Thursday, July 31, 2014

little fugitive

The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed, 1948)

Reed never misses an opportunity to place his young protagonist behind bars. Many examples are obvious, but a few only appear through the film's creative dissolves. Others are merely suggestive: a headboard, the back of a chair (and a barred window behind it). French doors even evoke an opened prison cell through which an open window leads to... another prison. (Phillipe, the main character, unfortunately hasn't learned this yet.)

Youth on the run. (Note the shadows on the floor.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

creative affinities (1)

 the immigrant, gustave klimt, painting references, adele bloch-bauer, paintings, marion cotillard
gustave klimt, adele bloch-bauer, the immigrant, james gray, film references
The Immigrant (James Gray, 2013) / Gustave Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) [turned sideways]

Friday, June 27, 2014


Damian Jaques' poster for Robert Bresson's La Genèse

A great anecdote—true or not, I don't know—is recounted by Dominic Nolan in Simon Braund's book The Greatest Movies You'll Never See (2013). In 1963, famed Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis assembled a group of prestigious directors—Fellini, Bergman, Visconti, and Welles among them—to make films from various books in the Bible. The first, Genesis, was to be made by Robert Bresson.

Thinking of the grandeur of Noah's Ark rather than the austere films of Robert Bresson, De Laurentiis arranged for animals to be brought in from Rome's zoo, and various caged beasts
lions, giraffes, hippos, tigers, etc.soon arrived on set. De Laurentiis, pleased with how events were proceeding, congratulated the Frenchman on the scope of his vision. Bresson, confused, responded, "One will see only their footprints in the sand." 

It was no joke: not a single animal could be seen in the rushes, only tracks in the sand... And a very irritated De Laurentiis, who had spared no expense in bringing the animals to set, fired one of the greatest artists ever to work in film an hour later.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

a band apart

Mr. Tarantino, Jean-Luc Godard has insulted you as a 'poor man' 

and a 'faquin' — that means 'man without any value.'

What do you say about that?

Well, I can't believe that he said that,

so unless you can actually prove it to me

or he says it to myself,

then I'll assume that you're, uh, exaggerating.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

one of us

The Wolf of Wall St. / Orange is the New Black

Comparisons of criminality aside...

Viewing these references to Tod Brownings Freaks (1932)—especially within the context of American culture's 15+ year fixation on the antihero (of which Wolf of Wall St. and Orange is the New Black are a part)—I couldn't help but hear the chant as a kind of siren song. We're all criminalsonly dupes still take things like honesty, morality and integrity seriously. It's not so much that we're being prompted to join in on the immoral behavior ourselves (other than vicariously), but that the writers are feeding a desire
in us and in themselvesto sympathize (in a dramaturgical sense) with those who commit wrongdoing—especially those in positions of power. Being in a system that seemingly provides no alternatives, we're desperate to find ways to "understand" the powerful when they engage in immoral or criminal politics because, well, we're stuck with them. And this gives us an excuse not to judge them too harshly, which allows us to remain content in our apathy. It's all just a con anyway, right? Instead of trying to hold people accountable—which entails giving ourselves a headache by trying to stay informed in an increasingly swamped and distracting landscape—we can secretly admire their cunning from the sidelines (especially if we voted for them, or if they're played by Jon Hamm, Steve Buscemi, Kevin Spacey or Bryan Cranston). When someone in a position of power does something illegal or immoral, rather than adopting a critical position we can choose to use our "understanding" to make excuses on their behalf—his heart was in the right place, her motives were probably good, he didn't have much of a choice, they were simply trying to maximize profits for their shareholders, he's only a madman because he was raised in a whorehouse and had traumatic wartime experiences, etc. This relationship to the world and the attitudes it fosters come full circle in a time when most of us feel so powerless that we no longer see ourselves as active citizens who can affect change but as spectators commenting on that which has already been written. No longer is the story about a few human souls who happen to be disguised as "freaks" and a few freakish souls who happen to be disguised as human beings, as Browning's film would have it. It's now a story about a world where all human beings are merely freaks in disguise. In other words, why bother? One is as good as the next. We accept them, one of us!


Celebritized Contrition is the New Insufferable.

Orange is the New Black: a Netflix original series wherein all the current social positions of liberals are given narrative shape.

