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November 2005 Archives

November 28, 2005

Public Lighting, 2004

public_lighting.gif Mike Hoolboom continues to refine the tonally complex, multi-chapter, mixed media compositions of his 2003 video essay, Imitations of Life with his latest - and equally ambitious and inspired - offering, Public Lighting. In the prologue, a restless young writer muses that, "every wound gives off its own light, and some of these wounds are words" and subsequently, takes on the idea of collecting these transitory thoughts of intimate and personal (albeit, non-autobiographical) experiences as light sources to create an illuminating collage of "personalities" - a public lighting - that, when taken together, invariably define the nature of human interaction.

The first installment is composed of primarily black and white shots of familiar streets, city sidewalks, and neighborhood haunts as a male voice recounts his memories of the moments of breakup with lovers and friends, and nostalgic, often embarrassing episodes of missed connection. Images of transience are presented in altered time - trains traversing railroad tracks, swimmers in a pool, automobiles alternately driving by in slow motion and Koyaanisqatsi hyperkinetics - drifting through a Wong Kar-wai-like warped space-time continuum that reveals the underlying atemporality of rejection, longing, and regret.

The second installment is an impressionistic portrait of composer Philip Glass, told through a repeated and complementary series of antique photographs and subterranean images - train stations and commuter tunnels - that visually reflect the harmonic repetition and reverberation innate in Glass' compositions. Replacing dialogue and voice-over narration with subtitled commentary, Hoolboom differentiates between identification (as in the association of image to sound or idea to text) and identity (the repetitive tonality that makes a Glass composition immediately identifiable): a theme encapsulated in the observation, "It is not the melody people listen to but its persistence".

The third installment is the most iconic and immediately (and notoriously) identifiable, Hey Madonna, a collage of images, film excerpts from the pop star's documentary/exposé Truth or Dare, and the music video for Vogue - a life lived in seeming perpetuity (and perhaps intentionally) before the camera. But beyond the superficiality and narcissism in the eternal quest of the limelight, Hoolboom (superim)poses an existential question, "Is being photographed the only way to cheat death?" as the estranged interactions in the life of an HIV positive patient contacting former lovers, told through overlaid text, confront the audience (and consequently, expose the artifice) with more fundamental issues of mortality and legacy, as well the anonymous and humiliating, yet self-enlightening spectacle of terminal illness and the process of death.

The theme of interrelation between camera and personality carries through to the remaining installments of the film. In the fourth installment entitled Tradition, a woman of Chinese ancestry meticulously captures every family gathering on video, remarking that, "I take pictures, not to remember, but to record my forgetting". Rather than perpetuating the cult of personality (as in the previous installment), the camera serves as a means of reinforcing identity, existence, and sense of place in a society where integration and assimilation of Western ideals are synonymous with cultural self-erasure.

The fifth installment represents the most somber, estranged, and austere portrait in its exposition of the camera as testament of human history. Told from the perspective of a silent, introspective photographer named Hiro who serves as an unobtrusive chronicler of night-time cityscapes juxtaposed against images of war-ravaged towns (including the ruins of post-atomic bombing Hiroshima), Hoolboom similarly evokes the theme of a culturally endemic collective amnesia (in the inclusion of a fluff commercial spot) explored by Chris Marker's Level Five and in the haunted memory of the present that pervades Alain Resnais' early feature films. Devoid of dialogue, subtitles, overlaid texts - in essence, all words - the sequence becomes a reflection of humanity as an eternal, impotent, mute witness to barbarism and man-made tragedy.

In some ways, the final installment, Amy, serves as both an antithesis and a corollary to the limelight-seeking exhibitionism of the third chapter, as a young woman reveals her feelings of violation after being photographed in the nude by a fashion photographer during her adolescence. Presented as a series of formally modeled photographs and told in voice-over commentary by an actress in a recording studio, Hoolboom underscores the theme of objectification as the young woman's memories of self-consciousness at being intimately photographed by a virtual stranger is further reinforced by substituting the voice of the model - in essence, silencing her articulation of her own thoughts - in order to create an aesthetic ideal for the video camera. In this instance, the loss of innocence comes, not from a physical violation, but from the conditionally learned consciousness of being filmed and the realization of performance.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 28, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Mike Hoolboom

