House (1977, Nobuhiko Obayashi)

Tonight we will be Liveblogging the Japanese horror movie House!

2 Minutes In: Already I have seen editing tricks I have never seen in a movie before (maybe because they are a bad idea), an animated opening title sequence, continuity problems, poor (or poorly translated) dialogue, and music that emphatically does not fit the action. Only 85 minutes to go!

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10 Minutes In: Cruising the IMDB… director has made forty movies since House. This is kind of like when I discovered Takashi Miike with Ichi the Killer and realized there are FORTY more things like this somewhere in the world. Only this is much stupider. Woman who plays the grandmother (below) used to be in Imamura and Mizoguchi films, and now she’s in this.

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20 Minutes In: Holy crap is this music ever awful. So far I am not buying that this is a horror movie. If there’s any “horror” here, it’ll be extremely goofy and everyone will turn out okay (and best friends) in the end. The visual style, editing and sound mixing are all crazed. Wipes and irises all over. And there’s cat tossing!

30 Minutes In: Definitely not a horror. I feel ripped off.

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40 Minutes In: yep, the goofy horror has begun… but it’s SO goofy it puts Sleepaway Camp to shame. It puts The Great Yokai War to shame! This one might out-goof even Princess Raccoon!

Dead fat girl’s head, mistaken for a watermelon, flies through the air and bites another girl on the butt in front of crazy-fake backdrop:
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50 Minutes In: I wonder if Sam Raimi might’ve seen this before making Evil Dead 2. Hmmm, and I just found an unauthorized pseudo-sequel to Evil Dead 2 from Italy called House 3/Ghosthouse. So one could rename ED2 “House 2″ and form a whole new trilogy. Then we can use the American House IV to finish it off… fitting, since there was no actual House 3 in that series.

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60 Minutes In: Movie gets tiring after a while. It’s still super goofy, I’ll give it that… not quick bursts of stylistic flourishes – they are ever-present. Must have taken an age to make, with all the insert shots and models and effects and editing nonsense going on. There was some nice piano music earlier but now it’s back to the ol’ spastic theme song. Should we be seeing nude high school girls? Is that okay?

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70 Minutes In: They just found some sort of leather-bound book of the dead, giving credence to my sequel theories. Also, a piano just ate someone. Maybe we can replace House IV with Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Hmmm, blood spraying out of a hole in the wall and filling the room… definitely Evil Dead 2-ish. One girl you can tell is the smart one, because she wears glasses, has her hair in no-nonsense ponytails, and knows what to do when they find a book (she reads it).

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80+ Minutes In: I think the movie just ended, but there’s another 15 minutes on the file. Oh good, here’s a music video. Are they burning the girl’s stepmom’s head? Some voiceover craaaap about the nature of love, then illustrated credits, which I always appreciate.

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Whew, so what was that? Some kinda teen comedy horror, I suppose. There’s an intro bit where a girl is sad that her dad is remarrying, then she tries going to camp but camp is cancelled. So she and her camp friends go off to her gramma’s house instead. But gramma is an evil witch who gains power from killing children in hilarious ways. I’m not sure who is still alive at the end because I was sleepy, but apparently the stepmom shows up at gramma’s house there, and I think maybe the main girl takes control of the witch activities and something bad happens to gramma. Whoa, I made 221 screenshots… hold on and I’ll sift through them looking for plot clues. No, it’s no clearer. But needless to say, I highly recommend this movie.

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The director is still alive and working, but the executive producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, creator of Godzilla?? Dead, dead, dead.

Wavelength (1967, Michael Snow)

Thanks to Andy, I finally had the chance to see one of the most talked-about avant-garde films of all time. While it’s important to talk about experimental film, it’s more important to actually see the damned things – and while anyone can order a copy of Visionary Film for $26.95, it’s nearly impossible to see Wavelength on any given day.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those times (see also The Leopard) when I check out one of the Great Important Works of Cinematic Art and come out less than impressed. I didn’t find the audiovisual experience very enlightening compared to the descriptions I’ve read of the film. Didn’t dislike it (though I came close to disliking the soundtrack) but not an overwhelming experience like Zorns Lemma, either. A few updates to those written descriptions: (1) It’s not a single, continuous zoom a la Last Days – the zoom moves sporadically and the camera slightly changes position from time to time. (2) There’s sound – a sinewave tone that starts low and ends high, with other quieter tones joining it at times and sync sound during the four action scenes. Those action scenes: Woman gets bookshelf delivered, two women listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, man dies, girl makes phone call expressing concern that there’s a dead man in her apartment. (3) There’s a twist ending – after zooming the full length of the apartment, the photograph on the wall is of waves in the sea. I get it, ha ha. After reading Sitney and Snow, I see why the movie is interesting, even exciting in theory, but the viewing experience just wasn’t there… wouldn’t want to see it again anytime soon.

