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20140814-MISSOURI-HP-slide-LJII-superJumboFerguson, Missouri, 2014

 

In our supposed “post-racial” America, where the election of a biologically 50% black man to the office of President has loosed, under an imaginary mask, the livid bigotry which animates our culture to its core, reality has once again reared, visibly, its ugly head.  It exists all day, every day, in the most mundane and common of ways, with the on-going, never-ending oppression of dark-skinned people – economic ghettoization, cultural hypocrisy, profiled policing, a constant onslaught of prejudice fashioned as policy: where you can live, how you can live, if you can live.  The statistics of black life in America (and as well others – Native American, hispanic) are appalling, as are the simple human realities.  America has pretended to have dealt with this, but it never did.  A tiny minority of millionaire sports and show-biz “successes” have been used as a veneer to cover the daily offense which America at large heaps on people with the “wrong” color.    In Ferguson, Missouri, this disease has exposed itself yet again, with a nearly all-white police force, now armed with tools for military actions, carrying out the underlying policies of oppression which our culture enforces other ways every day, all day.   Living while black, a capital crime in America, most often kept conveniently hidden, and periodically erupting to the “surprised” populace of the non-black (or Native American, or hispanic or others) for whom everyday America is a perpetual enemy.

When will it change?  Probably never.  A dishonest, self-deluded people cannot change what they refuse to acknowledge as a problem.  That’s US(A).

 

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Birmingham_campaign_dogsBirmingham, Alabama, 1963

Addendum, August 16, 2014. 

The situation in Ferguson has wobbled, tensions heightened by an inept town police captain who released the surveillance video of Michael Brown, the unarmed now-dead young man gunned down by a police officer for walking in the middle of a residential road, against the request of Federal authorities after a day of relative calm.  This was followed by a day of rioting and looting.  A curfew has now been imposed, and tensions are once again very high.  Comments in a New York Times article on the matter received responses such as this, which were heavily approved by the enlightened Times readers:

DS
NYC 10 hours ago
I grew up poor. I never shoplifted, I never punched out a store owner. I never made excuses. I worked. I worked two jobs, three jobs, I didn’t stand on the street and yell about my rights being violated. I worked, I learned to speak proper English and read until I was literate. I feel for Mr. Brown’s family, but he was not just getting ready for college, he was breaking the law and getting ready for jail. And a community that protests with violence is no less different than a community that fails to denounce terrorism as means to attract support for their cause. This country has become a country of causes and we wonder why we are polarized. Go to work, organize, and stop breaking windows and stealing, if you want to be recognized as a viable alternative. Stop whining and throwing rocks, do something constructive.

450Recommend

RS
Philly 10 hours ago
Judging from the casual and menacing way Brown strong armed the poor store clerk as he robbed him, I have to believe that it was not the first time. Not exactly the sweet and gentle child he’s been portrayed to be. The police account that Brown scuffled with the police officer and lunged for his gun is completely believeable. By the way, one of the so called witnesses supporting Brown was his partner in crime in the convenience store robbery. So much for that.
442Recommend
redstorm
Home 10 hours ago
Michael Brown looks like a thief and a bully. I believe there are two sides to this story and the officer should not get railroad to satisfy local dissatisfaction with the handling of this death. The police officer went 6 years without firing his weapon at anyone – I don’t think he randomly shot Mr. Brown. Also, I believe Mr. Brown’s behavior in the 15 minutes leading up to his death is extremely relevant and the police had every right to release it.

356Recommend

And so on. (I note that DS from New York, while noting that they “grew up poor” doesn’t mention which skin-tone they have.)
Far down on the list came these:
MetroJournalist
is a trusted commenter NY Metro Area 10 hours ago

Yes, shoplifting is a robbery, but the reaction to it was disproportionate. Meanwhile, Wall Street gangsters got a way with tons of money and not one of them was arrested, let alone shot, and no armored vehicles were brought in. Just sayin’.

161Recommended
Fiona
New York 6 hours ago

It would be very convenient and perhaps comforting if we could blame the events of Ferguson on a) a bullying thug, b) a racist or perhaps scared police officer, c) an apparently witless police chief, or d) outside agitators determined to loot and create mayhem. By picking one of these, we can dismiss the fundamental problems that the events of Ferguson have revealed, yet again.

We have a vastly unequal society, whether one considers results or opportunity. Racism still thrives in the United States, and is sometimes still fatal. We are deeply divided in countless other ways as well. Our justice system and our system of policing ourselves is severely flawed. We spend more time, energy, and money punishing, denying, and excluding than we do in providing hope and opportunity. A large portion of our citizens do not feel that their government is responsive to their ideas, needs, or wishes, and feel that it no longer represents them. I am sure that others could add to this list. What Ferguson makes clear is that we have a lot of work to do if we wish to live up to our own espoused ideals, and we had best stop blaming someone else and roll up our sleeves.
147Recommended

I replied to this last with:
Yes, the fundamental “problems” of America will once again be conveniently swept under the rug: racism (from the beginning), economic disparity (from the beginning); denial of our communal behavior (genocide against Indians; slavery and its aftermath); militarism (America’s answer to almost everything); that 5% of the world’s population, the USA, consumes (by strong arming and military conquest, and economic extortion) 25% of the world’s resources; etc. etc.. Nope, we’re not gonna talk about that.

security guysAlexander, Brennan, Clapper

Following the confessions of Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, and of James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, that they had, uh, misspoke, uh, lied, committed perjury and little things like that in testimony before the US Congress, comes the hardly surprising mea culpa of John O. Brennan, that he too had in such testimony, done the dirty deed.  This triumverate of the nation’s security apparatus each and every one committed a Federal crime, a felony, when, after raising their right hands and swearing “to tell the truth and nothing but the truth” they proceeded to tell falsehoods, prevaricated, mislead or otherwise lied before Congress.  The proper legal procedure for such behavior in our supposed system, would be for these people to be charged with a serious crime, be tried, and since they have more or less admitted to their crime, be convicted and sent off to a Club Fed, there to ponder their misdeeds and be “rehabilitated.”

