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After a very early morning bus ride from Jeonju to Gimpo airport in Seoul it was on to Tokyo, so that Marcella might have a little taste of Japan, and to do a workshop, again, at the Tokyo Film School.  While here seeing a lot,  including friends, and in a few days we’ll have a meeting with Matsumoto-san, who for some years now has been dangling the prospect of coming to here to teach a class which would result in a portrait of this massive and vastly interesting city.  Find out more then.

Meantime a bit of echo from Jeonju – this review posted on-line a few days ago.  Makes me wonder which projection they saw, the mangled first one, or the second using H264 file.  Or perhaps at the DVD library. Anyway glad it got some nice ink.

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But then having sent a note to Pedro Costa to say how much I liked his film Horse Money, he replied saying his French and German supporters were no more, and it was back to the real cheap film process for the next one.  Doesn’t matter how good you are, if it isn’t calculatedly “commercial,” in the present world it is deemed worthless.  What an ugly world.

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But it is our world.  Brutal – especially if you are black-skinned in America, or poor anywhere – and dishonest, as with Obama approving arctic drilling and trying to slip the TPP “trade deal” over at midnight, or other such things.  For the moment the neo-liberal-con ideology has appeared to triumph, and the world is suffocating under its grasp.  Though as with all such things, seeming “victory” tends towards over-reach, and there’ll soon be a comeuppance.  The current US weather gives a hint of this future….

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And then yesterday, in a BIC Camera store here, I saw the new Sony 4K Handicams, the larger one costing now about $4K.  Half the price of my XDcam a handful of years ago.   To add to the avalanche of unneeded imagery drowning the world.

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Yesterday, at the Jeonju festival, finally had a chance to see Pedro Costa’s latest film, Horse Money.  It follows on the heels (slow) of his Fontainhas trilogy, adding an extension, both in terms of characters, content, and cinematic aesthetics, to those three films.  For me the most striking aspect of these works – Ossos (1997, shot in 35mm film); In Vanda’s Room (2000, dv), Colossal Youth (2006, HD) – is the progression in the cinematic means, in which Costa steadily strips down to the utter essentials for his purposes.  He arrives at an elusive, poetic state in which the most common of conversation – shown in anything but “common” settings and utterance – take on a solemn gravity, such that the recitation of the data of a birth certificate, or the most commonplace of thoughts, become freighted with tragedy.

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He accomplishes this with a mix of imagery that echoes Zurbarán, Ribera and other Spanish painters under the sway of Caravaggio, as well as of Goya in his darker passages.

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Posed in darkened settings, shot in angles which isolate figures and monumentalize them, the light falls carefully upon them, seemingly “natural” light, but in this film clearly highly controlled and composed.  Coupled with his character’s readings of the words – Bressonian in their minimalist recitation – Costa extracts from the most humble of people a stunning and deep chord of humanity, in all its mundane misery and tragedy.  Horse Money, like any serious art, places a heavy demand on those who would get from it what lies in its depths.  A great work by a great artist.

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For further reviews and thoughts on this film, see these:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
 
http://cinema-scope.com/cinema-scope-magazine/tiff-2014-horse-money-pedro-costa-portugal-wavelengths/
 
http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/horse-money

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While here I’ve walked out of a few of the films I’ve gone to see (not many), and did manage to see, after a long wait, Wang Bin’s Man With No Name, which left me pondering a few matters, from how did he manage to get an OK from his subject, to was it a matter of the man appears a bit mentally short and perhaps did not quite understand what he was agreeing with?  Ethical matters.  While I liked the film I felt it missed out just a little, in part from aesthetic matters, like perhaps it would have been a bit more powerful if the contrast had been upped, and such technical/aesthetic matters as that.  I do think any Hollywood filmmaker intending to make a film about poor people might take a look to get an idea what real dirt looks like.

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Back in Jeonju for the festival, lost count how many times now.  The place burst from a small provincial college town I first saw in 1999, to a bustling busy city.  Likewise the festival grew, not long ago underwent a palace revolution in which the original director and programming teams all got shoved out the door or left of their own accord.  Two years ago one still felt the wobble, and personally, I felt the sudden rigid insistence of a DCP to show Coming to Terms.  I asked that they not do this, but they held firm and I shelled out $700 to get one made, at their insistence shifting 29 fps to 24 fps, inducing the totally predictable motion crap changing frame rates will cause.  This year they stuck with their DCP insistence and I went on-line and did it myself, with no means to check it out.  Sent it off a bit doubtful, hastily at their insistence.  They then didn’t look at it, and then having sat on it 2+ weeks, informed me there was a problem, though wasn’t too clear just what it might be.  It did include that there was text in the middle of film, which, as it happens there is.

