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Tag Archives: Parable

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!)

KATSU1_22smThe Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima

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Parable

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”?

the_uprising_peter_snowdon_02

Eschewing voice-over and explanatory 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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Upcoming at the North West Film Center will be two nights of screenings of my films, and, if we get 10 participants, a workshop.  Here’s the schedule:

NWFC, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland, Oregon
May 31

7:00 PM                Last Chants for a Slow Dance

9:00 PM               Parable

Workshop June 1-2  (To register call 503-221-1156)

June 3         

6:30  PM             La Lunga Ombra  (Italian with English subtitles)

8:15   PM            Imagens de uma cidade perdida  (minimal Portuguese with English subtitles)

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977)

Last Chants was made in 1977, for $3000, in and around Missoula, Montana.  It swiftly went to many film festivals at the time (Edinburgh, Toronto) and gained a strong reputation as a real “American Independent” film.  It’s listed now in the book 1000 Films You Must See Before You Die, and I get DVD orders from around the world thanks to that.  J Rosenbaum also lists it in his 100 Best Films Ever.  Here’s a review:

From the Chicago Reader  by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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My own favorite among Jon Jost’s experimental narratives, this chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana consists mainly of a series of virtuoso long takes. Jost’s highly original technique and Blair’s searing performance combine to create one of the most powerful and provocative psychological profiles of a motiveless killer to be found on film.

(For much more from Rosenbaum see this or for a UK view see this.)

Parable, (2007)

Parable was made in Nebraska, just as the Bush era was coming to a formal close.  It was done without a script, and as I told the actors, I didn’t want to know what I was doing, I wanted to dive into my psyche and see what came up.   It’s a sour film, but beautiful and weird and disturbing – the kind of film I want to make.  Here’s a review from Portland critic, Dennis Grunes:

PARABLE (Jon Jost, 2009)

Jon Jost’s films have always tended toward parable. Now this is the case again with Parable, the jewel of his Fuck Bush (He Fucked Us) Trilogy. (This overarching title is mine.) Homecoming (2003) homed in on the aftermath of a returning dead soldier; Over Here (2007), of a returning living soldier. Now Jost turns to the Bush-Cheney & Co. assault on individual rights and freedom, its devastation of these, and the linkage between this war at home, on the American citizenry, with the illusory nature of American hopes and promises predating Bush 43.   Jost’s parable is a perfect one: crystal-clear, yet elusive, mysterious, irreducible, unfathomable. It was videographed in Lincoln, Nebraska, in, as Jost puts it, “the Time of Bush.”

Like his Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977), one of whose violent aspects it brilliantly revives, the film proceeds by set-pieces, some of which are fashioned from Nature outdoors. A long one has two men supposedly in the front seat of a car, the supposed road rapidly visible in retreat through the back window. In reality the scene is artificial; facing us, the men’s images are scrunched and thinly outlined in black. Jim, who has just abandoned his wife, is driving the other man’s car. (The owner/passenger’s license has been suspended for drunk driving.) As country-western music plays on the radio, Jim extols the virtue of American freedom, identifying with it the road of possibilities before them. But this road is excluded from the frame; and even if were it visible, it would not be real, but illusory. The men themselves are reduced by the comic strip captions that reveal what they are thinking, each about the other and in response to what the other is saying. While Jim loved going to church as a boy, the owner/passenger did not. With sore irony this disparity binds them as they both end up singing the hymn “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” Jim, sentimentally, still is; his companion “ain’t marchin’ anymore.” Recall Tennyson’s poem “The Two Voices”? Could not these two chaps represent competing aspects of a single personality?

After Jim anally rapes and then shoots his companion in the brain point-blank, two other characters appear in the country. Their relationship, that of master/owner and slave, reminds one of Roman Polanski’s great The Fat and the Lean (1961). The androgynous slave–mime Rachael Le Valley gives a haunting performance–has his/her ankle bound by rope. (Sometimes an upper torso shot makes the slave-in-motion seem perfectly free; but he/she isn’t.) Updating the myth of Sisyphus, the owner is continually (though not continuously) unraveling a vast, serpentine pile of rope. When he is shown first engaged in this activity, we cannot see the rope; what we see is his upper body rhythmically “at it,” his screen-right shoulder undulating in and out of sunlight. In a later, parallel scene, the owner, indoors, appears to be having sex with someone whose moans we hear but who isn’t included in the frame. No; the owner is once again unraveling rope, while the moans emanate from the slave, who is masturbating in his/her space of confinement outdoors. The poor slave pays a terrible price for getting the owner all hot and bothered. We hear the sound of a cleaver as it is being sharpened in the bathroom as the slave stands upright in the tub.