However this is the United States of America, in the year 2014, and while elements of the lumpen proletariat (rednecks, white-trash, discolored folks of all tonalities, the economically poor and educationally disadvantaged) can be tossed for life in jail for 3 very minor transgressions of the law (like smoking a joint) under the Three Strikes & You’re Out laws which exist in many states, those on the other end of the social spectrum, have been issued a permanent Get Out of Jail Free card.   And indeed, just a day ago, our President, the famous Kenyan, declared his full confidence and trust in Mr. Brennan, and his actions with regard to the others indicates the same view of them.   While it would be sort of comforting to imagine that the roll-over-&-play-dead response to these professional snoops and liars is owing to the doubtless endless dirt they have on all our honorable politicians, I am inclined to think it is because Mr. Obama, and more or less anyone down the pecking order of our government are all essentially in support of the crimes these folks committed which caused them to commit the crime of lying about it all.  The entire cesspool of our political system is in on it all.

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At the present moment – though moves seem afoot to alter this modestly – the United States, constituting about 5% of the world’s population, houses some 25% of its prisoners.  I suppose it is no irony that the same approximate figure applies to the nation’s share of global resource use: we’re 5% of the global pop, and we gobble up 25% of the world’s resources.   Hmmm…    Need I note that the disproportion of our consumption of global wealth is rooted in what many in the world regard as great crimes.  Recall the adage:  “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.”

So perhaps it is only natural that we have evolved into a condition in which the greatest crimes – war crimes, financial crimes, or little Constitutional crimes (after all, the Constitution is, as famously described by our previous President, “just a goddam piece of paper”) such as, uh, lying to Congress in sworn testimony, are all quickly dismissed and forgotten. (Recall also the willfully unsworn testimony of the tandem duo of Bush & Cheney in the commission on 9/11?)   So in the new 21st Century America, criminality has become the norm, acts just too big for our little 20th century minds to embrace.   Criminality like letting the 9/11 attack occur since it had certain political advantages in the minds of a cluster of people who just happened to be in the government at the time.  People who had called for just such an incident, publicly, in their 1998 Project for the New American Century announcement, which they removed from the net after 9/11 and it was noted by many.

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So, lying has become – as perhaps it always was – our political and social norm.   The news is full of stories of corruption, though usually this isn’t the word applied, which itself is a kind of corruption: refusal to call things what they are.  Lies are lies; cheating is cheating; war crimes are war crimes.  But for some time now our society was wormed away from such a view:  torture is “enhanced interrogation,” war crimes are “we are not going to look back; we are going to look forward;” trillion dollar financial scams built on fraudulent loans and sliced and diced “derivatives” are called “too big to fail.”  And the higher one is in the hierarchy of power and control, the more protected one is from failure, indeed, failure becomes a mark for advancement.  Failing upwards signals total acceptance and complicity in a thoroughly corrupt system.  And so, in the current case, for sure to be forgotten tomorrow, as the rush of today’s hyper-kinetic news smears collective memory and leaves it roadkill, a thin plasma squashed against the windshield of a hystrionic now, Mr. Brennan, having said his “Gee, I’m sorry I lied to you Senators” will retreat into the black hole of our vast “security” apparatus and carry on, as have his partners in crime, General Alexander and Mr. Clapper.  Federal felonies simply don’t matter if you are high enough on the pyramid of power in the USA.  For taking your part in the vast system of corruption, you will be rewarded.  It rather reminds of the old USSR in its terminal days.

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How swiftly does time go these days?  A mere six months ago the world was enthralled with the Sochi Winter Olympics, thought to be a triumph for Vladimir Putin; a month later Russia seized the Crimea; Malaysian flight 370 went missing and remains “a mystery.”  The World Cup came and went; Malaysian flight 17 went down over the Ukraine; Israel invaded Gaza; 50,000 kids from Central America showed up at the US border (owing to things America imposed on their native countries); the Ebola virus returned – the adrenalin race of events finally exhausts, and leaves a vacuum into which the worst is drawn.

Open Carry March on March 12, 2014

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Open carry gun supporters; if you ask their politics it is very likely to run to the right: American “militia” or maybe Brownshirts.

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The private military-style contractors, Craft International, at the Boston Marathon, whom no one says were hired for anything there, though there they were, “helping” the FBI, and then vanishing.  They carried black back-packs of a kind looking just like the one which the FBI alleges held one of the bombs.  The balance of the Marathon story is so full of fishy things one must wonder.

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Last night was the screening of Coming to Terms here in Berlin, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.   Was a decently sized audience, and a very very positive response to the film.  Back when I lived here in the late 70’s, this structure – a modernist swooping concrete American gift to Berlin, ironically collapsed, and was rebuilt, hopefully with both design and construction improvements.  The setting in which it sits, along the Spree River, is now utterly transformed, as is the entire city.  The Wall is gone, the dingy grey world of East Berlin now glitters with new buildings and renovations of old ones, and it is as if a magic wand had waved, and everything seems completely reinvented.  Tourists swarm the city center, the old Reichstag building with its Foster cupola, beside it the new Federal governmental buildings, the Brandenburg gate and the totally revitalized Unter den Linden.   It is really another city, morphed from an isolated cell of the capitalist West nestled in the faltering collapse of the socialist East, into a humming magnet of late Euro-capitalism, a grand illusion awaiting the literal flood of the future – while at 114 feet above sea-level it is not at risk of inundation this century, in some more distant future, when and if all the world’s ice melts and the sea level rises to a projected 216 feet, well….

 

IMG_6023The HKW after its collapse; below with its architect.IMG_6024

800px-HdKdW1HKW rebuilt.

