An aside, or: we're just trying to document what's left

A striking and very moving moment in Thom Andersen's latest film Get Out of the Car: a few shots of weathered murals depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe (ten in total), an overgrown chain-link fence, a bold yellow sign. A testimony, or plea, is heard:

I think sometimes in these kinds of struggles we lose a bit of focus of what this really means for the community. It is as if... If I went to your community, and I took down your temple, if I took down your church, that's what we're talking about. These are sacred things. You're taking away our way of life.

The land beyond the fence used to be known as South Central Farm — one of the largest urban community gardens in the United States. It was developed on fourteen acres of land gifted to residents of Los Angeles in 1994, via a revocable permit held by the non-profit LA Regional Food Bank (for a more detailed history, see here). In 2006 it was sold by the City, for unspecified development, via a backroom deal. The farmers, who grew and provided food for 350 families, were evicted, and the land was bulldozed. There is a broadly sickening interview with Ralph Horowitz here, the property developer who demolished the site in the face of the Farmers' resistance. (I couldn't finish it.) The incident reminds me of a recent development closer to home, on a much smaller scale: Lewes Road. In Los Angeles, the farm was reclaimed by the City for a price; in Brighton, the guerrilla community garden was reclaimed by developers in the interest of (re)asserting its antithesis. Both were projects evicted in the face of ruthless corporate enterprise — an opposition to any conception of the land as common, and thus ground on which we can live outside of capitalism. As Andersen says of the (abridged) succession of shots above: "it is the one sequence of overt social criticism I left in the film, and the razor wire that surrounds it (also appearing in the three shots that follow) is the one thing I don’t like that appears." The rest of the film comprises an inventory of dilapidated public architecture, billboards, neon lights and corporate propaganda often subjected to the protest of graffiti, rust and decay — a document of what dominates our cities and their signs: profit motive, with little trace of the whispering wind.

Get Out of the Car - Thom Andersen, 2010, 16mm

Europa 2005 - 27 Octobre - Straub-Huillet, 2006, digital video


Too early, too late, or: no comment

Trop tôt, trop tard - Straub-Huillet, 1981, 16mm

Un film comme les autres - JLG, 1968, 16/35mm


In my first proper conversation with Godard, I asked him what he thought of politics. In an excessive theatrical gesture of a kind he rarely uses, he mimed injecting a huge syringe into his arm. 'Some people take drugs, some people take politics...'

--Colin MacCabe, Godard (Bloomsbury, 2003), p.280.

Straub: In the world we live in, since human beings are limited and the world is what it is, you can't do three things at the same time, not even two. We're doomed. This is what Schoenberg meant, or close enough, when he told Eisler, 'Instead of getting involved in politics so much, you'd better concentrate on your work.' It's a provocative statement... but it's a fact, you can't simultaneously be involved in politics and make so-called aesthetic objects or works of art or films.

Huillet: You can let things mature, however. You were talking about circumstances earlier. When you're obsessed with massacres and peasant wars as we were and still are, when you finally make Trop tôt, trop tard, it's precisely because all of this resurfaces in a certain way once it's found the appropriate form. [...] When the film was completed in 1981, they told us peasant revolts were all but impossible. Now look what's happening. It's the opposite of a film that's following fads...

Straub: Even in good faith! At the moment I like A Movie Like the Others [Un film comme les autres, 1968] better than some films that were made by the group calling itself Dziga Vertov. Dear Jeannot would certainly not agree since he'd rather conceal this film, but at least it's my opinion. Here's a guy who tried to be humble at a very precise moment in time and just tried to monitor something without imposing his grid of interpretation. He was really within the moment and the fashion of the time, but he functioned without being grist for the mill.

--Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet in conversation with François Albera, 2001, Sickle and Hammer, Cannons, Cannons, Dynamite!, published in the 2004 Viennale & Filmmuseum Straub-Huillet retrospective catalogue, p.47.