A recurrent visual refrain is the owner’s eye through a peep-hole, looking in on the slave. The surveillance is creepy and frightening–but also, somehow, sad. I was reminded of Redon’s Cyclops. (At one point the owner at work at his pile of rope is shot through a tight-meshed screen, making him also appear to be a prisoner.) Another recurrent visual refrain is a tree or trees luminously alive in a breeze. This symbol of freedom in certain contexts ironically reflects on the lack of freedom that humans experience.

Jim eventually reappears and comes to a bad end. (The slave’s.)

Jost’s film concludes with a postscript indicting Bush and Cheney and other members of their administration. The collision between the preceding poetic parable and this straight shot of prose generates tremendous feeling.

  An American masterpiece.

La Lunga Ombra (The Long Shadow)(2006)

La Lunga Ombra was shot in Italy in a week or so, with a few modest “name” actresses and a retired model.  Totally improvised, it was my take on how 9/11 had impacted a certain class of intellectuals in Italy, and more broadly in Europe.  It cost me about $50 to make, thanks to the actresses footing the bill for my food.  Here’s a review by web cinema critic Acquarello.

On the surface, Jon Jost’s austere, somber, and uncompromisingly caustic improvisational rumination on the pall cast by the aftermath of 9/11 on the European consciousness, La Lunga Ombra seems an uncharacteristic departure from the intractable consciousness of middle America that pervade his early films – a post tragedy portrait that converges more towards claustrophobic, Bergmanesque angst rather than the transformative, post-apocalyptic, loss of innocence grief that its conceptual framework would seem to suggest. Loosely structured around the lives and mundane gestures of a trio of close knit friends – a literary figure (Eliana Miglio) (whose agency appears to be in the process of publishing a photo-essay journal on the faces of colonial-era terrorism) and a television producer (Simonetta Gianfelici) who retreat to a remote, off-season seaside cabin in order to tend to a mutual friend, Anna’s (Agnese Nano) emotional crisis and ensuing depression after being unexpectedly abandoned by her cruel (and perhaps abusive) husband – the film is also a provocative, broader exposition on the intangible, often corrosive collateral damage of psychological warfare and demoralization.

Intercutting the quotidian rituals of women in the stasis of their isolation (as they alternately attempt to console Anna by lending a sympathetic ear as she struggles to articulate her sense of loss, distracting her thoughts with idle conversation and whimsical parlor games, and encouraging her to reclaim her identity by returning to youthful pursuits) with textural and increasingly abstract archival footage from acts of terrorism, Jost reinforces an atmosphere of disjunction between characters and context that, in retrospect, perhaps reveals the underlying separation between action and consequence that pervades the film. A videotaped interview with a businessman recounting his experience while working in postwar Afghanistan alludes to this bifurcation when he describes his observation of the absence of everyday interaction between men and women in contemporary, post-Taliban Afghan society, a culturally enabled separation that leads to a certain level displaced intimacy not usually found in patriarchal cultures.  Conversely, the friends’ hermetic retreat also becomes a form of artificial segregation – this time, from the community of men – where their interaction is relegated to the margins (represented only as distant photographs hanging from walls or leafed through in books (uncoincidentally, as symbols of warfare or violence), or existing in the periphery as fire wood vendors, technicians, or photographers). However, inasmuch as instinctual regression serves as a defense mechanism against inflicted wounds, it also exposes the myopia of victimization. In a sense, this defensive retreat towards isolation – and in particular, a self-imposed isolation in order to reinforce a sense of solidarity and foster moral support – not only illustrates the core of human nature’s response to trauma, but also introduces the idea of the women’s private turmoil as a microcosm of post 9/11 consciousness where grief, loss, fear, and confusion have invariably given way, not only to isolationism, self-righteousness, and intransigence, but more importantly, to a self-perpetuating moral contamination and spiritual inertia that continues to fester long after the crisis has subsided. Moreover, by incorporating granular and pixellated images from the World Trade Center attack that appear increasingly impressionistic and decontextualized (paradoxically creating an inverse proportionality between the distance to the image and its resolution), the juxtaposition becomes a potent metaphor for the abstraction inherent in the psychology of terrorism, where effectiveness is measured, not in conveying graphic realism or maximized casualty, but in the manipulation of public sentiment through the global domination of media images. It is this quest for sensationalism and media occupation that is ultimately encapsulated by the controversial inclusion of a gruesome and desensitizing ritual execution footage taken in postwar Iraq that concludes the film – a grim and sobering reminder of society’s own implication in the creation of the spectacle, in the systematic corruption of its own soul.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida (2011)

