Break on Through

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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