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I offered to try again, though cautioning that as I have no means to check the package, I had no real reason to believe another go round would result in a proper one.  I did in fact render all the big files needed to do so but just a few days before leaving got word all was OK, and don’t bother making a new one.  So I stopped.  And then, on day of departure got an urgent request to bring new DCP!  Which I couldn’t.

Yesterday they screened the film, to a decently sized audience.  I did not stay to watch as somehow I knew carnage was in the works, and indeed, arriving for the post-screening Q&A, a friend of mine was exiting and told me the projection was a total unwatchable mess.

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Requested a few opening words, I explained the whole deal, and informed the audience they had not seen my film, but rather the result of a totally unnecessary and wrong-headed policy.  Strangely though many had clearly liked the film, despite the butchered version on offer and we had a long discussion.  I gave the URL and password to the audience so they could go on line and see what I’d actually made.

To compensate for this unhappy bit I went to see a former student of mine at Yonsei University, LEE Sangwoo, who had a film on that surely cost many multiples of my most costly.  It was, like him, a weird, vulgar, aggressive and really well made film titled SPEED.

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Today, after a not so wonderful exchange with the projection people, they let me know they would do tomorrow’s screening with the H264 file I’d included with the DCP, just in case….

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Unless there’s a real juicy enticement to bring me back, I think this is last time around for me to Jeonju.  And maybe the last time around making these kinds of films.  I kinda feel like the character up top after 52 years of this….

BV-dorisrefugeUpcoming screenings of Vera Brunner-Sung’s lovely film, Bella Vista, in Montana, as follows.  For a nice intelligent review see this.  If near, go see.
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HELENA, MT
14-21 May 2015, times TBA, Myrna Loy Center

CHOTEAU, MT
13 May 2015, 7PM, Roxy Theatre

PABLO, MT
30 April 2015, 7PM, Salish Kootenai College, Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theater

KALISPELL, MT
29 April 2015, 7PM, The Museum at Central School

MILES CITY, MT
24 April 2015, 6:30PM, Miles College Library

BILLINGS, MT
23 April 2015, 6PM, Yellowstone Art Museum (Murdock Gallery)

BOZEMAN, MT
16 April 2015, 7PM, Montana State University, Gaines Hall #101

BUTTE, MT
15 April 2015, 7PM, Imagine Butte Resources

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Roxanne Rogers and Blake Eckard

For what seems like for the umpteenth time, headed to the Jeonju Film Festival in South Korea, this time invited to screen They Had It Coming.   This will give us a chance to see some friends, former students, have another taste of delicious Korean cuisine, and see how much things changed in two years.  Don’t yet know the screening dates, but was looking like May 3 and 5.  It’ll be the first public screening, though given that it is heavily talky and quite “American” I wonder what the largely Korean audience will make of it – a real subtitle marathon?   Not going to exactly provide a good reading of how the film works on viewers.

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Set in Blake Eckard’s home town of Stanberry MO (pop. 1185), we shot in two phases, which, if it were up to my brain to sort it out, I couldn’t say just when.  I think spring and then autumn, 2014 or was it 2013?  Dang if I remember.   While in Stanberry shooting and acting in Blake’s film Ghosts of Empire Prairie, he told us a handful of local stories, embellished in his story-teller manner, and finding these just too juicy to pass up, I asked if maybe we could spin a film around them and him.  Such was the genesis of They Had It Coming.  I tossed in a few things that had been lingering in my files for 20 or 30 years, we each wrote a bit more, and bang, we had a film.  Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Roxanne Rogers and Tyler Messner came in, and in pretty quick order (less than a week?)  it was mostly shot, in Blake’s mother, Susan’s, kitchen! Yep, that was the studio space where nearly 2/3rds of it was shot with window light and a black cloth.  While I was off on a trip to Europe Blake used my camera to snare shots (above) of locals when they came into Eckard’s Hardware to shop. Roxanne’s sister Sandy let me use one of her songs, I tossed in a few of my own, Stephen Taylor’s dad, Larry, lent his voice for a smooth TV announcer (he used to be anchor in Boise Idaho news program), and after a short bit of editing on CS6, out popped the film.  My thanks to everyone who helped.

