Finding the criminal #3

The time is too short / but never too long / to reach ahead / to project the image / which will in time / become a concrete dream.

--Wire, 'Lowdown', Pink Flag (1977).

In Vanda's Room - Pedro Costa, 2000, digital video


[On undramatic long-take art cinema today.]

I think there's this petty fascination with what people call an image. Artists like what they’re doing as artists, or supposed artists, but you never see a bricklayer contemplating his stone for half an hour then saying: ‘oh yeah, maybe I’ll add another stone.’ That does not happen.

A lot of people today, even filmmakers, have not seen what we called cinema, and are relatively unaware of its craft, its past. They don’t know it, and sometimes they despise it, saying: yeah, I don’t care, or I don’t have time to see that, times have changed, this is not the same world. But the work we’re doing, I feel, belongs to a certain reality and a world of work that has a past, and I can't escape it. And I think the only way to move forward is by not escaping it and instead confronting certain things. Not refusing Chaplin’s films is a way of moving forward, not dismissing them as bullshit, because they're about details, the way people move, where you place the camera (the height, the sound), etc. They're not about ideas, those everything-goes ideas that produce all those long shots, the contemplation of some void: a mountain, a street corner that could be in Hong Kong, Paris, anywhere...

You should see Ozu, or John Ford: their shots are much longer. Three seconds in John Ford is three thousand years. Any young video artist has to work very hard if they want to tell their story in three seconds. When I was making In Vanda's Room, I had a feeling — a normal feeling — that what I was seeing and what Vanda was doing was an attempt to tell fragments, particles, centimetres, inches, seconds of a very long moment. This moment could be ten minutes, an hour, and it took ten days, ten weeks. Because it’s like Proust, or Kafka: it takes a century to tell just one second. And that’s very hard work in film.

--Pedro Costa, in conversation with Craig Keller and Andy Rector in 2008 for Finding the Criminal (2010). Available via.

Finding the criminal #2

Juventude em Marcha - Pedro Costa, 2006, digital video


At the time, in the intelligentsia, people had been shaken by 1968. The delirium didn't last very long, about two years. During that time, we went pretty far with the idea that 'we won't be filmmakers', which was fine with us, as none of us was a born filmmaker, so we'd found a justification: we won't be filmmakers because there are much more important things to do! Which was to create a great Chinese-style cultural front with mass appeal, etc. But as soon as reality entered the picture, it fell apart. I'll only note that, without knowing whether it's to our honour or whether, on the contrary, it's a sign of absolute collective baseness, but we plunged politically collectively.

That enabled us not to belong to any group since we became our own group. We were quite naive, and took it to a point at which it almost became pathological, but we stopped in time. We didn't do anything base in relation to cinema. Which is to say that we never said anything good about, I don't know, an Elio Petri film, as all the leftists liked them. We always said good stuff about Straub and Godard and everyone told us off, because those films were considered indigestible by everyone, and they were indeed quite difficult films. We had absolute fidelity to our tastes in cinema, our Cahiers tastes, even if reduced to a very Jansenist base. Godard, at the time, was also very naive, very Maoist. He was more active than us; he did lots of stuff and we followed him a bit. As for Straub, he was a very important filmmaker to us, and is still very important to me — even if, well, we're all twenty years older. Back then, we went on, following a little minuscule line that should have broken a hundred times, but didn't, which just goes to show that it was solid after all.

--Serge Daney on writing for Cahiers du cinéma during its militant phase in the early 1970s, in Itinéraire d'un ciné-fils (1992).

Finding the criminal #1

Conviction, then form. One has to be just in what is shown, what is portrayed. Our generation is weak, we lack conviction. Our films are weak: they have three hundred ideas rather than one.

--notebook fragments from a talk by Pedro Costa at Ciné lumière, London, April 2008.

We shall not speak of a realistic manner of writing only when, for example, we can smell, taste and feel everything, when there is 'atmosphere' and when plots are so contrived that they lead to psychological analysis of character. Our concept of realism must be wide and political, sovereign over all conventions. 'Realistic' means: discovering the causal complexes of society / unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power / writing from the standpoint of the class which offers the broadest solutions for the pressing difficulties in which human society is caught up / making possible the concrete, and making possible abstraction from it.

--Bertolt Brecht, 'Against Georg Lukács', Aesthetics & Politics (Verso, 1980), p. 82.

Our people are never characters: if a character is boring, it is because they want to be. Doing nothing is important, it's a discipline: hang out, get to know your characters, their lives. I already have Hollywood. I don't have the money, but I have everything else.

--notebook fragments from a talk by Pedro Costa at Ciné lumière, London, April 2008.

For Colossal Youth, I was accompanied [to Cannes] by my Cape Verdean actors, laughing about dining with the rich folks. It was funny because I'd follow them, and they spent the days talking to the hotel cleaning ladies who were from Cape Verde. All cousins of Ventura, et al. The second he set foot in Cannes, someone called out: "Ventura! What are you doing here?" It was a cousin of his, who was sweeping the streets of Nice. There are loads of Cape Verdeans in Nice. Ventura said, "I'm in a film," and his cousin just replied, "oh right..." He wasn't bothered.