When I lived in Berlin – 1979-80, and later in 83-5 – the Wall, and the political and economic world it represented, was an active and vivid part of the psycho-social, and economic, landscape.  After I’d been there a brief while I concluded that it – a thin concrete veil maintained with armed and deadly force, and representing a very recent, short-term ideological squabble – would soon be gone.  It would be overcome by the far deeper historical roots of the culture it had temporarily bifurcated.  So I thought.  My Berliner friends were of a different mind, 100% sure it would remain there throughout their lifetimes and beyond.  It was, so they felt, a permanent fixture.  And they had a financial incentive too – as a glittering outpost of the West imbedded in the drab East, it was heavily subsidized, and housing and transportation and many other things were relatively cheap. And there was something romantic about being trapped there.  So until the day the wall was being chiseled down and Honeker threw in the towel as the Soviet empire dissolved in the fog of glasnost, they were sure it would remain.  Not many years later I visited the USSR for a few weeks, in the company of rosy-glassed British left-winger film people, and I drew the same conclusion regarding the Soviet Union – that it was due for imminent collapse.  My traveling companions thought this ridiculous, as did my friends in America, along with the CIA.  Nope, the great Soviet monolith was forever.  It formally collapsed in 1991.  So much for the permanence of things.  Of course in Germany I was in a country which had not much earlier seen itself as in the early stages of a Thousand Year Reich, and I am the child of a country which allows itself a starry-eyed “exceptionalism” and seems to have imagined until very recently that it was exempt from the lessons of history (or telling itself truthfully its own history.)

 

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As an habitual transient, even within my own country, I have over my life become a perpetual outsider.  In a manner it is a privileged position, allowing one to see past the curtains of ordinariness which those who live a stable life accommodate.  Inside such a life – one of a job, home, a circle of friends and associates, and social/economic conventions everyone accepts  –  the horizon of one’s experience leads to a kind of certitude:  the walls will never fall.   Whereas from my constantly shifting vantage point, nothing appears fixed and stable, and the givens of another’s  life seem not at all so firm.  Be it assumptions about a pension, about the economy running along just so, or whether a vaunted empire will last another 1000 years, or 10 days.  To most of my friends a life with a thorough-going absence of “security” seems an impossible nightmare, and they often wonder out loud to me just how I can do it.  But for me, since my life has repeatedly shown me that such certainties, small and huge, which they entertain, nearly always fall apart, it confers a kind of psychological protection:  I am not surprised when the rug zips out from underneath, and I haven’t really placed many bets on it not doing so.   For me, whatever happens happens, and I will cope with it rather than panic at seeing my word-view shattered.  For some people this seems cynical; to me it is just realism.

 

volkshalle_by_teslapunk-d340iupAlbert Speer’s design for the glorious 1000 year 3rd Reichimage4Berlin, not many years later, in 1945

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RS_Web_EU_8M_v3Europe if all the ice melts.

These days, crossing Germany, as in the United States, one can see vast wind farms, the pristine white blades turning slowly (harvesting among other things, birds and bats).  Germany is one of the European countries seriously attempting – or so it thinks – to Go Green.  Berlin is busy with bicycle lanes, mini-car rental shares, well-insulated buildings, and, at least within the context of modern capitalism, an effort to be more efficient, all in the name of concern for the environment.  Of course these quite “aware” consumers of the feel-good ideology of “doing their part” to keep the coming flood at bay, hardly think twice when it is time to pop into an EasyJet or AirBerlin flight and run off to Majorca or Bangkok, nor do they really understand their massively mis-proportioned draw on the world’s material assets.  Of course they can always point to the United States, and say how its “carbon footprint” and consumption per capita is so much bigger.  And while the richest squabble over these matters, China, and, less successfully India, race to catch up – in exactly the same manner Europe and the United States did when they industrialized, spewing massive wastes and poisons into the environment.  Caught in the alluring material enticements of late-stage capitalism, all are too eager to have more.  Some “more” with a do-(feel)-good ecological bent, and some just plain old more.  Within the penumbra of the Capitalist Religion (one decisively demonstrated to be superior to Communism when the USSR collapsed), the concept of doing with less, a lot less, in the name of a future, is simply alien.  Nope, whatever the problems, the techies will figure it out, and we can continue to have more and more.  And we will have the Thousand Year Reign of Technofixes.

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Perhaps it is the extravagant history of Berlin which provokes such thoughts – to think that the culture that gave us Bach, Beethoven, and myriad other sublime cultural gifts, could have, in the same breath given us the mass frenzy which brought Mr Schickelgruber to power under his stage-name Hitler, and led this most sophisticated society over the cliff of the mass killing of Jews, gypsies, gays, and other suddenly (if also historically deep) anointed non-humans.  Under the sway of their Fuhrer Germany initiated the chain of events which led to the killing of over 72 million people in a single decade.  Towards the end of the war, German citizens mostly obeyed, as their whole world was pulverized before their eyes.  As they had done with the deportation of their neighbors, they firmly stuck their collective heads in the soft sands which Berlin is built upon.   And today, despite the best of liberal intentions  – the bicycle paths, the mini-cars, the farmers markets, the wind farms and all the rest – they are in deep delusion as the Spree slowly encroaches on this currently most civil city.

Flying here from Dusseldorf the view out the window looking down on the NordWest-Rhineland was of massive chimneys and cooling towers, (along with the windfarms) all the way to the horizon.  Germany’s economy is the best in Europe, and it is hurtling down the tracks to its own oblivion, with the rest of Europe looking enviously on.

 

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Arrived back from more or less six months on the road, with a small bit having to do with film festivals, screenings and the other chores of the filmmaker life, and settled into my “home” in Butte, and began the final work on two new films – ones mostly shot last September, and November.  Features.  Both looking pretty good.

The trip involved a number of screenings, of older work and new.  For the most part the audiences were sparse, and talk with those showing them suggested this is now the norm.  To my glance the audiences were also generally rather older.  White hair or none.  None of this was a surprise for me – I’d been noticing this trend for a decade and more.  I have my thoughts on it, of course, and shortly I’ll be writing in more depth at http://www.jonjost.wordpress.com.

For the moment though, in anticipation of completing these new films (and proceeding on to the other 3 or 4 awaiting editing to completion, not to mention shooting some others and preparing others, along with the Mt. Everest of photography to tend to, painting when the weather shifts, and recording some music), I decided to go ahead and do something I’ve been considering for a while.  Today  wrote the following letter to the Locarno festival, and sent along the same to the Venice festival.

Hi

As a past guest of your festival – long ago in the 70’s, and more recently (!) with OUI/NON in 2003, I write to say a few things.

Having made films for now 51 years, and having watched with others the drastic changes in the world of cinema I have decided for myself a few things:

1. I will not fill out festival entry forms, pay entry fees, or other things time and energy consuming; I will  inform festivals of new work and if they wish to see it they can do so on-line (Vimeo with password), or pay for a DVD or preferably BluRay to be sent to see it properly.

