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Cover page design by Jeena Ragheb Graphic designer: Steven Johnson Editor in chief: Catherine Bergeron French Copy Editor: Catherine Bergeron English Copy Editors: Harris Frost Matthieu Marin Nina Patterson Kameryn Whyte Joshua Wiebe Afterimages Official Feature Writers: Patrick Blair Natalie Doyle Claudia Edwards Olivia Frey EvangĂŠline Kabuya Sarah Teixeira St-Cyr The design of this magazine has been created as a clear continuation of the design and artistic direction established by Hannah Materne. This magazine was funded by Jennifer Sin and Nina Patterson. Printed with:
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6 Note de l'éditrice / Editor's Note 8 Seinfeld and the Bromance; A Look into the Homosocial Relationship Romina Cameron
14 PERSONNAGES Stéphanie Pineau
20 Bowie: A Multi-Generational Icon for all Cinephiles Natalie Doyle
25 Interview: Jeffrey From the Underground Sarah Teixeira St-Cyr
30 REVIEW: Truths that Rise up Above the Surface Like the Humps of a Sea Monster: 20,000 Days on Earth Harris Frost
32 DOSSIER: La scène inaudible : autour d’une rencontre avec Corneliu Porumboiu Catherine Bergeron
40 REVIEW: The horrific and hilarious absurdity of conformity in The Lobster Olivia Frey
52 The Florid and The Sublime: Richard Mosse’s The Enclave Claudia Edwards
54 Interview: Black Canadian Cinema Kameryn Whyte
60 A Critical Take on Hollywood Genre: Christian Petzold’s Phoenix Maggie Mills
62 Anna Karenina (2012): The Mirror of Russian Love Kimberly Glassman
71 Hiding in Plain Sight: The Voyeuristic Camera Aesthetics of Carol Nina Patterson
74 CONDITIONS OF LOSS on Béla Tarr’s Turin Horse (2011) Joshua Wiebe
78 Reflecting on the Life of Haskell Wexler (1922-2015) Patrick Blair
MOT DE L’ÉDITRICE Il semble toujours plus facile de juger quelque chose qui a déjà été jugé, qui a déjà passé l’épreuve du temps. Nous connaissons aujourd’hui les grands génies du cinéma. Ceux et celles qui ont écrit l’Histoire. Nous savons ce qu’ils ont révolutionné, ce qu’ils ont apporté au septième art. Il est facile, aujourd’hui, de dire qui sont les maîtres, mais qu’en était-il à l’époque? Comment étaient-ils regardés et critiqués? La présente édition du magazine Afterimages propose de se pencher sur le cinéma du présent, ce cinéma encore jeune, qui reste parfois difficile à nommer et à catégoriser. Les textes qui suivent cherchent à réfléchir l’apport d’œuvres et d’artistes de l’époque contemporaine. Un à un, les articles viennent questionner les valeurs, les problématiques, les nouveautés et les continuités du cinéma d’aujourd’hui de manière à proposer une édition actuelle qui s’attarde finalement moins à hier qu’à demain. Bonne lecture, Catherine Bergeron
EDITORâ€™S NOTE It always seems easier to judge something that has already been judged, that has passed the test of time. Now, we know perfectly well who the great masters of cinema are. The ones who wrote History. We know what they revolutionized, which new strengths and powers they brought to the art of filmmaking. It is so easy to name the masters today, but how were they perceived at their own beginnings? How were they judged and criticized? The current issue of Afterimages attempts a closer look at the art of cinema, as it is now, in the present. This issue looks at a younger cinema, at an art of filmmaking that still requires time before it can slide into the constraints of final words and categories. The following articles look at what contemporary artists are bringing to the medium. One by one, they question the values, issues, novelties and continuities in todayâ€™s cinema. Enjoy, Catherine Bergeron
Seinfeld and the Bromance; A Look into the Homosocial Relationship BY Romina Cameron Edited by Matthieu Marin
The sitcoms of the 1990s presented viewers with several memorable romantic couples. From the inevitable relationship shared between Monica and Chandler Bing in Friends (1994-2004), to the humorous and unlikely pairing of Marge and Homer Simpson in The Simpsons (1989-Present), there is no denying that love and romance is a common factor that lures audiences into watching each episode week after week. But what about the relationships shared between two friends, two buddies, or two guy pals? What about the “bromance?”
