Today, over 200 art-house and independent movie theaters in the United States are screening 1984, the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel directed by Michael Radford. The theaters are doing so to stand up for “freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as ‘alternative facts,'” according to the United State of Cinema website.
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
About a week ago, film professor and documentarian Michael Chanan posted an excerpt from his documentary film The New Cinema of Latin America (1983). The excerpt includes an enlightening interview with Cuban filmmaker Julio Garcia Espinosa. At the time, he was the head of ICAIC, the Cuban Film Institute founded by the Castro regime after the 1959 Revolution, but he is perhaps best remembered for writing the essay “For an Imperfect Cinema” in 1969.
Espinosa’s interview highlights two very compelling issues of the post-1959 period of filmmaking and, apparently, his own thinking about “imperfect cinema”:
The filmmakers were influenced by the European New Waves and documentary. Espinosa describes how Italian Neorealism was a model for quality filmmaking and recalls how someone criticized his early film work for ignoring this important movement. He also notes the influence of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, as well as generally referring to the documentary work that grew in the decades after World War II.
The filmmakers were determined to create their own cinema. Espinosa discusses how filmmakers had adopted many tricks to mask the racial markers of Afro-Cubans, but they were determined to forgo that practice in favor of representing the Cuban people in their truest light.
New York City has a rich history of supporting experimental filmmaking. One major reason is that filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the city is home to many artists and resources to nurture a filmmaking community. It’s one of the reasons I moved here: if not to produce such work, I was looking forward to being around it.
However, filmmaking has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and now it’s almost impossible to find resources for making film.
Mono No Aware, a non-profit cinema arts organization founded a decade ago by a cadre of experienced experimental filmmakers, has sustained independent filmmaking in New York since 2006. They are currently nearing the end of their fundraising campaign to start the nation’s only non-profit film laboratory. This will also be, believe it or not, the only film laboratory in New York City.
The campaign ends on December 6. Support independent filmmaking in New York City. Otherwise, the only films made here will be cheesy rom-coms and indulgent HBO series that block access to your home and local bodega.
After two moves in two years, I’ve become frustrated toting around my physical media collection, especially books, DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes. Over the years, I have managed to digitize almost my entire music collection and most of my movies. The physical copies are safely stashed away in a friend’s basement.
My collection of movies and TV programs, however, is almost entirely in SD. I never bought into Blu-ray like I did with DVDs in the late-1990s and early-2000s. It would be nice if I could magically upgrade all my movie files from SD to HD… or better.
One of my favorite films of all time, The Big Lebowski, is currently on sale for $7.99 on iTunes and Amazon. I’ve owned it on DVD for years, and it’s occasionally been available to stream, but I couldn’t resist getting it through iTunes, especially since it’s available to stream on any device.
The sale is for a limited time.
The above links to iTunes and Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!
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)
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.
The Tribeca Film Festival starts next month, and I will be observing ten years of skipping films screening at this festival. I last went to a film screening at Tribeca in 2006, when I saw two films. One was the worst film I ever watched in a theater, and the second was the site of the worst Q&A session I’ve ever endured. After both experiences, with some very oblivious film viewers, I swore I would never return.
The Worst Film
Choking Manseemed promising at the time. It featured Mandy Pantankin, who I held in high regard from appearing in the Showtime dramedy Dead Like Me, and it took place in Queens.
The apparent inspiration for Choking Man (2006), the last film I ever watched at the Tribeca Film Festival.
I haven’t revisited the film since watching it at the festival: I have not re-screened it nor did I follow up to research the filmmaker’s vision. While it’s true that filmmakers sometimes find inspiration in the strangest places, this film seemed to be informed by two unlikely bits of inspiration:
The colorful “Choking Man” posters that appear in every New York City–restaurant. At the time, there was a version with a lemon wedge and a fish. It was hard not to notice.
As far as substance, these two bits were all the film had to offer. The characters in this film are all very flat, and the flimsy plot was immediately forgettable. I didn’t leave the screening, but I did mentally “check out” once Jorge, the Ecuadorian immigrant at the center of the film’s fish-out-of-water story, starts doing magic. If this was supposed to be a moment of magical realism, someone needed to pay more attention in his Latin American literature class.
