At sea #3

The crisis deepens. Ships are again laid up by the hundreds, manned by skeleton crews, or sent to the scrapyards of Bangladesh before their time. Ten percent of the world's fleet is idle. Shipyards are again in trouble as orders for new ships dry up. Riding high in the water, they carry only empties, with nowhere to go.

A ship is not an isolated thing, but a unit in a makeshift ensemble. Behind it all is backbreaking toil, and dockworkers' casual physical feats. The link between the ship, dock and city streets is seen in the Hong Kong street porters of the 1960s photographed by Ed van der Elsken, which show the physical definition of work: moving a mass, over a distance.

The Forgotten Space - Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, 2010, super 16mm


At sea #2

The Forgotten Space - Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, 2010, super 16mm


We wanted to make an openly Marxist film, to really redeem, in the discourse of film, that critical way of looking at the world. The crash has put basic analyses of the crisis tendencies of capitalism back on the table in a way that they weren't previously, so it's strange that there are films that seem to have fallen into the crime genre in order to explain what has happened. I'm thinking of Inside Job, which takes the form of a kind of detective novel, presenting a rogue's gallery of criminal financiers. But at the same time it's a film that suggests, perhaps incorrectly, that there was a golden age of Keynesianism, as if a kind of Keynesian utopia has been destroyed by neoconservatives, none of which helps us understand the cycles of capitalism, or the intractability of the problem of crisis. So much as we might now want to see more Keynesian policies pursued, there's also a need to understand these things in a deeper way than the culture of the popular documentary film allows, even though it has opened itself up in a good way to current political problems. We felt the need to make a tougher film.

A problem with documentary is that there's this extraordinary need for embodiment, for telling the story. Our producers would ask us from time to time, in a nervous way: what are all the little stories that you want to tell? And while it's true that we have all these stories of individuals who work at different sites along the supply chain — or are excluded by it, caught in the interstices, jettisoned by society — my response was that what we're struggling with here is the big story. And no-one thinks they can tell the big story anymore. Everyone's given up. They're feeling hopeless, and of course I see that — I teach in an art school, so I know how difficult it can be for younger people to feel like they have the ability to tell this story. Perhaps it's similar, in a way, to the recent turn in economics away from macro- to microeconomics: tending your little garden while the whole earth is trembling...

--Allan Sekula, May 2011, via.

At sea #1


Silver and copper chariots
Steel and silver ship's bows
Hammer the foam,
Heave up stumps of brambles.
The currents of the heath,
And the huge ruts of the ebb tide
Swirl toward the east,
Toward the pillars of the forest,
Toward the timbers of the pier,
Whose angle is struck by whirlpools of light.

--Arthur Rimbaud, Seascape, from John Ashbery's new translation of Illuminations (Carcanet, 2011), p. 109.


Des animaux #7

Douro, Faina Fluvial - Manoel de Oliveira, 1931, 35mm


An aside, or: digressions on the photographic agony #6


We do not die twice. In this respect, a photograph does not have the power of film; it can only represent someone dying or a corpse, not the elusive passage from one state to the other. In the spring of 1949, you may have seen a haunting documentary about the anti-Communist crackdown in Shanghai in which Red 'spies' were executed with a revolver on the public square. At each screening, at the flick of a switch, these men came to life again and then the jerk of the same bullet jolted their necks. The film did not even leave out the gesture of the policeman who had to make two attempts with his jammed revolver, an intolerable sight not so much for its objective horror as for its ontological obscenity. Before cinema there was only the profanation of corpses and the desecration of tombs. Thanks to film, nowadays we can desecrate and show at will the only one of our possessions that is temporally inalienable: dead without a requiem, the eternal dead-again of the cinema!

--André Bazin, 'Death Every Afternoon' (1958), in Rites of Realism (Duke UP, 2003), p.30-31.