Urban Dictionary defines this term as, “the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males,”1 and as “the close relationship shared between two bros to such a point where they start to seem like a couple.”2 The bromance thus excludes the possibility of gay men having this type of relationship. When considering this definition, characters such as Chandler and Joey from Friends may come to mind, but perhaps more interesting is the close bond shared between the characters of Jerry and George from the hit 1990s sitcom Seinfeld (1989-1998). These characters are presented as two straight males who are incapable
of committing to serious long-term relationships with women. Unlike Chandler and Joey of Friends (who will eventually be separated through Chandler’s being married to Monica), Jerry and George never seem to be satisfied with their female relationships for more than one episode. However, the bond they share with each other seems to have lasted forever. This has led to viewers, such as myself, to question whether their relationship is a simple friendship or a front for something more. Through an analysis of the theories presented by Eve Sedgwick in her book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), readers will better understand the complicated nature of the relationship shared between these two male characters. By examining the bond shared between Jerry and George, and the use of Sedgwick’s theory of homosocial desire, a clearer understanding of the underlying circumstances of males who choose to engage in a “bromance” will be possible. To begin, it is important to understand the theory of homosocial desire that Sedgwick has presented. Similar to the definition of “bromance,” the term homosocial can be related to the bond shared
between two men. The basic argument presented in Between Men demonstrates the intrinsic need for male same-sex bonding, and the restraining standardizations placed onto these relationships.3 Sedgwick focuses on the generally domineering effect this way of perceiving has placed upon men and women due to the forbidden nature of maleto-male desire by implying that affections are often routed through a false desire involving a woman.4 This leads to the idea of erotic triangulation, where a female often functions as a surrogate for the eroticism felt between two men.5 Sedgwick goes on to explain that male homosocial activity is meant to be a distinction from homosexual pursuits, however they are both placed on a continuum; although they are not noticeably different from each other, their extremes are quite distinct.6 This fact creates an anxiety within men who fear being associated to homosexuality and effeminacy and therefore must prove their masculinity to each other through the pursuit of women.7 However, Sedgwick states that it is precisely this pursuit that creates an issue, as it seems that the bond that men share while pursuing women is equal to the bond they would share with the women herself.8 Sedgwick describes this triangulation as, “the use of women by men as
From The Outing (1993), Seinfeld,directed by Tom Cherones
exchangable objects, as counters of value, for the primary purpose of cementing relationships with other men.”9 Before applying Sedgwick’s theories to the relationship of Jerry and George, it is important to understand their personal history. The homosocial relationship between the two characters first began in high school gym class. However, their friendship began under different circumstances than most. After trying to climb up a rope and continuously slipping, George eventually falls and lands on Jerry’s head, as he was spotting him from underneath.
Jessica Schell, author of the publication Seinfeld and the Bromance states, “Their initial encounter established a level of intimacy that very few male friendships would ever experience.”10 This accident has proven crucial to the bond the two characters share throughout the series. As they began the relationship in a vulnerable position, it seems as though the stigma of sharing these same intimate trivialities of life with anyone else could never be possible. The two rely completely on each other, and consistently run into issues maintaining meaningful relationships with women because of this. It seems as though every relationship the two enter is doomed to fail, but the real question is why? The first point Sedgwick raises regarding erotic triangulation prompts a discussion concerning Jerry and George’s relationship with their mutual friend Elaine Benes. Sedgwick has defined erotic triangulation as, “The use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men.”11 The homosocial bond shared between Jerry and George ultimately informs the way they enter into relationships with women, however in regards to Elaine, “The men see something akin
From The Outing (1993), Seinfeld,directed by Tom Cherones
to themselves in her character, something more masculine,”12 as author Di Mattia explains in his text Male Anxiety and the Buddy System on Seinfeld. Because of this Jerry and George feel comfortable around her and often place her in the middle of their silly antics. Their female friend is the perfect standin as, Elaine does not demand that the structures of homosociality change, therefore Jerry and George do not need to adapt themselves to conventional feminine codes allowing the two friends to pursue their homosocial relationship freely without worrying about how they appear. For both men, Elaine is mostly a platonic entity… who purpose is to function as a foil. By frequently including Elaine in their daily activities, she is utilized as a tool, which then redirects the eroticism felt between the two men. Because of Elaine’s presence there is no real motivation for either Jerry or George to succeed in any other relationship. With the help of Elaine, their homosocial relationship, or “bromance,” has flourished into the most satisfying relationship model the two have experienced. This therefore leads to the questioning of whether the homosocial relationship shared between both Jerry and George is perhaps more closely associated to the homosexual.
