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Journal Notes: 2004 2003 2002 2001

Senses of Cinema End of the Year 'Favorite Film Things' Compilation: 2001

What Time Is it There? (Tsai Ming Liang)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama)
Intimacy (Patrice Chereau)
Durian, Durian (Fruit Chan)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
Under the Sand (François Ozon)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung)
All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai)
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura).


2001 Film Related Reading:


Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday by Ivone Margulies.
DEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 edited by Seán Allan and John Sandford.
My Years With Apu, A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.
Japanese Film Directors by Audie Bock.
Shohei Imamura (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 1) edited by James Quandt.
Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History edited by Arthur Nolletti Jr. and David Desser.
The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, and Notes by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation by Andrew Horton.
Double Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda.
My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer by Jean Drum and Dale D. Drum.
Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s by Donald Kirihara.
Ozu by Donald Richie.
Childhood Days, A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.



Journal/Notes

12-16-01: Notes on Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday by Ivone Margulies.

Nothing Happens: AkermanIn Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday, Ivone Margulies provides a comprehensive examination of the minimalist visual imagery, deliberate pacing, and recurrent themes of disconnection, wanderlust, isolation, and longing that define Akerman's intensely personal cinema.

Citing Akerman's penchant for filming the rhythm of everyday life, and her de-emphasis of unique and significant events, Margulies proposes that Akerman does not attempt to reflect the social realism of the human condition but rather, seeks to create a heightened sense of hyperreality and what Margulies describes as corporeal cinema. According to Margulies, "Akerman's boldness as a filmmaker lies in her charging the mundane with significance."

In the masterwork, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels, Akerman's preferential focus on the minutiae of Jeanne's household chores over the conventionally more intriguing premise of capturing the protagonist's seemingly incongruous dual life seems an odd choice. As Margulies comments, "In Jeanne Dielman, both long takes of everyday tasks (the kitchen scenes) and nontakes (the elided sex scenes) stand for a radical new visibility." Furthermore, by visually ingraining Jeanne's systematic performance of household rituals in the film, Akerman reflects the protagonist's aberrant psychological dependency towards control and predictability, and the irrational chaos that results from a divergence from an innate sense of logical order.

Margulies also explores Akerman's use of distended, monologuistic delivery of character speech and protracted silence in the chapter, Forms of Address. The failure of connection between Anna and the people whom she encounters in Les Rendezvous d'Anna, Akerman's monotonic, inexpressive reading of her mother's alternately affectionate and guilt-inducing letters from Belgium in the hybrid documentary News from Home, and the near silent episodes of profound human interaction in Toute une nuit manifest Akerman's recurring themes of alienation and emotional detachment. Juxtaposed against the visual symmetry of Akerman's rigorous framing, the dispassionate narrative, like the incongruous imagery of Jeanne Dielman, becomes a poignant and powerful statement on the place of the artist as a perpetual exile and outsider.

Observation: The connected themes and repeated (or, at times, complementary) imagery of Akerman's films further reflect a commonality within Akerman's oeuvre: the methodical ritual of chores in Saute ma ville and Jeanne Dielman; the cyclical chronicle of dusk to dawn in Toute une Nuit and Night and Day (also illustrated in the temporal progression of News from Home); the subversion of the musical genre in Window Shopping and The Eighties; and the nomadism and transience of News from Home and D'Est. In essence, the repetitive nature of the visual (and aural) motifs and ideological themes illustrated in Akerman's earlier and later films seem to reflect Akerman's instinctual need for internal symmetry within her own body of work, as if to attempt to contain the chaos and irrationality of human experience.

11-27-01: Notes on DEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 edited by Seán Allan and John Sandford.

DEFADEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 retraces the unique achievements and continued relevance of the East German national film studio, Deutsche Film-AG (DEFA), from its origins as a Soviet-assembled group of experienced postwar filmmakers called filmaktiv tasked to draft a plan to revive the German film industry, to the sale of the studio to the French conglomerate, Compagnie Général des Eaux (CGE) in 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Among DEFA's earliest missions were to expose and reconcile with Germany's fascist legacy. The first DEFA feature film, Wolfgang Staudte's The Murderers are Among Us, provides a compelling and poignant exploration of culpability for the atrocities committed by ordinary citizens during World War II. DEFA would also prove to be an international film studio when it provided assistance to Roberto Rossellini for the filming of Germany: Year Zero, the third installment of Rossellini's
Trilogy of War.

In Discussion With Kurt Maetzig, Martin Brady documents a fascinating transcript of a Question and Answer session with Kurt Maetzig, a founding member of filmaktiv and one of the most prominent DEFA filmmakers as he provides an honest reflection of his experiences during fascist Germany, his commitment to create social realist films (Gegenwartsfilme, or contemporary screen drama), and his determination to work within the state run DEFA studio. Maetzig's
The Council of the Gods examines the moral crime of economic opportunism, and is based on real-life accounts documented after the Neuremberg trials. In 1947, Maetzig's deeply personal film, Marriage in the Shadow, became the first German film to broach the subject of Jewish persecution. The film was based on the true account of a popular, Weimar era actor named Joachim Gottschalk, who committed suicide with his family in 1942, unable to prevent the deportation of his Jewish wife and twelve year old son during fascist Germany.

The egalitarian status of women in the Germany Democratic Republic as socialist workers manifested in the Frauenfilme dramas of the DEFA studios and presented a realistic image of the female worker that proved to be antithetical to the idealized archetypal heroines of Hollywood and Western European films. Andrea Rinke's essay, From Models to Misfits: Women in DEFA Films of the 1970s and 1980s examines the distinctively independent and "feminist" characterization of contemporary women in DEFA films. However, in examining the responsibilities and gender relations of the modern working woman, the inevitable consequence was often to expose the marital discord and social alienation that resulted from the dichotomy between the traditional domestic roles of women and their advancement in social class.

DEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 provides a fascinating and comprehensive insight into the state sponsored film industry of East Germany during the Cold War. Inspired by idealistic goals to remove the vestiges of fascist ideology and restore democracy in Germany, the DEFA filmmakers sought to reeducate the public through humanist films that examine the social issues of contemporary life in postwar Germany and, in the process, help to rebuild the country's tarnished cinematic legacy after World War II.

10-18-01: Notes on My Years With Apu, A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.

My Years With Apu:  RayMy Years With Apu, A Memoir reflects the lucidity, compassion, and humility of the versatile and immensely talented humanist filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. The book is prefaced by his wife, Bijoya Ray, who describes her attempts to faithfully recapture Ray's memoir from his first draft, after his final draft was stolen at a hospital shortly before his death. Ray recounts with self-effacing modesty his initial exposure to the Bengali novel Pather Panchali by Bibhuti Bhusan Bannerji while seeking employment at a British advertising agency. Ray made the acquaintance of an erudite company manager named D.K. Gupta who later tasked Ray to illustrate the abridged version of the novel for his own publishing company, Signet Press, and suggested the suitability of adapting the story to film. As a result, Ray began to devise creative ways to shoot his envisioned low budget, independent film: nonprofessional actors, natural lighting, no makeup, location shooting. His approach would later be validated after seeing Vittorio de Sica's neorealist film, The Bicycle Thief.

Ray's affection for "serious" cinema led to the creation of the Calcutta Film Society in an attempt to elevate the artistic and technical standards for the Indian film industry. In his article for the Statesman entitled
What is Wrong With Indian Films?, Ray remarks:

"It should be realized that the average American film is a bad model, if only because it depicts a way of life so utterly variant with our own. Moreover, the high technical polish which is the hallmark of the standard Hollywood product, would be impossible to achieve under existing Indian conditions. What the Indian Cinema needs today is not more gloss, but more imagination, more integrity, and a more intelligent appreciation of the limitations of the medium."

Ray's desire to instill cultural pride through the creation of a distinctive, native cinema and develop his own knowledge on the potential of film as an artistic medium were further cultivated during a sought after meeting with revered humanist director, Jean Renoir (who visited India in 1949 in order to scout locations and interview actors for the filming of The River), where the awestruck Ray instinctively remarked that he was working on the Pather Panchali film project. This non-binding declaration to his hero and cinematic mentor, followed by a subsequent traveling foreign film festival, which featured such classics as Miracle in Milan, Open City, Rashomon, and Jour de Fete, cemented Ray's commitment and determination to become a filmmaker. After taking a leave of absence from his employer, Ray embarked on the filming of the historic masterpiece that would launch his life's work and propel him to international acclaim - the first installment of what would evolve to be a chronicle of the life and travails of a poor Bengali boy named Apu at the turn of the century - The Apu Trilogy.

09-25-01: Notes on Japanese Film Directors by Audie Bock.

Japanese Film DirectorsAudie Bock presents a collection of perceptive, knowledgeable, and comprehensive critical essays on the most influential and distinctive filmmakers of Japan in Japanese Film Directors. Bock chronologically explores the personal influences and cinematic contributions of several acclaimed film directors, and in the process, provides an intelligent observation on the profound effects of changing political, social, and cultural climate on the evolution of the Japanese film industry.

The Early Masters: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse

"You must put the odor of the human body into images...describe for me the implacable, the egoistic, the sensual, the cruel...there are nothing but disgusting people in this world." - Kenji Mizoguchi

Audie Bock defines Kenji Mizoguchi's feminism through the nuance of the Japanese language by characterizing him as "indulgent toward women", rather than assigning political implications of the traditional, Western definition to his romanticized, and largely unrealistic, view of women. Using this semantic definition, Bock explains that Mizoguchi was not necessarily concerned with the improvement of women's social status, but rather, was fascinated by their ideal. Bock explains, "All of the admiration, exploitation, fear and pity concerning women shown in his life would find expression in his films."

"It is after all, the human drama, isn't it?" - Yasujiro Ozu

On the subject of Yasujiro Ozu's use of a peculiar low height stationary camera, Audie Bock refutes Donald Richie's explanation that the effect on the viewer is that of a person sitting on a tatami mat, countering that in medium shot, the resulting height translates to one to two feet above the ground. Rather, Bock proposes that Ozu's camera position is one of reverence for his characters. In essence, the point of view is one of appreciation, perhaps even inspired awe, for the common man - for the mundane and unalterable passage of time.

"From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought remains with me." - Mikio Naruse

In contrast to Ozu's resigned acceptance of the transience of life, Mikio Naruse's clinical and dispassionate view of existence is pessimistic, hopeless, and inescapable. Like Mizoguchi, Naruse identified this profound despair with the plight of women. However, unlike the self-sacrificing Mizoguchi's heroines, Naruse's women are often flawed, stubborn, and embittered. According to Bock, "Naruse heroines retain the dignity of evaluating their acts to the end, and the persistence for their search for happiness, despite accumulating evidence of its nonexistence, becomes the terrifying statement of all of Naruse's work."