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I sent an early cut out last summer, accruing a list of festival “no’s,” and getting the suggestion from Mark Rappaport, that I should change my title, which had been “True Gentry County Stories” to one of the lines in the film.  I took his advice. They Had It Coming, while itself being a fiction, is simultaneously a kind of tone-poem/essay on the process of “story-telling.”  In my view a rather strange little beast it is, that for some reason gathers towards the end to provide a visceral punch of a conclusion.  I don’t really understand quite how it manages to do so – adamantly skirting all the usual mechanisms used – but it does.

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Blake and Tyler Messner

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Arianne Martin and Blake

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Upcoming screenings include Coming to Terms in Houston TX, April 23, at the Blaffer Art Museum, and then on May 11 in Austin at the Austin Film Society; Last Chants for a Slow Dance will screen May 10 at AFS.  And something is cooking for Phoenix AZ, just when up in the air.  As is life….

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Yesterday I went with Marcella and comps to MoMA’s film series, Documentary Fortnight, invited by friend Peter Snowdon, to see a new short film of his, We Are Going To Record.  This was a nice piece, shot by his collaborator, Juan Javier Rivera, in a small village in the Peruvian Andes, where a large copper company has its sights on local deposits.  Thwarted by lack of adequate funding to make the film they intended, Peter culled many hours of footage to make this droll commentary, which it is suggested is a metaphor for the indigenous people’s struggles with the copper company.  I read it rather otherwise.  The shots, in a small improvised studio are all static, of a handful of people brought in to record their memories, some music, some poems.  What we see is the process of professional sound recordists from Lima setting up.  We never hear a note played, the intended words said.  Rather we get the complete failure of those doing the recording to be conscious of themselves and what they are putting these people through.  As the film, 11 minutes long, plays out, it becomes a rather comic collision of cultural and social mores.  Discreet, funny, sad, it has a hint of Pedro Costa in the simplicity with which it is done, though while the film itself is respectful of those who were to be recorded, it shows the curious failure of the pro’s to respect the natives.  Very nice film.

The rest of the program was for me a surprising melange of near amateur “experimentalism” of a quality that I was surprised was being show in the hallowed space of MoMA, and struck me as the kind of things I get from students, and a ghastly slickness in a 3D portrait of a prison in Norway, part of a Wim Wenders conceived package of films about “the souls of buildings.”  This one was slick, the 3D meaningless and irritating, the voice-over grating, and the over-all thrust utterly wrong-headed.  The audience responded with tepid applause.

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There was though one film which was quite good, Controversies, by Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan McKenna.  Using archival tapes from a famed radio show, McKenna drolly shoots, in gorgeously done extreme wide-screen b&w, portraits of people in their homes, and some out of doors, tossing in a few actors (naked), and cityscapes, as we listen to comments phoned in for the show.

 

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Owing a touch to Diane Arbus, and to Guy Maddin, McKenna makes a somewhat surreal and down-beat portrait of his home town.  A bit on internet research suggests there is a whole school of Winnipeg filmmakers working in a vaguely similar tone.

In both cases, if chance let’s you have a look at these, I suggest you grab it.

On another level, in the NY Times read a puff piece on a Sundance favorite, so they said, English filmmaker Yann Demange.  In it he is quoted this way:

“I saw images of the streets, and it was something like Cormac McCarthy’s descriptions in the book ‘The Road,’ ” he said. Sidewalks were torn up; burning cars filled the air with black smoke. “It looked like the apocalypse.” His film, he resolved in salty terms, would treat the scene as a moody thriller. “Every frame,” he said, “should have an element of mystery to it.”

The production still posted with the article, from his film about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, looked like this:

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Boy, look at that grit, the uniform just out of the costume department, not worn 3 hours.  And the spic and span kid.  Yep, movie folks really know what real is.  Like the glossied up botox brigade on last night’s spectacle in Hollywood.

 

 

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Down by train from NYC, arrived to a frozen Philadelphia, a state joined by many others, dipping deep down into South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and other places where a drop to freezing was a rarity, but now our wobbly New World Weather has let things plunge to zero F.   Brittle cold, enough to force one indoors – so no visits to historical patriotic sites here in The City of Brotherly Love, which for shooting would have been nice.  However a stroll to downtown was enough to put the kabosh on further such things.  Marcella’s Southern Italian mien turns mean as her toes turn to ice.