P. Adams Sitney: “This is the story of the diminishing area of pure potentiality. The insight that space, and cinema by implication, is potential is an axiom of the structural film.”

Snow: “I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of planning for a time monument in which the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying to make a definitive statement of pure Film space and time, a balancing of ‘illusion’ and ‘fact,’ all about seeing. The space starts at the camera’s (spectator’s) eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind).”

Hollis Frampton: dead man:
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Actors included Joyce Wieland and Hollis Frampton (as the man who dies). Assisted by Ken Jacobs, and sound by Ted Wolff, who unsurprisingly didn’t do any other film sound after this. Snow screws with the camera a bunch: focus, filters, film stocks (supposedly – I hardly noticed), light settings, time of day and lighting inside, etc. My favorite part is one or two frames where the picture on the wall towards which we are slowly zooming is highlit by a sunburst of drawn lines (screenshot below). I’m glad I got to see it anyway, and glad Andy played this and not Warhol’s Empire or something.

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When I got home, watched WVLNT (2003) and Prelude (2000). The former was a shortened version of Wavelength “for those who don’t have the time” – he cut the movie into three equal parts and superimposed them. Except for the now-intolerable soundtrack, I liked this version much better! There’s much more to look at.

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Prelude was a cute intro bit from the same Toronto Film Festival that brought us The Heart of the World. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how cute since my copy is such low-quality (think it came from streaming realvideo on the TIFF site), but it seems to be a single camera take, clean picture on a clean set, with unsynched sound edited in all over the place – actors and film crew talking about films in general and the one they are presently inside. This and WVLNT travel a similar road as Snow’s SShtoorrty, with its color-coordinated set, single camera move and superimpositions.

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Charlie Bartlett (2007, Jon Poll)

White kid with single parent is kicked out of his expensive prep school for disciplinary reasons and finds himself at public school, where he wants desperately to be popular so he takes to doing semi-illegal things and ends the movie a hero. Meanwhile, an adult and semi-father-figure to the kid expresses his depression and disconnection by hanging out at the pool behind his house and looking sad. Prison is involved, the school bully is fought then befriended, Cat Stevens songs are heard… but enough about Rushmore, I’m supposed to be writing about Charlie Bartlett! I don’t really want to, though – I wanna write about House and Wavelength and Fantomas instead, so I’ll keep this short.

Pretty good movie… kid becomes the psychotherapist of his whole school, prescribing drugs he gets from his own analyst after finding out you can get high off Ritalin. His dad is not dead but in prison, Charlie ashamed doesn’t walk to talk about/to him. RD Jr. is like a dull cross between Bill Murray in Rushmore and the principal in Ferris Bueller, but a good and sympathetic character. Hope Davis is actually better than Downey as Charlie’s crazy/spacey mother. Charlie has a crush on the principal’s daughter, and consults one kid into attempted suicide before he’s caught. Principal is fired (and ends up with a happier job as a teacher) after students (only slightly provoked by Charlie) trash the school as a protest against cameras in the student lounge.

Jonathan Rosenbaum compares it not to Rushmore but to Pump Up The Volume and Mumford. “Charlie Bartlett might not be as bold as its predecessor. Yet given how politically gutless most teen movies have become, it may provoke audiences as much as [Pump Up The Volume] did 18 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of times its opening has been delayed since I first saw it last July, so clearly it has somebody worried that its defiant spirit will cut into its profitability—which is entirely to its credit.”

Woyzeck (1979, Werner Herzog)

Shot immediately after Nosferatu. Kinski looks worn out, stupid and insane. IMDB says “The entire 80-minute film was shot with only 27 cuts.” but I remember five or six in the opening credits alone, so nice try. I didn’t know there was a best supporting actress award at Cannes, but Eva Mattes won it. Movie was trounced by Tin Drum and Apocalypse Now for the grand prize, though, and it’s not on either of the top 1000 movies lists that I track, but it’s now on mine. Looks just like Nosferatu, same crew worked on it. All giant buildings and city and space dwarfing our characters. Feels like a play – you can totally tell the way people talk to themselves that it was written for the stage. Dialog is awesome. Writer Georg Büchner is famous mostly for Woyzeck, and this is one of twenty film adaptations of it.