When Ventura goes to the museum and we show paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt and Van Dyck, he's at home there, and he should be. He built the museum; it's his floor, it's his ground, his walls, his stones. He's just lucky they hung a Rubens there. Those are the kinds of meetings between famous men that I like. Like that beautiful book by Walker Evans and James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I mean Ventura, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vanda... It's a beautiful thing with film, if you can abolish class and status, it's very utopian. You can still accomplish some revolutions in film, but not in life I'm afraid.

--Pedro Costa, interviewed in Art in America, 25/03/2010.

Juventude em Marcha - Pedro Costa, 2006, digital video


History Lesson(s) #8

Le Pont du Nord - Jacques Rivette, 1981, 16mm

Realism(s) #16, or: notes on mechanical reproduction

The screen actor is conscious, all the while he is before the camera, that in the final analysis he is dealing with the audience: the audience of consumers who constitute the market.

--Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', One-way Street and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood (Penguin, 2009), p. 244.

Advertising has created, especially amongst young people, the idea that there’s a sphere, a realm of images, that's always a question of technique, of creativity (what a horrible word), of invention, of money, and people who pay for that. It’s a worthy conception — in fact, it exists throughout the history of the West: there are images that are sold, sold into prostitution, and there are some sublime ones. Only there’s not only that in cinema, painting or the other arts, there's also been something else: there are filmmakers who make images that don’t sell anything. For instance, a film by Rivette, maybe not the last one, but let’s say the films of his that no-one has seen... Rivette's a guy who lives outside of consumerism, as a sort of peripheral saint; a guy who observes, with an intense curiosity, the life of his contemporaries. He’s not angry at all, he’s a pure cinéphile, like what I said at the beginning: 'we’ll never be part of...' He's the purest example. When you see Le Pont du Nord, to take one of his most beautiful films, there isn’t a single shot in the film that could sell anything: one that could sell the actress who plays in it, the quality of the sun, nothing.

--Serge Daney, Itinéraire d'un ciné-fils (1992). [h/t]

We could use this as a way to define political cinema: totally avoiding what keeps capitalism alive, such as inflation. If, at the aesthetic level, you practice the same inflation which fuels capitalist society as well as the world we live in, then there's no point; you're just grist for the mill. Elio Vittorini said this in Les Lettres françaises of June 27, 1947: 'This is how I first became politically aware, looking at the spectacle of the society I lived in. This gigantic lie, I knew it well enough. They were all talking about some pre-Fascistic morality the very morality from which Fascism itself had sprung. They were all leading back to Fascism — or, at best, to moral stagnation and sterility. They were trying to heal the wounds, again and again. They never attacked the disease itself.'

--Jean-Marie Straub, in conversation with François Albera & Danièle Huillet, 'Sickle and Hammer, Cannons, Cannons, Dynamite!', 2001, published in the 2004 Viennale & Filmmuseum Straub-Huillet retrospective catalogue, p.42.

The corruption and collapse of the rule of law, in the financial sphere, is basically irreparable. It’s not just that restoring trust takes a long time. It’s that under the new technological order in this field, it cannot be done. The technologies are designed to sow and foster distrust and that is the consequence of using them. The recent experience proves this, it seems to me. And therefore there can be no return to the way things were before. In other words, we are at the end of the illusion of a marketplace in the financial sphere.

--James K. Galbraith, from a keynote lecture on post-Keynesian economics, 13/05/2011, via.

People in commercials are to cinema history what religious trinkets were to sacred art: a terminal stage before the renunciation of the image, or its effective replacement by automatons.

--Serge Daney, 'From Projector to Parade', 1989, Film Comment 38.4, 2002, p.39.

The lengthy discussions between well-dressed businessmen on the stock market floor include a great number of characters, between five and twenty, all arguing and gesticulating like puppets. It’s an early attempt at working on a crowd or group scene, a domain in which Griffith will excel until his final film (whereas the cinema, in 1909, was generally content with two or three actors in front of the camera). Except that, here, there is absolute commotion, with the actors entirely focused on themselves (among them, many names will become famous), without any explicit development or correspondence with regards to a particular idea. We can also read these manual frenzies as a way of looking down upon the conformity in the commotion of all these white-collared workers who hate each other, eat, drink gluttonously, and do nothing — in contrast to the proletarians, who no longer have anything to put in their mouths.

--Luc Moullet on D.W. Griffith's A Corner in Wheat (1913), from 'Ah Yes! Griffith was a Marxist!', LOLA #1, trans. Ted Fendt.

Film's response to the shrivelling of aura is an artificial inflation of 'personality' outside the studio. The cult of stardom promoted by film capital preserves the personal magic that for years has lain solely in the rancid magic of its commodity character. When film capital sets the tone, no other revolutionary service can be ascribed to present-day films in general than that of furthering a revolutionary critique of traditional notions of art.

--Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', One-way Street and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood (Penguin, 2009), p. 245.

Le Pont du Nord - Jacques Rivette, 1981, 16mm


In other news: an astonishing fortnight, at its most intense when this and this were unfolding at precisely the same time. In that spirit: Evan Calder Williams on looting. And on riots: two excellent pieces by Owen Hatherley; James Meek in Hackney; Anthony Paul Smith — "of course firebombing a local pub is an idiotic thing to do, but so is maintaining the status quo." Full solidarity with all those facing the revenge of a flailing, sadistic neoliberal state — the current wave of sentences, like these, are the first signs of a new normal.

Hackney, 08/08/11, via