2. As for the kind of work I do there is no longer even the hint of a “market” and festivals have become more or less the default “market,” when my work is shown I will need some kind of payment.  A ticket/hotel for some place I might want to go; or money.

I know this may sound arrogant or whatever you wish to call it.  So be it.

I am continuing to make work – by my estimation, and that of some others, certainly up with my best, and hopefully even better.  This year’s Coming to Terms is certainly one of my best. (Ask Mark Rappaport, or Jonathan Rosenbaum.)  Still I’ll be lucky if several thousand people, world-wide, ever see it.

I have two new films virtually finished:

BLUE STRAIT, likely around 80-85 minutes, about a middle-aged gay couple breaking up (though this is hardly a “story” film.)

GENTRY COUNTY STORIES, close to 90 minutes, an exploration in genre, literature, story-telling.

If you are interested in seeing, let me know.

Thank you

 

I have no idea how this will be received by the festivals – perhaps they will actually understand, and if not generally, then at least individually, make a change.  Or perhaps they will regard it as the whining of a disconsolate old filmmaker fallen from the day’s fashions.  Perhaps they’ll wonder why my secretary can’t do these things, not comprehending that I have no secretary and never did, and that the simple process of filling out ill-designed entry forms is far more hassle than they imagine.  Or myriad other things.  I’ll have to wait and see.

The simple reality from their side is that there are thousands of people willing to go through the hoops chancing for the brass ring, so if my little kvetch irritates them, it’s no problem for them.  From my side it is that whether my film (and I) go to a festival, it will make little difference in tangible terms – perhaps 50 or 500 people will see it; perhaps someone will write something about it.  But almost certain, in the tsunami of films cranked out these days, it will be swept away and out of view and consciousness in a matter of weeks or a month or two.  And I won’t accrue a penny.  There will be no “sale.”  At best I can scribble that the film showed in festival X.   For others it may be that the applause of an audience, or positive words from viewers provides “something” but in my case it really isn’t so.  I need no pats on the back or words of encouragement.  I need to make a very modest “living.”

 

GENTRY CO. .Still023Blake Eckard and Roxanne Rogers in Gentry County StoriesTHE TALK 2.Still001John Manno and Steve Taylor in Blue Strait

In the next week or so I hope to post a longer, more considered essay on where things seem to stand with regard to this kind of cinema in the current world, and whether there is any more seeming point to it at all.    As you can imagine, I have my doubts.

 

Sequence 01.Still007Frame from Canyon

 

Note:  I am in process of setting up a VOD Vimeo channel of my work.  Not being Hollywood or able to anticipate high numbers, my price is $10 to stream, $20 to download.  First one up is Angel City from 1976.   You can buy DVDs for $30+ shipping and processing by PayPal, and BluRay disks for more (I recommend for the HD films and a few others.)

[An update now on June 10 2104:  neither the Locarno festival, nor the Venice festival gave me any response to my letter.  In the case of Venice, I know its director, Alberto Barbera, personally, and addressed to him, along with his staff, my letter.  Whether this signals that my never-more-than-modest leverage with festivals is now in the minus range (some time ago I was instrumental in getting Joao Pedro Rodriguez' film O Fantom into the Venice competition when Barbera was director earlier, in 2002 or so), or whether raising the topic of the, uh, well, exploitation of filmmakers in the name of "supporting" them was too hot a matter, or whether my missive was lost in the shuffle, I don't know.  No information at all is not exactly a useful standpoint for speculation - I "know" only that neither festival sent me a word in response, which, at minimum in my view, was "rude."]

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On April 10, 2012, two years ago, Mark Rappaport called Ray Carney, tenured professor of Boston University, to ask in person what he’d requested earlier: that the materials he’d left in the US on moving to Paris, and which Carney had said he’d hold for him, be returned.   Carney didn’t answer the phone.  Not then, not later after repeated calls to various numbers over the next month.  In effect – while later giving many stories regarding his sudden inaccessibility – Professor Carney went into hiding.  Curiously it is the same time he ceased communicating with me, not long after I’d done him the favor of posting a long long “letter” regarding BU he’d asked me to print on one of my blogs.  For the full story see this, the first of a series of 10 blog posts covering this whole matter in detail, which I began after Mark had sent out an internet letter in August 2012 explaining his situation.

 

dblcarneyProfessor Raymond Carney, tenured at Boston University

Now, following all this, following a petition signed by some 1200 people, including some significant “names” in the film biz, I sadly have to report that Professor Carney still stays in effectual hiding, says nothing, and retains Mark’s materials.  What use this has for him is difficult to fathom, though his use of the term “gifted,” which has a specific legal meaning, both in this instance and in the instance of his travails with Gena Rowlands regarding John Cassavetes’ Shadows, suggests something.   Here is what Professor Carney is holding:

 

Rappaport's materials in Carney's lawyer's office.

 

The content is 16mm prints of 8 of Mark’s 9 features, one-inch tapes of 5 of the films, the only copies of Mark’s short films, including the original of one of them, the HD master of Exterior Night, the only existing copies in the world from produced as well as many unproduced scripts, and much other paperwork, including reviews and newspaper clippings.  For Professor Carney’s twists and turns regarding all this, see the blog posts.

In light of Carney’s behavior, I will, with some help, organize an attempt to raise funding so that Mark’s films can be transferred to 2K digital files.    The material Carney holds, which includes things which would be very useful for Mark, does not however, include the original negatives.  In some cases new archival prints have been made by George Eastman House.   The Cinematheque Francaise, which is planning a full retrospective of Mark’s work, has had all the original negatives and sound materials sent to Paris, and can provide Mark with the discount they receive for lab work for transfers to 2K if funding can be raised for this.

The cost of making the transfers is estimated to be from $20,000 to $25,000.   Which fund-raising system will be used is as yet undecided, but I am leaning towards Hatchfund, which is a non-profit, and confined to artists and thus more restricted in those it appeals to.  I hope to initiate fund-raising this summer, or perhaps early in the autumn.  We ask that once it is up that you contribute.  I’ll be posting here, on FaceBook and other social media systems when the time comes.

