschenberg dealt with death in ways more conceptual, less actual. I remember riding in the back of my grandma’s Buick because it had a passenger-side airbag. I remember carefully visualizing my death. I remember oak trees. The accident happens on Swan’s Way. Way is one of the ten most common words in our language. Weeks ago, this surprised me. But it should not be surprising that the journey is more popular than the destination. We’re a restless race. We want tiggers in our tanks & Michael Nyman to speed up & O will he!
The controversy surrounding Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) lay not so much in its sexual inclination — to which most of Western painting, perhaps even religious, had been dedicated — but in the grotesque and primitive fashion the whores had been rendered. The painting may have been an antagonistic response to a more gentle work (Le bonhuer de vivre, 1906) by Henri Matisse, with whom the former had been in heated rivalry. It shows five prostitutes in a brothel in Barcelona, the still life at the bottom a phallic placeholder. Before racism, Europe simply eroticized Africa, where our artist had gotten tribal masks by which he was noticeably influenced. The offense, then, it seems, was less of a feminist encounter than an Anglo-Saxon European one; simply, we had been unwittingly drawn into bed with dark monsters from another land. As we gleefully await Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which promises to be Girls Gone Wild meets Cops meets every rap video ever made, we are teased with promotional images and film stills. And it would take Selana Gomez — our lady of $4 million net worth; 14,417,325 twitter followers (as of 3/10/13, 11:29 PST); inside whom Justin Bieber first became a man — to swiftly strike a pose that came before her, Madonna, and Marilyn Monroe. An animal, when threatened, will bring their hands to their face; to retract them beyond is to exert trust, the ultimate form of control. To disarm the gaze of its power. Good girl.
That a couch in an average living room faces a television may be an invitation to become what we are watching, namely, a movie — that is, if our couples would just pay attention. Lateral domesticity begs to fall asleep. A man, reduced to emasculated flab, pleads for his unhealthy and coddled relationship to continue; the tacit repose of a couple engaged at their respective laptops seems precious; some bro fantasy of simultaneous bong and munchies with anthropomorphic hump pillow; the platonic diplomacy of former lovers newly registering the full radius between them. The couch may be an obvious place for contemporary dialogue, or its reticence, but there’s something peculiar about the camera choosing the very place of its artifice to peek into these lives, as if these movie directors took for granted — or were even ashamed of — the rectangular boxes in which their creations are manifested. Perhaps we find relief in seeing others situated as us. When a DVD ends, it reverts to the menu page consisting of some thematic snippet which goes onward in an infinite loop. One may lie there out of the remote’s grasp, too tired to hit ■. It is easy to lose track of time in the waiting room of habitual inception, the ▶ untouched. Every disc sheathed inside its tray is a silver sun waiting to rise, spinning out of control. Another reason to sit down, and pretend.
Entitled You’re Human Like the Rest of Them. Both DVD and Blu-Ray formats (Region 2 / PAL). Comes out on 15 April. Includes:
- You’re Human Like the Rest of Them (1967, 17 mins): multi-award-winning tale of a teacher confronting his own mortality [click here & here for more info]
- Paradigm (1968, 9 mins): William Hoyland gives a performance of supreme virtuosity in this arresting experimental film
- The Unfortunates (1969, 15 mins, DVD only): Johnson brings aspects of his book to life in this short BBC TV film
- Up Yours Too Guillaume Apollinaire! (1969, 2 mins): humorous animated take on the calligrams of the famous poet and eroticist
- Unfair! (1970, 8 mins): provocative agitprop piece with Bill Owen
- March! (1970, 13 mins): documentary made for the ACTT union
- Poem (1971, 1 min): poignant short set to the words of Samuel Beckett
- B. S. Johnson on Dr. Samuel Johnson (1972, 26 mins): a learned and full-bodied appreciation of the great writer
- Not Counting the Savages (1972, 29 mins, DVD only): Mike Newell s adaptation of Johnson’s intense play, made for BBC TV’s Thirty Minute Theatre
- Fat Man on a Beach (1974, 39 mins): part documentary, part creative exploration, this was a highlight of 1970s TV programming
This should be enough to make anyone’s Fat Tuesday.
