Photographic Memory (2011, Ross McElwee)

“There were always secrets to be uncovered in the most mundane of photographs.”

I’ve waited a long time since the great Bright Leaves with its promising ending. After spending that whole movie looking into the past, Ross shows his son Adrian playing at the beach and looks towards the future. That future is now and Adrian is graduating high school, but Ross being Ross, he retreats back into the past, using his son as an excuse to revisit some people and places from when father was the same age as son, trying to find a place for himself after graduation.

The present segments don’t work for me. Ross plays the old fogey card, telling us he can’t understand his son with all the iphones and the internets and the facebooks, dismissing technology while shooting on a digital camera. Adrian seems to be doing fine, talks to his father plenty and goes on fishing trips, is taking up videography (they help on each other’s projects), so the frame story’s attempts to tell us that the two are unable to connect seem untrue, as do Ross’s claims that his son is lost and aimless, since we see Adrian stunt-skiing, writing films and developing his own media startup.

Ross retreats to France, seeking his old photographer boss (Maurice) and his girlfriend from a few months later (Maud). He marvels at the changes that time brings, finds the late Maurice’s ex-wife and finally finds Maud. Ross and Maud each thinks that they’re the one who ended the relationship, after which she married another photographer. I’m sure it was an extremely cathartic trip for Ross, and it comes off as a reasonably pleasant trip for us, really coming together when Ross gets back home with Adrian in the last few minutes.

The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)

Isaac (Ricardo Trepa, star of Eccentricities) is called to a rich estate in the middle of the night to take final photographs of a just-deceased girl (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, star of In the City of Sylvia), whose image he falls in love with, then it starts coming to life in his photographs (if MdO can embrace digital sfx then anybody can). Isaac spends his days photographing field laborers and his nights dreaming of Angelica, to the concern of his meddling landlady Justina. Excellent shot at the end: sick Isaac rises trance-like from bed, pushes the doctor aside then collapses, as his spirit continues out to the balcony and flies away with Angelica.

Mouse-over to hallucinate like Isaac does:

There are few indications that the movie is set in any recent decade until we see cars in the last half hour. This is by design: old-fashioned, simple-living photographer Isaac seems overly interested in old-fashioned things. I’m not sure of the significance of his being Jewish, but it’s mentioned a lot.

Film Quarterly explains:

As a Jew, Isaac is a stranger to the community, but he’s fascinated by Portugal’s religion, dying agricultural traditions, and quasi-mystical, late-romantic literature. (The Strange Case of Angelica grew out of a film Oliveira wanted to make in the 1950s, dealing with Jews who migrated to Portugal after World War II.)

I didn’t spot Leonor Silveira, but trusty ol’ Luis Miguel Cintra (Inquietude, Non) stays at the same boarding house. That’s him above with Ana Maria Magalhães of The Age of the Earth.

Mouse-over to awaken Isaac from his dream:

Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931, Oliveira)

The DVD guys have kindly included Oliveira’s first short, documenting workers on the river (as Isaac documents them in the fields – but not precisely). He pulls shots in and out of focus, gets in every striking angle he can muster, edits still and motion shots together in jarring ways. Definitely some staged situations. A truck driver, distracted by a passing plane, bumps an ox cart which then runs over a young man. The man is okay, but starts beating the oxen in anger until a policeman shows up, and he and the beasts make up.

I only played a few minutes of the very good (so far) commentary, instead watched an Oliveira monologue. He is against television, pornography and violence. He is for fantasy, Melies and Avatar. He methodically lists all the well-known great filmmakers, saying they’re the ones who maintain proper separation between the private and public spheres – an ethical discussion that I didn’t follow, then methodically lists the exact same filmmakers a few minutes later as if we didn’t just go over this. Cinema as an art should be “a reflection of the more critical, richer, graver and higher aspects of the human condition.”

If I Had Four Dromedaries (1966, Chris Marker)

Part 1: The Castle

“The photo is the hunt. It’s the instinct of hunting without the desire to kill. It’s the hunt of angels… you track, you aim, you fire and–clic! Instead of a dead man, you make him eternal.”