Towards lunch, our stomachs rumbling, we talk about the occupation of Nanterre, the Sorbonne and the Theatre de l'Odeon; we talk of the occupation of the six main plants at Renault, and of the closure of the ports of Le Havre and Marseilles. We speak of the men and women of the streets, about 'an inaugural moment of speech' - about the welcome that each could bid the other with no other justification than that of being another person (Blanchot). We speak of De Gaulle's fumbling address on French television, and of panic in government circles, and of the carnivalesque redoubling of the power of authority in the disarray of the marchers (Blanchot again).

After lunch, in a temporary food coma, we speak of the banning of far left groups in France, and of the retaking of the Sorbonne and the infiltration of the police into schools and universities. We speak of the workers returning to work, and the triumph of the Gaullists, returned to government with a good majority at the General Election in June. We speak of the Czechoslovak Spring, crushed by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact. We speak about the collapse of the Cultural Revolution into terror, and the suppression of Guevara-inspired guerillas in Latin America.

The room seems to grow dark. We feel depressed, terribly depressed. But we invoke, as the afternoon wears on, the title of one of the collectively written tracts of the Students and Writers Action Committee, whose participants included Butor and Roubaud, Sarraute and Duras: Tomorrow it was May. How moving! How beautiful!

Tomorrow it was May: and so we speak, too, about the Hot Autumn in Italy in 1969, and the British miner's strikes of 1973-4, about Italian workerism and Autonomia. We invoke the ghosts of Fourier, Blanqui, Luxemberg; we speak of Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Cabral, and then we drink with our fellow attendees through the night.

--Lars Iyer, Tomorrow it was May, 22/09/10.


An aside, or: the train pulled out

Notes. 20/09/2010.

Interviewer: Have you read the two writers who have so often been identified with you — Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler?

Cain: I read a few pages of Dashiell Hammett, that's all. And Chandler. Well, I tried. That book about a bald, old man with two nympho daughters. That's all right. I kept reading. Then it turned out the old man raises orchids. That's too good. When it's too good, you do it over again. Too good is too easy. If it's too easy you have to worry. If you're not lying awake at night worrying about it, the reader isn't going to, either. I always know that when I get a good night's sleep, the next day I'm not going to get any work done. Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It's not all inspirational.

--James M. Cain, "The Art of Fiction No. 69", The Paris Review 73, 1978.

The films which have most excited me recently are Skolimowski's two films and The Enchanted Desna [1964]. These are films about which I don't know what to say critically, which give me the feeling of having a lot to learn. Also Rossellini's film about steel. They are films which cut right through me, whereas with others I can see what to take and what to leave. I say this is great, but I could never do it myself. I don't rate these three films above or below the rest, they are the films I want to talk about because I really don't know what should be said. On the other hand I know very well what to say about Gertrud: I don't mean that I would necessarily be right, but I can say at once that it is like Beethoven's last quartets. Whereas with films like Walkover [1965], I want to talk about them precisely in order to discover what to say. But as I make films, I can look for anything I need to find in a film: I don't need to talk about it.

--Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed in 1965, "Let's Talk About Pierrot", Godard on Godard (Da Capo Press, 1986), p.232.

Interviewer: Are there any rituals that get you going on a literary project?

Böll: When I am involved in an extensive project there is no ritual — I go to work and write until weariness forces me to stop. With shorter projects I shirk: I straighten up my desk and then straighten it up again, read the newspaper, take a walk, tidy up my bookshelves, drink coffee or tea with the lady I'm married to, smoke a lot, let myself be diverted with visitors, telephone calls, even the radio — and then at the last moment I am literally forced to begin, jumping on a train, if you will, that's already pulling out of the station.

--Heinrich Böll, "The Art of Fiction No. 74", The Paris Review 87, 1983.

Interviewer: Your characters and you yourself often say they don't care about anything, which sounds like total entropy, universal indifference of everyone towards everything.

Bernhard: Not at all, you want to do something good, you take pleasure in what you do, like a pianist, he has to start somewhere too, he tries three notes, then he masters twenty, and eventually he knows them all, and then he spends the rest of his life perfecting them. And that's his great pleasure, that's what he lives for. And what some do with notes, I do with words. Simple as that. I'm not really interested in anything else. Because getting to know the world happens anyway, by living in it, as soon as you walk out the door you're confronted with the world directly. With the whole world. With up and down, back and front, ugliness and beauty, perfectly normal. There's no need to want this. It happens of its own accord. And if you never leave the house, the process is the same.