Although male homosocial desire is continuously associated to the notion of homosexuality, the two terms are not one and the same. As interpreted by Di Mattia, “Sedgwick defines the homosocial bond as distinct from homosexuality, and encompasses the qualities of male friendship, mentorship, entitlement, rivalry – qualities that mark male bonds as often insular and competitive.”13 The proximity between homosexuality and homosocial relationships creates an anxiety in men as it makes it easier for a man to slip between these two distinct relationships. As a result they are forced into pursuing women in order to prove their
As homosexuality became les expressions of homophobia le discourses surro male bonding cha From The Outing (1993), Seinfeld,directed by Tom Cherones
masculinity to each other. This concern is perhaps best witnessed during episode sixteen of Season 4, “The Outing.” The episode begins with a typical hang out between Jerry, George and Elaine. While conversing over lunch, Elaine notices a woman in a nearby booth eavesdropping. As a prank, she begins to speak to Jerry and George as if they were a closeted gay couple. The men play along but unbeknownst to anyone, the women listening in on their conversation is a student journalist from NYU who is meant to be interviewing Jerry later. When the eavesdropper shows up at Jerry’s apartment, she finds George and Jerry bickering over a piece of fruit as if they were an old couple. As she witnesses the two friends interacting in the apartment, she becomes further convinced that they are indeed in a relationship. Throughout the episode, Jerry and George fear being seen as homosexuals, yet also feel guilty and afraid that they will be perceived as homophobic. As homosexuality became less socially stigmatized, and expressions of homophobia less culturally acceptable, discourses surrounding masculinity and male bonding changed. This shift in mentality provoked several television plots regarding
mistaken sexual identity, addressing the idea of male homosociality at a time when the acceptance of homosexuality was emerging. According to the author of Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television, Michael DeAngelis, this development, “altered cultural constructions of masculinity and male bonding […] and fuelled the rise of the bromance discourse.”14 As a result, the representation of male bonding takes on cultural codes associated to homosexual bonding in order to recognize the likelihood of the homosocial relationship. As the episode continues, Jerry and George’s anxiety grows, for they have been outed to all of Manhattan, forcing them to either accept or reject this new identity that has been thrust upon them. In a desperate attempt to clear their names, Jerry and George both attempt to pursue the reporter. Immediately after the first instance of accusation George shouts, “Alright look, do you wanna have sex right now, do you wanna have sex with me right now!? LETS GO!” Although George’s attempt is futile, Jerry actually succeeds in landing a date with the reporter and manages to get a kiss from her. The two friends being confused as more than that demonstrates the association Sedgwick addresses between the homosocial and homosexual. As both characters attempt to pursue the same woman, they confirm the apprehension that this association creates. However, the interaction between both Jerry and George while attempting to pursue this woman still manages to create confusion regarding the status of their friendship. This triangulation is summarized nicely by the literary scholar David Richter. He states that in light of such feelings, “the homosexual panic is assuaged by triangulation through a woman.”15
ess socially stigmatized, and less culturally acceptable, rounding masculinity and hanged Unconcerned with how others might perceive their masculinity, the friends embrace their “bromance” by perusing women together and often discussing these relationships with each other. However it becomes obvious that these men are hopeless as romantic partners for women, but remarkably compatible as friends. Seinfeld aired for 9 seasons, and as it progressed viewers watched Jerry and George instigate then terminate countless numbers of relationships. It seems that the show intended to use Jerry and George to play with traditional ideas of masculinity rather than suggest a homosexual relationship between the two. The show demonstrates common insecurities that men often face when it comes to interacting with each other. Although they attempt to embody traditional masculine roles in front of their prospective female partners, they are not concerned with appearing masculine within their own homosocial relationship. Neither could ever fully commit to a woman, not because they were uninterested, but simply because they were already fully committed to each other. Schell explains that, “While they never entirely realized they were in a form of serious relationship, there is something to be said that it was the only relationship that held strong over the 9 years.”16 The show has succeeded in exposing the homosocial relationship in regards to Sedgwick’s theories, as the two characters have functioned as a model, helping to disseminate images of an intimate, homosocial bond shared between two straight men. In the case of Jerry and George, the homosocial relationship has proven to be more important than anything else, demonstrating an intrinsic need for male same-sex bonding, regardless of the anxieties that come along with it.
