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November 12, 2007

Poetics of Cinema 2 by Raúl Ruiz

ruiz_poetics2.gifEleven years since the publication of Poetics of Cinema Raúl Ruiz continues his articulate, erudite, and insightful rumination in Poetics of Cinema 2, a lithe and infectious, yet densely referential, cross-pollinated exposition on the art and nature of image-making in an age of an overexposed cinema that, in its aesthetic democratization and crass commercialization, has fostered a paradoxical culture that is both sacred and banal, rarefied and dying. Intrinsic in Ruiz's exposition is the autonomy of images, a spectator's mental process of assimilating visual experience by decontextualizing the images from their imposed seriality (by virtue of ordered presentation such as chronology, guided tour - or its contemporary media equivalent, DVD commentaries - or other modes of accompanying narrative). It is this awareness of an assimilated image's contextual independence within the spectator's subconscious - the interactive "art of memory" - that Ruiz underscores the primacy of images over narrative form in the filmmaking process:

Firstly, the images that together make up a film determine what type of narration will structure the film and not the contrary. A film is not made up or composed of a number of shots, but rather it is decomposed by the number of shots; when we see a film of 500 shots, we also see 500 films. Thirdly, a film is valid, aesthetically valid, insofar as the film views the spectator as much as the spectator views the film.

In essence, Ruiz proposes that the independence of images from their respective original sources enables the personal creation and discovery of other "mental realities" - the accidental convergences and patternistic connections within the inexact continuum of a symbiotic, subconscious image registration. Therefore, within this paradigm, the role of the filmmaker becomes one of applying a fixative (as Ruiz suggests), presenting the indelible image - the imago - in a way that reinforces its persistence of memory within the distraction and noise (what Ruiz calls the perepeteias) of the film's overarching composition.

This idea of decontextualized images as organic, autonomous entities resurfaces in the chapter Fascination and Detachment in which Ruiz argues that the art of cinema lies both in its ability to engage the spectator during the course of the film, as well as its ability to form isolated connections and residual imprint - the iconostasis of the image that continues to exist outside of the film - that has been enabled by the ritualization of the transformative encounter:

We mustn't forget that to experience a work of art is not simply letting oneself be fascinated by it, a mere falling in love with it, but rather, it's understanding the process of falling in love. For this, one needs the freedom to move away from the loved object in order to return to it freely. The amorous encounter with the work of art is a practice that can be summarized in the following formula: 'To love renders one intelligent'.

Ruiz describes this existence of an external collective consciousness - a figurative external brain - as being akin to an electromagnetic field or emanated aura that creates a continuity of memory in its fragmentation and reconstitution even in the absence of immediate experience. Conceptually, Ruiz illustrates this sense of a karmic fatedness in a ghostly encounter between the hero and an enigmatic woman named Ivonne in The Lost Domain:

-I know that tonight we'll make love and that soon afterwards I will die, but I know we'll see each other again.

Amazed, the young man asks her:

-"We'll meet after our deaths?"

-"Of course not," she replies. "I don't believe in such things. We'll meet in a different way: you, or another man, will come across another woman, not me, like we have tonight, and they will live the same story, and, in this manner, we, like them, will have met.

This sense of infinite convergence also infuses the amorphous, if impenetrable, dream logic of his earlier film, Love Torn in Dream where inescapable destiny is implied through the eternal recursions and permutations of a set of immutable, iconostatic images that repeatedly play out in a series of parallel wormhole tales.

In examining the existence of images outside of their medium of creation, Ruiz further suggests the interplay of vicinity (the experience of the image) and resonance (the intimacy of the image) in the role of the spectator, an integral convergence between the presentation of information and its assimilation that also forms the basis for what Ruiz calls an actor's "fragmentary work", where each shot scene requires a certain degree of character reframing and re-invention - a locus of particular egocentricities:

Since Stanislavski, character has been constructed as a clock. A Newtonian clock. Later on, within and outside 'the method', the character will cease to be a clock. It's liquefied; evolution, duration, the flow of emotions and its overflowing are privileged. Though Stanislavski's counsel is still valuable and useful. In Stanislavski - and here we return to fragmentations - there is a coexistence of mechanical criteria and vitalist attitudes, privileging impulsion, lows and highs, and dramatization of incoherences.