If people could learn to recognize their white privilege and let go of their name brand shampoos, they could learn to love
and feel solidarity withthe less fortunate. And by less fortunate I mean various minorities: Puerto Ricans, immigrants, blacks, lesbians, the transgendered... But not poor white evangelicals, of course. They're laughing stocks. Dupes. Forever unrelatable. (And at war with us!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

affinities XVII (NSFW edition)

Vestale voilée (Carrier-Belleuse, 1859) / Wet Veil (Erwin Blumenfeld, 1937)

Nude Bent Forward (Lee Miller, 1930) / The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, 2013)

Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, 2014) / "Thérèse on a Bench Seat" (Balthus, 1939)

Invocation of My Demon Brother (Anger, 1969) / Interior. Leather Bar (James Franco & Travis Mathews, 2013)

Surviving Life (Svankmajer, 2010) / From Max Ernst's A Week of Kindness (1934) / Surviving Life

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Mystery in Aden: V

(Parts I, II, III, IV)

* * *

Brice Poreau, a researcher at the Laboratory of Anatomical Anthropology and Paleopathology at the Claude Bernard University of Lyon 1, has recently published a report on the 1879/80 Aden photograph that was discovered by Jacques Desse and Alban Caussé in 2010. Using biometric similarity—a technique first used in certain areas of forensic science (face recognition in muddled surveillance videos, for example), then later in the realm of art (comparing faces in paintings)—Poreau examined five pertinent Rimbaud depictions and compared them with the mustached man in the Aden photo.

Similarity biometrics is a method of measuring the distance between various points on a face, then noting the sizes and placement of the various features in relation to one another. On each of the five photographs, dozens of such measurements were made, and each was compared down to a hundredth of a millimeter.

"The first step was to establish anthropological facial points," Poreau explains. "Then 2 measurements between two points were taken with a caliper. The third step was to calculate indexes (division between two measures). For each index, we made the difference between the faces. We added these differences and divided the result by the number of index. Finally, we reported the result on a table to get the percentage of similarity." A match of 100% is nearly impossible; it would mean that the faces are identical. The two Carjat photos of Rimbaud, for example, only yield a similarity of 98% (which, Poreau notes, also demonstrates the validity of the method). Because of this, and because of the flaws inherent in comparing paintings with photographs, a match of 80% or more is considered to be a fairly convincing number.

After comparing the five Rimbaud images (shown above) to the man sitting on the terrace of the Universe Hotel, the results ranged from 84% - 92% similarity. The lowest match (84%) was with the Fantin-Latour painting, as one might expect. And the highest (92%) was with the African photo taken by Sheikh-Othman, which also makes sense as it's the only photo depicting Rimbaud as an adult. (The most famous Carjat yielded a 90% similarity.)

Poreau concluded that the man in the 1880 photo has a "very high probability" of being Arthur Rimbaud, which also means that its the first photo to "show the adult traits of the poet." As I noted previously, the identity of the mustached man in the picture will never be known with utter certainty. But this study brings us as close to certainty as we could ever hope to get.

Without forgetting that I'm taking all of this at face value—the validity of the procedure (similarity biometrics) and the expertise of its practitioner (Brice Poreau)—I finally feel like I have the confidence to say, Yes, that's Rimbaud. At the conclusion of my Mystery in Aden IV post, I wrote the following: "Personally I think there's still a decent chance the mustached man is (inexplicably) Rimbaud, but a lot of that has to do with the very unscientific and biased fact that, unlike most, I happen to think that the face on the terrace looks a lot like him (or at least how one might expect him to look)... The droopy eyes, the ear, the puffy bottom lip..." And now I—and those of you who felt the same way—have a bit of science to buttress our intuition.

Here, at last—finally and once more—is a photo of Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud, taken about eleven years before his death.

During an interview, Stéphane Barsacq, author of the recent Rimbaud: Celui-là qui créera Dieu, spoke about the newly "authenticated" 1880 photo (albeit in French): "A desperate look, a dazed man. Exactly what had become of the greatest poet after his departure so long ago... It is known that this picture was controversial for reasons quite absurd. It broke the myth of eternal adolescence that the Carjat photo popularized. However, nothing was more necessary: Rimbaud is not a myth. This is a man of flesh and blood, a being who has suffered, a poet who has paid cash... Let us not forget that the Carjat photo has been retouched, and Rimbaud, as it was, found more in the portraits of his sister than in this print arranged according to a technique that anticipated Photoshop. Rimbaud's Carjat photo flatters the idea that the poet must be as beautiful as his creation."

The famous Carjat photo that Barsacq alludes to is known only from the retouched reproductions made in 1900 (the original is lost and has never been reproduced). Around 1912, however, a reproduction was made for Paul Claudel from the copy kept by the Rimbaud family, which was only recently discovered in the archives of Paul Claudel by Jacques Desse. Published for the first time on May 4th, this small, black and white reproduction is the most faithful rendering of the original Carjat out of any of the versions now circulating.

A third copy of Carjat's less famous Rimbaud portrait—which was said by those who knew him to look much more like the poet than the more famous one above—was also discovered in the Paul Claudel archives. It was apparently bequeathed to Claudel when Isabelle Rimbaud died in 1917.