ENDNOTES 1 Fletchlive, definition of “Bromance”, Urban Dictionary. 2 Doomcrs05, definition of “Bromance”, Urban Dictionary. 3 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1985), 1-21. 4 Sedgwick, Between Men, 1-21. 5 Ibid., 123. 6 Ibid., 20. 7 Ibid., 1-21. 8 Ibid., 1-21. 9 Ibid., 123. 10 Jessica Schell, Seinfeld and the Bromance, ISSUU edition, accessed November 27, 2014, https://issuu.com/jessicaschell/docs/seinfeld_photo_essay. 11 Sedgwick, Between Men, 26. 12 Joanna L. Di Mattia, “Male Anxiety and the Buddy System on Seinfeld,” in Seinfeld, Master of Its Domain Revisiting Television’s Greatest Sitcom, ed. David Lavery (New York: Continuum International Group, 2006), 96. 13 Di Mattia, “Male Anxiety and the Buddy System on Seinfeld,” 95. 14 Michael, DeAngelis, Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014), 236, accessed November 26, 2014, https://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780814338995. 15 Schell, Seinfeld and the Bromance. BIBLIOGRAPHY DeAngelis, Michael. Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014. Accessed November 26, 2014. https://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780814338995. Di Mattia, Joanna L. “Male Anxiety and the Buddy System on Seinfeld.” In Seinfeld, Master of Its Domain Revisiting Television’s Greatest Sitcom, edited by David Lavery, 89-107. New York: Continuum International Group, 2006. Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Schell, Jessica. Seinfeld and the Bromance. Photo essay. 2014. ISSUU edition. Accessed November 27, 2014. https://issuu.com/jessicaschell/docs/seinfeld_photo_ essay. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literture and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Smith, Timothy Eric. The Male Body, Male Homosocial Desire and the Comedic Device Penis in Contemporary Hollywood Comedies. Montreal: Concordia University, 2012. Urban Dictionary. Accessed December 4, 2014. http://www.urbandictionary.com/ define.php?term=Bromance.
Une œuvre de Stéphanie Pineau Texte révisé par Catherine Bergeron
Personnages est une série de portraits mettant en scène des personnalités, qui, à la fois, incarnent des stéréotypes et relèvent de l’imaginaire de l’artiste. Stéphanie Pineau s’est inspirée du travail des artistes Cindy Sherman et Pierre & Gilles pour créer cette série. La question du stéréotype fait ici référence à l’image sociale et aux idées généralisées et préconçues pouvant affecter des individus de n’importe quel âge, ethnie ou genre. Par les vêtements et l’attitude des individus présentés à travers les portraits, on arrive à deviner le rôle de chacun et ce, parce que les images, naissant des stéréotypes, sont profondément imprégnées dans notre univers collectif. Un accessoire peut être un simple indice de l’identité d’un individu, comme les lunettes du nerd, par exemple, mais la lisibilité de celui-ci dépendra toujours de notre imaginaire personnel. Cette intrusion du stéréotype donne un aspect narratif à la photographie : les individus deviennent avant tout des personnages. Certains modèles ont ainsi un regard contemplatif, illustrant l’aspect imaginatif et subjectif du personnage. La forme ovale, délimitant les photographies, amène un caractère critique à la représentation en venant faire référence aux portraits miniatures du XIXe siècle. Cette mise en relation des photographies avec le passé évoque finalement la pérennité des stéréotypes, qui continuent à vivre et à se propager à travers plusieurs formes narratives. L’utilisation de la photographie vient ainsi reprendre les « personnages » propres au monde cinématographique tout en mettant de l’avant les différences narratives et représentationnelles naissant du transfert de médium. Si l’image du bad boy est facilement reconnaissable dans le cinéma, elle devient ici fixée à un seul arrêt sur image, ramenant son caractère stéréotypé au premier plan et laissant de côté toute l’épaisseur dramatique du personnage.
