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September 2006 Archives

September 30, 2006

The Go Master, 2006

go_master.gifIn distilling the life of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Go players in history, Wu Qingyuan (Chen Chan) - an ethnic Chinese who immigrated to Japan (where he is referred to by the Japanese reading of his name, Go Seigen) in order to continue his pursuit of the game through officially sponsored tournaments into a few essential moments in the now nonagenarian's lifelong search for enlightenment - it is interesting to see Tian Zhuangzhuang's cinema converge towards the aesthetics of Hou Hsiao-hsien. Presenting a series of essential, elliptical, and seemingly alienated, self-encapsulated episodes that characterize, not only the shape of history (and in particular, the protracted conflict between China and Japan as a result of the conflict for sovereignty over Taiwan, the occupation of Manchuria, the Pacific War, and the rise of Communism), but also the psychological isolation imposed by the uncertainty of world events and further complicated by the problems of assimilation into a monoethnic adopted culture, The Go Master is more impressionistic than biographical, allusive than anecdotal (although certain particularly illuminating episodes that reveal Wu's phenomenal concentration and character are recreated, such as an infamous match for the title of Go Master in which Wu was so engrossed in the game the he was completely oblivious of his opponent, Kitani Minoru's infirmity from a nosebleed and subsequent collapse; his marriage to a Japanese woman, Nakahara Kazuko; his brief association with the controversial Buddhist sect, Jiu Kyou; and the symptomatic after-effects of nerve damage sustained from a pedestrian accident that cut short Wu's dominance over the game). By framing Wu's own words excerpted from his autobiography as written quotation chapter markers - a visual aesthetic reminiscent of the interstitial pillow word structures of Hou's A City of Sadness - Tian elegantly and understatedly illustrates the thematic context of humanity as impotent witnesses to forces beyond their control, a humble, yet remarkable life lived in the periphery of turbulent human history, ennobled, not by victories, but by the everyday struggle and integrity of the perpetual quest.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, New York Film Festival

September 29, 2006

Woman on the Beach, 2006

woman_beach.gifAfter observing Hong Sang-soo's previous three films bucolically retreating within a predictable safety zone of recurring preoccupations and reflexive encounters illustrated through linear narratives in somewhat uncharacteristic fashion following what had been his most structurally experimental film to date, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, it is refreshing to see Hong crystallize his now familiar flat structured, mirroring triangulations on the ephemeral nature of human desire with Woman on the Beach. Opening to the seemingly innocuous, but incisive image of film director, Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) unrelentingly goading his reluctant friend (and more importantly, car owner), Won Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) into taking a road trip to a quiet, off-season seaside resort in Shinduri Beach (and who, in turn, agrees to accompany him under the provision that his girlfriend, an international traveler and composer named Kim Moon-sook (Ko Hyeon-geong) also come along for the impromptu getaway), in order to stimulate his creativity after struggling with writer's block on a long overdue script, Hong implicitly reveals not only the selfishness and insecurity, but also the resigned acquiescence that shape and define Joong-rae and Chang-wook's character. Alternately distracted from his work by sheer procrastination and indiscipline, as well as squandering his time by vying for the affections of the seemingly receptive Moon-sook, Joong-rae is an inscrutable paradox: seemingly thriving in his self-inflicted distraction by perversely deriving inspiration from the intoxicating chaos of romantic pursuit, yet already mourning the inevitable disappointment of the conquest, when the bliss of anonymous encounter and transitory connection with a new lover soon give way to the insecurity, paralysis, and mundane reality of emotionally investing in a fledgling, potential relationship. Chronicling Joong-rae's dysfunctional creative process through the unresolved wreckage of his messy, unraveling, and patternistically recurring romantic entanglements - a theme that coalesces in Joong-rae's diagrammatic explication of his theory on the interpenetration between memory and dimensional knowledge - Hong transcends his now familiar portraitures of flawed, self-indulgent men, obliging, but elusive women, and failed intimacy by endowing his characters with the possibility of self-revelation even in the midst of human frailty, allowing them to find their way to break free from their self-inflicted, ensnaring sand dunes towards the liberating landscape of personal closure.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 29, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, New York Film Festival