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Was here for a screening of Muri Romani, tucked into a series of films shown at the International House Philadelphia, the de facto cinematec here, and which I’ve visited a number of times before, going back to Linda Blackaby’s time. For some time now it’s been programmed by Robert Cargni-Mitchell, who greeted us and spilled out a long and fascinating personal history, perhaps prompted by the Italian blood running in Marcella’s veins.

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After a long little talk with a “fan” (had seen Last Chants for a Slow Dance, which had me wondering if such a drastic shift as the film he was about to see would change things), was introduced and cautioned the audience of 30 or so – a number which given the weather and my sense of a much diminished existence, seemed large – about the nature of the coming film.  I had anticipated 5 or 10.    I checked the first few minutes and went to do internet stuff while it screened.  Having given the viewers a spiel that when I had finished making this film I concluded I’d finally made a work that would clean out any cinema, and was in its first public screening at the Jeonju festival much surprised to find that it didn’t work that way, I was maybe not quite so surprised to find virtually all the viewers were still there when I came back at the end.  I was told a couple left.  Ensued a long and interesting discussion, at the end of which a handful of people who’d seen clearly a number of my films, who said they loved this one, came up to talk more and bought some DVDs of other films.   The kind of thing which tempts one to slog on.

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Over a lunch the next day had a nice long talk with Peter Rose, commiserating over a compendium of seeming geezer complaints – about the dumbed-down state of students today (not their fault, but the fault of a purposeful mal-education imposed by our Market Economy system), and the fractured curiousity that seems to be prevalent among them; 3D (which he is working in these days); the demise of “the circuit” – that tiny little space where one’s work could be shown, and, if not a living, at least something could be “earned” for that work.  The places shrink, as has the modest pay, along with the audiences.  The grave beacons, so it seems.  Along with these parochial matters, we slipped in broader interests dancing around the state of the nation and the world.  The vista, matching the brittle weather outside, was grim.

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The White Dog Restaurant

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A few very modest matters came along to underline the precariousness of my existence.  Like going out to a recommended place to have some cold-weather soup, so following Robert’s suggestion we went down the arctic street to The White Dog, which on entering clearly smacked of fancy, and ordered ourselves two soups.  Marcella also had a plate of 5 oysters, nada to drink except nature’s nice water.  Leaving = minus $40, which I can indulge in once in a long while, but….   Ditto the “let’s have a coffee” at which the tab ends at $10 for two.  Marcella immediately noted that in Italy better coffee and cornetto would have come to 3 Euro.  As we hit the road in the coming month, we’ll have to tighten our belts.

In a few more hours, back to NYC for another week and then, weather permitting, on the road.   Hope to come back to shoot some when things are more amenable.  And Robert has invited us back for a screening or two, likely in autumn.  And may show a few other films in the interim.

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Here’s a note, just in, from Bill Ackerman, the fellow I talked with before the screening and about whom I wondered how he’d take the shift from Last Chants to Muri Romani.  Posted here with his OK.

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Hello Jon, You asked me to email you with my thoughts on MURI ROMANI. Well, I have to say, it took a while for my mind to stop racing, to settle into the trance that’s intended. And that lead me to reflect on how one’s mind can do that. I also noticed how often I thought I *almost* saw specific images and shapes in the patterns, and thought how that must be how many of us are wired. At some point, music drifted into the soundtrack, maybe from a passing car, and it occurred to me how different, how much more conventional, the film might be if it featured a musical score. I listen to a lot of different types of music, and ambient/experimental music is one I return to at different points in my life. MURI ROMANI reminded me of ambient music moreso than, say, LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE. Your comments about the sound being too loud and the dissolves coming a little too quickly make sense to me. I loved TANTI AUGURI too! I’m trying to imagine how it might have played without your explanation of how it was created, and I’m not sure how it would work at a much greater length, but it served as a nice opening act to the main feature. Best, Bill

And, purely by coincidence of the nicest kind, is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci, that I bumped into quickly scanning FB posts yesterday.

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colors. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles and figures in action, strange faces and costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose clanging you can find every name and word that you can imagine. Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of wars, the battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks (Trattato della Pittura, Codex Urbinas)
via Homilius
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Here’s a little film made a few days ago with Stephen Lack, in Upstate New York, while snow fell.  Steve wrote the monologue some years back, and it lingered in his mind, something as often happens with me. For example, the opening monologue of They Had It Coming is something I wrote 20 years or more ago, and when conceiving the film, it drifted forward in my mind.  Steve and I seem similar in this process.  We also both have filthy minds.

