Letter Never Sent - Mikhail Kalatozov, 1959, 35mm
Just noticed that Lee Ann Schmitt's California Company Town (2008), one of the best American (and political) films of the last few years, is available to watch in full here. Highly recommended.
Links: a couple of interviews about Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's Leviathan ("a heavy metal film"), which looks very impressive. This year's Experimenta line-up is strong: Dorsky & Hiler, complete Kubelka, Luke Fowler's The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott, etc). Afterwards, in November: an extensive retrospective of Peter Nestler's work at the Goethe-Institut and Tate Modern, including Die Nordkalotte, From Greece & Being Gipsy, and Straub-Huillet's Itinéraire de Jean Bricard. Also: a trip to Greece (forget exit); how to starve the beast; China in Revolt; on the missing variable and abundance; a Bill Kouligas mixtape; and last words ("only stupid spaces") to László Krasznahorkai.
À nos amours (Maurice Pialat, 1983)
Dalla nube alla resistenza (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1979)
Hours for Jerome I & II (Nathaniel Dorsky, 1980-82)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Kodomo no shiki (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1939)
La région centrale (Michael Snow, 1971)
Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, 2003)
Toni (Jean Renoir, 1935)
La vallée close (Jean-Claude Rousseau, 1995)
It never occurred to me to worry about what the greatest films ever might be, so I picked a few that I like. As others have pointed out about the overall poll, it's nice to see Jeanne Dielman and Sátántangó entering the canon next to film studies fixtures such as Metropolis and Psycho, but the measure by which Vertigo is to be considered a more important film than, say, Hours for Jerome is still somewhat unfathomable to me. The filmmakers' lists have now been posted too (featuring some LS favourites: Keiller, Apichatpong, Raya M, Allan Sekula, and so on), as has this very good piece on Ozu by Thom Andersen.
Images from Sharon Lockhart's installation Anna Schwinger: Installation of Artifacts from Repolust Cave, Archaeology Museum, Schloss Eggenberg, Graz 2011 (2011). Can't find much about this work online, but it appears to be a continuation of the choreography of work and gesture in Lockhart's excellent Double Tide (2009), projected horizontally onto a table. Also just noticed, and worth reading: a 2009 conversation between Lockhart and James Benning, mostly about the Lunch Break project.
I've been finding Blogger's incremental changes to formatting and its new interface exasperating, which depletes inspiration for putting things up here. So, some recent-ish articles of interest that I've been meaning to excerpt or link to: Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations [full pdf]; Chantal Akerman: The Pajama Interview; A Morals of Perception; What is the Rational Response? (h/t Patrick Keiller); Antigone & LONDON; Mysterious Object from Thailand; The Exigencies of Mystery; The After-Image & Forest Roads; an interview with Ben Rivers; The Politics of Getting a Life; US 80s-90s; Against Community; Owen Hatherley talks about his new book, which I enjoyed; Sicinski on TDKR; and, last and not least, R.I.P. Stephen Dwoskin & Chris Marker.
We must believe in the body, but as in the germ of life, the seed which splits open the paving-stones, which has been preserved and lives on in the holy shroud or the mummy's bandages, and which bears witness to life, in the world as it is. We need an ethic or faith, which makes fools laugh: it is not a need to believe in something else, but a need to believe in this world, of which fools are a part.--Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (Continuum, 2005), p.167.
Images from Nathaniel Dorsky's latest film, August and After, which premiered in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. Via. Also, in London later this month: the first LUX/ICA Biennial, featuring some interesting programmes, and, projected at Gasworks, The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 Years Without Images.
In London next week: a screening of The Forgotten Space, followed the next day by a panel discussion with Allan Sekula, Noël Burch and Benjamin Buchloh. Ongoing: The Robinson Institute. Also: interviews on art and politics with Nicole Brenez & Thomas Beard; Modernity Revisited; that troublesome Godard period I & II; a letter from Danièle Huillet; Antoine on Raya M; and some pop music.
The massive house of culture encloses minds which are constantly trying to re-decorate it. The cinema is a room in the house, an essential part of the structure. The room has connecting doors and a few windows. The doors, however, are papered with cobwebs and the windows opaque with grime. Beings, supposedly rational, probably human, people the space between the walls, though the lack of light makes precise observation difficult. The room's inhabitants gesticulate continually, mutter printable pieties, stumble up and down. Even though their English is excellent, they seem to have forgotten that the rest of the house surrounds them. They think that the limits of their room are the limits of existence, and they firmly believe what they do within the small space is enough. Like the sheets which have not changed for decades, the ideas which burden the ever malignant air have outlived their inspiration. The people are trapped in their gestures, in their words, in their newspapers. Like the characters in The Exterminating Angel, they dream of freedom (from and to what they cannot remember), kill the occasional stray lamb, even commit suicide every now and again, but since they cannot understand why they are captives in an unbarred room, they continue as before. Seldom but sometimes one of them lights a match, an attempt to see around the cage, but the gusts which ricochet within the running walls, constantly unrepaired by the absent landlord, immediately extinguish the flame and any hope of illumination. This they accept as inevitable, and the act, which emphasises and isolates a single hand, becomes a self-sufficient ritual. The hand, its shape, its crevices, is discussed, debated, defended and derided, often even interviewed. For the lack of anything else it becomes the focus of the room. Its owner loses himself in contemplation, forgetting the others in the room and the room itself. The house is long forgotten.
