Monday, December 24, 2012
"The telegraph resounds at every post. It is a harp with one string—The first strain from the American lyre." —Henry David Thoreau, Journal (February 14, 1854)
"And the lines of telegraph poles— / Lyres of iron song—will adorn / Your magnificent shoulder blades!" —Arthur Rimbaud, "What is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers" (1871)
Thoreau wrote those words in his journal the year Rimbaud was born. He was nearly thirty-seven at the time, the age at which Rimbaud died.
Images: Thoreau in '54; Rimbaud in '71
(I wonder if likening telegraph wires to a lyre was cliche by the time Rimbaud got around to using it... "What is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers" was, after all, a parody.)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Above: Alexander Sokurov near the end of Knut Elstermann's One Last Breath, a documentary about the filming of Russian Ark (the latter film is famously comprised of a single unbroken take lasting more than ninety minutes). After the second attempt at filming Russian Ark proves successful, Sokurov, in tears, says "cut", and someone comes up and wraps a coat around him like he's a boxer leaving the ring after a fight.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
This isn't at all systematic. I just made up categories to fit whatever popped into my head.
Favorite Theatrical Experience of the Year:
After the Dardenne's The Kid with a Bike (2011) was over, a ten or eleven year old girl sat crying effusively, totally devastated throughout the entire closing credits. Once her father noticed she was crying, he reached out and held her in his arms, whereupon she wrapped her arms around him in return. They sat that way for a long time.
It was moving to see someone so young connecting with the film on such a deep level, and doubly so to see what unfolded afterwards. The fact that this took place because of a film made by some of the most humane, empathetic filmmakers around made it all the better. Such a thing overrides all the moments this year when the films I saw were ruined by talkers and texters.
A quick note on the film: I don't recall the Dardennes using music before, so I was surprised to hear it in The Kid with a Bike... The short musical cues made it explicit just how much the bigger-than-life moments in most films—saving someone from a burning building, shoot outs, etc.—are completely undramatic and artificial in comparison to the emotions surging through a work like this. The moments that make up The Kid with a Bike would be considered "small" by Hollywood's standards, yet they're powerful enough to cue an infinite number of instruments without ever feeling a bit dishonest or sentimental.
Favorite Blog of the Year: The Last Psychiatrist.
Not because it's a new blog or because it's markedly better this year than in previous years, but because this is the year I started reading it. One of the Internet's best text-based bloggers, TLP is iconoclastic, searing, insightful, funny, thought provoking, and with a point of view you're unlikely to find anywhere else.
My favorite post from this year was probably If You Liked The Descendants, You Are A Terrible Person. (I'd post an excerpt but then I wouldn't know where to stop.) And since my readers are likely to be disproportionately interested in movies I'll also recommend What's Wrong With The Hunger Games Is What No One Noticed, and its follow up, The Hunger Games Is A Sexist Fairy Tale. Sorry.
A New Favorite Director: Lionel Rogosin
I first heard of Rogosin in Cassavetes on Cassavetes:
And elsewhere Cassavetes said:
"To tell the truth as you see it, incidentally, is not necessarily the truth. To tell the truth as someone else sees it is, to me, much more important and enlightening. Some documentaries are fantastic. Like Lionel Rogosin's pictures, for instance; like On The Bowery. This is a guy who's probably the greatest documentary filmmaker of all time, in my opinion."
Thankfully, Milestone Films recently restored On The Bowery (1956) and Come Back, Africa (1960)— both of which I was able to see at a film festival earlier this year. They also released Good Times, Wonderful Times (1965) on DVD, which I later rented. I recommend all three films highly, Come Back, Africa and On the Bowery especially (the links above go to trailers).
Here's a great description of Rogosin from Milestone's website:
"For songwriter Woody Guthrie, his guitar was a machine that 'kills fascists.' For Lionel Rogosin, the weapon of choice was a movie camera and his first battle was waged on the streets of New York City."