Imagens is a meditative documentary, a kind of rumination on place and its time and spirit – the old parts of Lisbon, Portugal: Alfama, Graca, Castello.   It was screened at the Rotterdam festival, and was in competition at the Yamagata documentary festival in Japan in October 2011.  Here again is Dennis Grunes:

IMAGES OF A LOST CITY (Jon Jost, 2011)

“I think we are blind. Blind people who can see, but do not see.” ― José Saramago

Prolific Jon Jost’s videographed Imagens de uma cidade perdida, from Portugal and South Korea, now that I’ve seen it, replaces Lars von Trier’s Melancholia as my choice for the best “film” of 2011. Jost has written about “the Portuguese inclination towards fatalism and sadness,” their saudade. His portrait of modern Lisbon perhaps suggests this (although this would not have occurred to me had I not read Jost’s remark), but reflects as well its mirror-image, the sadness that derives from the gradual loss of everything to Time. Jost has dedicated Imagens to his young daughter, Clara. (For an explanation of the tragic situation involved, see my essay on his 2006 Passages.) Poetic and never poetical, it is a documentary that ferrets out glimpses of human and material disrepair. Only children at play and hands at work hammering pieces of stone into the sand to create an alley pathway—something for future feet—escape the pervasive tenor of loss, exhaustion, dilapidation. We witness people who are being, or feeling, left behind in a globalized city dropping from its historical and cultural stature into the Third World.

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Jost casts his camera behind and under places and structures, favoring peoples’ backs. (A mischievous boy, though, pops his face into the camera; we enjoy following his vivid shirt to the far back of the frame and again up front.) The framing divides and otherwise restricts exterior space. The opening static, long-held shot is behind a residential structure—a house, I think—and another, an apartment building, with an alley in between the two. Children play. On a bench, closer to us, her back towards us, a solitary older woman sits; at one point, the boy mockingly kisses her and is reprimanded, presumably by his mother. The woman sits and sits; is she observing, or simply staring into space? Is she as much remembering as living?—inside her head in the past, or in the moment? Eventually she is joined by a neighbor her age. They softly converse. What of life has slipped away from them? Both are nearly as stationary as the camera—so much so, in fact, that when the first woman, alone, reaches once to the ground, this motion of hers perplexes and unsettles.

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Jost’s video passes between substantiality and abstraction; sometimes, abstract images are conjoined with clear, immediate sounds, or substantial images are conjoined with abstract sounds, the echo-y or distant sounds of seeming voices of the past. Images also pass between color and monochrome. An overhead long-shot, seemingly black-and-white, studies children at play in the street. They resemble the blind, groping, evolutionary beetles in Robert Browning’s poem “Two in the Campagna.” Individually some of them may have futures; but, visually, vertically, the group of them, however young, are imagined lost to Time. In time, most everything we see and hear in this “film” becomes a metaphor.

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The governing one, because it evolves into a metaphor for the creative process that is generating Imagens, as well as a wider metaphor for the narrow, peripherally blind purposefulness of our laboring lives, shows masculine hands at work constructing the aforementioned pathway. The activity is “in the moment,” direct and immediate, except that the abstraction achieved by focusing only on hands almost feverishly busy amidst speechlessness and the alienating sound of hammer on stone, consigns it to something more elusive than a material dimension. Later, a dissolve restores the activity, now approaching completion, to our view. Both passages seem to be in black and white—until a glimpse of a worker’s blue jeans enters the frame: as quietly explosive a visual gesture as when the woman on the bench reached momentarily to the ground. Is it an illusion that the present seems capable of redeeming, however briefly, whatever has been lost to Time?