--Thomas Bernhard, 1986, from an interview originally published in the Autumn 2006 issue of Kultur & Gespenster, trans. Nicholas Grindell.

All literature is an attempt to make life real. As all of us know, even when we don't act on what we know, life is absolutely unreal in its directly real form; the country, the city and our ideas are all absolutely fictitious things, the offspring of our complex sensation of our own selves. Impressions are incommunicable unless we make them literary. Children are particularly literary, for they say what they feel and not what someone has taught them to feel. Once I heard a child, who wished to say that he was on the verge of tears, say not 'I feel like crying,' which is what an adult, i.e. an idiot, would say, but rather, 'I feel like tears.' And this phrase – so literary it would seem affected in a well-known poet, if he could ever invent it – decisively refers to the warm presence of tears about to burst from eyelids that feel the liquid bitterness. 'I feel like tears'! That small child aptly defined his spiral.

To say! To know what to say! To know how to exist via the written voice and the intellectual image! This is all that matters in life; the rest is men and women, imagined loves and factitious vanities, the wiles of our digestion and forgetfulness, people squirming – like worms when a rock is lifted – under the huge abstract boulder of the meaningless blue sky.

--Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, trans. Richard Zenith (Penguin, 2002), p.107-8.

Such is the lot of a being who is born, that is to say, who, once and for all, has been given to himself as something to understand. If natural time is at the centre of my history, I see myself also surrounded by it. If my first years are behind me like an unknown land, that is not by a chance failure of memory or for lack of a complete exploration: there is nothing to know in those unexplored lands.

--words gathered by M. Merleau-Ponty & J.-L. Godard, "The Testament of Balthazar", Cahiers du Cinéma in English 6, 1966, p.44.


The shelter of time, or: fin de Histoire(s)

The Old Place - JLG & Anne-Marie Miéville, 1999, video

Histoire(s) du cinéma 4A: Contrôle de l'univers - JLG, 1998, video

Histoire(s) du cinéma 4B: Les Signes parmi nous - JLG, 1998, video

The image isn't good enough in video, but it's easier. You only have two images to work with in editing; it's like having two motifs in music, and the possibilities of creating a relationship between two images are infinite. The big difference is that if you shoot the three stone lions of Eisenstein in video, it can be an entire Warhol movie.

--Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed by Jonathan Rosenbaum in 1996, "Godard in the Nineties", Film Comment 34.5, 1998, p.60.

Histoire(s) du cinéma 4B: Les Signes parmi nous - JLG, 1998, video

Film socialisme - JLG, 2010, digital video


Histoire(s) du cinéma 4B: Les Signes parmi nous - JLG, 1998, video

Hiroshima, mon amour - Alain Resnais, 1959, 35mm

Rivette: Resnais's great obsession, if I may use that word, is the sense of the splitting of primary unity: the world is broken up, fragmented into a series of tiny pieces, and it has to be put back together again like a jigsaw. I think that for Resnais this reconstitution of the pieces operates on two levels. First, on the level of content, of dramatisation. Then, I think even more importantly, on the level of the idea of cinema itself. I have the impression that for Alain Resnais the cinema consists in attempting to create a whole with fragments that are a priori dissimilar. For example, in one of Resnais's films two concrete phenomena which have no logical or dramatic connection are linked solely because they are both filmed in tracking shots at the same speed.

Godard: You can see all that is Eisensteinian about Hiroshima because it is in fact the very idea of montage, its definition, even.

Rivette: Yes. Montage, for Eisenstein, as for Resnais, consists in rediscovering unity from a basis of fragmentation, but without concealing the fragmentation in doing so; on the contrary, emphasising it by emphasising the autonomy of the shot. It's a double movement: emphasising the autonomy of the shot and simultaneously seeking within that shot a strength that will enable it to enter into a relationship with another or several other shots, and in this way eventually form a unity. But don't forget, this unity is no longer that of classic continuity. It is a unity of contrasts, a dialectical unity as Hegel, and [Jean] Domarchi, would say.