September 28, 2006

The Queen, 2006

queen.gifThe Queen transforms the morbid spectacle surrounding Diana's tragic death in the summer of 1997 into a trenchant, elegant, and compelling exposition into the nefarious role of the media as both creator (and self-generator) of news and manipulator of public sentiment. By juxtaposing Diana's death within the framework of Tony Blair's recent election to the office of prime minister under the Labor Party platform of initiating a wide-range of sweeping reform ever to be instituted in the country after decades of Tory government (with visibly lackluster results), filmmaker Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan contextualize the atmosphere as a symptom of a broader social angst - a synchronicity that intrinsically transformed a family's private grief into a disoriented public's search for leadership and direction in a time of crisis. It is within this context of media complicity that Frear's strategy to incorporate substantial scenes of archival footage, coupled with a distanced, almost anecdotal reenactment of the infamous paparazzi chase on the streets of Paris that led to the tragic accident, proves especially incisive in illustrating the media's ensuing, self-perpetuated escalation of the episode into a blunt, sensationalistic, and incendiary public referendum to re-evaluate the relevance of the monarchy towards the end of the twentieth century. What is perhaps most commendable about the film is the remarkable integrity intrinsic in the cast and crew's complex and dimensional portrayal of the royal family - and in particular, Queen Elizabeth II (in a pitch-perfect performance by Helen Mirren) - as well intentioned, sensitive, but humanly flawed and woefully paralyzed by the rigid insularity and protocols of its venerated institution: caught in the tide of a self-fueled media circus, baffled by the public idealization of "the people's princess" who had privately challenged the very institution that she implicitly agreed to serve, and driven into a stoic silence in keeping with the dignity of the crown, but at odds with the increasing (and perhaps unjustifiable) public sentiment to lionize her. It is interesting to note that in serving as the unofficial mediator between the queen and the grieving public, Frears illustrates the conservatization of Tony Blair, a nascent glimpse of his increasing departure from the ideals of radical reform and towards the inertia and morass of politics as usual (an ideological realignment that seems particularly stark within the context of post 9/11 global politics).

Posted by acquarello on Sep 28, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, New York Film Festival

Mafioso, 1962

mafioso.gifAlberto Lattuada irreverently - and uproariously - explores the nurtured regionalisms, preconceptions, and ethnic stereotypes between the more progressive, industrialized north and more conservative, old world traditions of southern Italy - and in particular, Sicily - that continue to pervade and shape the social attitudes between the two divergent cultures of contemporary Italian society in his underseen comic masterpiece, Mafioso. Told from the perspective of a well-intentioned, if perhaps too obliging and gullible Antonio Badalamenti (played impeccably by the great comic actor Alberto Sordi), an automobile assembly factory foreman and efficiency expert who moved from his beloved village in rural Sicily to seek his fortune in the north, the film throws caution to the wind with its delirious fusion of pitch black satire, gangster film parody, and comedy of manners, as the proud native son decides to bring his young, fair haired (and inescapably northern), visibly bemused family to his beloved ancestral home and into the crosshairs of an equally bemused and unsuspecting rustic town still lorded over in hushed tones by a reclusive godfather and town benefactor named Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio) whose vast influence seems to ripple even to the distant shores of Trenton, New Jersey. Arriving giddily at the town square and into the surreal view of a funeral service from the window of a taxicab - an apparent gunshot victim for defying the will of (and consequently falling out favor with) Don Vincenzo - Antonio's homecoming soon becomes as riddled with as many complications as the pock-marked, tell-tale bullet holed walls that line the town when his wife's modern manners and unfamiliarity with local customs reduce the normally animated household into retreated silence and polite evasion, and Don Vincenzo decides to call in a personal favor in return for enabling Antonio's success on the mainland. Still as incisive and relevant forty years since its initial release, Mafioso continues to provoke and entertain in equal measures by casting its critical eye into the Sicilian code of honor to create an audacious, sharp-witted, and perversely funny satire on honor-bound duty and hypocritical tradition.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 28, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Alberto Lattuada, New York Film Festival