The Postwar Humanists: Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi

"I believed at the time that for [postwar] Japan to recover, it was important to place a high value on the self. I still believe this." - Akira Kurosawa

Following Japanese defeat in 1945, the postwar generation found themselves reevaluating their obedience and culpability for their country's actions. This sentiment was further exacerbated by an American occupation policy that sought to suppress the cultural heritage of feudalism that led to Japan's isolationism and aggression. As a consequence, several established filmmakers could not (or elected not to) create films after the war. However, the universal themes, egalitarian values, and altruism of Akira Kurosawa's films made him an ideal ambassador for Japan's cultural reintroduction to the West. As Bock illustrates, "The choice of situations - Meiji Period martial arts competition, work for the war effort, persecution of Communists and bureaucratic stagnation - and of the young and old, male and female protagonists from varying social backgrounds, reveals a dramatic focus that is bound neither by politics, age, nor sex, but by existential challenge to the individual."

"I have always believed since I was a child that beautiful things were true." - Keisuke Kinoshita

Keisuke Kinoshita was a prolific filmmaker who showed great versatility in genre, narrative, social statement, and technique. Bock expounds on Kinoshita's range: "He has excelled in both comedy and tragedy; the 'home drama' of the contemporary family in isolation from social problems, and period films exposing social injustices; 'all location' films and films shot completely in a one-house set, he has pursued a severe photographic realism with the long-take, long shot method, and he has gone equally far toward stylization with fast cutting, intricate wipes, tilted cameras and even medieval scroll-painting and Kabuki stage techniques." In fact, Kinoshita has employed at least one innovative technique in each of his films. Nevertheless, despite his constant experimentation, Kinoshita's idealistic themes of innocence, purity, and beauty pervade his films, reflecting his genuine sincerity, humility, and interminable optimism.

"I don't have any unifying theme - I just make any picture I like or that my company tells me to do." - Kon Ichikawa

Kon Ichikawa's career is marked by great versatility and varied subject matter, from darkly comical social satire to profoundly humanist war films to compelling documentaries. " My own life experience was not very rich, [so I decided to] absorb other people's ideas in my own way, and see what sort of answers emerged from putting them on film." Initially trained in animation, Ichikawa's films bear the distinction of his training - from rapid editing, selection of transition shots, and exaggerate action of his films. His wife, screenwriter Natto Wada, was a frequent collaborator in adapting literary works to film scripts, until her retirement after Tokyo Olympiad.

On Wada's retirement, Ichikawa explains, "She doesn't like the new film grammar, the method of presentation of the material; she says there's no heart in it anymore, that people no longer take human love seriously." Bock further observes, "And indeed, if one compares a Wada scenario like Harp of Burma or I Am Two to any Ichikawa has directed since 1965, it becomes apparent that while humor and feeling for the human condition remain, some of the warmth of affirmation and optimism is gone."

"I would have gone on [with art studies], but the Pacific War had begun. In art history, I knew it would require many more years of painstaking research for me to make a contribution, and the (Pacific) war made the future too uncertain. But with film, I thought there might be a chance of leaving something behind." - Masaki Kobayashi

A protégé of Kinoshita, Masaki Kobayashi was drawn to film with a sense of urgency to create a legacy through art. With his fledgling career in filmmaking interrupted by the war, Kobayashi returned to the medium with a somber reflection for social justice, wartime responsibility, and meticulous aestheticism. Bock observes, "He denies that he is pessimistic, but admits 'it is easy to become so after examining the history of humanity. You have to try hard to be optimistic.'...The history of humanity, in other words, reveals oppression and lack of human feeling in every age..."

The New Wave and After: Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda

"You may think all that [image of hurried urbanites] is real, but to me it's all illusion. The reality is those little shrines, the superstition and irrationality that pervade the Japanese consciousness under the veneer of business suits and advanced technology." - Shohei Imamura

Irreverent and darkly comic, but also compassionate of human frailty, Shohei Imamura celebrates the underlying vitality and behavioral idiosyncrasies that constitute the real Japan. Of the archetypal Imamura woman, Bock explains, The creative eccentricity that can be ascribed to Imamura lies in the realm of cinematic genre, for he rejects both the slow pace and the long-suffering image of the 'woman's film'. His women not only hold their own, they increase it, and they fight dirty with no pangs of conscience."

"You may not think so to see me sitting here smiling and laughing, but that dark, oppressed side of me is always there." - Nagisa Oshima

Profoundly influenced by nouvelle vague, Nagisa Oshima's revolutionary approach to filmmaking has been described as difficult, inaccessible, and controversial. Yet despite his unconventional style, his underlying themes - injustice, repression, personal responsibility, violence - are contemporary social issues that reflect his concern for humanity. Bock observes:

"Rather than Godardian alienation, it is a personal anguish that infuses the deadpan acting in Oshima's films as well ...Their blankness is a cover for their pain, as Oshima's own early development of an emotionless mask was to hide his sorrow and loneliness. ...He regrets his own tendency toward sentimentality. He prefers a more complex structure that hides his feelings at the same time as it reveals them."

"Reality for its own sake is not what interests me. If my films had to be perfect reconstructions of reality, I would not make them. I begin with reality and see what higher idea comes out of it." - Masahiro Shinoda

Masahiro Shinoda sought to understand the essence and peculiarity of the Japanese that led the country to war. His academic studies in drama and theater led him to reconcile the origins of Noh, whose tales of vengeful ghosts served as reassurance for the persecuted outcasts living under military aggression during the Middle Ages. From this, Shinoda derived a realization that the art, violence, destruction, and ideals are somehow interconnected into the formation of the Japanese character. Bock expounds, "Masochism and murder for the sake of the ideal, pure, beautiful love as mapped out in the horrifying symbolic acts of these contemporary dramas carries through all of Shinoda's works, extending even to his recent period films."