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Kinski is a soldier, or a military barber I guess, in the 1800′s. He’s seeing Marie, and has been for a while since they have a son together. Lately Marie likes a drum major, no surprise since Kinski is completely nutty and nervous, due in part to the all-peas diet his doctor (above) has him on. After a movie’s worth of foreshadowing that crazed Kinski will kill someone and most likely his wife, he kills his wife down by the river. That’s it, except the film and script are way more poetic than my description.

The Noroit-ian band:
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V. Canby in the Times: “At the heart of each Herzog film is a mystery, not because information is arbitrarily withheld, but because every Herzog film is a record of the director’s questions and speculations about his subject — which is, I suspect, why he chooses to do the films he does. To do anything else would be storytelling of a kind that doesn’t interest him. Questions for which the answers are simple aren’t worth asking.”

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The Drum Major had been in Herzog’s Heart of Glass, would eventually turn up in Haneke’s Code Unknown. The Captain had been in Herzog’s Signs of Life after small parts in Rivette and Welles films. Eva Mattes had been in Strozek and In a Year of 13 Moons.

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Shadow of the Vampire should’ve portrayed Klaus Kinski as a demon instead of Max Schreck. Anyway, I’d like to see Malkovich playing Werner Herzog.

The Deadman (1989, Peggy Ahwesh & Keith Sanborn)

IMDB says ’87, websites say ’90 but the movie’s own credits say 1989, so there.

It’s not the first time I’ve watched a painfully low-quality downloaded video of a rare art film on J. Rosenbaum’s list of 1000 favorite movies only to come out scratching my head… and it won’t be the last. It’s impossible to tell if the handheld b/w photography is any good because my copy was so poor, but hey it might’ve been.

JR himself says the movie “charts the adventures of a nearly naked heroine who leaves the corpse of her dead lover in a country house, goes to a bar and sets in motion a scabrous free-form orgy before returning to her house to die. The film manages to approximate the transgressive poetic prose of Bataille (a mixture of elegance, raunchy defilement and barbaric splendor) while celebrating female sexual desire without the usual patriarchal-porn trimmings.” That’s Georges Bataille, famed French semi-philosophical writer, whom I know nothing about except from glancing at his wikipedia.

Marie drunkenly wrestles/dances with a dude in the bar:
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JD Rhodes: “The film’s events more or less follow those of the story. Ahwesh has said that she was drawn to adapt the text because she liked ‘how Bataille does not explain the emotions of the characters’. The camera actually seems to savour its exteriority to the events of the profilmic. The use of silent film intertitles, all actual lines culled from the original Bataille story, reinforces the exteriority of the film’s narration.” Aha, Rhodes also says the cinematography is often under- or over-lit, so my bad copy might not have been as bad as I thought.

Me, I didn’t get it… but then I’m not all that deep, and while watching a nude woman romp through a “purposely” amateur-looking super-8 movie is still more interesting than the recent Batman flick, I never sit there thinking “ah, it’s exactly this film’s deceptive slackness that constitutes its philosophical and even political rigour: only through its superficially amateurish (often hilarious) elisions and dilations, its mordant tautologies and wilful omissions, its hokey dialogue and its raw display of female sexuality can the film succeed in forcing the kinds of questions it does from its viewers.” [Rhodes again]. Nope, just another WEIRD ART FILM to me.

Rhodes: “We think of Pasolini here, of Jack Smith, of Warhol.”
Me: Exactly.

Marie with the deadman:
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Chloe in the Afternoon (1972, Eric Rohmer)

Fred has a decent life with his wife, who is expecting a second baby, when old friend (actually an old friend’s ex) Chloe resurfaces and they start meeting in the afternoons. Fred lunches with Chloe, then goes shopping with her, then kisses her, then sees her naked, then almost sleeps with her but runs back to his wife for a tearful finale.

Fred & Chloe:
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Progressions from the previous films:
– Fred is married with two kids, so stakes are higher
– We meet the wife and get to know her more than we’ve gotten to know the other “chosen girls”, again raising the stakes.
– a dream sequence wherein Fred meets the girls from the other movies on the street while wearing a magical crystal
– At the end, Rohmer beautifully shows us (below) Fred’s decision to cut it off with Chloe and return to his wife instead of having Fred explain it to us in voiceover.

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Felt self-conscious watching this with Katy, who didn’t like it. Overly-talky French films with protagonists who have crappy ideas about women should apparently be watched alone, cuz I felt fine watching the five other talky entries with cad protagonists in this series.

As Fred, Bernard Verley is the guy I just saw playing Jesus in The Milky Way (he’s very different here, and not just because he has no beard and is not playing Jesus). Fred has better hair and a better personality than any guy since My Night at Maud’s. Zouzou (Chloe) appeared in a 1977 Edgardo Cozarinsky revolution comedy with Dennis Hopper. Guy who plays Fred’s business partner Gerard was in Stolen Kisses and Bed & Board. Fred’s wife, unfortunately, was in nothing else of note.