 

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GENTRY CO. .Still019

Four months ago, towards the end of November, I pulled into Stanberry, (pop. 1,185) to stay with Blake Eckard (actually at his Mom’s place), and as circumstances looked OK, shot a film.  I was headed, along with Blake, to the St. Louis Film Festival, each of us to show new films, at the end of the month.  I’d shot and acted in Blake’s Ghosts of Empire Prairie back in May of 2012, and while around had soaked up a bit of the local ambiance.  Just happened to make a jig-saw fit with some things I’d scribbled down some decades earlier, and those things, along with some local tales which Blake knows well and tells with a natural story-teller’s ease, just seemed to leap into each other’s arms.  I asked Roxanne Rogers, who had been in my long ago Slow Moves, and then the newest, Coming to Terms, to make a little detour on her way from LA to her home in Istanbul.  We met up at the airport in KC on the 18th, and headed to Blake’s Mom’s house.  A few days later I went back to the KC airport to get Frank Mosley, who’d also volunteered to come be in it and then went on with us to St Louis.  We were joined in Stanberry by Tyler Messner, a friend of Blake’s since childhood who’s been in almost all of Blake’s films.

 

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GENTRY CO. .Still018Roxanne RogersGENTRY CO. .Still023Roxanne and BlakeGENTRY CO. .Still027Blake and Arianne MartinGENTRY CO. .Still029Frank Mosley and BlakeGENTRY CO. .Still024

GENTRY CO. .Still030Blake and Tyler Messner

In the next 6 days we shot the film in a simple relaxed way – natural light, a handful of simple set-ups against a black cloth, with Blake telling “real” stories (names changed to protect the innocent) from around Gentry County.  On returning now, Arianne Martin, who was in Ghosts, was here to be in Blake’s new film, Coyotes Kill for Fun, and plays in my film as well.   While I was traveling in Europe Blake wrote a few new scenes and did 10 shots of locals which will get slipped in.  On getting those few one shot-sequences tomorrow I should have it pretty much done, with only some music to record (my own C&W) and a few other small things to add.  Hope to have it done in May or so.  About 75 mins.  I think it’ll be pretty damn good.

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The film is a kind of play with literature, story-telling, reality, all with a deep mid-west footing.  Of course, it’s one of my films so it is for the usual audience of (n)one, sure to be seen by extremely few, and ignored by the film biz, large and small.   Nothing to do with making a buck.

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Broken down on the highway, broken down on the road

My car’s runnin’ fine, it ain’t a problem of mine,

It’s my heart that’s in pieces, you know

     Broken hearts, and busted up dreams,

     All decked out in faded old jeans,

     It’s a story, it’s a story as old as time.

Standing there at a far edge of town,

There’s a broken young man with his head hanging down

And he’s calling,

And he’s falling in front of your eyes.

(partial lyrics from song of mine, circa 1988)

Here in Stanberry, Blake is shooting his new film which I’d intended to shoot for him but I arrived with a nagging cold/flu and have had to lay low here, trying to recuperate.  On the road in two more days, headed to O’Hare to drop Roxanne off for a flight to Istanbul, and then I spend a week and some visiting old friends in Chicago.  Then slowly back to Butte for a summer of work and rest.

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I’ve been familiar with New York since childhood, recalling a visit with my family, enroute doubtless to this or that military base, sometime in the early 1950’s, and visiting that wonderland of consumer lust, Macy’s.   I think I was given a choice of which toy to get and picked a somewhat elaborate plastic gyroscope, one with dazzling flecks of multi-colored paints embedded in it – one of extremely few memories of my childhood.  Since that time I’ve been back many times, for visits for politics (Newsreel 1967, IFP 1978), for screenings (MoMA with a selection of shorts in 1973 or so, later for a complete retrospective in 1991; 1987 for Whitney Biennial with Plain Talk & Common Senses; a number at Millennium); to visit friends.  And then I lived in New York from 1989-1991, before and while shooting All the Vermeers in New York.  I’d say I knew it pretty well but the truth is no one could possibly know New York (or any massive city) well, even if you spent your entire life-time actively investigating it every day.  I, like everyone else, know only the tiny little sliver I lived in or near, which represents not .00001 of the whole.  To think otherwise is to be deeply deluded.

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My experience of New York City, not hailing from the place, has been rather schizoid:  while I like its energy, its multi-ethnic polyglot street life, and all the good things of its density, I dislike its disproportionate sway over much of America’s social and cultural scales.  Long ago I surmised (and said publicly) that in the cultural world, if you make a piece of unmitigated pure shit in New York, as an “artist” (any kind – visual, music, writing), you are axiomatically 5 steps ahead of someone’s work of pure brilliance if, say, it comes from Kansas City, or some other city or town out in the vast hinterlands of the States.   Having been born in Chicago, and living there a brief while in my youth, I suppose I am afflicted with that “Second City” neuroses which functions to draw people from around the country to New York, like flies to, well, shit.  Except for certain realms where LA is the draw – movies mostly,  the lure of easy fame.

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In the very narrow world of arty/experimental films (and now, more broadly, “media”), the tilt of the cultural scales towards New York was, in my view, obscene.  The standard “canon” peddled around the world as to such work – “underground/avant garde” was essentially a list of Jonas Mekas’ friends – virtually all New Yorkers, or people who made the cultural pilgrimage to NYC, whether they lived there or not (Brakhage, Snow) way back then.  He blasted out over his column in the old Village Voice a weekly notice of whatever piece of celluloid fell out of their cameras and hastily anointed it a “masterpiece,” whereupon these were lapped up and sent off to the hinterlands to be screened in the film clubs, underground cinemas, etc. that littered small cities and campuses.  As 90% of Mekas’ Masterpieces-of-the-Week were cinematic dreck – as is, in my view, most of his own work, the interest quickly waned and collapsed, and, almost worse, was converted in academia into “film studies.”  Eager-beaver students were taught “avant garde” and made shitty versions of the shit which was foisted on them as “art.”  I sadly report that 50 years later this still persists as aging professors inflict their equally aged views on gullible students who then engage unknowingly in thrusts of a very derriere garde, mimicking the superficial aspects of films from 50 or 80 or more years ago.  Very avant.