A slideshow of photographs with a voiceover discussion about the nature of photographs, flipping rapidly all over the globe. Familiar sights: streets of Cuba, “commuter trains full of sleeping Japanese,” an owl in a flight museum, that shot I love of the Russian woman holding a turtle. Many references to things I don’t follow, but because of the great photos and the 50-minute length, this would make a great Intro to Marker – especially if there was better-quality video available.

They fawn over Russia for a while, moving to to lonely monasteries in Greece, then the first day of Algerian independence (below).

“One instant of happiness paid for with seven years of war and one million deaths. And the following day, the Castle was still there. And the poor are still there, day after day. And day after day, we continue to betray them.”

Part 2: The Garden

A montage of animal shots, then a tour of a Korea, and on to Scandinavia.

Different kinds of music, including bits of the electronic effects and percussion that would become more prominent in his later films.

“One needs to look closely at this Scandinavian man. He has everything, truly everything that nine tenths of humanity doesn’t dare to imagine in their wildest dreams. It’s for his standard of living that the Black, the Arab, the Greek, the Siberian and even the Cuban militiamen are striving. He has everything the revolutions promised. And when one shows him some Brecht – free moreover – in the Stockholm gardens, he doesn’t really get the message.”

How do you say elephant in Russian? Slon.

Then a tour of tombs and discussion of death. “I met a man who lived his own death” sounds like an alternate intro to La Jetee.

A yugoslavian hog considers the day to come:

After a wordless musical section, all fades out, but returns for a strange coda, a montage of torn posters with the sound of a screaming monkey, then final voiceover, which seems lovely when it accompanies the images, but didn’t make sense when I tried to transcribe here.

La Prisonnière (1968, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

After watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, which documents the director’s experiments with visual effects and attempts to integrate them with his stories via dream sequences, then reading at the end that he later used all these effects in The Prisoner, what could I do but run straight out to watch The Prisoner.

And boy did he ever put those effect experiments to use. It is full of light and color and lines and boxes, reflections and refractions. Real tight framing and editing, very clockwork in a wonderful way, with outstanding music, acting that seems unexceptional at first, but gets better. I’ve liked all the Clouzot movies I’ve seen, but have heard nothing about this one, so figured it’d be a dull late-career entry (it was his final released film), but no, he went out with a bang.

Gilbert (Bernard Fresson of Z and Street of No Return) is an artist who specializes in mass-produceable objects with geometric patterns that cause optical illusions when you spin them round. Stan (Laurent Terzieff of The Milky Way) runs a gallery where Gil and other guys are putting on a show. And Josée (Elisabeth Wiener of Duelle) is Gil’s girl, who jealously spies her man Gil talking to a reporter in a hall of mirrors, and so strikes up a chat with leering Stan, going back to his place to look at photos of “handwriting”.

The only thing I remember of Josée’s day job is that she spends some hours looking at interview films on an editing table, commenting that she can’t understand submissiveness and masochism in women. Of course this is a setup, and when she’s at Stan’s place she “accidentally” spies a slide of a naked girl in chains, which fascinates and excites her. Oh of course, it’s just another thing Stan dabbles in, photographing nude bondage sessions, but Josée is now obsessed, insists on attending the next one. Maguy (Dany Carrel, returning from Inferno) poses, Stan photographs and Josée watches anxiously.

Josée soon agrees to be photographed herself, and starts a heated affair with Stan. This was one year after Belle de Jour (and given Clouzot’s pacing, he might have written this film before Buñuel even dreamed of his). Clouzot’s picture is both less and more extreme than Buñuel’s – it’s surely more passionate and less clinical, when considering two directors I would’ve expected the opposite. The photographic sessions, even Maguy’s first one with minimal nudity, are erotic as hell, the height of sexy editing. It may be ultimately more tame than Belle de Jour though, with overall less to say about societal norms and sexuality.

Husband vs. lover, splendidly shot through a half-reflecting window:

Stan has a more poetic penchant for suicide than did the desperate, more tragic Dominique in La Vérité:

Interesting to watch this in the same month as Lady of Burlesque (1943), From Here to Eternity (1953), Monika (1953 but released in the U.S. in ’56), The Apartment (1960), Knife in the Water (1962) and even The Girlfriend Experience (2009). Half were (or at least were intended to be) sexually progressive films when released, all seem very of-their-time, and only The Apartment and this one still seem capable of shocking anyone today.

