Good Luck (2017, Ben Russell)

A grand opening shot, pulling back from a mountain view to reveal the drone music as diegetic, walking with a marching band from overlooking ruins to a street that dead-ends into a canyon. The drummer steps forward and says he used to live here, and his entire neighborhood is now in the pit.

We’re in a Serbian mining company – typical-Ben follow-cam through their workplace and into the crowded high-speed de-elevator to an underground mining city. Long takes of long drills into rock walls intercut with b/w miner screen tests, and interviews about their hopes and dreams (answer: not much of either).

Admittedly a really good transition between the halves, joined by a graphic and the sound of a metal detector, a different kind of drone for a different kind of mining. From 20 guys working in the dark underground, we move to Suriname and 3 guys working on the surface in daylight. Wavery handheld late-night conversations with the men and their women, worries about killings at another site, more hopes and dreams, more screen tests. At least it ends with a song (no dance party).

Presumably the champions of this whole endurance test were Mai 68 Proletariat Cinema people who love anything involving miners. This doesn’t apply to the Cinema Scope Gang, who champion things for inscrutable reasons… Phil Coldiron’s analysis of Russell’s exploded ethnography is convincing, when I can follow it:

Like Frampton, Russell has elaborated a conception of film that approaches a particular limit or model: thought itself, with its infinite capacity for expansion. And like Frampton, this project has necessitated a sustained engagement with both the material of film and with that grand technology whose shadow film continues to toil in, namely language.

Russell captures the rhythms by which the plan of capital is expressed and enforced. In working on the level of the workers’ experience, he mirrors the image that the factory is always already producing of itself and offers it for reflection.

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