& if you haven’t read B S Johnson, then what can I say but you’re missing out.
Well, we had all that data on the most critically-admired films from 2011 and 2012, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t resist compiling it.
In 2012 we counted 240 films that made critics’ best-end lists. In 2011 we counted 250 (not, as I originally miscounted, 248). They add up not to 490 as you might expect, but to 463, because there was some overlap between the two years. (27 films, we can now tell, made year-end lists in both years.)
. . . And, actually, since I posted about the best 240 movies of 2012, the Year-End site I draw this data from has added four more critics’ lists—in particular Jonathan Rosenbaum’s. So I’ve folded in those results as well, yielding 251 films in 2012, 250 in 2011, and 474 films total between those two years. Though remember, of course, that this is all very approximate!
Now, because we’re dealing with more votes for 2012 than for 2011 (77 critics/organizations vs. 58, yielding 1293 mentions total vs. 1072), we should expect there to be a bias toward films from 2012. Furthermore, I predict that bias will be most evident in the most top-rated films from this year (since that’s where critical opinion concentrated).
So here are the 13 most-mentioned films from the past two years. [The format is # of mentions, title, (director)]:
I feel an enormous (and delicious) pressure to write about the hit TV show GIRLS, now on HBO, every Sunday. I have been told by my editors that women read, watch TV, and purchase “added value” products. I was surprised to learn that anyone still does these things. READ MORE >
He doesn’t say anything. There is no music, just food sounds, a suck and flap of raw meat hitting things, eggs smacked. I like most of all that he doesn’t talk. Doesn’t call this stuff anything, doesn’t name it.
Sometimes there is a joke: the food comes fully formed out of the oven, like silly, boring magic.
That is not as good as when the food just stays fucked up. Still, it seems like he can’t help but smash the food when it is most right. In this one the camera is shaking so much after he pounds the chicken apart. He is putting the smashed chicken into the oven for the joke to come out and he is shaking so much.
Last year I wrote a post, “The 248 Best Movies of 2011,” where I tallied all the film data reported at the site Year-End Lists, which reports critics’ year-end lists for movies, music, and books. Film critics surveyed include Andrew O’Hehir, A.O. Scott, Dennis Cooper, J. Hoberman, John Waters, Kenneth Turan, Manohla Dargis, and Roger Ebert, as well as journals like the A.V. Club, Cahiers du Cinéma, Film Comment, and Sight & Sound. The site also reports on the accolades dished out by various organizations and critics circles.
Since 2012 is now mostly a matter of record, I once again tallied things up, in order to see how critics have already begun to regard the past year. But before we dive into the data, a few caveats:
- The value of the numbers below is primarily relative, not absolute. Some critics were sampled more than once, since they not only make their own lists, but also contribute to larger lists (such as the Sight & Sound poll, or the New York Film Critics Circle Awards).
- Every time a film was mentioned, I gave it a single point. In other words, I didn’t weight films, even if a given critic’s year-end list was ranked. (I just don’t have the time to do that.) Honorable mentions and near-misses also counted for a point; that’s just the way it goes. But I think this is OK: my primary intention is to see which films are being thrown about in regards to “the best films of the year,” and I think an honorable mention does just as well as the #1 spot. We’ll let the frequency of mentions do the weighting for us.
- I also counted each award received as a single point. Thus, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded Zero Dark Thirty three prizes: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematographer—and that counts as three points for our purposes. I think this is fair because, in addition to seeing which films are being singled out, we’re trying to gauge how much they’ve been praised relative to one another. Counting awards like this will pull the most honored films toward the top.
Again, keep in mind that this is all pretty relative. I also won’t claim that we’re sampling all the data we should be sampling; I just went with what’s at the Year-End Lists site. Also, note that a strong bias was given to English-language critics, especially US-based ones—but that, my friends, is the data to which I have the readiest access.