08-26-01: Notes on Shohei Imamura (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 1) edited by James Quandt.

"I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure."

Shohei ImamuraShohei Imamura is a compilation of reflective, analytical, and appreciative essays on Imamura's idiosyncratic and critical, yet compassionate films that examine the dichotomy of human behavior in the structured, conformist, and highly ordered society of Japan. According to Donald Richie's essay, Notes for a Study on Shohei Imamura, Imamura was primarily interested in the theater, but turned to film for employment opportunity. Although he served as an assistant director to Yasujiro Ozu, Imamura does not subscribe to Ozu's aestheticized view of Japanese life but rather, celebrates the everyday chaos as the reflection of truth:

"Imamura resented what he thought was Ozu's lack of concern for reality. Actually, Ozu was equally concerned with the real, but this was something which the resentful assistant director could not then know. We may now see Imamura and Ozu as very alike in several important ways. Though their style and technique could not more differ, their concern for the natural, for the real, for the truth, is identical. So is their moral concern, with the difference that while Ozu saw the truth and beauty of the real slowly being eroded, Imamura sees it as healthy, alive and vital as ever."

In an interview with young Japanese filmmaker, Toichi Nakata, Imamura describes his assistantship for Ozu with respectful reflection:

"My mother died of a cerebral haemorrage while I was working on Ozu's Tokyo Story. When I got back from her funeral, I found Ozu in the sound studio dubbing the scene in which the grandmother [played by Chieko Higashiyama] is dying, also from a cerebral haemorrage. I could not stand watching the scene over and over again - it reminded me so vividly of my mother's death - and so I ran out of the dubbing theatre... But Ozu followed me... 'Mr. Imamura,' he asked, 'is that what a cerebral haemorrage looks like? Have I got it right?' At the time I thought him incredibly cruel, but I later realized that a great filmmaker sometimes has to behave like that."

In contrast to the creative differences that distanced Imamura from Ozu's technical approach to cinema, Imamura's style was greatly influenced by Yuzo Kawashima, an underrated director (outside of Japan) of eccentric comedies. In a series of essays, My Approach to Filmmaking, Traditions and Influences, The Sun Legend of a Country Boy, and My Teacher, Imamura fondly recounts his professional association and ideological connection with the hard drinking and undisciplined, yet intensely focused Kawashima who eventually succumbed to degenerative muscle atrophy.

By capturing an objective and compassionate portrait of instinctual human behavior, Shohei Imamura is often described as a social entomologist of modern Japan. "Insects, animals and humans are similar in the sense that they are born, excrete, reproduce and die. Nevertheless, I myself am a man. I ask myself what differentiates humans from other animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing to make films. I don't think I have found the answer." For The Insect Woman, Imamura selected the title after observing that the actions of the film's heroine mirror the behavior of an insect endlessly circling his ashtray.

Imamura further reinforces his image as a social scientist through his fascination for the study of homo ludens - the insular Southern provinces of Japan that share a common, primal ancestry more closely associated with South East Asia than with the rest of Japan (Edo). This is the basis for the mythical, dysfunctional civilization reflected in the film, The Profound Desire of the Gods. In The Ballad of Narayama, his first film to be awarded the Palme d'or at Cannes, Imamura combines the setting of a primitive, mythical civilization, with the juxtaposition of the instinctual behavior of humans reflected in the behavior of the animals to create an austere, unsettling, yet compassionate and ultimately triumphant portrait of aging and death.

Despite his privileged class, Imamura strongly identifies with the lower classes whom, he believes, reflect the true soul of Japanese culture: instinctual, primitive, and resourceful. Similar to Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse, the women in Imamura's cinema are resilient, confident, and vital despite their social and economic marginalization. However, unlike Mizoguchi and Naruse who idealized their heroines as eternally suffering and self-sacrificing, the Imamura woman is obdurate and independent, and inevitably responsible for her course of action and ultimate fate.

07-19-01: Notes on Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History edited by Arthur Nolletti Jr. and David Desser.

Reframing Japanese CinemaReframing Japanese Cinema provides a comprehensive and varied perspective on Japanese cinema through a series of essays on a director's signature style (authorship), culturally representative film genres, and historical evolution of the Japanese film industry.

Of the three sections on
Authorship, Genre, and History, the articles on Authorship provide the most revealing insight into the evolution of Japanese film. Articles are presented for Heinosuke Gosho's Woman of the Mist, Kenji Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu, Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, an overview of themes of Nagisa Oshima, and an examination of the narrative structure in Yasujiro's late films (Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story, Early Spring, Equinox Flower, Late Autumn, End of Summer, An Autumn Afternoon).

Heinosuke Gosho is considered to be one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers, despite his relative obscurity in the West. His shomin-geki films (everyday lives of the lower class) gracefully merge comedy and pathos, humanity and social conscience. In
Woman of the Mist and Gosho and the 1930s, the author, Arthur Nolletti, Jr., explores the maturation of Gosho's style in the 1930s through an in-depth analysis of the film, citing his use of narrative ellipses, mise-en-scene, irony and reversal of expectation, and framing and space.

In Why Does Oharu Faint? Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu and the Patriarchal Discourse
by Robert N. Cohen, the author presents an alternate, if ultimately, unconvincing, perspective on the plight of Oharu as a result of neurotic distortions from the heroine's own flawed memory. Cohen attempts to correlate the episodes in Oharu's life that represent her search for love as scenes that repeatedly show her objectification, and concludes that her fainting at the end of her narrative flashback was a culmination of her own subconscious anxieties over her identity and perception of independence.