Of course, one can say pretty much the same for all the arts – visual, music, theatrical – where the dead horses of 100 or 50 years ago are endlessly beaten, while academic scribes write arcane verbiage in a vain attempt to prop up this Emperor’s New Clothes world of empty fashion and pretend it is either “new” or “art” when generally it most certainly is not.  The announcements of the upcoming Whitney Biennial seem to underline this.   And New York City is the blazing navel of this vast fraud (just as with Wall Street).

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These days the arts, particularly the visual and plastic arts are indeed very big business – witness the immense bloat of MoMA’s real-estate, with paintings and sculptures selling for $50,000,000 and up (and down) for contemporary “artists” along with very recently deceased modern masters.  Jeff Koons is a good example, having his antennae finely tuned for the jejune tastes of the nouveau riche.  Other opportunists similarly sucker in these rubes of Gotham.

Switzerland ExhibitionJeff Koons and Michael and friendbruce_high_quality_foundation-hooverville~OMd87300~10000_20131113_n09037_2High Quality Bruce collective ersatz Warhol/Rauschenburg silk-screen sold for $5oo,ooo

Outside of Washington DC, New York would seem to exemplify the deep decadence and corruption into which the country has descended – though I am sure other cities might contest this: Silicon San Francisco, or LA.  Not that we weren’t cyclically corrupt before, just that in this time the numbers are exponentially greater and talk of millions is mere chump change.  We talk of individuals worth multi-billions and corporations worth trillions, which perhaps hints at the shift from “government” as our overseers (hypothetically in our service) to the dictatorship of corporations.  The many homeless people lining the streets of New York would seem to attest to this, as well as the schism between the obscenely wealthy (Soho, Upper East Side, and the usual haunts of old NY wealth along Park Avenue) and the obscenely poor.  If any place exemplifies this national tendency in its most visible form, New York is it.

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Squeezed out by the Manhattan high-rollers who have step-by-step bought up the former funky-arty quarters of Soho, the Village, the East Village and elsewhere, those locals and others drawn to the New York cultural vortex have shifted eastward, into the borough of Brooklyn.  There – if only for the moment – rents are lower, and the youthful “culture” (bars, boutiques, micro this and that) has bloomed in Williamsburg and Green Point.  The streets are crowded and Spike Lee, selling his Upper East Side place for a purported 35 million dollar price tag (a place previously owned by Robert Rauschenberg), has loudly (he seldom is less than loud) lamented the take-over of his former burg by “hipsters.”  These enclaves of Brooklyn in fact remind me of, oh, Portland, Oregon, where a similar generational culture has set-down, transforming the once drab working-class or black neighborhoods in NE and SE quadrants into strips of chic bars, bicycle shops, exotic ice-cream makers, micro-breweries and all the other accoutrements of a sector of entrepreneurial trust-fund kids.  In Portland it is a bit hard to figure out where the money is coming from to support this eviction scheme for the underclasses.   Similarly these Brooklyn neighborhoods sprout the same kinds of stores, and the sudden (lamented) new upper-middle-class condo’s now that the area has been ethnically and economically cleansed.  Spike is right, though what with his 1.5 million Kickstarter con, he tap-dances on a very loosey-goosey moral tight-rope:  whether he likes it or not he came out of the black upper-middle classes and now sits in the nation’s 1%, never mind his ghetto-mouth.  I have long since (We Cut Heads) found his rather aggressive assertions an obvious cover for his origins in relative wealth: he ain’t no real Bro.  So he uses MoFo a lot and puts on a street-wise air that seems phoney as a $3 dollar bill.  If he really wants not to be of the 1% he can easily divest himself of his wealth but I kinda won’t be holding my breath.  Though I am certain he has lots more rhetorical hot air left.

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Falling way behind courtesy of the travel life, since scribbling the above while in New York, I’ve been to Columbus Ohio (via Amtrak and Greyhound adventures), Cleveland, and now I lie low a few days, whacked by a nasty cold/flu somewhere along the line.  Curled up like a sick dog in Miami (FL) realm.  Tomorrow northward to Gainesville and then St Petersburg before finally heading back to Stanberry Mo in the mid-west to grab the old Subaru, shoot a quickie film for Blake (and finish up one of mine shot there in November), and finally to head West toward Portland and then Butte.  Be good to take a travel break.

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Saturday, March 1,7 pm will be screening Over Here for Millennium Film Workshop at the Brooklyn Fireproof Gallery.  http://millenniumfilm.org/2014/02/jon-jost-over-here/

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OVER HERE (Jon Jost, 2008) (Dennis Grunes, critic)

 

Jon Jost, who has said he is “independently poor,” is thus able, as he tells it, to make without interference or compromise the films he wants to. For a decade now he has been working in digital video. Last year’s Passages is, for me, bar none, the best film of 2006; this year’s Over Here is “a kind of companion-piece,” according to Jost, to Homecoming, which for me is the best American film of 2004. Both films were shot in Oregon, Homecoming in Newport, Over Here in Portland. Both revolve around George W. Bush’s self- and crony-serving war in Iraq, but from the vantage of the homefront. In the ironically titled Homecoming (the title refers also to Jost’s own return from Europe to the U.S.), a soldier has been sent home for burial from Iraq following his absurd drowning death; the returning veteran is alive in “Over Here,” but, shattered, he is lost both to himself and the parents who love him. Jason is as lost to America as America is to him. He ends up homeless, living with a companion under a bridge. His silent tenderness towards her—he caresses her head, gently awakening her to a new day—suggests the waste of his humanity that a mendacious, oil-mad administration has wrought. It also suggests Jason’s adaptability, the humanity he is able to bring to an alternative world apart from the America that Bush’s poisonous presidency has befouled. The title reverses the jingoistic geographical reference of the George M. Cohan song from World War I, “Over There.” Following film’s end, there appears Jost’s statement about the war, including his call for domestic impeachments and trials in the World Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is unlikely that there will be any more powerful movie than this one this year.

The pre-credit opening is poetic and poignant. It is the long-held tight closeup of a boy in his twenties. The image is in black and white except (perhaps!) for an elusive tinge of orange-pink in the boy’s “white” face. It is a degenerative image, a blowup appearing as a dark sea of dots, and its aural accompaniment is electronic discordance, science-fiction chords. The image itself—the boy—is mute. He speaks (to whom, we later find out, although a prefaratory snip suggests an answer); but his ordeal “over there,” which has rearranged his psyche, dissolving into dots his connections to reality, he finds himself at a loss to communicate. He covers his face with his hands. This pre-credit passage is subtitled Over There, as though that were the film’s title. Jason, the boy, has brought “over there” back home with him. It has taken over him as might an alien-something in a sci-fi horror film.