For this he did a little re-write to fit the mode of presentation and he knocked it out in one take.  I did little aside from setting the shot, and, if you look carefully, maybe you will see what I did on the computer to intensify it.  Steve and I are thinking of some further things along this line, and I have an essay film cooking in the back of my cranium, which would use his drawings and thoughts.

https://vimeo.com/119403439

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One of the virtues of the otherwise costly nature of New York City (or many other such places) is that one can see things elsewhere unavailable. And so the other evening I went with Daniel Levine and John Murphy to go see Godard’s latest film, at the Waverly IFC.  Plunking down my $14 ($4 senior discount), grabbed my glasses and went in.

Saying “farewell to language” Jean-luc Godard pulls out all the stops, and within his particular small-bandwidth sandbox of ideas, cinematic tropes, conceits, and toys, he seemingly also says farewell to us. Adieu au Langage has the air of a terminal note, the signal of an old man, stogie permanently affixed in his mouth, playfully leaving his audience in the dust, to which he’s soon to be consigned, though film world rumor has it he is busy on another film. Here Godard as collagist deploys his cubist methods across the board: visually, aurally, spatially, intellectually. He leaves nothing at his disposal untouched by his simultaneous dyspeptic misanthropic cynicism and his joyful childlike play with his art. The combination is disarming, and begets a range of responses from “pretentious garbage” to “work of genius.”

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a322f23_adieuaulangage“the ones without imagination take refuge in reality “

In his late period manner he releases a barrage of text, passages of lush music clipped off in mid-phrase, disorienting imagery, the customary naked young women’s bodies (men too, somewhat older), binary philosophical aphorisms, and his dog snooping around, pooping, and myriad other things delivered in rapid fire pacing, at times tongue deeply in cheek, at times profoundly “serious”.  Adieu au Langage is a delirious, defiantly “unprofessional” home-movie, which cocks his cigar-smoke ringed nose at the narrow conventions of what most people think of as “cinema.” The play with 3D is particularly striking on many fronts, from the minimalist compositions that exaggerate 3D’s spatial qualities, to distended angles that make bodies seem not connected to themselves, to the two shots in which he pans one of the binary cameras to simultaneously shift from 3D to superimposed 2D.  The second of these is much better for being less obvious – from what I have read many of our critics seem not to have even seen it.   He’s been doing this kind of thing since Breathless, which of course in these days now seems almost conventional itself as its strategies long since entered the now-normal grammar of the movies. One doubts though that much of his play in this latest (last?) work will have legs outside the avant-garde/experimental world (from which he has heavily borrowed here).

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To see an old pro do his shtick with such consummate fun, is, for those those of us with a taste for such things, a profound pleasure. For myself I have found most of Godard’s work of the last few decades (yes, counting in decades now) an indigestible slog, but here there is an energy, a “joyful wisdom” that pervades those same old tropes he has deployed from the outset.  An on-slaught of quotes from famed intellectuals are played upon, binary oppositions are ping-ponged (male/female; birth/death, 3D/not3D) as Godard weaves an intricate mesh of associations in a manner more music and/or poetry than the usual ho hum of narrative cinema.  Though he persists on holding onto the hint of a slender thread of story, of theatrical devices, of boy-meets-girl, though the thread is so thread-worn that to find it takes far more than it is worth.  Like that other artist on the film radar of the moment, Turner, Godard seems unable to just let go and surrender to cinematic abstraction.  Better to skip trying to follow any “story” and simply let the images jar one’s eyes and mind, along with the willfully jagged sound that shifts left/right/stereo/silence/loud/quiet, and where the taboo’s of the professional cinema are ignored and windpops abound, electrical crackles slip through, a shot’s actor’s voice breaks up from digital mismanagement.  And this time around the tid-bits of philosophic meandering actually manage in this grand poetic gesamtskunstwerk to acquire a modest force and poignancy.  Perhaps it is the approaching end of life which coaxes this result, but here passion does indeed come rushing through the clutter of the artist’s looped obsessions.

