Archive for October, 2010

Break on Through

Posted in Film on October 26, 2010 by lukeaspell

On Sunday, at the London Film Festival, I saw A Brighter Summer Day and the ‘Break on Through’ programme. My thoughts are still settling on the Yang film, and I intend to write at greater length about Forms Are Not Self-Subsistent Substances (Samantha Rebello, 2010), which is breathtaking, further into that intense concentration upon the threshold of legibility and the tangible, and the charged area between silence and enunciation, seen in the object which thinks us: OBJECT 1. Here are some loose thoughts on the other films on the programme.

Ghost Algebra (Janie Geiser 2009): Whether I have seen anything by this filmmaker before I cannot recall, but the associations are familiar; the use of the unsettling aspect of antiquated children’s illustration and dolls, something like a quest becoming the starting-point for eerie stop-start gallivanting. The evident artisanal care in its making made me wish my sensibility were more sympathetic to its effects. It passed the time agreeably enough, and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be longer.

Still Raining, Still Dreaming (Phil Solomon 2009): This combines the melancholy of the rainy city with the melancholy of the inability of a computer to imagine light striking a subject. A window display of saris in a deserted urban street; an empty theatre; a neon sign; a park; an untidy apartment; an empty wardrobe.

To those who play the games in which these images were generated, there is a utopian, childlike freedom in havoc which many (including myself) find it impossible to identify ourselves with. This uses that landscape for genuine ‘world-building’, the creation of an interstitial mise en scene which implies a world of memory, regret, untimeliness and unplaceable excitement.

Recalled at this distance, around thirty-four hours after viewing, it recalls two sorts of dream, both themselves forms of recollection. The first, the sort of semi-lucid dream in which you return to a previous stage of experience in order to adjust unfinished business, and are regretfully informed by the figures that live there that this is only a dream, and that the things you were hoping to draw a thick graphite line around will consequently remain unresolved upon your return, which will come presently. The second, the sort of dream in which we walk through a part of the city we vaguely know, and the mind uses the vagueness of our memory to create something wonderful, a utopian cosmopolitan urban landscape as thrilling as a child’s first memory of a department store, with the added exultation of feeling oneself engaged, enlisted in a pluralism purging all the false tribal loyalties, while the rain falls on the waiting taxis and the public sculpture.

The reviews I’ve seen of this piece while searching for images never seem to discuss the soundtrack. It is a crackling vinyl recording of a discussion of the Buddha and introduction to mindfulness, ending with loud, ecstatic music the non-Western tonality of which is given added insistence by the quality of the recording. This recording, rather than being, as some, opposed to what one review fogeyishly refers to as ‘the notorious Grand Theft Auto games’ might think, a spiritual meter of the falsity of the simulated world, seemed to me something more agnostic and less condemnatory. This element is not there either to dismiss the digital landscape or to be made ridiculous by it, but to touch a note frequently overlooked in film and video criticism: that frequency of melancholy that reaches awe, and that, thrilled by its contemplation, would prolong it if it could, while being aware that even to attempt to prolong it might disturb it irreparably, as an almost-lucid dreamer feels in that moment in which he recognises that the fact that this is his past must mean that this is a dream, and consequently regards even remembered enemies with affection, as something he has lost and knows he will lose again, almost now.

So Sure of Nowhere Buying Times to Come (David Gatten 2010): A bringing-together of artifacts of a way of life more concerned with texture, scent and multivalence than is now the norm, and in delicious, sunny 16mm. I shall have to see this one again before feeling able to make a confident evaluation, but on pure surface detail the film is delightful, like stepping into a cool church to reset your attention, a little memory to carry around like a collection of pre-digital bric-a-brac in the pockets of your coat – only, thanks to the timelessness of film’s attention, carrying none of the strain of contrivance that that would involve for most of us in 2010.

Facts Told At Retail (After Henry James) (Erin Espelie 2010): Beautiful layers of reflecting glass and objects, intercut with blank screens, seemingly generated in video, with an androgynous synthesized voice reading a passage from The Golden Bowl. My opinion on this, when I eventually reach it, will hinge on the relationship between these elements, and how they modify each other.

Cosmic Alchemy (Lawrence Jordan, 2010): As with the Geiser piece, exquisite stuff, and not for me.

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Anti-Clock (Jane Arden, Jack Bond 1979)

Posted in Film on October 23, 2010 by lukeaspell

 

Two traditions covered over by time and represented by this work, the first by Arden/Bond that I have seen:

1. The feature-length experimental film which makes use of narrative structure to address ideas, ideology, forms; see India Song, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Landscape Suicide.

2. What might be called Liberation Gnosticism, a syncretism of revolutionary social and political thought with mystical and psychological approaches to the (re)making of the self; see Knots by R. D. Laing, See the Old Lady Decently by B. S. Johnson, Burroughs passim.

On first acquaintance, the work of Arden and Bond has the excitement of difference, and it would be a mistake to deny that this is part of its appeal. It combines its imagined science with a thriller framework both more vestigial and more naturalistically impure than those of Cronenberg’s contemporaneous White Period, and is composed of some of the most radically various juxtapositions of different species of non-narrative film form I have seen in any film making use of narrative.