--extract from "Hiroshima, notre amour", a roundtable published in Cahiers du Cinéma, July 1959 (trans. Liz Heron), Cahiers: The 1950s, Harvard UP, p.60-61.

Hiroshima, mon amour - Alain Resnais, 1959, 35mm

De l'origine du XXIe siècle: à la recherche d'un siècle perdu - JLG, 2000, video

Cinema as it was originally conceived is going to disappear quite quickly, within a lifetime, and something else will take its place. But what made it original, and what will never really have existed, like a plant that has never really left the ground, is montage. The silent movie world felt it very strongly and talked about it a lot. No-one found it. Griffith was looking for something like montage, he discovered the close-up. Eisenstein naturally thought he had found montage... But by montage I mean something much more vast [...] to return to what I said at the beginning: the idea of cinema as art or the technique of montage. Novels are something else, painting is something else, music is something else. Cinema was the art of montage, and that art was going to be born, it was popular. Mozart worked for princes, Michelangelo for the Pope... Some novelists sold in huge quantities, but not even Malraux, even Proust, didn't sell immediately in the same quantities as Sulitzer. Nor does Marguerite [Duras]. Suddenly, very quickly, cinema rose in popularity, much faster than Le Pen. In three years it went from thirty spectators to thirty million. Painting has never been popular. If Van Gogh were popular his paintings would go on tour. But cinema was popular, it developed a technique, a style or a way of doing things, something that I believe was essentially montage. Which for me, means seeing, seeing life. You take life, you take power, but in order to revise it, and see it, and make a judgment. To see two things and to choose between them in completely good faith.

--Jean-Luc Godard, extract from a lecture on montage at FEMIS, 1989; cited in "Montage, My Beautiful Care, or Histories of the Cinematograph" by Michael Witt, The Cinema Alone (Amsterdam UP, 2000), p.35.

The Old Place - JLG & Anne-Marie Miéville, 1999, video

Histoire(s) du cinéma 4A: Contrôle de l'univers- JLG, 1998, video



The Old Place - JLG & Anne-Marie Miéville, 1999, video


Distance(s) #17, or: the (only) resistance

L'espoir - André Malraux, 1945 / Histoire(s) du cinéma 3B / 3A - JLG, 1998, video


Why is it, that from 1940 to 1945, there were no resistance films? There were Resistance films, left and right, here and there, but the only film, in the true sense, to resist America's occupation of cinema, and a uniform way of making films, was an Italian film. It was not by chance. Italy fought the least. It suffered greatly. Having betrayed twice, it suffered a loss of identity. It found it with Rome, Open City. It happened, because the film was made by men without uniform. It was the only time.

--Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du cinéma 3A: Le Monnaie de l'absolu, 1998.


Realism(s) #11, or: not exhausting a place not in Paris

4 September 2010
5:10 PM

The sky is gray. Fleeting sunny spells.

The wind is making the leaves on the trees move.


A rather big chunk of sky (maybe one-sixth of my field of vision)

tens, hundreds of simultaneous actions, micro-events, each one of which necessitates postures, movements, specific expenditures of energy:

It is five after one. A woman is running across the square in front of the church.

A basset hound. A man with a bow tie. An 86.

People stumble. Micro-accidents.

A young girl is eating half a palmier.

A man with a pipe and black satchel.

Funeral wreaths are being brought out of the church.

There are people who read while walking, not a lot, but a few.

Indistinct shadows.

It is five after four. Weary eyes. Weary words.

A man wants to enter the cafe; but he tries pulling the door instead of pushing it


Open umbrellas

Influx of human or automotive crowds. Lulls. Alternations.

The pigeons are almost immobile. It is difficult to count them, though (200, maybe): some are asleep, feet tucked up. It's time for their cleaning (with their beaks, they comb through their crops or their wings); some are perched on the rim of the third basin of the fountain. People are coming out of the church.

The sun is hidden. There's some wind.

A man in a raincoat makes a big gesture

A car goes by, its hood covered in dead leaves

Oranges in a string bag.

Watched, or rather, excited by its master, a black dog frisks around the plaza.