David Desser's essay,
Ikiru: Narration as a Moral Act, proposes that the mastery of Kurosawa's early humanist drama rests, in part, due to the director's successful reworking of styles, themes, and images previously developed in Rashomon. Citing the use of multiple narrative perspective and the consequent actions of the elder protagonist (Takashi Shimura) in both films, Kurosawa's thematic approach to Ikiru becomes a recurring exploration on how a human being can conduct his life in a world devoid of absolute truth, when only death is certain.

The essay,
Oshima Nagisa, or The Battered Energy of Desire by Max Tessier traces the turbulent career of Nagisa Oshima through his rebellious, provocative, and idiosyncratic films, and provides a fascinating discourse on the evolution of Oshima's style. Profoundly influenced by the French new wave, Oshima filmed Night and Fog in Japan, (an homage to Alain Resnais Night and Fog) that featured a Resnais-influenced, complex narrative structure to document an episode of political embarrassment in Japanese history. In the lean years that followed Oshima's ouster from the Shochiku Company, he created a still photograph montage film entitled Diary of Yunbogi, which presented the audience with another provocative issue: the status of Korean minorities in Japan. In Violence at Noon and his subsequent masterwork, In the Realm of the Senses, Oshima further pushes the envelope of provocative filmmaking by exploring the psychological interrelation between sexuality and violence in crimes that evolve out of the protagonist's mental aberration of "uncontrollable necessity".

Kathe Geist's essay on
Narrative Strategies in Ozu's Late Films examines the seemingly incidental and mundane scenes of Ozu's mature films (characterized by minimal plot and limited social interaction outside of the family home, office, or local bar). Geist argues that Ozu's particular attention to seemingly inconsequential events, while, at the same time, providing cursory introduction to significant characters and events, do not reveal an inconsistency in style, but rather, serve to foreshadow the eventual narrative and thematic development. In essence, by varying the shot length of specific events, Ozu concurrently reveals the relative importance of the episode to the eventual outcome of the film.

06-18-01: Notes on The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, and Notes by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Anarchy of the Imagination: FassbinderThe Anarchy of the Imagination is a compilation of interviews, essays, and notes by the talented, self-confident, and versatile provocateur filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Driven by an inexhaustible compulsion to entertain as well as provide social criticism, Fassbinder sought to elevate the role of contemporary German cinema. An avid cineaste, he developed his unorthodox approach to cinema as much through his voracious habit of viewing three to four films a day as through his formal training in film school, where he was quickly singled out as both a gifted artist and an iconoclastic, opinionated troublemaker.

Fassbinder's reverence for the films of Douglas Sirk (who, as he proudly reminds the reader, is a German of Danish origin named Detlef Sierck before changing his name and becoming a Hollywood filmmaker) is revealed through a series of appreciative essays on Sirk's cinema. In an interview with Hans Gunther Pflaum in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder explains:

"Yes, actually ever since I saw his films and tried to write about them, Sirk's been in everything I've done. Not Sirk himself, but what I've learned from his work. Sirk told me what the studio bosses in Hollywood told him: a film has to go over in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Okinawa, and in Chicago - just try to think what the common denominator might be for people in all those places. To Sirk, something still mattered that most people in Hollywood don't care about anymore: make sure his work was in tune with himself, with his own personality, that is, not just produced 'for the public', like in those films in Germany that none of us like: those sex and entertainment films that the producers think the public likes, but they don't like themselves."

In an Ernst Burkel interview with Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk, Sirk is equally impressed: "Before I met Rainer I sensed something, and then when I saw him I recognized, with that eye every filmmaker has to have, a personality of great originality."

On the subject of the luminous, yet often inscrutable lead actress, Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder reflects:

"Hanna Schygulla and I hardly spoke at these [student] gatherings; mostly we observed those doing the talking and, I think, were probably both trying to analyze what was said... On one of those evenings it suddenly became crystal clear to me, she would be an essential cornerstone possibly, maybe even something like their driving force."

However, this interdependence proved to be antithetical to Fassbinder's idea of a cooperative work group. Schygulla steadfastly refused to dedicate herself completely to Fassbinder's projects, and consequently, he learned to accept the reality that she would only appear in his films if a substantial role was offered.

What is revealed through these fragmented thoughts is a prolific artist of great imagination who approached life and creation with the same intensity of emotion and reckless abandon. A schoolchildren's query to Fassbinder summarily portrays his uncompromising carpe diem philosophy:

How do you picture your old age?
-I don't expect to experience it.

How do you visualize your professional and private future?
-There isn't any past, there isn't any present, so there isn't any future, either.

05-21-01: Notes on The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation by Andrew Horton.

Theo AngelopoulosThe Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an intelligent, compassionate, and devotedly Hellenic filmmaker. At the core of Angelopoulos' films lies an emotional honesty and profound sorrow for the increasing dissolution of the Greek village - the neglected rural area that Andrew Horton calls the "other Greece". For Angelopoulos, to portray Greece beyond the modern, cosmopolitan city of Athens is to represent the true soul of the Greek people: to capture, with an underlying sense of desperate urgency and reverent nostalgia, the rapidly vanishing customs, Orthodox religion, and traditional family that define their cultural identity.

"The village is a complete world in miniature. The old Greek villages had a spirit, a life, full of work and play and festivity. Of course, Greek villages began to depopulate by the turn of the century, but it was really World War II and the subsequent civil war in Greece that completely destroyed the reality and concept of the Greek village. Our whole way of life was changed by these two catastrophes.