After the screening had ended, there was the requisite Q&A. The audience loved the film and expressed their gee-whiz fascination with Queens and brown people, and they marveled at the area “by the airport.” They showered the filmmaker with praise and mid-2000s–era platitudes, such as “poignant” and “transcendent.” I never wanted to vomit in public as bad as I did then. It probably didn’t help matters that I saw this film with a girl I had already broken up with, but we decided to watch the film together anyway because we wouldn’t give up our tickets. (Hi, Tori.)
One could be forgiven for thinking that the audience was just being polite. After all, why would any want to be mean in public? But days earlier, I witnessed the Tribeca audience draw their “critical” claws. And it wasn’t pretty.
The Worst Audience
Two hours and forty-eight minutes is a long time to sit through a movie. No one I knew at the time would go with me, but Free Will [Der freie Wille] was one of the boldest films I had seen at the time. The story profiles Theo, a convicted rapist, after serving his sentence at a mental institution. Now free, he struggles to suppress his urge to rape again.
At first, Theo comports himself, but as the film continues, he finds himself consumed with his urges. On a cognitive level, he’s aware that it is wrong and that violating his parole will bring dire consequences. But he’s clearly sick, and serving time did not heal him. With each subsequent scene, the visuals in the film become more unstable. The pace of the editing quickens. The film stock becomes “faster,” which makes for a more grainy and noisy look to the film. Perhaps most noticeably, the cinematographer starts to hold the camera in his hand, and the image shakes considerably.
The duration of the film also exacerbates the difficulty of identifying with Theo. Throughout the film, we want Theo to control his urges, but by the end, we share his exhaustion. Much like Chantal Akerman needed nearly three-and-a-half hours to show Jeanne Dielman’s dreary life, this film needed to torment its audience for it to share Theo’s demons.
For the people who remained through the entire screening, their questions were harsh. Not only was Matthias Glasner, the film’s director, in attendance, but the actor who played Theo, Jürgen Vogel, was also present. The audience interrogated both Glasner and Vogel. Some questioners seemed to forget that they had seen a fiction film and treated Vogel as if he was an actual rapist. Others grilled Glasner over the “shaky” camera towards the end of the film. One viewer even asked, “Couldn’t you find a cameraman with a steady hand?” Both Glasner and Vogel seemed dumbfounded. At the time, the world held the US in pretty low esteem because of George W. Bush and his War in Iraq. This Q&A did not help elevate our global status.
To be fair, Tribeca screens well over a hundred films each year at its festival, and this was the first or second year after it had expanded north of Canal Street. With more and more films, there are going to be “duds.” But it was the audience’s taste, not the selected films, that really bothered me.
Nick Zedd shook me down for money, years after I ran the course, because he had learned that I screened his films in this class.
I saw, for the first time, the Diego Echeverria film Los Sures, a 1984 documentary of the then-Puerto Rican enclave of South Williamsburg. The film’s title is Spanish for “the Southsiders” and refers to the residents who dominated the neighborhood in the 1980s.
The original film is remarkable today because it documented a part of Williamsburg that has undergone radical changes over the last thirty-plus years, and the Living Los Sures project attempts to excavate and preserve the culture of the Southside.
Tomorrow, the Cinema Studies Department at NYU, is screening the 1984 film and hosting a presentation about the current and ongoing Living Los Sures project. This is a rare opportunity to see this film. Until the original film is available for purchase, you’ll have to settle for screening a 16mm or VHS copy at the New York Public Library.
Admission to tomorrow’s screening is free, but seating is limited.
Living Los Sures
March 3, 2016
NYU King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South
Home | TripMode | Your mobile data savior.2017/03/01 MacSparky suggested this to help you save data transfer when tethering. Looks reasonable for those of us considering switching to an unlimited plan with tethering.
The Jobs Americans Do - NYTimes.com2017/02/24 An enlightening set of portrayals of nine job Americans do now. An old college chum, Eric Steuer, penned on of the portraits in the series.
Underground New York2017/02/22 "A rare behind-the-scenes view of the exploding New York “underground” in the late sixties, a turbulent time and place that was to change American culture forever. A German TV crew, led by journalist Gideon Bachmann, explores the epicenter of the sixties revolution in art, music, poetry and film and interviews the main players in the “New American Cinema,” that was born on the streets of New York. Against a backdrop of cultural upheaval in all of the arts and growing political agitation against the Vietnam War, Bachman interviews the most prominent figures in “underground film,” including Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, the Kuchar Brothers and Bruce Connor, and visits the most notorious location in the New York art world of the era - Andy Warhol’s Factory - to conduct an interview with the genius of Pop Art himself."
– Scott Hammen