November 7, 2005

How I Got Into an Argument... (My Sex Life), 1996

argument.gifArnaud Desplechin's films may be anarchic and free-formed, but they are never without a sense of internal logic and intelligent construction. This liberating sense of organic structure is particularly evident in the opening sequence of How I Got Into an Argument... (My Sex Life): a napping assistant professor and seemingly perennial doctoral candidate, Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric), awakened by a ray of light streaming through the window and the sound of remodeling of an adjacent faculty office that is being prepared for the arrival of the new department head of epistemology, emerges from a haze of drowsiness and construction dust to witness the dramatic (and literal) unmasking of a shiny new placard that reveals the name of a former graduate school colleague and estranged friend Frédéric Rabier (Michel Vuillermoz). This sequence proves to be a terse encapsulation of the nearly three hours of painstakingly observed human comedy that unfolds as the film chronicles the trajectory of Paul's emotional and existential awakening after (perhaps temporarily) breaking up with his long-term girlfriend Esther (Emmanuelle Devos), listening to his cousin Bob's (Thibault de Montalembert) nitpicking of his lover Patricia's (Chiara Mastroianni) idiosyncrasies, and flirting with an unsustainable affair involving the charming, but mercurial Valérie (Jeanne Balibar), the live-in lover of his over-analytical, but unmotivated friend Jean-Jacques (Denis Podalydès). Still nursing an unreconciled wound over an ill-fated love affair with the enigmatic Sylvia (Marianne Denicourt), who has since moved on - and moved in - with his colleague and friend Nathan (Emmanuel Salinger), Paul's obsession metastasizes in the form of his self-perceived rivalry - and fixation over unraveling the cause of the rupture - with his erstwhile friend, colleague, and co-author Frédéric. At the core of Paul's neurotic preoccupation is the underlying egocentrism of human nature that attempts to define the puzzle of all relationships through the pre-formed contours of our own cognition and need for validation. It is this pensive insecurity and melancholic romanticism that inevitably makes Desplechin's films (and in particular, this one) so attractive and endearing: the realization of our own pathological need to believe that somehow, in that however brief moment of connection, we have indelibly touched the life of another - that object of desire or kindred spirit - and consequently disrupted the eternal order of things and irreparably altered the very structure of its soul.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 07, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Arnaud Desplechin

November 2, 2005

Uttara, 2000

uttara.gifOstensibly an allegorical, cautionary tale on religious fundamentalism, Uttara is also a bracing and incisive examination of the provincialism, anachronism, moral and social quandary, and inherent contradictions that continue to shape contemporary Indian culture. Composed of seemingly unrelated narrative threads - a pair of bored, train crossing signal operators, Nemal (Tapas Pal) and Balaram (Shankar Chakraborty), who bide their time honing their wrestling skills, a Christian missionary (R.I. Asad) who dispenses food at a rural village ravaged by poverty in exchange for converting desperate (and undernourished) souls, an ancient parade of ceremonial masks conducted by dwarves, and a band of Hindu zealots cutting a swath of intimidation and chaos across the landscape as they drive through the countryside in an off-road utility vehicle - the paths fatefully intersect through the titular heroine, Uttara (Jaya Seal), a peasant woman from a distant village who is foisted in marriage to the reluctant Balaram by his dotty, but well intentioned aunt.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the film lies in the Felliniesque sequences of dwarves wearing pagan masks as they perform a ritual dance throughout the isolated village. Like Tsitsi Dangrembga's subsequent short film, Mother's Day (in which a group of dancers in the form of subterranean insects emerge to the surface in order carry a corpse back into their lair for a proper burial), the seemingly pantheistic ancient rite of passage evokes, not only a sense of duty to tribal customs, but also represents a closeness to the earth - an instinctual connection to roots - that has become increasingly sublimated in an environment of self-interest, vanity, aimlessness, and petty competition. It is this contrasted, parallel image of reverence for the cycle of nature that inevitably renders Buddhadeb Dasgupta's vision of modern-day India such a complex, provocative, and tragic one: a culture profoundly eroded by colonialism, impoverished by an ingrained sense of western dependency (a dependency that is now cultivated in missionary work and in delusive notions of osmotic Anglicization by migrating to America), disconnected from its heritage and indigenous history, subjugated by social hypocrisy, and terrorized by the inhumanity of blind extremism.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 02, 2005 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2005