I loved the camerawork – mobile, but always with a specific goal, a plan to paint a picture through time. Clouzot, 60 years old, a widower with heart trouble, doesn’t seem quite up to the task of smashing a complacent society and visual expectations to bits with his camera, but he has no trouble smashing his lead actress to bits with a train, something he attempted earlier in Inferno.

D. Cairns:

And as a final note of strangeness, the film ends with a woman in a hospital bed calling for the wrong man—the very same ending as Richard Lester’s seminal Petulia, released the very same year. No possibility of one film influencing the other. Instead, both films must be hooked into something, something out there in the ether. Cinema can do that.

Month of 121 Shorts: Avant-Garde 2

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, Straub/Huillet)
Four minutes in, it’s just been a long car ride in the rain with opera music playing (there was no sound at all for the first two minutes) and I am very suspicious.

Five minutes in, cut to a stage set, with German words on the wall and a clattering wood floor. Rivette (or Michael Snow) would be pleased. A fast-paced stagey farce follows. Blackout, next scene but the camera hasn’t moved, hasn’t even cut for all I know. Actors include Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, composer Peer Raben, and future superstar Hanna Schygulla (who I’ve recently seen in The Edge of Heaven, Werckmeister Harmonies and 101 Nights of Simon Cinema).

Bang, cut, new location, and back out on the street. An action scene. Jimmy Powell is marrying Lilith Ungerer (star of a couple Fassbinder films). They go home, the pimp (Fassbinder himself, early in his career) is there, she shoots him and gives a speech as the music returns. All affectless acting.
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So, what was that all about? Well the title refers to the cinematic drama in the third section, that much is clear. And the actress and the pimp were in the stage play in the middle. IMDB fellow says “The film has its roots in a theatre production of a play by the Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner which Straub had been asked to direct by a German theatre company. He considered the play too verbose and cut its length from several hours down to just ten minutes, and it is the production of this play which forms the centrepiece of the film.” As for the beginning, the same guy says it’s a “Munich street frequented by prostitutes.” F. Croce calls it a “mysterious, structuralist gag” and notes that “filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence.” No revolution or transcendence here – I just thought it was a weird little movie made by an overacademic sweater-wearing type. Was only Straub’s fourth work – let’s check out his tenth, which is half as long.
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Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977, Straub/Huillet)
It’s in French this time. Actors sit in a half-circle near the memorial site for the Commune members and recite a poem. I’m mistrustful of the English subtitle translation of the poem, and there’s not much in the movie besides the poem (the recitants are as expressionless as in the previous film, maybe even more so), so there’s not much of value for me here. Actors include Huillet herself, Michel Delahaye (the ethnologist in Out 1) and Marilù Parolini (writer of Duelle, Noroit, Love on the Ground), shot by William Lubtchansky and dedicated (in part) to Jacques Rivette.
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Mongoloid (1977, Bruce Conner)
Music video for a Devo song using (I’m assuming) all found footage (science films, TV ads and the like).
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Mea Culpa (1981, Bruce Conner)
Dots, cubes, light fields and… whatever this is. Conner goes abstract! The music sounds like 1981’s version of the future. Aha, it’s Byrne and Eno, so it WAS the future. I didn’t know that Conner died last year, did I?
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(nostalgia) (1971, Hollis Frampton)
of a photo of a man blowing smoke rings:
“Looking at the photography recently it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft. Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.”
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So far I really like Hollis Frampton. His Lemon and Zorns Lemma were brilliant, and now (nostalgia) is too. Anyway this is the one where Frampton films a photograph being slowly destroyed on an electric burner while Michael Snow reads narration describing the next photograph that we’ll see. It’s important to know that Snow is the uncredited narrator for a humorous bit in the middle. The movie also has a funny twist ending that I wasn’t expecting. This would be part one of Frampton’s seven-part Hapax Legomena series. I have the strange urge to remake it using photographs of my own, but I lack an electric burner and a film/video camera.