Of course villages would have changed anyway. But not so drastically. The changes would have been made in a much more gradual and gentle way. You have to understand that part of the result of these wars was that in the 1950s over 500,000 village men went to Germany in particular, but also America and Australia, etc., to become guest workers. That meant a big shift in village life. Suddenly the men were gone and the women remained. With all these changes, the spirit of the villages began to die."

It is this rootlessness, migration, and transience that is reflected in Angelopoulos's early films: Reconstruction, The Travelling Players, Voyage to Cythera, and Landscape in the Mist. Horton further proposes that Angelopoulos finds a sense of kinship and personal responsibility with the Balkan states because of their shared cultural history of Turkish occupation, and it is this empathy that compels him to capture the tragedy of the Balkan crisis, as illustrated in his latter films: The Suspended Step of the Stork, Ulysses' Gaze, and Eternity and a Day.

"It is a very difficult time for artists of all kinds and writers of course too in the Balkans today. Nobody wants to listen. Nobody. With the killing, the wars, the struggles, troubles, no one can listen, and art, true art, demands listening. So, in the midst of all of this, what am I to do? Simply, I can make films for those who do appreciate my work."

Greek literature proves to be an integral aspect of Angelopoulos' narrative. Ulysses' Gaze, as the title suggests, is inevitably, the story of a filmmaker's personal odyssey to find meaning in his life and reconnect with his cultural past. In The Travelling Players, the actors remain distant and inscrutable, and it is their name association to the characters in the Aeschylus Oresteia trilogy that will provide clues to, if not predestine, their ultimate course of action in the film. Moreover, Telemachus' search for his father, Odysseus, becomes a recurring subject in Angelopoulos' films: the children, Voula and Alexander, searching for their unknown father beyond the German border in Landscape in the Mist; the director searching for an actor to cast as the father for an autobiographical film in Voyage to Cythera; and the lost Albanian boy in Eternity and a Day.

Andrew Horton presents a reverent, insightful, and intelligent analysis of Angelopoulos' body of work. By citing the filmmaker's influences from Greek literature and mythology, as well as the personal relevance of specific scenes and events in Angelopoulos' own life experience, Horton demystifies the idea that Angelopoulos' films are impenetrable, distant, and abstruse. Rather, what Horton reveals is a compassionate examination of a proud Greek national who seeks to capture and preserve his dying cultural heritage; a conscientious activist who understands the overreaching and devastating toll of war and divisive politics; and a sincere humanist who strives to break down artificial borders and "counterbalance the fragmentation of our world".

05-1-01: Notes on Double Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda.

My Life in Film:  WajdaDouble Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda provides an informal, accessible, and concise glance into the creative process of one of Poland's most renowned filmmakers. Through a series of humorous, honest, and insightful anecdotes, Wajda presents an animated reflection of his pioneering, and largely self-taught, experience as a fledgling director during the nascent development of the film industry in Poland.

In the absence of formal training early in his career, Wajda relied heavily on observation and personal experience, not only to serve as a basis for developing the narrative, but also to recreate the emotional honesty of the story. By drawing from his environment, it is inevitable that Wajda's films reflected the political evolution of Poland. His first film,
Ashes and Diamonds, chronicles the final hours of a fictional young revolutionary who inadvertently assassinates the wrong man. But more importantly, what Wajda documents on film is a historically accurate and tragic portrait of the postwar lost generation accustomed to the turbulence of war who find themselves unable to adjust to the "uncertainty" of peace.

It is Wajda's ability to convey historical truth through fictional storylines that illustrates Wajda's commitment to elevating the role of cinema from serving merely as a vehicle for entertainment to creating a more universal and accessible public art form. On the subject of film schools and its effect on the creation of art, Wajda remarks:

"The formation of any artist ought to be accomplished through a single discipline, if the future artist's goal is to learn the art, not simply the technique. My advice to young, would-be filmmakers is to apprentice themselves in three arts: music, literature and painting. Each one of these areas has a link to the world of film and through these related studies the student can draw his or her own conclusion.

Film schools pride themselves on teaching their students all three disciplines, once over lightly. The only problem is, music appreciation is not music, the history and theory of literature are not literature, the awareness of the graphic arts is not painting."

Double Vision: My Life in Film presents a clear, honest, and unencumbered introduction to the evolution of a film, from the germ of idea to its realization at the premiere. Wajda's infectious energy and social conscience resonates throughout the book, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an optimistic, personable, and dedicated artist. Humble and self-effacing, Wajda's personal integrity, humanism, and creative passion are revealed through his candid thoughts on the importance of interweaving reality and dreams, complexity and accessibility, and art and life.

04-8-01: Notes on My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer by Jean Drum and Dale D. Drum.

My Only Great Passion: DreyerThe title of the book, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer refers to a quote from a 1950 Dreyer interview:

"On October 23, 1950, Carl Dreyer was interviewed for the radio program New Perspectives on the Arts and the Sciences. He discussed Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath and talked about his proposed film on the life of Jesus. At the conclusion the interviewer asked, 'What is film for you?' Dreyer replied, 'It is my only great passion.'"

With such a preface, it seems inevitable that any biographical account of Carl Theodor Dreyer would revolve around the venerable filmmaker's body of work, and yet the authors, Jean and Dale Drum, succeed in presenting a fascinating and complex portrait of an exceedingly polite, intelligent, mild mannered, introverted, singularly focused, and uncompromising human being who was driven as much by his heart as by the perfection of his craft:

Abandoned by a father who would not accept him, always yearning for a beautiful young mother who was kept from him by death, made to feel unwanted and unimportant in his adoptive home - these were real and they were strongly felt by Dreyer, even in his later years. The drive with its furious intensity that both terrified and captivated people (and also created great motion pictures) was due at least in part to his desire to prove that he was better than his adoptive mother thought he was, that he was, indeed, worthy of his real father's acceptance, and, perhaps, most strongly, to prove to his true mother that he really loved her. All these, among other things, probably provided an overwhelming need to prove himself, to create something of worth - and the very insecurity of their origins in him probably produced a rigidity that a more truly confident man might not have needed."