Bowie : A Multi-Generational Icon for all Cinephiles
BY Natalie Doyle EDITED BY Matthieu Marin “So the world just got a bit smaller and less wonderful, and the stars look very different today,” Jessica Kiang proclaims on the day of David Bowie’s death.1 Tragic news struck the world on January 10th, 2016, when music and rock legend David Bowie lost his life to cancer just days after both his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar. Mark Lepage of the Montreal Gazette speculates about this by addressing the effect Bowie left on the world “after the stunning grace of celebrating a birthday, releasing a shattering album and then passing without warning, all within 72 hours.”2 These three overwhelming events, occurring in such fast succession, left fans, musicians and artists everywhere shocked, excited and utterly devastated. Now, we are well aware, as a cohesive whole, that the star power of many artists, musicians, rock stars, politicians and entrepreneurs alike undergo major resurgences under the unfortunate circumstance of death. For Bowie’s work, “at the moment, it feels that every glimpse we have of this remarkable creature, every image and every note, has become more precious than it was before”.3 While of course the media has been ridden with tributes and lists concerning Bowie’s accomplishments since his death, it might seem like he has always had a certain level of star 20
power just slightly more unique than the rest. To place Bowie higher than other artists at this point may be favoritism or pity; however, the lifelong draw his work pulled and still pulls is a clear indication of his continuing power among artists and his various outlets of support. What I mean to say is that it seems almost impossible for the novelty of David Bowie to wear off – at least not anytime soon. All of the swirling thoughts and emotions surrounding Bowie and his death at this time are encompassed in constant praise and respect, as critics and fans are noting that he “made other artists better” and even going on to say that he “made art better”.4 While it was his music that no doubt skyrocketed Bowie’s fame, it is important to acknowledge his legendary work in film and video. Bowie had 42 credited film and video appearances as of his death in January5, including many short films and videos as well as his long list of feature film roles. “Bowie’s contribution to cinema is modest in comparison to music, obviously, but it is distinct and fascinating.”6 This comment made in an online tribute works well to prove Bowie had a unique relationship to the medium, predominantly reflected in the roles he played and his respective approach to each. Bowie’s vivid and often absurd stage presence
effectively lent way to his breakthrough into the film world, “because as an actor too, Bowie had a unique screen presence, and he chose his roles so selectively and with such idiosyncratic, yet strangely consistent taste, that almost incidentally to the main narrative of his extraordinary life, he amassed an enviable onscreen filmography.”7 Looking back on his work now, I would have to agree with the masses in saying that it would likely seem each of his roles were handpicked especially for him. There is a novelty in this recognizable connection between these roles, and to the film industry, as his very real and very tangible relationship with the cinematic medium becomes clear when analyzing his visual repertoire. Once again, Bowie’s music undoubtedly trumps his acting for some fans, but it is interesting (not to mention revealing of his personality and work habits) to look at the kinds of work he was doing in the cinema and whom he was doing it with. By this, I mean to direct the attention to Bowie’s collaborations and artistic relationships with uniquely famous directors in order to obtain a better understanding of the types of films he found pleasure in being a part of (if you have never seen any, and, like some, are still completely in the dark). Two big players that immediately come to mind are the geniuses of David Lynch and Wes Anderson. While both of these relationships were not directorto-actor, it is valuable to note the nature of them from a film studies perspective, as the variety of wellknown works of the two aforementioned directors lend themselves to Bowie-related interpretation. Though it may seem cliché or predictable to unpack the work relationship between Bowie and these specific directors, I think it is important to acknowledge his Hollywood presence both as an actor as well as a member of a soundtrack. One of the films in discussion here is Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Though the works of Anderson only feature Bowie as part of the soundtrack, this audio-visual relationship no doubt adds to the overwhelming need for his postpassing visual representation. Any fan of the cinema can attest to Anderson’s quirky and recognizable style, adding an interesting level of analysis and enjoyment knowing that Bowie was wanted as a piece of the project. It is the connections like these that often go unnoticed, that prove to be the most interesting and revealing aspects of Bowie’s life and work to me. A huge fan of Wes Anderson, I almost feel a sense of pride in knowing these two individuals had the chance to connect.