Gloria (1979, Hollis Frampton)
Remembrance of a grandmother, Frampton-style, meaning annoyingly hard to watch and strictly organized. Clip from an ancient silent film, then sixteen facts about gramma (“3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker’s cap.”) then a too-long bagpipe song over an ugly pea-green screen, and the rest of the silent film. Or as a smartypants would put it, he “juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material.” I prefer my version.
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Prelude #1 (1996, Stan Brakhage)
I don’t think that I enjoy watching low-res faded videos of Brakhage movies. I’ll wait for the next DVD set to come out (or the next Film Love screening). As a side note, I cannot believe that Raitre plays stuff like this. Just imagine: art on television. Picture a single TV station anywhere devoted to showing art. Can you? Can you?!? I feel like screaming!!
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NYC (1976, Jeff Scher)
Shots of the city sped-up, rapidly edited, reverse printed and hand colored, two minutes long with a jazzy tune underneath. Super, and short enough to watch twice (so I watched it twice).
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Milk of Amnesia (1992, Jeff Scher)
I’m thinking it’s short scenes from film and television, rotoscoped, with every frame drawn in different colors, with some frames drawn on non-white paper (a postcard, some newspaper). Warren Sonbert is thanked in the credits. I would also like to thank Warren Sonbert.
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Yours (1997, Jeff Scher)
An obscure musical short from the 30’s or 40’s overlaid with rapidly-changing patterns and images from advertisements. Descriptions and screenshots can do these no justice.
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Frame (2002, n:ja)
Black and white linear geometry illustrating a Radian song. I can’t tell if it’s torn up by interlacing effects or it’s supposed to look that way. Give me Autechre’s Gantz Graf over this any day. Between this and Mongoloid and the Jeff Scher shorts, I’m not sure where to draw the line between short-film and music-video. Not that it’s a dreadfully important question, but I’m in enough trouble tracking all the films I have/haven’t seen without adding every music video by every band I like onto the list. Although maybe videos should be given more credit… I’m sure Chris Cunningham’s video for Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector would beat 90% of the movies I watched that year.
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Agnès Varda shorts

Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).
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Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.

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“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”

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Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”
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Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”
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AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”
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Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.
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Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.
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These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.
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Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.
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Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”
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Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)
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Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

June 2014:
From a year when I was watching more movies than ever, and starting to get obsessed with my favorite filmmakers. Visually distinctive films that became instant all-time faves included Mulholland Drive, Pulse, The Royal Tenenbaums, Artificial Intelligence, Monsters Inc., Donnie Darko, Winged Migration, and Amelie. I’d caught up with Jeunet’s previous features on video (including the brilliant Alien Resurrection), always impressed by the atmospheric fantasy worlds, rube goldberg devices, intensely detailed production design, playful editing, cartoon camera angles and rubber-faced Dominique Pinon. With Amelie, he took his fantasy visions and hurled them into the present-day real world, creating a romance flick that keeps forgetting to be romantic because it (like the protagonist) is too easily distracted by everyday wonders.

July 2009:
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The cigarette-counter lady in Amelie played a lead in Not On The Lips. She did look awfully familiar.

Our narrator was the VHS-watching realtor in Hearts/Private Fears

And holy crap, Katy knew just from the trailer that the veggie-stand guy starred in Angel-A.

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Chris Marker round-up, 1960’s-2000

À bientôt, j’espère [Be Seeing You] (1968, with Mario Marret)

“Almost 10,000 workers have lost a day’s pay, just like that. It is not a prowess, it’s solidarity and it is something formidable compared to TV games or trash papers. It’s far better, it’s wonderful. It’s normal, it’s the working class… that’s what we must be aware of. What is beautiful is not what is written in the tabloids. It’s what the working class does. It’s to lose 5000 francs to support our sacked mates, and to contribute today again to make up for their lost pay. If only this was advertised and spread. Isn’t that culture? I want to tell management we’ll win thanks to the solidarity they know nothing about. We’ll get you. We’re not mad at those who think wrongly they are the boss, but we’ll get those who own capital. It has to be, it’s natural, and we’ll be seeing you.”

Unfortunately this does not seem like an intricate film which will grow deeper in meaning with repeat viewings – just on-the-spot reporting, interviews with striking factory workers who calmly explain what’s wrong with factory conditions and the effects (both actual and hopeful) of their strike. The only good speech is the one quoted above, at the very end. Movie was a letdown considering the great strike movies I’ve seen lately, including Harlan County USA just last week… but this wasn’t aiming to be similar to that film, or to The Battle of Chile, just small-scale reporting of a single event, leading (hopefully, but not actually) to a revolution of working-class-created films.