But under the house in the unpartitioned, dingy cellar where the beams which support the structure stand unconcealed, and where everyone has matches. . . .--Simon Hartog's polemic inspired by Lindsay Anderson's if... (that "romantic phantasy born of political impotence") in the third issue of Cinim, Spring 1969, generously uploaded here. Image: Buñuel's El ángel exterminador, 1962. Title refers to Kafka's Amerika and Straub-Huillet's film Klassenverhältnisse, in which Karl's candle is repeatedly extinguished by the draught circulating in Mr. Pollunder's house: "here there were so many empty rooms, whose sole purpose was to make a hollow sound when you knocked on their doors."
OPALKA 1965 / 1 - ∞ [detail] - Roman Opalka, 1965-2011, acrylic on canvas
In 1965, Roman Opalka started counting from one to infinity, recording every number on a series of 196 x 135 cm canvases. Since 1972, each new grey canvas was gradually whitened by approx. 1% each time, and by 2008 the paintings consisted entirely of white upon white. Opalka painted into this void for three years before completing the work at the only possible point: his death, on August 6th, 2011. An obituary in the bourgeois press, perhaps impressed by the almost mechanical rationality of this exercise, noted: 'Some critics saw his project as a sort of suicide, and he did not altogether dispute that.'
As the AV festival continues, so does the 744-hour Radio Boredcast — listening infrequently, I've heard more than a few unexpected sounds amidst the diverse noise. Some highlights from the slow cinema weekend: the Saturday/Sunday triple-bill of The Turin Horse, Two Years at Sea and Century of Birthing; the Pig Iron shot from Benning's Milwaukee/Duisberg (best seen in tandem with a trip to the SSI blast furnace at South Gare); Susan Stenger's Full Circle; Torsten Lauschmann and this. Also, Lumière's Acontecimientos 2011 has been published — some addenda to my list: Julia Holter's FACT mix; Grouper's Violet Replacement European dates; and, re: inflexion points, Paul Mason's LSE lecture, Notes on the Inorganic part I & II, and Our Operaismo [pdf].
Whitley Bay, walking between the boarded up sea-front buildings. Something has finished here, we agree. Something is over. But at least they haven't begun the regeneration yet. They're going to turn it into a cultural quarter. Imagine that! A cultural quarter, where there was once the funfair and golden sands.It was the same in the city. W. was unimpressed by the regeneration of the quayside, with its so-called public art. Public art is invariably a form of marketing for property development, he says. It's inevitably the forerunner of gentrification.W. is an enemy of art. We ought to fine artists rather than subsidise them, he says. They ought to be subject to systematic purges. He's never doubted we need some kind of Cultural Revolution.The real art of the city is industrial, of course, W. says. Spiller's Wharf. The High Bridge. The four storeys of the flax mill in the Ouseburn Valley...W. likes to imagine the people of the city, the old working class, coming to reclaim the quayside. What need did anchor-smiths and salt-panners have for a cultural quarter? Why can't the descendants of the keelmen, of the rope-makers and wagon-drivers, come and retake the new ghettoes for the rich? In his imagination, W. says, a great army of Geordies storm along the river, smashing the public art and tearing down the new buildings.
Worth noting: this year's AV festival, titled As Slow As Possible (after John Cage's Organ²/ASLSP, opens across the North East tomorrow. It's a thoughtful, extensive programme, featuring a bunch of films that are screening here in the UK for the first and possibly last time: James Benning's Nightfall and Milwaukee / Duisburg, Lav Diaz's Melancholia, Century of Birthing, and Raya Martin's Independencia. Otherwise, too much media to list, but also of note: Sivaroj Kongsakul's Eternity, The Time is Out of Joint, new and old work by Tarr and Kelemen, a few walks, and welcome opportunities to see some more familiar works projected to scale, e.g. La libertad, Honor de cavalleria, Juventude em marcha and Double Tide.
The system continues to unravel. With each turn of the spiral, the financial and political costs of an effective resolution increase. We have moved past the point where electorates and their representatives are willing to pay the ever-rising costs of repairing the system. Last week a couple of senior parliamentarians from the ruling CDU party, whom I had previously considered voices of moderation, argued that a Greek exit from the eurozone would not be such a big deal. Expectations are changing quickly, and so is the acceptance of a violent ending.