Caveats aside, however, the results strike me as representative of the cinematic zeitgeist c. January 2013. Because without doubt, the two films from 2012 that I’ve seen critics talking the most about have definitely been—
Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (c. 1602), known colloquially as “Doubting Thomas,” shows the titular Apostle incredulously putting said incredulity to rest upon sticking his finger inside Jesus’ wound after his resurrection (whose phonetic ties to “erection” may be our first mouthful of phallicy). Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed,” a somewhat snarky comment directed at the proof contingency of Thomas. God, a prick in my book, denies the Virgin Mary any clitoral or vaginal stimulation, deferring to the “divine agency” of his bodiless baby batter. Anal seemed out of the question as well. Their son Jesus is likewise denied carnal knowledge with his own Mary (Magdelene), our codependent threesome the world’s first dysfunctional family. I’ve always found Jesus’ loin cloth a sunken concavity, almost tucked-in in trying perhaps to be a daughter. Emasculate comes from the latin emasculare, meaning castrate, fortunately used in a figurative sense. Ben Stiller’s comedic and dramatic qualms in Meet the Parents, Reality Bites, Greenberg, and There’s Something About Mary all tell the story of a dude’s trouble either getting or holding on to the girl. It’s bro humor, but not of sexual entitlement, rather, feminine-like worry and desire for love. Zoolander may even have a touch of peer misandry, and I find Stiller’s work “cutting edge” when it comes to chronic castration anxiety. Back in Rhode Island, in which most Farrelly brothers films are set, Mary’s mother and step-father, along with a doubting cop, cannot believe what Ted Stroehmann did to his “frank” and “beans” until they see it. Here the Farrelly brothers cut to the proof, in the unedited version at least.
Here’s a roundup of my favorite newish movies, with some thoughts on each one. If you appreciate and/or doubt my taste in motion pictures, here are my lists from 2009 & 2010 & 2011. And here are some overall notes:
- Films marked with an * can be watched for free online; just click on the title.
- Roughly half of the films are from 2012; the rest hail from 2008–11. As I argued in my posts “How Many Movies Are There?” and “How Many Movies Have You Seen?“, no one can watch every new release when it comes out (especially when they’ve recently started a PhD program). I prefer to think of my lists 2009–present more as an ongoing project than as definitive statements on any given year. (I also feel free to revise my opinions over time.)
- You may find relevant two older posts—“How Many Cinemas Are There?” & “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?“—where I decry the habit of so many film critics to consider only feature-length theatrically-released films when making these kinds of lists. (All other cinema somehow disappears at the end of the year! Which is particularly odd at the present moment, when broadband has been revitalizing the short movie form.)
- If you want straight lists of the titles without any commentary, just skip to the end.
And now, without further to do, here are 30+ relatively-new movie-things that I saw and have thoughts on, starting with—
I. MY 10 FAVORITE NEWISH FILMS THAT I SAW THIS YEAR AND FEEL COMFORTABLE RECOMMENDING THAT OTHERS CHECK OUT
In “Encore,” (Book XX, Seminar, 1972) Jacques Lacan claims that St. Teresa is coming in Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1652) — one may imagine his soft pink academic finger placed right on it — which seems post-whateverly reasonable after reading the subject’s autobiography, in which she states “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan.” Which all seems mild when you consider how close-ups on the weeping Virgin Mary’s tears seem like misdirected facials, or the clitoral countenance of all those emanant halos. This of course, may just be the torrent of my head. Lacan says “the habit loves the monk,” a playful adaption of l’habit ne fait pas le moine (“the habit does not make the monk”), which is a figurative way of saying appearances can be deceiving. The habit this monk loves is a shameful thing. A lesser Bernini, Rob Reiner has Meg Ryan fake it in When Harry Met Sally (1989), which confused my 13-year-old woody; didn’t know if it should stand at attention or smirk at the hip adultness, its severe almost hostile realism that women may have been faking it all the time. I’ve always found “I’m coming” — a partner’s bored face rendered invisible by the proclaimer’s eyelids — rather endearing: we are announcing our spiritual itinerary; that finally, after the chess match of texts, the avalanche of tiny drinks, the angry limbs of mutual cadence, we are hereby almost present.