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2084 (1984)

Filmmakers are asked to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the 1884 start of trade unionism in France. “They were rather at a loss, so they had this idea of simply jumping ahead a century… afraid of defining the state of the movement today.” Their software and studies predict three possible futures, color-coded.

The Grey Alternative: a never-ending crisis. “When it takes all your energy just to stay afloat, there’s not much imagination left for creating a future.” An alternative with the possibility of “a social or nuclear explosion”, “a fearful society huddled in its blankets of false security, staking its hopes on a precarious balance that is forever in jeopardy. Here the union is at best a powerful protective organization” to “safeguard your job, keep you as comfortable as possible… A union like that doesn’t bother with changing the world.” “Union ritual becomes… nothing but congresses, meetings, demos, slogans. What a drag.”

The Black Alternative: “it could be fascism, it could be stalinism… it’s not easy to forsee a world where the technical developments replace ideology… The appropriation of this technology: who is to benefit from it, who should control its development, was the overriding question of the late 20th century, its real challenge. Because we didn’t understand in time what was really at stake, it was left to a new type of leader to govern the future: the techno-totalitarians.” It forsees “violent workers revolts [in] the 80’s and 90’s and their repression.” This leads to a Wall-E utopia. “At home you get more images than your eyes can absorb and more information than your memory can stock… Anger too belongs to a bygone age. The state is a well-oiled feeding machine and the union nothing more than the engineer who keeps it working, the one who detects the little glitches, little breakdowns, and who can’t even imagine that the machine can serve some other purpose. In fact, of ‘union’, only the name remains. Trade unionism passed away with the dawn of the year 2000″ because of infighting.

The Blue Alternative: a tentative hope. “before our eyes, technology is beginning to prove itself a fantastic tool for changing the world, and this transformation includes the struggle against hunger, against suffering, the struggle against ignorance and against prejudice. It is still a struggle, but in the context of the 21st century, not the 19th.”

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“The 20th century hasn’t even existed. It was nothing but a long, painful transition from barbarism to civilization. In the 1980’s those who still felt angry about poverty, about the injustice of industrial societies were right. Those who felt there was hope for change were right too. The part unions played was to bridge the gap between this anger and this hope. They were the instrument of a new struggle, a place where imaginations could meet and create new solidarities, where people could… learn how to make good use of their differences, and how to win control of their days.”

The film proclaims that it has been “talking less about what has been done already than about what remains to be done. Nothing is programmed yet. The three alternatives are open to us.” “We’ve just got one century left.”

Definitely had to watch this a second time to make sense of it because of the rapid-fire low-key narration and the bizarre images (mostly of film students in a lab combing through 20th century film images), which I would focus on and lose the train of thought of the narration. They don’t exactly work together most of the time. It’s a great commentary though, and a strong little film.

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Remembrance of Things to Come (2001, with Yannick Bellon)

Excellent movie by two 80-year-old artists celebrating the photography of Yannick’s mother Denise Bellon. Tells stories through Denise’s photographs of France and surrounding countries (including colonized north Africa) and of her friends the Surrealists, first in the pre-war 30’s, then the lead-up to WWII, and briefly post-war (incl. a surrealist reunion photo). Nothing afterwards, though Denise lived until 1999 – makes for a short, focused movie. Electro-sounds and female narration by the Sans Soleil crew of Michel Krasna and Alexandra Stewart.

“Each of her photographs shows a past yet deciphers a future.” This is the kind of movie I’d been waiting for while sorting through Marker’s lesser-known 70’s stuff – poetic commentary weaving history and art around the images. Don’t know how the collaboration with Yannick Bellon worked, but this feels very much like a Marker movie, and a great one at that. There are cats, of course (see below), and the second mention I’ve seen him make of the 1952 Olympics.

From what Acquarello writes about this, you’d think he was talking about Sans Soleil: “It is in this analytical deconstruction between the integral art of composing an image and the cognitive assignment of significance behind the captured image that filmmakers Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon create a compelling exposition on the processing and (subconscious) self-actualization of human memory.”

Movie opens on Dali’s Rainy Taxi, which I saw in Spain.