Within this framework, Ruiz envisions an actor's creation of character as three concentric circles of permeable realities - the projected image (the largest), the self-image (the middle), and the memory of experience (the smallest) - that cumulatively reflect the complexity of character and eschew the staid conventionality of generic, paradigmatic representations: an impossible blankness of character that Ruiz subsequently calls inamible.

This coexistence of interpenetrating realities shaped by both the (super)imposition and intimate resonance of autonomous, living images is perhaps best encapsulated in Ruiz's stated postulate in the concluding chapter, The Face of the Sea (In Place of an Epilogue):

Here is my own theoretical fiction: in the waking dream that is our receiving the film, there is a counterpart; we start projecting another film on the film. I have said to project and that seems apt. Images that leave me and are superimposed on the film itself, such that the double film - as in the double vision of Breton traditions - becomes protean, filled with palpitations, as if breathing.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Related Reading

November 5, 2007

Eros Plus Masscre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser

erosplusmassacre.gifIn Eros Plus Masscre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema, David Desser examines the creative and revolutionary spirit that defined the 1960s Japanese new wave movement (nuberu bagu) apart from the facile identification and synchronicity associated with the coincidental emergence of the French new wave, and more importantly, refocuses his exposition within the indigenous specificity of Japanese culture in the face of postwar social, economic, and geopolitical transformation. Presenting the emergence of the movement as the fateful intersection between the budgetary realities of declining (and increasingly competitive) commercial film production among the nation's institutional motion picture studios (as a natural consequence of television's popularization as a medium for audiovisual entertainment) that also enabled the creation of more autonomous, independent film production and distribution companies such as the Art Theater Guild, and the modernist influence of the prewar Shingeki "new theater" (a movement patterned after the European Naturalist Theater) that, in its focus on the problems of the individual, served as an effective vehicle for promoting left-wing ideology, Desser underscores the significance of the industry's fostered climate of innovation and (implicitly transgressive) experimentation, not as the creative reinvigoration of a dying studio system, but rather, as a desperate means of luring audiences back to the cinema. Within this context of reflexive, corporate-driven goals of returning to profitability, Desser illustrates not only the highly conducive environment that cultivated the movement, but also foreshadows its inherent unsustainability.

Using the generational classifications outlined in Audie Bock's Japanese Film Directors - Early Masters (Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse), Postwar Humanists (Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi), and New Wave (Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda) - as a basis for tracing the movement from its origins within the studio system through their tenure as assistant directors to established filmmakers (along with noting the natural human tendency to reject a mentor's influence in an artist's development of his own aesthetic), Desser further expounds on Bock's paradigm by presenting the precursive influence of the Shingeki modern theater in the creation of politically rooted, keiko eiga "tendency films" during the 1920s that explored social problems as a means of inciting change, as well as the popularization of the youth-centric taiyozoku (sun tribe) films that iconized the image of a rebellious, disconnected, and self-destructive postwar generation. Framed against the left movement's fervent opposition to the ratification of the bilateral Anpo Security Treaty of 1959 that sought to formally ally Japan with the U.S. in the Cold War against the Soviet Union (and implicitly, marginalize the country's own nascent socialist party), Desser illustrates the integral politicization coupled with the existential angst of youth culture the capture the zeitgeist of the movement.

Beginning with the chapter entitled Ruined Maps, Desser examines the commonality of sociopolitical themes that continually resurface in the films of the Japanese new wave, in this case, dislocated sexual energy as a manifestation of the integral question of Japaneseness. Diverging from the pinku eiga (pink films) genre in their political implication, the transgressive sexuality of Nagisa Oshima (Cruel Story of Youth, The Ceremony, and In the Realm of the Senses), Shohei Imamura (The Pornographers and The Profound Desire of the Gods), Seijun Suzuki, Koji Wakamatsu (Go, Go, The Second Time Virgin), and Matsumoto Toshio (Funeral Parade of Roses) reflect the moral confusion, dysfunction, and repression that intrinsically form the consciousness of Japanese postwar identity. This postmodern anxiety is incisively captured in Hiroshi Teshigahara's adaptations of Kobo Abe's modernist fiction, where the dehumanizing performance of absurd, everyday rituals (The Woman in the Dunes), physical disfigurement and transplantation (The Face of Another), and impersonation and social disengagement (The Man Without a Map) reflect the conscious erasure of identity as a delusive means of amnesic transformation - an potent metaphor for the superficial rehabilitation of national identity through imposed conformity, ideological re-identification, and revisionist history.