Post-opening credits, the first sequence takes place in a Portland café. There is a glossy shot of the clean interior. Jason is at the counter, and even when he is out of the shot or in the background, no matter what Jost’s camera sets in the foreground, we cannot take our mind off the boy. In effect, we have followed him from the pre-credit sequence and we want to learn more about him. Sometimes we see in closeup, in the foreground, some man doing business on the phone; for as long as the mise-en-scène allows, however, our eye is drawn to Jason in the background. At another time, a chessboard fills the front of the shot: chess—a board game based on a medieval battlefield. Finally, Jason leaves, and the brief stroboscopic shot of him outside in overcast weather conveys his agitation, which is further underscored by an unexpected cut back to the café, where all is calm and ordinary. Three brief static shots follow, the first two of which establish locale in the Ozuvian manner, and the third of which is similar except that Jason, in long-shot, walks into the frame, away from the camera, and leans against a parked car. This transforms the first two shots in the sequence, which now tell us that Jason has been walking a long way. A subsequent sequence of shots finds Jason walking into the frame, away from the camera, down a street. A subsequent traveling shot across a bridge suggests one of two things: Jason has hitched a ride to where he is staying; a merciful Jost has found a way to get us to Jason’s immediate destination more quickly than Jason has been able to manage. Somehow Jost succeeds in giving the combat veteran’s focused walking—Jason is proceeding to a definite place—a condition of aimlessness and passivity, as though Jason’s war experience has rendered him a will-o’-the-wisp.

In between the two passages of Jason walking is an interlude in an advertising agency. It is Saturday, and only the head of the agency and one of his minions are in the otherwise abandoned place, the head in his private office, the employee, Chris, in his cubicle, and this arrangement, besides relieving Jost of the necessity to come up with a bunch of extras, intensifies the exchange between the two men. The claustrophobic nature of the shots that Jost devises also assists in this, as does the contrast between the office space and the outdoor scenes where Jason proceeds under an immense, darkening sky.

Clearly the agency head is distracted in his private office, which not coincidentally posits him up against a brick wall. Restless, he ventures out of his official space to needle Chris for his being distracted. (It is Saturday, after all, and Portland is famous for being a city where “people work to live rather than live to work.”) Chris is devising the front page of a Web site for a client, which the boss finds too busy, the implication being that Chris’s head is too full of irrelevant clutter that he is (as is his wont) projecting onto his work. “Boy trouble?” the agency head asks, reminding Chris that he is obligated to leave all that at home and concentrate at work to meet the looming deadline for the agency client. The “boy” in question is Jason, whom Chris has picked up off the street, in front of the county’s main library, and taken into his home. “He’s not like the others,” Chris remarks. Chris, it turns out, has successfully rationalized his exploitation of Jason as pure compassion, and he is attempting to enlarge the reference of his positive self-image by putting his boss into the picture. A Vietnam veteran, surely this man might talk to the house-guest. The boss won’t have any of Chris’s plan; he has spent a lifetime suppressing his identity as warrior and the after-effects of his tour(s) of duty. It may even be the case that his own level of distraction is part of these distant after-effects. Instead, he warns Chris not to play social worker and to turn Jason over to those who might really be able to help him. In effect, he is telling his employee to stop playing with fire. The two men are alike, each dressing his inclination to exploit in the garb of concern. Workplace politics prevail, and the agency head, standing, looms over Chris, who is seated in front of his computer.

The passage is fairly clunkish; indeed, the entire film lacks fluidity, is structured instead as a series of set-pieces with fadeouts and deep blackouts, which in concert with other techniques suggests Jason’s mental and moral fragmentation and the disintegration of his ego. Form expresses content.

Chris fails to take his boss’s advice; he cannot bring himself to give up the boy. But fueled by his boss’s derision and his own consequent humiliation, he compensates by confronting Jason. Have you really been looking for work? Why is your jacket on the floor? Where is my iPod, Jason? (Jason, we know, does steal.) Home politics prevail, and Chris, standing, looms over Jason, who is on the living room couch as a radio or television program proceeds. We hear the program, and hear it clearly, but the verbal exchange between the two men fluctuates in clarity and volume as Jost, as he does throughout the film, plays with sound levels in an effort to express Jason’s interiority—just how, that is, that Jason feels. This is one of the film’s most brilliant aspects. In any case, Chris keeps at Jason relentlessly, verbally spanking him again and again, and in a subsequent scene Jason explodes. He had been in agitated sleep in a living room chair, his mind back in Iraq, and an inaudible Chris, standing, looms over him pontificating about something or other. Jost cuts from the sleeping Jason, one of whose hands grips an arm of the chair, to Chris, whose annoying intimidation is captured by a low camera tilted upwards. At first we aren’t certain whether Chris at that moment is a part of Jason’s dream; but all of a sudden, accompanied by a rocketing into normal sound, Jason is on the floor attempting to break Chris’s neck. His nightmare flashback—what occupied his mind until Chris broke his slumber—has him, now that he is nominally awake, back in Iraq still. We know this because Jason shouts “fucking Hadji!” as he assaults Chris. Or does he kill Chris? A shot holds on Chris’s lifeless face as though to decide the matter; but what we see may be a Chris playing possum whom Jason leaves on the living room floor.

This in-effect flashback to war is followed by an actual flashback that indeed may disclose the content of Jason’s in-chair dream of Iraq. It is a social scene whose centerpiece, out of focus and stroboscopic (and hence a projection of Jason’s own agitation), is someone singing the song “Hadji Girl” whose lyrics got their author, Marine Cpl. Joshua Belile, into such hot water. In the song, a U.S. Marine in Iraq foils an attempt to assassinate him by grabbing a girl’s “little sister” and having her take the lethal bullets meant for him from the girls’ father and brothers. In addition to making monstrous fun out of murder, the lyrics ridicule Islam. The song is also, of course, racist. We hear the soldiers in attendance laughing. Jost edits into this scene a montage of scenes, some of them snippets of Iraqi humanity that contest the song’s dehumanizing cruelty. The song, we understand, boosts the morale of the troops, like an old-time Bob Hope Christmastime show; its viciousness allows us to gauge the unhinged humanity of the U.S. warriors given the perilous situation into which they have been plunged. The song, then, encapsulates the horror of Bush’s war from which returning soldiers like Jason may never be able to escape.