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The Bellon sisters:
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Auguste Lumiere:
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The Pont-Neuf, which I recognized from Lovers on the Bridge:
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The commentary on this part, about scrap metal used to fuel the war effort, is one of Marker’s finest:
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Puisqu’on vous dit que c’est possible [We Maintain It Is Possible] (1973)

“We can now point out that the government preferred to surrender to multinationals rather than grant anything to the workers. That’s what we can say for now.” [via megaphone]

Movie about worker occupation of a factory in 1973, with an intro saying the movie was shot by “Scopecolor”, edited by Marker, and is the sole responsibility of those involved – the strike participants’ way of distancing themselves from the film, perhaps. A watch factory called Lip is to be shut down, then bought out, then restructured with massive layoffs, and the workers decide not to accept this, to take the factory and sell the watches themselves. Negotiations don’t go well (the workers have all sorts of demands, the owner simply says it’s not profitable so he’s shutting it down) then the police evacuate the building and demonstrations hit the streets.

Has much more interesting editing than À bientôt, j’espère but that’s not saying much. Still, for the most part, video interviews and a few photographs for a while, then footage from inside the factory, nothing exciting to watch. I mean, all praise to Mr. Medvedkin, and I agree that cinema can have many useful purposes, but personally I’ve seen an unusually high number of movies about worker strikes, so forgive me if I yawn when this one’s narrator goes on about how exciting are union meetings.

“The outrage lies in labor exploitation and the alienation that capitalism inflicts on workers.” says a speaker during a convincing speech – which is exactly the point here. Rich factory-owners aren’t going to freely hand their factories over to the workers, and the government isn’t going to allow one group to occupy another group’s buildings against the owner’s will, so the only way to win is the change the system, to reform capitalism. It happened, however briefly, in Chile, but the watchmakers at Lip failed to overthrow the French capitalist system.

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Set Theory (1985)

An ugly slideshow done entirely in HyperStudio, accompanied strangely enough by string music by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke instead of the electronic sounds Marker is fond of using. The story goes: Noah is on his ark wondering how to sort out all these animals, when two wise owls come by and teach him set theory. “Eureka,” cries Noah, who now understands all manners of mathematics through understanding set theory. Since it uses French intertitles instead of spoken narration, I transcribed the titles and ran ‘em through google translator to make a subtitle track with helpful program Media Subtitler. The movie itself was only halfway worth the effort – it seems a very minor work (though more amusing than À bientôt, j’espère) – but it was fun to play around with. Some of the clip-art and dialogue is actually pretty cute – a tiger being confused with a house cat due to faulty classification and taken home is portrayed using an oversized tiger in a bathtub, with E. Munch’s “The Scream” in the foreground.

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Manufactured Landscapes (2006, Jennifer Baichwal)

Incredible movie that I feel terrible for not having seen in theaters. So many wide shots with super-fine detail of masses of people or rock or industrial waste, and that detail is wasted on my ridiculously outdated 480-line interlaced TV screen. Affordable hi-def can not arrive quickly enough.

Watched this right after Derrida, and it seems they had some of the same intentions with the music in the two films (Derrida had music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who scored Tony Takitani and various De Palma films, and won an oscar for The Last Emperor), but I loved the music far better in this one (music by first-timer Dan Driscoll, so that shows what I know). As for the image, well it’s unquestionably great, and fascinating. The filmmakers follow photographer Edward Burtynsky, who shoots monumental landscapes that have been formed by human interaction – factories, strip mines, the Three Gorges dam. Unlike 99% of documentaries about artists, the rest of the film is just as nice as the photographs, as the filmmakers have an eye for composition and are more interested in learning about the subject matter of the photographs than asking the photographer dumb questions about his art. Political and conservation issues are obviously brought up, given the scale of manmade environmental change visible in the film, but we don’t spend too much time debating those with talking-head experts – movie is mostly content to show us the landscapes (in places that most people never see – not exactly hot tourist spots) and let us see for ourselves. The result is a constantly surprising and gorgeous work, which I will gladly watch again when we can get a higher-res copy.

Katy was disappointed because she thought this was the movie about the guy who shoots whole bunches of naked people (that would be Naked States and Naked World, both about photographer Spencer Tunick). But she liked it anyway, just not as much as I did.