Dreyer's image of his elusive birth mother - affectionate, suffering, exploited - instilled in the filmmaker a determination to expose intolerance, persecution, and human cruelty. It is this idealized female image that invariably manifests itself in all his films, not only in the oppression of Joan of Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), Ida Frandsen (Master of the House), and Anne Pedersdotter (Day of Wrath), but also evolved into the intransigence and emotional repression of Gertrud, and Peter Skraedder's inhumane curse on the pregnant Inger in Ordet. His tireless campaign to promote tolerance and advocacy for the oppressed proved to be a formidable ideology during the German occupation of Denmark during World War II.

The authors also dispel the myth of Dreyer as a tyrannical, difficult, and financially excessive filmmaker, and instead, cite excerpts from personal interviews conducted with several actors and production crew members. Renee Falconetti described him as "the ideal director" by whom she was "astonished at his industry, patience, and strength of will." His infectious pursuit of perfection and polite demeanor often inspired actors to a similar level of dedication to the film and implicit trust in Dreyer. Einar Sissener, who made his film debut in Dreyer's film, The Bride of Glomdal, recounts how Dreyer convinced him to perform in a physically dangerous scene:

"I was the story's young hero and at the end of the film I was in a stream. For this a Norwegian swimming champion was hired. But when the scene was to be shot, he didn't care to do it. I was at that time at the National Theatre in Oslo. Suddenly the telephone rang. It was Carl Th. Dreyer. 'Sissener, hello. Do you have life insurance?' 'No,' I answered. 'Go and get insurance right away. Say goodbye to your family, bring two flasks of cognac with you and say nothing to the theatre manager. You must act in the waterfall.' I went. The shooting took five days in September. It was forty-four degrees in the water. Dreyer gave the cognac to the horse. I only got cough medicine. Yes, Dreyer could get people to do anything he wanted. Long may he live."

Jean and Dale Drum present an impartial, accessible, and comprehensive biography on the intensely private and relentlessly perfectionist visionary filmmaker. The authors trace Dreyer's life from his nebulous parentage, to his early career as a journalist and pursuit of adventure, to his dedicated life in the motion pictures, and ultimately, to his death from pneumonia in 1968. It is a reverent portrait that echoes the unbiased chronicle and social realism of Dreyer's own cinema - a search to find emotional truth and profound humanity behind the enigmatic image.

03-28-01: Notes on Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s by Donald Kirihara.

In the book Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s, Donald Kirihara recounts a legendary episode at the Venice Film Festival that sets the tone for Kenji Mizoguchi's unique and unforgettable films:

"When in Venice in 1963 for the festival screening of Ugetsu, he spoke of the film as a representative of Japan's aesthetic tradition. To underline that, he and star Kinuyo Tanaka wore traditional kimono to the film's premiere."

Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi in the 1930sWhat is revealed through these memorable, fragmented images of the enigmatic Mizoguchi is an artist of singular focus, profound social conscience, unsentimental vision (Masahiro Shinoda describes Mizoguchi's camera as "an unhurried gaze"), fickle studio allegiance, deep reverence to cultural tradition, and a staggeringly prolific body of work (rivaling even the output of Rainer Werner Fassbinder).

Mizoguchi's technique continued to evolve throughout his career, producing an estimated 85 films from 1922 to his untimely death from cancer in 1956. Kirihara focuses his in-depth analysis on Mizoguchi's films from the 1930s, a turbulent decade marked by profound social and political change, and demarcates the turning point of Mizoguchi's "mature style": The Downfall of Osen, Naniwa Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, and The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum.

In defining an external frame of reference, Kirihara cites several catalysts for the evolution of Mizoguchi's work. The increasing westernization of Japan and the popularity of Hollywood films compelled Japanese filmmakers to adapt, if not imitate, the structure and feel of western films. Mizoguchi, in turn, decided to incorporate some of the techniques of western films, such as montage and extended, fluid camera movement, but retained the familiarity of traditional settings and customs. As Japan became increasingly isolationist in the years preceding World War II, censorship guidelines for the motion pictures were enacted and the exhibition of western films were largely suppressed. Mizoguchi was again compelled to adapt in order to survive both creatively and financially, but continued to subvert the ambiguity of the regulations to create films that, despite their historical settings, provided an accurate and socially relevant glimpse of contemporary Japan.

Observations:
Although Kirihara provides a comprehensive portrait of Mizoguchi's chaotic environment during his pivotal creative transition, the author does not provide a historical biography of the inscrutable filmmaker. Mizoguchi was born into a working class family, the son of a carpenter. When Mizoguchi's mother died at an early age, his father, unable to care for their two children, sold his sister to a geisha house. When Mizoguchi's father passed away, it was his sister who supported him through school. It is this devotion and sense of duty between the two siblings that is reflected in Mizoguchi's compassionate portrayal of women, and the guilt of separation caused by their social inequity that underlies the bittersweet and often tragic endings of his intensely personal films.

02-20-01: Notes on Ozu by Donald Richie.

