It’s been a while since I’ve linked to an event at Brooklyn’s Light Industry. That’s partly because I don’t live within a two-minute walk, and I have an evening class on Tuesday nights, which is when their events are usually scheduled. If I can’t attend, how can I reasonably expect you to attend?
But this coming Tuesday, October 17, there’s a pretty special event. Celebrated film critic J. Hoberman will be at Light Industry to present three World War II-era films in a program titled “Against Riefenstahl.”
The first film is an abridged version of Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 cinematic love-letter to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis as they consolidated power in Germany. The notes on the website detail how the film reached the attention of American film viewers, including Iris Barry, the first film curator at the Museum of Modern Art. The films that Barry curated are considered the first canonical works of film scholarship. MoMA edited a 45-minute version—a kind of “documentary of the film itself”—that circulated throughout the US in the 1940s.
The film apparently caught the attention of Hollywood film director Frank Capra. According to the screening notes, Capra regarded the edited version of Triumph as the “most impressive propaganda movie he had ever encountered,” incorporating material from the film in his own Why We Fight? series of propaganda films made for the US military between 1942 and 1945 to train newly enlisted and drafted US soldiers.
The film also caught the attention of Charles Ridley, of the British Ministry of Information, who edited a print from the British Film Institute to create a satirical look at Hitler and the Nazis: The Lambeth Walk (1940). This short film that includes and manipulates segments from Triumph and sets it to a song from the time to create a humorous “dance” film, where Hitler and Nazi soldiers appear to “dance” the Lambeth Walk, a popular dance of the time. Having screened this film in class several times, the films retains its sharp comedic and critical bite, nearly eighty years after it was made.
The program will look at these three “derivative works” created from one of the most notorious films ever made: an extremely beautiful and well-made film that celebrates one of the most evil and murderous regimes in history.
Partly to torment my students with a long reading, but also to perhaps have them reflect on contemporary issues, I assigned Siegfried Kracauer’s “Mass Ornament” essay to my students in my History of Film class this week.
By a great stroke of luck, Nicholar Baer is delivering a lecture about Kracauer’s writings and film on Wednesday, February 15, at the department of Cinema Studies at New York University. The students in my Tuesday class may get a chance to hear this lecture, but the students in my Wednesday class will not. Our class meets at the same time as this lecture.
Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film
This presentation will examine how Siegfried Kracauer addressed the relation between history and poetics in his film-theoretical writings. I will argue that insofar as Kracauer came to define the medium’s “basic aesthetic principle” in terms of engagement with the singular and transitory occurrences of physical reality, he obfuscated Aristotle’s opposition between history and poetry, paradoxically locating the poetics of film in its potential as a historian of contemporary life. Notably, however, the genre of the historical film was problematic for Kracauer, given its efforts to visualize a past that is by definition no longer present. Rather than showing “how things actually were,” in Leopold von Ranke’s famous words, the historical film can only envision “things as they could have happened.” An examination of Kracauer’s extensive writings on the historical film will shed new light on his film theory and illuminate significant developments in his thought from Weimar Germany to 1960s New York. Not least, Kracauer’s texts will provide an occasion for considering cinema in relation to historical-philosophical debates on the dissolving distinction between empirical reality and fictional construction, the history and the story, and the true (das Wahre) and the verisimilar (das Wahrscheinliche)—issues of renewed concern in our own “post-truth” era.
Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film
That last one comes about a week too late for me. I did take an MTA Metro North train after Thanksgiving, returning from an short bike ride to Tarrytown, but this offer didn’t take effect until December 1.
Also, the offer expires on January 1, which is a shame. I would have appreciated a discount on the $36 round-trip fare to Greenport or Montauk when cycling season begins anew next year.
Just in time for the General Election next Tuesday, Film Forum is starting a very timely, weeklong film series tomorrow: films about demagogues.
While I would highly recommend against watching all of the films in the series, simply because it would be too emotionally and spiritually draining to see all these exercises in mass persuasion over and over again, there are some really great titles in the series you really should see. And a good number of them are packaged as double features.
My favorite aspect of this series—other than the timing—is the range of causes for the demagogue’s rise. Newspapers empower them in Meet John Doe and Citizen Kane, while the then-nascent medium of TV is to blame for Lonesome Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith in his first film role, in A Face in the Crowd. The plots get a little more dark in films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May with full-on conspiracies at work.
Tonight, experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr will be giving the seventh annual Experimental Film Lecture, jointly presented by the departments of Cinema Studies and Undergraduate Film & Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The pre-lecture screening is of his films in 16mm. You might want to see those while you can, lest they burn up in the projector.
For nearly fifty years, artist Ernie Gehr has transformed his deep knowledge of the moving image into a distinct vision of cinema’s potential for interpreting and fragmenting reality. With an astute, often humorous, appreciation for the limits and possibilities of the frame, Gehr has, since the mid-1960s, created a large, radical body of work that continues to challenge and surprise audiences. He uses his camera as a tool for creating new modes of perception. With few words, no characters, and no plots, his films, video work, and installations push us to re-imagine our own relationships to time and space.
There are a multiplicity of adjectives that fit Ernie Gehr’s experimental film and digital work: abstract, beautiful, mysterious, invigorating, utopian.
In Gehr’s hands, the camera seems to take on magical properties, able to transform the most quotidian object or environment—the pattern of sunlight on a wall, a busy street—into marvelous and unexpected phenomena.
Join us for screenings at 5:30 and Gehr’s Experimental Lecture at 7:00.
Pre-lecture 16mm screening of Serene Velocity (1970), Shift (1972-74) and Rear Window (1986/1991)
Experimental Lecture with screenings of Lisa and Suzanne (1968-69), Untitled: Part 1 (l981), Coney Island Boardwalk (2013)
Although I missed last week’s trivia night due to a really bad cold, I heard that the quizzing festivities went undeterred. Mike Q stepped from behind the bar to play quiz master. I heard it was a blast.
But now my cold has passed, and I’ll be back to hosting again on Wednesday night. Again, there will be prizes…
Mark Sultan, also known as BBQ, has played some great shows around these parts as of late. However, at a recent show at Union Pool, someone threw a beer can at him, and he rightly and figuratively flipped his wig, walked off the stage, and ended the show.
Was it King Khan & The Shrines or King Khan & The BBQ Show that I saw in concert recently (at some venue or another) where King Khan’s drummer insulted the crowd all night…something about New Yorkers being too cool or being just a bunch of trust fund kids or something… I can’t remember…
It was a very uncomfortable situation.
You’d think after that, Sultan—or BBQ—would never want to play this town again. Apparently not!
To be fair, none of these trivia nights were especially tricky. I’m basically splitting hairs here.
Sadly, the Local Hostel in Long Island City has apparently stopped their Thursday trivia night. I went a handful of times in 2014, but stopped once I left the neighborhood for fear that I’d run into my ex. Also, I usually teach Thursday nights.
Honorable mention:Amity Hall, Wednesday nights, for being difficult but only warrants a mention as it’s in Manhattan. It relies on a broad knowledge base. Bring friends.
Los Sures is a 1984 film about the “southsiders” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The film was reemerged in the last few years because it captured the Brooklyn neighborhood that has dramatically changed and all but disappeared—and not necessarily because I screened it in my New York Independents class back in 2006. Union Docs has been working on the companion Living Los Sures project as an oral history to document the current state of the neighborhood and its changes.