David Lynch, on the other hand, sought Bowie out as an actor in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). The pairing of Lynch and Bowie, two estranged and unique individuals, sparks not only my interest, but also that of fans and critics. This prequel to Lynch’s popular series Twin Peaks stars the series favourite detective Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. Bowie comes in as Phillip Jeffries, FBI agent. Though this role was more of a cameo appearance based on its short duration, Bowie perfectly fits the role, mysterious, elusive and a little bit crazy. Looking back on this performance now, what is perhaps most elusive is the fact that Bowie, or Jeffries, suddenly disappears, which sort of parallels his own sickness and death. Not many saw it coming – the world (or, the viewers, in the case of Twin Peaks) was taken by surprise. Concerning this specific role, it might be interesting to ask ourselves: would Bowie have made an appearance in the new episodes being released by Lynch in the near future? This mystery is frustrating, tragic, and yet all-too perfect for the mystical David Bowie (Phillip Jeffries), fueling my need to know more about this indefinable star. Another way that Bowie elusively penetrates the world of cinema is in the famous, freeing scene from Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). The scene here is known as the ‘tunnel scene’, in which the three main characters drive through a city tunnel in a pick-up truck, Emma Watson’s character, Sam, standing in the truck bed with her arms spread wide. I am not so interested in the scene as much as what sparked the characters’ decision to drive through the tunnel at all: a Bowie song. “Heroes” comes on the car radio, to which Sam jumps at exclaiming things like, ‘oh my god! What is this song? Have you heard this?’ and when the suggestion to ride through the tunnel is brought up, Sam deems it ‘amazing’ and ‘perfect’. Furthermore, this scene is about being and feeling infinite, a scene that could not have found a better pair than “Heroes,” emanating so many of the things that people feel and still feel about David Bowie. This film, still popular today among the younger generation seems to secure the novelty of Bowie, his song and his feeling of infinity a spot in the mind of young cinephiles. Speaking as a member of this younger generation, it is modern pop culture references like these that will continue to stick in the minds of young fans, allowing a place of respect to be created for Bowie in these upcoming generations.
Setting these past few films aside, it is imminently unavoidable to discuss both Labyrinth (1986) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). “If you know nothing about David Bowie at all, a great entry point into his work is Labyrinth, which he both appeared in and composed the music for.”8 This is one of those roles that seems like it was written for him specifically. Kiang claims that “securing Bowie’s involvement as the Goblin King Jareth was such a major feat in the development of Jim Henson’s fairy tale fable “Labyrinth,” that the orbit of the film shifted slightly to accommodate him.”9 This demonstrates the demand for Bowie in these sort of estranged roles, crafting character traits and decisions based on the real David Bowie, hoping that he might consider playing the role. Drew Mackie from People claims that King Jareth was so “weirdly cool and weirdly sexy,”10 traits that Bowie radiated on a dayto-day basis, only further confirming the suspicion that this role may have been written just for him. Because he also composed the music for the film, the end product was especially Bowie-filled. If you are looking for something to watch and remember Bowie, I would speculate, with no hesitation, that Labyrinth is one of your best choices. The second monstrous feat in Bowie’s filmography, widely talked about by critics as his perfect role, is The Man Who Fell to Earth. Director Nicholas Roeg cast Bowie in this sci-fi type film as an alien named Thomas Jerome Newton. This was Bowie’s first feature film role and perhaps the most important, as it speaks to the current tragedy of his death in a rather abstract and roundabout way. “He’s playing a character who’s fragile and appears perpetually to be on the verge of breaking.”11 At the time of release, this role as an extraterrestrial being was perfect for the strange and quirky Bowie, and is now, if possible, almost more perfect as we reflect on his last days. There is so much praise for this film and this role that makes it impossible to avoid. It was “a cult classic almost the second it opened” and “it feels like now that Bowie’s song has been sung through to its end, this is definitely one of the films that future generations will look to explain his legacy.”12 Reflecting not only on David Bowie’s film career, but also on his life as a whole, I see decades of pure genius. Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone magazine claims, “his passing occasioned the kind of worldwide grief not seen since the deaths of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.”13 Keith Phipps from UPROXX claims Bowie was “the Elvis of outsiders,”14 and even Bono of U2 makes references to Elvis in 22
it is modern po like these tha in the minds of a place of res Bowie in these his endearing tribute published to Rolling Stone.15 These remarks hold extreme value in the world of music. The many artists who spoke up about Bowie after his death, praising and paying tribute to the luminous man they once knew, positions Bowie in a new light – not just making him new again, because Bowie was doing that himself with Blackstar, but in a way that shows his ultimate respect and persistent presence in the various sectors of the art world. As a member of the young artistic community, I believe it is crucial to understand the Bowie effect, not only in cinema but also on the art world as a whole. Analyzing the unique connections he made with other artists throughout his life and career is incredibly inspiring, weaving an intricate path for young artists to aspire to follow. David Bowie was an icon that will not and cannot be forgotten, but if you do find yourself letting the power of Bowie slip away, I suggest you take a look into his deep repertoire of lifetime work. Josef Braun from Vue Weekly concludes his tribute by introducing the term “Bowieness”16 and I think that is a perfect way to respectfully say goodbye, and yet eagerly reinvite Bowie into the world of art, music, film and iconography.
pop culture references at will continue to stick of young fans, allowing spect to be created for se upcoming generations Endnotes
1 Jessica Kiang, “The 8 Essential Movie Performances of David Bowie,” The Playlist, January 11, 2016, accessed February 2, 2016, http://blogs.indiewire.com/ theplaylist/the-8-essential-movie-performances-of-david-bowie-20160111?page=2.
Braun, Josef. “A crack(ed) actor: Bowie’s filmwork was distinct and fascinating.” Vue Weekly. January 14, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2016. http://www.vueweekly. com/a-cracked-actor-bowies-filmwork-was-distinct-and-fascinating/.
2 Mark Lepage, “David Bowie’s Montreal connection stretched back to 1970s stardom,” Montreal Gazette, January 11, 2016, accessed February 4, 2016, http:// montrealgazette.com/entertainment/Wmusic/david-bowies-montreal-connectionstretched-back-to-1970s-stardom.
“David Bowie.” IMDb. Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.imdb.com/name/ nm0000309/.
3 Allison Shoemaker et al., “10 David Bowie Songs that Made Films Better,” Consequence of Sound, January 11, 2016, accessed January 6, 2016, http:// consequenceofsound.net/2016/01/10-david-bowie-songs-that-made-films-better/7/. 4
Shoemaker et al., “10 David Bowie Songs that Made Films Better.”
“David Bowie,” IMDb, accessed Febuary 12, 2016, www.imdb.com.
6 Josef Braun, “A crack(ed) actor: Bowie’s filmwork was distinct and fascinating,” Vue Weekly, January 14, 2016, accessed February 2, 2016, http://www. vueweekly.com/a-cracked-actor-bowies-filmwork-was-distinct-and-fascinating/. 7
Kiang, “The 8 Essential Movie Performances of David Bowie.”
8 Kelly Lawler, “David Bowie’s 10 Best film and TV roles,” USA Today, January 11, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2016/01/11/david-bowie10-best-film-and-tv-roles/78625098/. 9
Kiang, “The 8 Essential Movie Performances of David Bowie.”
10 Drew Mackie, “David Bowie, The Actor: Nine of His Most Memorable Movie Roles,” People, January 11, 2016, accessed January 29, 2016, http://www.people.com/ article/david-bowie-acting-roles. 11 Keith Phipps, “Looking Back On The Film Role Only David Bowie Could Play,” UPROXX, January 11, 2016, accessed February 2, 2016, http://uproxx.com/movies/ david-bowie-the-man-who-fell-to-earth/. 12 Kiang, “The 8 Essential Movie Performances of David Bowie.”