Book of the Year: Building Stories (Chris Ware)
Brilliant. Some of the comics in this work—the ones that aren't books, anyway—are designed so that they can be read in almost any direction, wherever your eyes might take you (though Ware usually gives hints as to how they're "supposed" to be read). It's fun and illuminating to look at how some of the smaller, folded comics can be read from side "A" to side "B" or side "B" to side "A", yet still remain perfectly clear in their telling. One of the physically larger works—the front side of a folded up piece that's reminiscent of a board game—is perhaps the best example of this kind of creative reading.
Worthwhile: Monkey Dust (season 1)
Especially episodes 1 - 3, and 6. Unfortunately episodes 4 and 5 have a sketch in them that doesn't work, and another one that isn't very good. (The creators must have realized this because it's gone in the 6th episode.)
Monkey Dust has been on region 2 DVD for awhile, but it made this list because I recently took a chance on it when I ordered The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb and noticed it on my wishlist at a very cheap price. (The advantage of having massive wishlists you can categorize by price? 6 DVDs for $39.00.)
This 2003 show from BBC Three bounces around from various sketches and creates an interesting effect through its repetition. The show doesn't actually get better or funnier as it goes (it's more humorous than funny anyway, at least to me), but the "here we go again" format gives the already bleak and absurd situations an almost cosmic feeling of hopelessness. The loneliness of the characters, the futility of their lives, is multiplied ten-fold—which is the only way hopelessness is ever rendered humorous.
Favorite Older Book: The Jokers (Albert Cossery, 1964)
"What would happen to the world if all the revolutionaries repented and reformed? It seemed to him that a light, somewhere, would go out."
|Cossery, the idle anarchist|
"That a starving beggar would refuse to be seen as an employee: what an insult to posterity, which only recognizes those who make careers of following the rules! History's full of those little bureaucrats who rise to high positions because of their diligence and perseverance in a life of crime. It was a painful thought: the only glorious men the human race had produced were a bunch of miserable officials who cared about nothing but their own advancement and were sometimes driven to massacre thousands of their own just to hold on to their jobs and keep food on the table. And this was who was held up for the respect and admiration of the crowd!"
I began a post related to The Jokers back in June, but it got too bloated, so I abandoned it... (I might still do something with it in the future.) In the meantime, the first chapter of the book—which could be a self-contained short story in its own right—will give you all you need to know to determine whether or not you'll enjoy it.
Best Film from Last Year I Didn't See Until This Year
Favorite Comedy of the Year: The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry)
When I went to see this with a friend there was an event in the city that made it all but impossible to park close to the theater. And of course it was raining. We ended up finding a spot nearly a mile away so we had to run, jog and then finally walk quickly (I never was good at long distance) in order to make the showing. Once we got there, we were completely soaked. But this turned out to be an oddly fitting condition under which to view this oddly uncomfortable film.
Film of the Year: Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
Holy Motors is for those who appreciate film as a medium of rhythm, dance, bodies, sensation... Denis Lavant, as anyone who's watched him move in Mauvais Sang, Beau Travail, or Les Amants du Pont-Neuf can attest, is one of cinema's foremost poets in this vein. He's also, along with Carax, the other half of one of the great actor/director pairs in cinema.
Re-issue of the Year: Liberty Or Love! and Mourning for Mourning (Robert Desnos)
Before @tlas press re-issued these works in November, copies of Liberty or Love were going for over $100, and Mourning for Mourning was all but impossible to find.
Favorite Online Find:
The punk rock kid raging against beer in the first two minutes of this video:
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Monday, December 03, 2012
I wanted to give a nod—a small salute, really—to stop-motion animator Dave Borthwick, who died about a month ago. The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993), which Borthwick wrote, directed, and animated, was among the first films I purchased online, and it's been a favorite ever since. Borthwick wasn't particularly prolific, but, having made this original film, it hardly matters.
Upon hearing the news of his death, I dusted off my old VHS copy—one of the few tapes I've elected to hold on to over the years—and watched the film again, probably for the fifth or sixth time (though it was the first in many years). Still every bit as good as I remembered, if not better.
Thank you Borthwick & Co. for this darkly humorous and humane nightmare.
ADVERTISEMENT: The region 2 DVD, which I recently purchased, is currently going for a mere $5, and it includes a neat short called The Saint Inspector. (Various blurry versions of Tom Thumb can of course be viewed on YouTube.)
The Saint Inspector (1996):