This is the song’s refrain: “Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad/ Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah.” But another line is thematically relevant to Over Here: “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” The lyric refers to U.S. ignorance of Arabic; but it becomes meaningful in another way as well. Throughout the film Jost stresses Jason’s feeling that he no longer belongs at home, that he cannot connect with others at the very moment that he most needs to, because his war experience has discombobulated him, leaving him incapable of communicating what he has undergone and what his needs are. Ryan Harper Gray, who plays Jason, is deeply affecting disclosing enormous pain and sadness, a broken soul. This is a great performance.

After leaving his adoptive/adopted home, Chris’s house, Jason visits his parents, apparently for the first time since returning to Portland. This passage is massively moving, nearly intolerably so. Despite parental pleas, Jason cannot stay. He must move on, accepting his condition of homelessness much as Ethan Edwards at the close of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) chooses to wander between the winds.

The “conversation” among parents and son before Jason’s sad though perhaps necessary departure constitutes the part of the film I love most. (The entire film, incidentally, is 1¼ hours in length.) With darkness at the top and bottom of the screen, the face of each of the three characters occupies his or her own square in a row across the screen. Mother and Father flank Jason. (Bibi Walton and Jerry Carlton are excellent as the parents.) There is much silence and pain as Jason dissolves into sadness; what talk is there is inaudible. It is impossible for Jason to unburden himself. Each one is helpless. In the middle, Jason disappears entirely, leaving behind a black square—this, a projection of how he feels, and the loss to them of their son that his parents dread. When he reappears, his face now fills a square larger than the ones occupied by his parents, ironically indicating the attempts by his parents to hold onto him, but finding this impossible, and his own attempt to hold onto himself. The parents’ faces disappear into the darkness; when they reappear, Jason is out-of-frame, and their squares are adjacent. “Please don’t go,” we manage to hear the mother say. We hear the door close behind Jason. Now only the mother is visible; adjacent to her is darkness—a visual projection of the loss of her son.  We next see Jason underneath the bridge some morning. We know that time has passed from the presence of his companion. Amidst normal sound, his hearing goes into silence and comes back out. His haunted face visually frays. The girl with him makes no demands because she isn’t connected to his past. In his own way, Jason also may be wandering between the winds.

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SM ROXONMARFLOORENDMarshall Gaddis and Roxanne Rogers in SLOW MOVES

Following a very nice screening of Last Chants for a Slow Dance at Light Industry (155 Freeman, Greenpoint, Brooklyn), to a sold out house and very nice response, this weekend we follow up with screenings of four different films at Spectacle, 124 S. 3rd St., (near Bedford), Brooklyn, NY.  See this:   http://www.spectacletheater.com/jon-jost/

bd-baseballMarshall Gaddis in Bell Diamond

Films showing will be Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Parable, and The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima.   I’ll be there for all screenings (hope there’s a good wi-fi cafe and/or bar nearby!)

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Stephen Taylor and Rachel LeValley in PARABLEParable

Yesterday I went to MoMA’s documentary series to see my friend Peter Snowdon’s film, The Uprising.  I’d seen it in a rough form 3 years ago, and at the time he was very discouraged and said he was ready to stop and give up on it.  I found what I saw very strong and encouraged him to carry on and figure it out and finish.  He says my little nudge helped, and after all this time he finished it.  The film is composed of YouTube and other internet uploads of materials shot by people in the ”Arab Spring,” often rough things shot with cell-phones, i-Pads, DSLRs or whatever people had that they could shoot with.  Peter amassed a huge amount of this, and after his editorial labors I think he’s come up with a really strong and amazingly good film – can I say a kind of “masterpiece”?

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Eschewing voice-over and explicatory materials, the film dives directly into the visceral reality which shifted from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Yemen and Syria, as the populist demand for change, for an end to corruption and dictatorships, spread like wild-fire across the middle-east.  Seizing on this emotional roller-coaster, riding from the delirium of massive crowds to the grim deaths of unarmed civilians in the face of military power, The Uprising seems to me orchestrated as a symphony, using the shifting tonalities and qualities of the various images used – blurred, jagged shifts of light, sometimes shifting into solarized simplicity – and cuts them with an internal aesthetic which verges often towards abstraction, but without ever lapsing and losing the emotional intensity of the situation.  Indeed, I think it is just this abstract infrastructure which makes the film work so powerfully.  Equally, the sound is used in this abstract sense, building into musical crescendos, and then going silent, shifting in concert with the images to orchestrate exactly as do the abstract sounds of a symphony, coaxing, enticing, shifting one’s inner world through pure aesthetics, yet ones which touch deeply inside us.   I know it was a lot of work, but I am glad Peter stuck to it and found (one of) the films which was in his material.  Powerful stuff.

Here’s a listing of upcoming screenings:

- February 20, 2014 – 6pm : Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (NY), USA
not a screening, but a talk + Q&A with Peter Snowdon and Bruno Tracq

- February 23, 2014 – 5:30pm : Images Cinema, Williamstown (MA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- February 26, 2014 – 7pm : Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, New Orleans (LA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 3, 2014 – 5:30pm : University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (NC), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 7, 2014 – 7:30pm : The Center for Middle East Studies, New Brunswick (NJ), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 27, 2014 – 7:30pm : Université Populaire, Brussels
followed by a talk with Bruno Tracq

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The Cinemateca Portuguese will be mounting a partial retrospective of digital work only, this coming week, February 10 – 15, screening 9 films, including two screenings of Coming to Terms.  Other films showing will be as follows:

Nas correntes de luz da Ria Formosa

6 Easy Pieces

Passages

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Homecoming

Over Here

Parable

Oui Non

Coming to Terms

For the program, dates and times, see:

http://www.cinemateca.pt/Programacao.aspx?ciclo=335&page=1

 

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