For most of the first half of the sixteenth century relationships between the various components of this cosmopolitan ensemble were basically cooperative. Each "nation" specialised in a particular market niche defined by a merchandise (textiles for the English; alum, silver, and copper for the German; metal products for the Milanese; staples of various kind for the Lucchese) or by a predominant relationship of political exchange with one of the two most powerful territorialist organisations of the European world-economy (with France for the Florentine; and Spain for the Genoese). By pooling at fairs, as in Lyons, or in more continuous commodity and money exchanges, as in Antwerp, the promises of payment, the information, and the connections acquired in dealing with overlapping but distinct clienteles, the various "nations" cooperated with one another in attaining three main results.First, they ensured that the largest possible number of promises of payment would offset one another directly or indirectly, thereby minimising the actual transport of currencies that the " nations" had to undertake. Second, they pooled a better knowledge of conditions affecting trends and fluctuations in exchange rates than they would have been able to acquire on their own. And third, they involved one another in profitable commercial or financial deals, such as the election of the emperor in 1519, which would have been too big or risky for the members of a single "nation" to undertake but not for a "multinational" joint venture. These outcomes of cooperation were the main reason for the various "nations" to converge in specific places at specific times and thus create and keep alive central marketplaces like Antwerp and Lyons. But as soon as these outcomes declined in importance for one or more of the core "nations," cooperation was displaced by competition and the centrality of cosmopolitan marketplaces like Antwerp and Lyons was progressively undermined and eventually destroyed.A displacement of this kind began in the 1530s when the crowding out of German by American silver supplies destroyed the commercial foundations of the German "nation" and strengthened those of the Genoese "nation." It was also in the 1530s that the Genoese began to hold their own fairs in competition with the Lyons fairs, which were controlled by the Florentine "nation." In spite of these early signs of an escalation in inter-capitalist competition, relationships between the main "nations" remained basically cooperative through the 1540s and early 1550s.The real escalation only began with the crisis of 1557-62. As previously noted, it was in the course of this crisis that German capital was crowded out of high finance by Genoese capital. More important, the Genoese introduced the system of the asientos — contracts with the Spanish government that gave the Genoese almost complete control over the supply of American silver in Seville in exchange for gold and other "good money" delivered in Antwerp, which was quickly becoming the main centre of operation of the Spanish Imperial army. At this point, the Genoese "nation" lost all interest in cooperating with the Florentine "nation" and began making aggressive use of the supply of American silver to divert Italian liquidity (gold and bills of exchange) from the Lyons fairs to its own "Bisenzone" fairs. Although these fairs still bore the Italian name of Besançon — from where they had been held initially — they were in fact mobile (held at Chambéry, Poligny, Trento, Coira, Rivoli, Ivrea, and Asti) to suit the Genoese.By 1579, when the Bisenzone fairs settled at Piacenza in the Duchy of Parma, a tightly controlled and highly profitable triangle had been established through which the Genoese pumped American silver from Seville to northern Italy, where they exchanged it for gold and bills of exchange, which they delivered to the Spanish government in Antwerp in exchange for the asientos which gave them control over American silver in Seville. By the end of the 1580s, the progressive centralisation of the supply of American silver and northern Italian and bills of exchange within the Genoese triangle made the decline of Lyons as the central money market irreversible. Although Antwerp was one of the three corners of the Genoese triangle, its vitality as a central commodity and money market had been sapped much earlier. The crowding out of the Germans and the increasing exclusiveness of the Genoese-Iberian connection alienated the English who, in the late 1560s, returned home under Thomas Gresham's leadership to convince Elizabeth I of the importance of making England independent of foreigners not just in trade but in finance as well.The consolidation of the system of the Piacenza fairs thus marked the end of the system of cooperating "nations" which had governed the capitalist engine of the European world-economy in the first half of the sixteenth century. The Genoese had won the day, but this early victory in the battle for supremacy in high finance was only the prelude to a much longer struggle. This was the war of Dutch independence, in which the Genoese let their Spanish partners do the actual fighting, while they profited behind the scenes by transforming silver delivered in Seville into gold and other "good money" delivered in Antwerp near the theatre of operations. Without this war there probably would have been no "age of the Genoese." But it was this same war that eventually dislodged the Genoese from the commanding heights of the capitalist world-economy.--Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century (Verso, 1994/2010), p.133-5.
A few words: late notes on 2010 at Ryland's and a pairing for the year just gone at Mubi Notebook. Haven't seen many films from 2011 yet, but very good so far: Gina's Traveling Light, Christoph Hochhäusler's Unter dir die Stadt (a film of finance-capital that reminds me, above all, of La notte) and, reliably, Petzold's third of Dreileben, Etwas Besseres als den Tod.