In the latter half of the film the energy begins to run out, and Jean-luc shifts the burden onto his dog Roxy.  We see Roxy nosing around here and there, in shots less riven with creative spark, and we get a bit of pooch philosophizing, with the assertion that “dogs are the only animal that love others more than themselves.”  As with many Godardian aphorisms, from “cinema is the truth 24 times a second,” on, this one is snappy and quotable and simultaneously will not bear much examination.  It ain’t true, but that has never deterred Jean-luc from coining a snappy phrase.  While Roxy seems a nice enough dog – and I like dogs a lot – he isn’t quite hefty enough an artist himself to carry Godard’s weight on his back.   While lightly peppered with further mental meanderings, the last 15 or 20 minutes of the film begins to sag, and I ponder whether its brief 70 minutes seemed much longer owing the the opening half’s dense filling that required a sprint to absorb, or whether it was the latter part which left one with a sense of diminishing returns, which did so.  Or more likely the combination of the two.

But, if you can, my recommendation is go see.

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Notes:

“Godard was ostensibly attracted to 3-D because it remains unencumbered by any rules to speak of, but he eventually breaks its one implicit rule by drawing attention to the separation between the right-eye and left-eye images, most spectacularly in a mind-bending shot that I have yet to fully comprehend on a technical level (believe me: you’ll know it when you see it) and that actually drew a round of applause mid-screening in Cannes.”   Kent Jones, Director NY Film Festival

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Uh, there is nothing difficult about comprehending how the shot was done if you have even the most basic understanding of how 3D is shot: one of the two cameras panned, simple as that. Then it panned back.

Here’s a list of writings on the films I found of interest :

http://cinema-scope.com/spotlight/adieu-au-langage-jean-luc-godard-france/

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/11/13/adieu_au_langage_is_a_doggone_absurd_godard_satire_review.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2014/10/adieu_a_langage_jean_luc_godard_s_goodbye_to_language_in_3_d_reviewed.html

http://theflichttp://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Jean-Luc_Godard.dokeringwall.blogspot.pt/2015/01/adieu-au-langage-goodbye-to-language.html

https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/cannes-2014-jean-luc-godards-adieu-au-langage

http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/2015/goodbye-to-language-adieu-au-langage-2014/23566/

And here, an interview with JLG himself, talking on technical and other matters:

http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Jean-Luc_Godard.do

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And, being in New York, serendipitously I was here for the opening of an exhibition of three “video installations” by James Benning and Peter Hutton, at the Miguel Abreu Gallery on the lower East Side (88 Eldridge St, and 36 Orchard St), which has rapidly been gentrified.  Orchard Street, where it is, is now lined with fancy-ass galleries.   I went for the opening so I could see both of them – hadn’t seen James since shooting Coming to Terms in August 2012, and Peter since maybe 2004 or 5.  The opening was the usual buzz of people, drinks in hand, saying “haven’t seen you since….” and other such things.  It was pretty full when I passed by and I am sure more than 300 showed up to socialize, get some free beer, and “network.”  Some actually sat to watch, though under adverse circumstances: openings are not a time to look at art.   I suspect most of those who materialized did not go back to see the work.   But I did.

Benning’s piece, Tulare Road, is three images from almost exactly the same place, as above, in a desolate valley in the central valley in California.  3 different days, one clouded as above, one foggy, and one with broken clouds.  The triple images make a broad sweep on the wall.  A car goes by in one; a lapse; truck in another.  Occasionally two go by on separate screens.  Owing to the atmospherics the sounds are slightly different.  The light scarcely changes under the gray cover.  I didn’t time but it is 20-30 minutes.  I sat through the whole thing.  I can’t say it was worth the time.  One the other hand I have sat through Jame’s film RUHR, which has a one hour static shot of a steel mill facility to end it, and that was worth the time.  Hit and miss.  This one missed me by a mile.  (I’d seen a glimpse of it 3 years ago I think in Jeonju where it was very poorly presented, with noise from adjacent things competing and light killing the image.)

HUTTON TRIP

Peter Hutton’s At Sea

Peter had two pieces, one which I had seen in early editing back in 2004 or so – At Sea.   It then showed at the Whitney Biennial, and went on to garner lots of praise in the art world.  When I saw it way back 10 years ago, I was far from impressed.  Whether as a film on a single screen, or an “installation” in “3 channel” format, this just does not work for me.  At risk of a friendship – I hope not – I must say I find the imagery here to be, at best, pedestrian (the only sequence approaching his earlier work is where some Indian ship-breakers approach his camera).  Compared to his Images of Asian Music (much shot on shipboard), or his many amazing earlier films (July ’71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon; New York Portraits 1&2, Lodz Symphony, Budapest Portrait, and others), At Sea is simply DOD.    Having it on 3 screens does nothing to enhance it.  The other film/installation, 3 Landscapes, suffers similarly.  3 places – Detroit, some place in the Middle East with people putting salt on camels, and then some farming area, I don’t know where.  Lackadaisical images strung together in something I could hardly call editing.  Like watching rushes from a just-competent student.