September 25, 2006

Views from the Avant-Garde: Saul Levine

Note to Pati, 1969

Something of an aesthetic convergence between the diaristic autobiographies and quotidian images of Jonas Mekas (as illustrated in his Diaries, Notes and Sketches chronicles) and the hand crafted dissonance and material violence of Stan Brakhage, Note to Pati presents a seemingly typical winter scene - the day after a snow storm as a suburban neighborhood digs out from under the accumulation and children make the most of an unexpected day off from school by playing in their winter wonderland. Saul Levine's images are diffused, faded, and ephemeral, made all the more dissociating by Levine's disorienting rapid cut editing, restless and twitching camerawork, and destabilized, quick pan sequences - an evocation of a transitory and wide-eyed innocence.

Note to Coleen, 1974

An encounter with a sidewalk portrait artist serves as the inspiration for Levine's Note to Coleen, a whimsical, playful, and frenetic composition on duality and mirror images. Levine creates a curious sense of musicality through the intrinsic rhythm of the silent images. Presenting a rhythmic juxtaposition of quickly intercut, near subliminal replicating images capturing the posed subject (often of a seated woman) and the corresponding likeness captured by work-in-process sketch portrait, and edited through the visible vestigial materiality of the physical mechanical film splices (a recurring aesthetic in Levine's cinema), the alternating images become an animated stasis, a stimulus of peripheral curiosity, a reflection of the iterative observation intrinsic in the process of creation.

New Left Note, 1968-1982

saul_levine.gifSaul Levine incisively distills the whirlwind of domestic protest, social revolution, and increasing public disillusionment over a protracted, bloody, and inextricable Vietnam War that defined the atmosphere of late 60s American culture in his magnum opus, New Left Note, a film inspired in part by his tenure as editor for - and complemented the ideals of - the progressive Students for a Democratic Society publication, New Left Notes. Levine juxtaposes seemingly irresolvable images of inertia and action, isolation and solidarity that reinforce his penchant for aesthetic hyperactivity - rapid intercutting, disorienting quick pans, and looping, reinforcing imagery - with sequences composed of visually longer takes and more stable, implicitly voyeuristic gaze that subvert the stasis of the images (and made all the more jarring in their discontinuity through the visibility of cement splices): initially, of an impromptu, distanciated metafilm (a soundless, low-resolution recording of Richard Nixon televised broadcast speech), then subsequently, an intimate, occasionally unfocused, and borderline transgressive image of the off-screen filmmaker and a resting young woman in varying stages of physical intimacy while traveling on a bus (perhaps returning from a protest march on Washington DC). In contrast to the adrenalized saturation of his autobiographical sketch, Note to ... films, Levine's images in New Left Notes reflect a more deliberate (and deliberative) approach to filmmaking as a tool for social change - a visceral chronicle of creative expression and cultural consciousness.

The Big Stick/An Old Reel, 1967-1973

On the surface, the introductory images of The Big Stick/An Old Reel seems uncharacteristic of a Saul Levine film, a whimsical, manipulated found film featuring a beat cop in seeming pursuit of Charlie Chaplin's iconic tramp character, edited in matching continuity cuts such that the excerpted sequence unfolds in a seemingly infinite comic choreography of encounter and evasion, luckless fugitive and outwitted officer. Juxtaposed against (and at times, superimposed over) transitory images of real-life footage of a mass arrest and loading of prisoners into transport wagons for booking at police headquarters (the predictable repercussion for an act of protest or civil disobedience), serves as a subtle, but equally potent and critical complement to the overt politicization of New Left Note, a wry exposition on the duality of contemporary American society, not only with respect to the country's polarization between passivity and activism - as well as an ingrained social stratification between privilege and exclusion - but also on the interminable vicious circle represented by the protracted and interminable conflict of the Vietnam War, a sobering commentary of the intrinsic farce reflected in the caricature of the faceless authority's self-righteous and heavy-handed approach to dissent, opposition, and alterity.