The pigeons are on the plaza. They all fly off at the same time.

Four children. A dog. A little ray of sun. The 96. It is two o'clock

--fragments from a short text by Georges Perec, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, written in Place Saint-Sulpice, 18-20 October 1974. Trans. Marc Lowenthal (who describes it as "something like a Life, without the manual") for Wakefield Press, 2010. More info here.

An aside, or: everything was lost in the air and the wind #2

Dalla nube alla resistenza - Straub-Huillet, 1979, 35mm / Histoire(s) du cinéma 2B: Fatale beauté - JLG, 1998, video


42. Andi Engel recalls that when Jean-Marie Straub was asked at the Locarno festival about Godard's use of music, he exclaimed, 'Oh la la, Jean-Luc avec sa discothèque...'

--footnote in Colin MacCabe's Godard (Bloomsbury, 2003), p.394.


for Alexis #2


A year or so ago, I wrote some of the only personal words on this blog in remembrance of Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. Today marks the first anniversary of their death. The sentiment of those words still stands, although I'm sure I'd now select different images. A few weeks ago, clearing out deadwood, I stumbled across a feature in Sight & Sound drawing attention to 75 overlooked films, each accompanied by a short text. Alexis's contribution follows:

Known in the West as a director of B-movie and Blood Island films, in the Philippines, among the informed, de Leon is revered. With a charismatic supporting performance by deposed president Joseph Estrada, The Moises Padilla Story is based on the true story of a former lieutenant who dared to challenge the ruthless Rafael Lacson in his bid for re-election as governer of the province of Negros, Occidental. Tracking Padilla's brutal treatment by Lacson after losing the election (no doubt an unfair one) and his relationship with Estrada's character (once a friend, now a chief of police), the film displays its central character's courgaeous will to stand up to the prevailing tyranny. It's as impressive for its brilliant composition and blocking as for the complex psychology of its characters, and its political themes still resonate today. Sadly, however, the film is missing close to ten minutes, including a sequence in which Estrada's character orders the gouging out of Padilla's eyes. The missing footage is in the possession of film historian / detective / archivist Teddy Co, who is willing to return it should arrangements for its restoration be in place. Are you listening, Martin Scorsese World Cinema Foundation?

--Alexis Tioseco, Sight & Sound 17.8, August 2007, p. 26.

A couple of other contributors make note of cuts imposed upon their chosen films, or the poor condition of extant prints, but Alexis's stands out as the only call for concrete action. It is more striking in this respect than any other: a measure of what we've lost. Alexis always reminded us that criticism is an act of responsibility, not just an informed mode of discourse or a series of well-meaning gestures (stemming from passion, enthusiasm, love) that so often can, and do, end up becoming grist for the mill. As access to cinema history continues to increase (now easily circumventing under-funded or wilfully dismissive official channels), it seems many of us spend our time – our cinephilia –< worrying about what to see, what to consume, recording our thoughts and opinions regardless of what might be at stake. But we would do well to address the structures that enable and control those processes, ones that often lead to both exploitation and neglect (at least when we let them fall into the wrong hands, which is more often than we like, or no doubt care, to acknowledge). For me, one of the most important pieces of film criticism published since Alexis and Nika's deaths is Nicole Brenez's essay in the last issue of Framework (50.1-2), a militant call for the writing of counter-history, the excavation and restoration of exiled films, and a reconstruction of every canon. Its appeal: to save cinema, but also to save cinephilia from itself. This is precisely the impulse that lies behind Alexis's brief plea for Moises Padilla, one which is all too rare.

We still miss him; both of them.

[The picture of Alexis and Nika above is captured from a recording of the Q&A following a screening of Lav Diaz's Heremias Book II (rough cut) in Bangkok, July 2009. Edwin and I plan to publish a transcript elsewhere soon. Oggs has written on The Moises Padilla Story here, and further information on its preservation history can be found here. Also, a recent article suggests that, in the year since their murders, the hunt for Alexis and Nika's killers has not been conducted with due care and diligence. It makes for harrowing reading.]

Studies in Verticality #3



Observando el cielo - Jeanne Liotta, 2007, 16mm