Fred’s wife is def. more attractive than Chloe:
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“What Rohmer gets better than anybody else, I think, is the way in which we justify ourselves, the way we talk ourselves into such silly and demeaning but human interactions with people, that we can justify just about anything. He’s one of the great justifiers. He loves to watch these men squirm their way along through life.” – Neil LaBute, director of the Wicker Man remake. It’s actually a very nice interview, a ten minute appreciation of Rohmer’s cinema.

The famous shot:
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Fred with a dream-sequence girl… is that Haydée?
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also: Veronique and Her Dunce from 1958, before the Moral Tales. Shot by Charles Bitsch, who did Le Coup du berger and Paris nous appartient for Rivette. Veronique shows up to tutor a kid who isn’t too good at math or composition and likes to ask questions. Then she goes home. That’s really it! Not exactly The 400 Blows here, or even Le Coup du berger, but it’s a likeable little sketch. Veronique would return the next year in Charlotte et Veronique written by Rohmer and directed by Godard – it’s on the A Woman is a Woman DVD. As for this short, I liked the tile floor, and am glad they showed it so often.

Veronique before meeting her dunce:
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A.K. (1985, Chris Marker)

Behind the scenes on Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. I didn’t believe the hype that this would be one of Marker’s best films, but the hype was right! Gorgeous movie, more following general daily activity on-set than Kurosawa himself, to the great annoyance of the IMDB reviewers. Besides CM, praise to cameraman Frans-Yves Marescot (no other credits) and the great Tôru Takemitsu whose music is used extensively.

Tôru Takemitsu visits the set looking for musical inspiration:
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“In this kind of shooting the first pitfall to avoid is appropriating a beauty that does not belong to us, to play up the lovely backlit shot. Of course some of that borrowed beauty will come through anyway. But we shall try to show what we see the way we see it, from our eye-level.”
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On the TV is The Horse, the last movie Kurosawa assistant-directed before beginning to make his own films
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Movie was shot around Mt. Fuji, but apparently the mountain isn’t seen in Ran.
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“When cement has been added to the black earth of Mt. Fuji so that the horses’ hooves can kick up clouds of dust, the assistant director and the script girl pitch in as enthusiastically as the grips. It’s as though each person, however great his or her professional qualifications regarded the film as a whole, as a collective endeavor in which there is no such thing as a noble or a menial task. We saw, for example, Kurosawa’s closest aide helping with makeup, the head electrician cutting the grass side by side with the art director, the clapman rehearsing stunts. Most unusual.”

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Sound recordist Fumio Yanoguchi, who died during the editing of A.K., had worked with Kurosawa since the late 40′s:
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Ishiro Honda himself – director of Mothra, Rodan and the original Godzilla:
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Fallen warrior, or an extra taking a nap?
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“The sensei is he who, by achieving technical perfection, has got a sort of spiritual bonus out of it. The aura of respect that surrounds and protects Kurosawa is nothing like the reign of terror that some lesser directors impose on the set. And just like the great sword masters of the past, sensei has no time for abstraction. When he speaks of his work he reflects on factual experiences. When asked why he did this or that he says “I simply make a film as I want it to be”.

Sensei:
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Chris Marker Movies I Haven’t Seen

It’s my first-ever post on movies I haven’t seen!

Here are some movies I have not watched because I can not understand them.
More reasons to learn French.

If I Had Four Dromedaries, 1966

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Far From Vietnam, 1967

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Maspero, les mots ont un sens, 1970
(also mentioned in one of my previous Marker round-ups)

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Blue Helmet, 1995

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Silent Movie, 1995 (and/or Owl Gets In Your Eyes)
(The girl is Catherine Belkhodja, star of Level Five – note the cartoon owls reflected in her sunglasses)

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A Mayor in Kosovo, 2000

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Commentaires

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Chris Marker round-up, 1986-1993

This page from the Catherine Lupton book gives a good intro to this post on three Chris Marker movies I just watched, and this other post on some Chris Marker movies I did not watch.