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For a long time, Imagens remains out of doors, in a way separating us, as well as the people themselves, from the stability of their lives. Eventually, the camera is indoors—for instance, at a window observing a municipal bus, as well as other traffic, outside. Darkness; covered with blinds, the window—or another window—is doubly mysterious. Jost applies distortion to create the illusion that the venetian blinds and window are undulating—breathing. It is a blind and labored—a mortal—breath. Sound, also, seems distant, ghostly. The occupants of the house or apartment, although it is their own struggle, are themselves blind to the struggle at the window.

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     Imagens de uma cidade perdida, outdoors again, closes on an older gentleman occupying a bench. The image startles for two reasons. This bench, on the street, isn’t shot from behind; we are given a lateral view. The solitary occupant, moreover, seems to be in the throes of anguish or terrible pain. Rather than sitting upright and facing forward, he is all over the bench, as though he were using it to hold himself together. We are seeing how he feels—for whatever cause. Jost doesn’t budge the camera, and we cannot help but see. Is it Portugal’s experience of fascism, which an earlier inserted passage addressed, what is weighing on this man? Is his health, like his city, in disrepair? We do not know, we will never know; but we cannot help but see.

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Lisbon is a city that has never meant anything to me. Now it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Tokyo street

Yesterday I finished up the 6 day workshop at the Film School of Tokyo.  Given that it was really just 4 days as a hole was knocked into the schedule by the Christmas 24/25th days making no room available those days, I’d say it came out very well. 13 participants, all of whom tried, and last night, showing the rushed little films they’d made during the last day, I was very pleased at how good they were, and how much they’d learned in so short a time.  I come back at the start of March to give a talk at the Athenee Francais, which is doing a partial retrospective, and the last thing we’ll show is new films these people make in the 2 months at hand.  I am optimistic most of them will make something worthy of showing in public.  Anyway a nice time, even if I am a bit tired in consequence.

While here, at the behest of Toshi Fujiwara, who translated for me, and has his new film No Man’s Zone showing in the upcoming Berlin Forum, I screened for just a few of us, my last finished film, Dissonance.   I had, in fact, never actually sat down and seen it – instead I’d set it up on the computer, rendered a file of it, and since the conceptual nature of it didn’t really require I look at it there, and once finished I didn’t take time to sit and look at it, I never did look at it.  On finally seeing it I guess I’d say it confirmed my thoughts about what it would do – ruffle your psychic feathers in some undefinable manner.

The first sequence lasts 50 minutes: 3 panels, per above, each a single take.  As I thought, it doesn’t get boring at all – instead it slips under your radar and plays with your subconscious.  The remaining sequences do the same:

So I guess it will join the growing list of my unseen cinema.  I sent this one, and previous ones, out to enough festivals, but for some reason they don’t accept them.  I confess they’re not what one would call “audience pleasers” and it seems increasingly that is what festivals, bowing to the dictates of commercial pressures, require.  Don’t want to challenge or upset our audience.  Recently, while looking for screenings in US for the coming spring, I suggested to programmer in the mid-west that I’d like to screen my Iraq war trilogy – Homecoming, Over Here, and Parable.   She nixed the idea, saying that whenever she’d screened films having anything to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, the warm butts had not shown up.   I guess even the so-called liberal kind of people who go to art-house type cinemas would rather keep their heads in the sand about what America does, and what that does to us.   Nice for the government that does these things in our name that the citizenry, acting like good Soviet ones, makes censoring unnecessary: they do it themselves.

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From Parable

At Toshi’s request also showed Parable, which I had not seen in quite a while – a few years perhaps – and it is one weird film too.  I guess in my dotage I am going off the deep end.

Homeless in Tokyo

Tomorrow back to Seoul, for a few more months.  Later perhaps some further ruminations on the rich texture of Tokyo, where a disembodied present collides with fragments of the past and sends signals of the future spiraling out.

Happy Gregorian Spin Around the Sun 2012 !