I know these are harsh words, and I know some differ with me.  But I know Peter’s early work, which was magic.  (I wrote for publication, the AFI Magazine, about his work in the early 70’s.)  And I know this recent work simply is not.  With my critic hat on, I wonder and think it was, in part, the shift from the Tri-X black and white stock, which he used to extraordinary effect (and hardly doing so properly – with my filmmaker hat on I know he drastically underexposed – 1.5 to 2.5 stops – to get a rich, dense array of very grainy grays, and an eye for what visuals would dance beautifully with the dance of the granularity and palette of black to gray), which accounts for the sudden change.  The magic relation to his medium is utterly absent in the color films, as is any sense of playing/using the qualities of those film stocks he uses now to secure some similar qualities.

indexNew York Portrait

As a filmmaker I am very aware of how critics see the world, and how summary their judgements tend to be.  I think in my life, since around 1995 or so, I’ve simply been written off, mostly because almost all previously sort-of supportive critics simply haven’t seen my work since I shifted from 35mm to DV.  This has in part to do with some major shifts in our total social cultural envelope in which Market Economy Neo-Liberal/Con values have come to dominate our society.  In practical terms this means if one’s work (as a filmmaker) isn’t opening in a commercial cinema, and isn’t concerned with making as much money as possible, one won’t get reviewed.  Twenty years ago had I come to New York, to show in some non-commercial place, I likely would have gotten a review from a handful of critics – Jim Hoberman, Amy Taubin, Manohla Dargis, or whomever was doing the off-Hwd reviews for the NY Times, or even in the NY Post.  Today, nada.  Nothing.  (This is, whether one agrees or not, an ideological and political matter – see this recent blog post: on-becoming-a-non-person-part-1/ .)

In turn, one simply is written off.  In effect one doesn’t exist.   In a similar manner, there is a tendency, when and if one’s work is actually seen, to judge, like Hollywood, by the last work – was it good, worse, etc.  Is the artist failing in his dotage?   There is the underlying thought that one should on every outing make a masterpiece.  And if not, holy hell descends. One is washed up, the creative well has run dry, and crap like that – and this is bad and reflects badly on the artist.  There seems almost no consciousness that art-making is very much an organic matter, and it is not a mechanical matter with an on/off button.  Some artists make something brilliant when they are 20 (Rimbaud) and shortly disappear; some make good things and get better, and then dwindle out; some do good work when young and persist deep into old age; some do nothing of note, and at 80 do something amazing.  It runs the full spectrum.  And there is nothing whatsoever bad/shameful to burn out, whether at 25 or 85, and hang up the spurs.   What, perhaps, is bad, is the pressure that exists to continue to produce when the spark is no longer there, and perhaps to fail to see that one’s time is done.

For myself, when that time comes, I’ll write the creative obit myself and be done.  Ironically given my recent work, I’d have to say I’m doing some of my best work, hands-down, in a world which could care less because that work isn’t calculated to make the loudest noise or the biggest buck.  C’est la fkn vie.

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As the matter of income disparity sweeps not only the US, but the world, I post here a nice, concise little film, made by James Schamus, film producer, professor at Columbia University, and general real smart guy.  His heart is also in the right place.

 

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Interview with James

While most people seem to think money is something real, it is in fact merely a social construct, an abstract device to make exchanging things more easily done than physical barter.  Being abstract though, it opens a vast loop-hole into which many a con-man has walked, from the shark on the street corner, on up to the CEO of our biggest “most respected” banks.  James explains in his film some of this, and if you read between the lines just a bit, you can see the way this all works.    And you can see that your “trust” is woefully misplaced.

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 DSC01741MAS01reg__23758_zoomWhen the bottom of this vast scam drops out, and you are penniless, and suddenly “the economy” doesn’t work, and the militarized police force is brought in to suppress you, just don’t be surprised.  The writing was on the wall, clear as day.  Just as with the consequences of human-induced global warming.  The Piper is here.

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