Desser similarly examines the essence of Japanese "feminism", or feminisuto, in the essay Insect Women - a cultural particularity that hews closer in spirit to the idealized portrait of sacrificing, indomitable, marginalized women in Kenji Mizoguchi's cinema than to the ideological pursuit of equal rights. Observing the role of sexuality as a means of empowerment and liberation in the films of Shohei Imamura (The Insect Woman and Intentions of Murder), Masahiro Shinoda (Dry Lake, Pale Flower, Banished Orin), and Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba), Desser also cites the work of lesser known filmmakers, Susumu Hani's A Full Life and He and She in the idea of spiritual emancipation through personal choice and self-discovery, and Yoshishige Yoshida's A Story Written with Water and Akitsu Springs where the maternal symbol of water serves as a metaphor for eroticism and idealization.

In the subsequent chapter, Shinjuku Thieves, Desser further expounds on the issue of gender disempowerment by examining the broader issues of ingrained social injustice that has been enabled by the cultural rigidity of monoethnic sameness and codified behavior. The first example involves the systematic discrimination of the burakumin, an archaic feudal caste designation for people whose ancestral occupations were touched by death (such as butchers, leather workers, and undertakers) and whose residences were segregated from the local population through isolated hamlets to avoid contamination. Although abolished during the Meiji Restoration, the stigma of burakumin persist in insidious ways that inhibit social mobility away from these "outcast communities" through such seemingly innocuous tasks as screening job applicants and martial prospects, where background investigations reveal their community (and inferentially, caste) association. Another is the racism and persecution inherent in the treatment of Koreans (and foreigners in general) in Japan, where a tainted history of occupation and enslavement (especially with respect to the forced recruitment of comfort women during the Pacific War) have engendered a cultural arrogance towards their once "conquered" ethnic minorities. It is this reinforcement of dehumanizing stereotypes that Nagisa Oshima incisively confronts in such films as The Diary of Yunbogi, Three Resurrected Drunkards, and Death By Hanging, where society's projection of Korean identity contributes to the corrosive realization of a demoralizing, self-fulfilling prophesy.

Moreover, as Dresser illustrates in Forests of Pressure, beyond the sad universality of racism and socioeconomic marginalization, even more irreconcilable is the intra-ethnic discrimination that is emblematic in the segregation of survivors from two man-made disasters: the hibakusha who survived the atom bomb (a recurring subject in Kaneto Shindo's body of work and in Shohei Imamura's Black Rain), and subsequently, those afflicted with Minamata disease, a neurological condition caused by severe mercury poisoning from industrial pollution. Stigmatized by virtue of arbitrary exposure, their plight not only reflects a social rejection of alterity and imperfection, but more importantly, provides insight into the Japanese postwar psyche by exposing its deeply rooted cultural anxiety over the unreconciled consciousness of its own self-inflicted victimization, whether through unquestioned allegiance that led to a senseless war and international humiliation, or through irresponsible industrial policies in the aggressive pursuit of economic recovery (and profitability) that have led to a large-scale environmental catastrophe. Contrasted against Shinsuke Ogawa's culturally immersive, profoundly committed, and groundbreaking environmental documentaries (most notably, Forest of Pressure and the epic Sanrizuka series), the widely divergent approaches to political filmmaking reflect the disorientation and uncertainty of a people struggling to define its essential postwar identity between the rapidly bifurcating lifelines of tradition and modernization, conformity and humanity, victimization and culpability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 05, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Related Reading