Ozu"I always tell people that I don't make anything besides tofu and that is because I am strictly a tofu-dealer." - Yasujiro Ozu

In the book Ozu, Donald Richie examines Yasujiro Ozu's films by following the common steps for constructing a film: the script, shooting, and editing. Of the three elements, Ozu places primary importance in the script, where every action and mise-en-scene is meticulously storyboarded, and dialogue is precisely composed with no room for improvisation.

A distinctive style in Ozu's films is the relative autonomy of individual scenes. Ozu approached the script as a series of episodic modules that may be rearranged and interchanged to suit the themes that he wanted to convey and to maintain the pace of the film. Hence, commonality of events are often found among Ozu's films: a parent encouraging a child to marry; children showing discourtesy to their parents; an older man is unable to cope with his retirement. Although Ozu's films are reserved and "formal" (Richie uses the Japanese word, enryo), his approach was hardly formalistic. Richie amusingly describes Ozu's screenwriting retreats with longtime collaborator, Kogo Noda:

"Their method of work was always the same: to go someplace and stay up late drinking until the ideas began to come." In fact, Ozu and Noda often judged the success of their script by the amount of alcohol they had consumed during its creation. An entry in Noda's diary punctuates the completion of the script for Tokyo Story as: "Finished, 103 days; 43 bottles of sake."

Ozu's precision in script writing does not extend to his shooting philosophy. Richie notes that Ozu often sacrificed continuity in favor of composition, rearranging furniture and props in between takes in order to achieve the desired image. In Tokyo Story, a close inspection of the aging couple sitting on a sea wall at Atami actually reveals that they have exchanged places in between shots.

Richie briefly postulates on Ozu's stationary, low camera as a familiar Japanese viewpoint when seated from a tatami, and suggests that the distinctive position is conducive to reflection. Richie also compares Ozu's approach to acting to the rigorous style of Robert Bresson. Specifically, Ozu did not subscribe to method acting, and expected his actors to deliver their lines without emoting. On Ozu's instructions for There Was a Father, Chisyu Ryu remarked:

"Ozu told me to stare at the end of my chopsticks and then stare at my hand and then speak to my child. The simple act of doing these things in that order conveyed a certain feeling. Ozu did not explain the feeling; the actions came first. He told me what to do and let me discover the feeling."

Ozu did not rely on editing in order to stylize or shape the final course of the completed film. Rather, Ozu faithfully followed the script and filmed the scenes in sequence. There are few extraneous scenes shot during the course of filming. His use of "pillow images" (shots of nature or the characters' surroundings) and extended shots of inanimate objects are not used in order to camouflage discrepancies in continuity, but to reinforce the statis and "even" tone of the film.

Donald Richie presents a fascinating, sincere, and reverent portrait of Yasujiro Ozu, often called the "most Japanese director". By characterizing Ozu's style as a reflection of Japanese ideals, Richie refutes the stigma of being "old fashioned" often associated with his films. Rather, Ozu's films achieve a higher level of human understanding and inner peace - an enlightenment beyond the mundane inner workings of existence - a state of transcendence.

01-24-01: Notes on Childhood Days: A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.

Childhood Days: RayChildhood Days: A Memoir is a compilation of a series of articles for the children's publication, Sandesh, and best serves as a supplement to his autobiography, My Years With Apu or the Introspections interview by K. Bikram Singh.

Childhood Days: A Memoir flows like a contemplative, familiar, and accessible stream of consciousness of Satyajit Ray's fond memories and fascinating experiences. Although Ray does not directly cite his inspirations for his films, specific personal events clearly influenced Ray's incomparable body of work.

The first half of the book deals with Satyajit Ray's childhood. Ray was born into a prominent family of intellectuals and artists. His father, Sukumar Ray, a renowned satirist and writer, was already ill when Ray was born, and died when Ray was only two years old. His grandfather, Upendra Kishore Ray-Chaudhary, was a prominent writer of children's literature who passed away before Ray was born. In fact, it was his grandfather who created Sandesh, which evolved as part of the family's printing and block-making business. Ray lived in his ancestral home until the age of six, when his family left North Calcutta.

The latter half of the book are recollections and anecdotes on the filming of The Apu Trilogy and the children's stories (such as The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha and The Elephant God). Pather Panchali, his first feature film, took 2-1/2 years to complete, primarily due to lack of funding. Essentially, Ray and his film crew would shoot until the money ran out, then go on fundraising activities, then return to the film. This sporadic funding presented several problems: (1) the critical storm sequence with Durga and Apu was delayed due to late funding, causing them to miss the monsoon season; (2) the death of the actor who played the candy vendor, Chinibash, during the course of the extended shooting (his scenes were intercut with back views of a stand-in); (3) the changing seasonal topography and regional setting (Ray recounts an amusing episode regarding the exquisite kash-filled meadow scene. After returning to the field a week later, the crew found that the kash flowers had all been eaten by cows. Ray had to wait another year for the flowers to re-grow in order to complete filming the scene.)

Observations:
The untimely death of his father, and his mother's determination to provide Ray with a well-rounded education clearly influenced Ray's compassionate portrayal of the strong, resilient women in his films. The themes of loss of heritage and cultural transition in The Apu Trilogy are invariably tied to Ray's own experiences with leaving his ancestral home (especially, Pather Panchali). His early involvement in the family business is reflected through (1) Ray's great love for publishing and graphic arts, as symbolized by the characters' fascination with the printing press in films such as Aparajito (Apu) and Charulata (Bhupati); and (2) his fondness for adapting children's literature, such as The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha and The Elephant God to film.

Overall, what emerges from Ray's animated passages is a great love for the arts, knowledge, and humanity. It is this passion that defines his simple, yet profoundly moving films on the quiet observation of life.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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