Note to Poli, 1982-83

Continuing in the vein of the transgressive intimacy captured in New Left Note, Note to Poli in some ways anticipates Stephen Dwoskin's expositions on fragility, ephemerality, and voyeurism (and in particular, in the transitory, almost dreamlike images Outside in). A daylight coupling seques to the seemingly disconnected image of a smoke-infused empty kitchen, perhaps invisibly connected by an unseen post-coitum ritual and time-occupying self-abstraction of a slowly inhaled cigarette, a visual study of emptiness and substance, stillness and turbulence, concentration and dissipation.

The Saul Levine: Notes from the Underground program screens at the NYFF: Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar on October 7, 2006 at 3:30 p.m.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Views from the Avant-Garde

September 20, 2006

Views from the Avant-Garde: Paolo Gioli

Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite (Immagini disturbate da un intenso parassita), 1970

Paolo Gioli's frenetic, delirious, and curiously transfixing magnum opus Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite is an invigorating, confounding, and ultimately mind-blowing visual study in redefining the bounds of human cognitive saturation - a complex, multilayered juxtaposition of bifurcating and intersecting aural and visual stimuli presented through groundbreaking multi-channel compositions, highly textured collages, interlocking frames, and studies in relative motion. Tracing the evolution of images (and music) through increasingly complex compositions and set against the manipulated, found film backdrop of objects in seeming perpetual motion (footage of athletic and racing events predominate the immersive landscape), the idiosyncratic reference to a titular parasite perhaps refers to the insidious and viral nature of the interpenetration of images that occur within the sub-frames and compartmentalized channels of the film, as seemingly bounded images begin to transect and dissolve their frames and invade adjacent spaces, consequently transforming - and eventually supplanting - the integral structure of the overarching composition. Prefiguring the themes of permeability and mutability that Gioli would subsequently explore in The Perforated Operator, the malleable images absorb, assimilate, converge, and replicate in an increasingly accelerated, ritualized process of seeming parthenogenesis to the point of unsustainable hypersaturation - a figurative point of cognitive critical mass when the density of the mind's registered images transforms from information to abstraction.

Traumatograph (Traumatografo), 1973

gioli.gifThe jarringly incongruent promenade from Mussorgsky's sprightly Pictures at an Art Exhibition provides an ingenious, tongue-in-cheek foil to Traumatograph's somber and grotesque introductory images: the decontextualized, worn photographs of beheaded men placed alongside a barbed wire-lined trench (perhaps victims of war), classical woodcut illustrations depicting disembodied corpses and surreal, postmortem encounters, excerpts culled from the official investigations of violent accidents (or perhaps cold-blooded execution). The radical juxtaposition of the opening sequence ever teetering between playful inquisitiveness and morbid obsession proves especially inspired within the context of Gioli's recurring penchant for visually experimenting with mirrored and replicated imagery. A looped, manipulated footage of a man falling out of his car and onto the ground - often shown in diffusion, slow motion, negative inversion, and superimposition - suggests not only an ethereality (perhaps, of a spirit rising from the body at the moment of death), but more broadly, captures the indefinable intersections and metaphoric passages that shape and define our own mortality. Gioli's fluidity of manipulated motion (most notably, in the figurative image of a shrinking - or perhaps, regressing - child, and reversed superimpositions that appear as self-engaged activity) and aesthetic for mirroring imagery suggest a creative symbiosis with - and perhaps a spiritual godfathering of - Materialist filmmaking, prefiguring the balletic choreography and film rhythm of Martin Arnold (in such films as Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy) and the metaphysical convergences of Peter Tscherkassky (particularly, The Cinemascope Trilogy).