 

To begin with, I was arrested by this image which recurs; the television set in a darkened room. It resembled an image which was a key catalyst for a series of videos I’m currently working on, and which appears, mutated by various kinds of processing so as to resemble a cube/chamber/room, in my video Brampton Ortac TV Room. The red light is of crucial importance – as with the obscured number in the haze of compressed ‘snow’ in my video, it moors the television as an individuated object. The darkened room implies a hidden viewer, the twin of the viewer in the cinema-space, as the disembodied voices we hear are reminiscent of the disembodied aural world of the traditional analysand. As the film moves directly from its credits to the announcement:

 

AUDIO VIDEO

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE

PORTMAN HOTEL, NOVEMBER 3

 

UNIT DIRECTOR: Prof. J. D. ZANOV

 

– so the course of the film is presented as one mind’s recollection of a course of treatment, earliest memories, dreams, fantasies – that is, the transition is unannounced, and the difference between a recollection of a recollection of a fantasy during therapy and its immediate experience is elided. This elision, indeed, is the point of Zanov’s method, and it is the use Zanov’s method has for the anatomy of the film – it is an agency that sketches in, however lightly, a context for the equality of different points in time, and different kinds of representation, for one working to isolate her or his unconjugated self.

Though the film is subtitled ‘a time stop in the life of Joseph Sapha’, there are two protagonists, each of whom is doubled. Zanov, situated throughout their interviews behind Sapha and, from the viewer’s point-of-view, to his left (the classical position of an imagined sound) is played by the same actor as Sapha, Sebastian Saville. Alanda Clark, Sapha’s girlfriend, is played by Suzan Cameron, who also plays Sapha’s mother (Alanda Clark is never, as far as I could determine, referred to by name during the film – a questionnaire-type catechism she recites on her first appearance around twenty minutes into the film pointedly begins after the point at which would expect her name to have been stated – she is introduced simply as ‘Her’, who Sapha ‘has never left’).

Zanov’s voice and appearance is a Brechtian treatment of the didactic German ‘mad professor’ stereotype of psychoanalysis (referenced also by clips of radio and television programmes on the soundtrack – this is a film bristling with unattributed quotation as a radio flicked rapidly between channels gives out decontextualised utterance), but he is not a conventional psychotherapist; associated with para-psychologists and bio-feedback therapists, the modality he represents, while sinister to the conservative press whose negative reviews of the film all seem to have agreed upon interpreting Zanov as an oppressive villain, is acceptably Marcusian, or Laingian, for the worldview of this film, and is not antagonistic to Sapha’s inner journey; indeed the casting, and the declaration of Sapha’s mother that ‘he’s inside you forever’, suggests that Zanov is not the kind of surrogate paternal presence that transference can make of a therapist, but part of Sapha himself.

Regardless of the constructions put on his methodologies by those who support the dominant paradigm of mental health and its treatment, what makes Laing so difficult to embrace without reservation now is precisely that his yoke is so easy, so close to a mainstream he – and Arden – could not have foreseen. Many of his pronouncements now sound uncomfortably reminiscent of those of Louise L. Hay and her many disciples. They encourage, but are liable to melt in the mind into a vague cosiness, a miasma of wisdom unearned. Part of what makes Anti-Clock so precious is that it attempts to propose a role in the work of revolution for a form of mindfulness the avowed aim of which is the detachment from identity.

‘There is a continuum which links all living things together, so that the smallest cell does not pulsate without its effect being felt in the furthest reaches of the solar system. So, everything being one is not some romantic ideal, but an indisputable scientific reality. When this information seeps into our consciousness, it must change the moral structure of society.’

This dialogue, spoken by Madame Luisa Aronowicz (Louise Temple) towards the conclusion of Sapha’s treatment, is unconvincing because it has the ring of an afterthought; revolution the inevitable side-effect of what, despite the terminology, sounds like the dissemination of revealed knowledge. Most of the relatively condensed narratives we have of Arden’s career indicate that at this point she was a mystical former-feminist, but I wonder if the unresolved, tokenistic quality of this prediction could have been a conscious expression of uncertainty. The inclusion, as one of Sapha’s fantasies, of a feminist ‘ventriloquist’ sketch from Arden’s earlier theatre work indicates a continuing engagement, or a continued belief in the validity of that engagement. Or does its very placement indicate that the ideas it represents should be ‘released’? It may depend on the extent to which this film using narrative may be said to be a narrative film.

More dialogue, Sapha’s, from earlier:

‘And somewhere beyond my shadow lies anti-clock – the potentiality of an event, or, rather, the source of the potentiality of an event forks out and stretches back beyond my mole-vision. And therefore responsibility, or the notion of it, becomes absurd. I am merely a mental snapshot of myself.’

By the film’s conclusion, Sapha has come to the realisation that he is only the nexus of ‘strands of space’; he can be a weightless slice of time, or a point in space without identity, but he cannot be a citizen.

The problem with Liberation Gnosticism is that, as Gnosticism refers all spiritual progress to the sensibility of the individual seeker, any attempt to apply Gnostic values in the social sphere has difficulty dispelling an impression of crypto-aristocratic detachment. In my own cultural and personal position, capitalism is an invitation to madness or worse; the call to renounce rationality is tempting. Shifting the focus of her hope to the ineffable, did Arden hope to elude a constriction already being experienced by the Left? A systematic derangement of the senses is implied in one of the police-station scenes, in which an inspector goes from an attempt at sympathetic chastisement to calling Sapha a ‘fucking Jewboy anarchist’ (this line, dubbed across the dialogue of Sapha and the inspector, is a breach in the dialogue recording as it is a breach in the discourse). But a systematic derangement of the senses is not a mental breakdown.

The mysticism of Anti-Clock, considered in conjunction with the suicide of its creator, put me in mind of See the Old Lady Decently, B. S. Johnson’s last novel, where the hints of irrationality in the Jungian quotations and concrete poems invite one to a mystical worldview impossible fully to embrace as the route out into openness, into oceanic experience, that was evidently intended. The recurring imagery of eternity in such work is of the ocean, but it could equally be of a stone wall. The dreamed-of unity is the conceptual escape route of the trapped, of those driven by circumstance to dream of an untouchable stillness, outside of history, where defeat can never be final.