Marker has also continued to engage directly with contemporary political events and debates. In The Last Bolshevik and in Berliner Ballade (1990), a report produced for a French television current affairs strand, Marker reflects on the political ideals that collapsed at a stroke with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist rule over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and attempts to hold open a space for those who still believe in the founding principles of Socialism. Coinciding with this abrupt shift in the political landscape of Europe, the welter of savage inter-ethnic conflicts triggered by ultra-nationalist movements in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s (and again more recently in Kosovo) has focused Marker’s attention through a series of candid engagements with people caught up in the long drawn-out war. Les 20 heures dans les camps (1993, Prime Time in the Camps) focuses on a group of Bosnian refugees who are producing their own television broadcasts. Casque bleu (1996, Blue Helmet) is an extended interview with a French soldier who served with the UN peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia, and now voices his disillusion with UN policy towards the region. Two as yet unreleased works, Un Maire au Kosovo (2000, A Mayor in Kosovo) and Avril inquiet (2001, currently unfinished, Worried April), are built around interviews with Kosovans involved in the most recent stage of the conflict. This cluster of short, pointed, interview-driven videos is the direct descendant of Marker’s unsigned political films of the 1960s and ’70s, and retains the same ambition: to give a voice to people who are spoken about, but never heard, in mainstream news reporting.

Tokyo Days, 1986

Twenty minutes long, seems very much like outtakes from Sans Soleil. We watch people dreaming on the subway, check out Japanese television… all very familiar. Of course I’m not complaining. There’s always room for more Sans Soleil. Wish this had been an extra on its DVD, instead of a hyper-obscure oddity on a bittorrent site.

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No dialogue except in this part – French, of course, so I’m not sure what she said. This girl is Arielle Dombasle – an actress in the films of Raoul Ruiz, Eric Rohmer and Alain Robbe-Grillet (she’s the one labeled “one goofy actress” in my La Belle Captive entry), who also appeared in Sans Soleil and The Owl’s Legacy. I think we hear Marker himself talking to her in this segment.

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Berlin ’90
I thought this was the same film as Berliner Ballade but apparently this is its sequel which accompanied Tokyo Days in the installation project Zapping Zone. I wasn’t always sure what was going on… yeah, the Berlin Wall and elections, but I didn’t get as much out of it as other viewers have. Nothing wrong with it, just some news/reportage footage.

EAI:
Berlin 1990 travels the streets and the political landscape of the recently re-unified Berlin. In the tumultuous atmosphere of 1990, we watch Berliners walk through check points manned by soldiers, past street vendors selling sausages and “actual” pieces of the Berlin Wall, and watch as they watch the election results come in for another “new” Germany.”

Frieze:
Berlin (1990) records daily life by the Berlin wall during its dismantling. Formerly capitalism’s outer limit and the most striking emblem of world economic division, the wall itself became just another commodity, as pieces of it sprayed with fake graffiti were sold next to East German police uniforms and frankfurters. Though Marker documents the optimism of the first East German elections, a stunning montage to the lilting melody I Can Hardly Wait for Spring suddenly evokes the darker memories hiding behind German reunification: flowers strewn along the streets for Hitler, and the burning of Berlin.”

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Prime Time in the Camps, 1993

In the Bosnian refugee camps during the war in Sarajevo, some amateurs take over a TV station, dedicated to collecting the news, sorting out the truth and re-broadcasting along with their own reportage to fellow refugees. “They are young people who never imagined that one day they’d be behind a television camera or holding a microphone.” One of the reporters: “People had a particular model in their heads of what television was. So we had to make the news look like the news, which meant making it look like what people are used to seeing. It was then that it became credible.”

At the end we see people watching the show that their neighbors had just finished assembling, a la Medvedkin on his train. If there was a topic in ’93 more custom-made for the interests of Chris Marker, I can’t think of it. Peter Watkins should have been there too (see Frieze quote below).

Wikipedia: “The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, conducted by the Serb forces of self-proclaimed Republika Srpska and Yugoslav People’s Army (later transformed to the Army of Serbia and Montenegro), lasting from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996.”

BFI: “Documentary on the Ruska refugee camp in Ljubliana (Slovenia), where a group of Bosnian refugees present news every night on VHS video. Documentary on the making of the news.”

Frieze Magazine: “The amateur journalists sift information from three or four news sources: ‘I ask myself who might want to lie, and who might have the ability.’ Ordinary people, they have slowly come to realise that television news is a vast form of manipulation.”

Frieze 2: “Marker was Resnais’ assistant on Night and Fog (1955), one of the first films to document the Nazi death camps. This early moral imperative to remember is echoed in the Bosnian conflict. News, for those who live within violent struggle, is part of the work of mourning.”

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Katy asked why I like Chris Marker movies so much. I told her that Sans Soleil is one of my very favorite movies, and that everything else he has made connects with it in some way, that more than most other filmmakers he seems to be making one long work, rather than a bunch of disconnected movies, and I hope to see as much of that work as possible.

Songs heard:
Tokyo Days: Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain
Prime Time in the Camps: Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows
Berlin ’90: The Air That I Breathe