The Perforated Operator (L'operatore perforato), 1979

An errant sprocket perforation located within the frame of a found film transfer serves as a creative springboard for Gioli's hypnotic, free-associative exposition into the relativity of images that is intrinsic in the cognitive act of seeing. A thematic corollary of sorts to the malleability and interpenetrability of forms and geometries of Robert Breer's cinema (in particular, the Form Phases series), The Perforated Operator is also an abstract study of the contextual duality of images: existing as art object or peripheral noise, object or void, inclusion or omission, creation or destruction. Visually exploring the meaning of the arbitrary bounds that define what is visible in the film frame (an aesthetic theme that also pervades Gioli's earlier film, Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite) - and therefore, by extension, what is film art? - the ubiquitous rectangular pattern transforms from a director's visual blocking cue, to a projection screen, to a playing card prop for a sleight of hand parlor trick, to a microscope glass specimen with which to observer organic phenomena, to a layered, multi-channel film-within-a film. Culminating with the manipulated images of a transformed human eye (a theme that prefigures his subsequent film, Quando l'occhio trema), Gioli's vision transcends the self-reflexive landscape of a metafilm (and with it, the repercussion of the filmmaker's gaze), and converges towards the broader, indefinable contours on the transformative power of images.

Quando l'occhio trema, 1989

An homage to Luis Buñuel - an in particular, his early Surrealist films - in the evocation of the eye slitting scene in Un Chien Andalou (albeit in a far more palatable, less cringe-inducing manner), Gioli eschews Buñuel's metaphoric incitement to revolution to open one's eyes to visionary possibilities, and instead, presents a whimsical illustration of the apparatus of the human eye. Juxtaposing manipulated found film (most notably, from L'Age d'or) with the frenetic (and occasionally, manually animated) rapid eye movement in the act of constant scanning, surveillance, and observation, Quando l'occhio trema presents the human eye as the instrumental origin for the cognition of images - the eye as universe, as infinitely celestial, as the center of the ecliptic - the fundamental receptor by which images are registered, subsumed, processed, interpreted, and transformed by human consciousness. In contrast to Buñuel's transgressive act towards the liberation of images, Gioli's film fades to black with the closing of the frenetic eye, perhaps a reminder that even in the midst of violent revolution, there remains a sacredness towards reverie and imagination in the creation of art.

Filmarilyn, 1992

My entry into Paolo Gioli's sublime cinema was through the infectiously exuberant, ingeniously constructed, and irresistibly seductive Filmarilyn, an elegant and mesmerizing film that remains one of my favorite experimental works. Composed of still images from several photographs of the actress and pop icon Marilyn Monroe that have been manually transferred to film frame by frame, and animated through intermediate gradations within a series of successive, rapid fire montage visual "chapters", Gioli resurrects the vitality, captivating charm, and exuded sensuality of the voluptuous, iconic Hollywood superstar through the sequencing of the manipulated images - modulated object framing, subtle displacement, photographic blow-ups or visual recessions that simulate dimensionality and varying depths of focus - into a bold, risqué, and tantalizing "new" film starring the late actress. A brilliantly inspired riff on classic flipbook animation, Filmarilyn similarly harnesses the underlying idiosyncrasy of the visual process intrinsic in human memory: the mind's ability to momentarily retain the image even after the object has been removed, filling the space between with the afterimage that, in Gioli's eccentric and masterful figurative reincarnation, whimsically - and delightfully - demystifies the indefinable substance of the afterlife, illustrating an immortality rendered in the interstices.

The Paolo Gioli program screens at the NYFF: Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar on October 8, 2006 at 3:30 p.m.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 20, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Paolo Gioli, Views from the Avant-Garde