Hiatt, Brian. “Bono Remembers David Bowie: ‘He Is My Idea of a Rock Star.” Rolling Stone. January 27, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2016. http://www.rollingstone. com/music/features/bono-remembers-david-bowie-he-is-my-idea-of-a-rockstar-20160127. Kiang, Jessica. “The 8 Essential Movie Performances of David Bowie.” The Playlist. January 11, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2016. http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/ the-8-essential-movie-performances-of-david-bowie-20160111?page=2. Lawler, Kelly. “David Bowie’s 10 Best Film Roles.” USA Today. January 11, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/ entertainthis/2016/01/11/david-bowie-10-best-film-and-tv-roles/78625098/. Lepage, Mark. “David Bowie’s Montreal connection stretched back to 1970s stardom.” Montreal Gazette. January 11, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2016. http:// montrealgazette.com/entertainment/music/david-bowies-montreal-connectionstretched-back-to-1970s-stardom. Mackie, Drew. “David Bowie, The Actor: Nine of His Most Memorable Movie Roles.” People. January 11, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2016. http://www.people.com/article/ david-bowie-acting-roles. Phipps, Keith. “Looking Back On The Film Role Only David Bowie Could Play.” UPROXX. January 11, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2016. http://uproxx.com/movies/ david-bowie-the-man-who-fell-to-earth/. Shoemaker, Allison, Blake Goble, Michael Roffman and Adam Kivel. “10 David Bowie Songs That Made Films Better.” Consequence of Sound. January 11, 2016. Accessed January 6, 2016. http://consequenceofsound.net/2016/01/10-david-bowiesongs-that-made-films-better/7/.
13 Brian Hiatt, “Inside David Bowie’s Final Years,” Rolling Stone, January 27, 2016, accessed February 4, 2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/insidedavid-bowies-final-years-20160127. 14 Phipps, “Looking Back On The Film Role Only David Bowie Could Play.” 15 Bono (as told to Brian Hiatt), “Bono Remembers David Bowie: ‘He Is My Idea of a Rock Star’,” Rolling Stone, January 27, 2016, accessed February 4, 2016, http:// www.rollingstone.com/music/features/bono-remembers-david-bowie-he-is-my-ideaof-a-rock-star-20160127. 16 Braun, “A crack(ed) actor: Bowie’s filmwork was distinct and fascinating.”
Jeffrey From the Underground
BY Sarah Teixeira St-Cyr Edited BY Kameryn Whyte
Jeffrey Babcock is a film curator, writer and filmmaker. A former student of Stan Brakhage and David Bordwell, he has been living in Amsterdam for thirty years with a rooted involvement in art activism. For the past 9 years, this has taken the form of Jeffrey’s Underground Cinema; pop-up screenings featuring an array of transgressive films that Babcock selects and contextualizes historically, aesthetically and politically. With three-and-a-half thousand subscribers on his mailing list, a book under his belt and another on the way, Babcock seems to be providing a subversive exhibition practice that viewers didn’t know they needed.
probably have some place to put my bags down, some kind of home, because I wanted to stay. And I thought that the best place for me to live would be Amsterdam. That’s when I did it, and I’ve been here ever since.
SARAH TEIXEIRA ST-CYR: What brought you to Europe from the United States and when?
JB: Yeah, I got the hell out of Dodge.
JEFFREY BABCOCK: I don’t really know how to explain that, except for that as a child I grew up in different suburbs and it became very unimaginative. When I was in high school – like 15 years old – I started going to the local university campus, and there were a bunch of hippie freaks and they really loved film. They would basically rent out a lecture hall, and Friday and Saturday nights they would screen a bunch of films. They would also show foreign films, which I wouldn’t have had any chance of being exposed to otherwise, and I started finding out about people like Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, Bergman, etc. I couldn’t identify with anything in my environment, and suddenly for whatever reason, I felt like I could finally identify with something culturally in some way, and that was European cinema. I just thought, “This is a dead end for me,” and I decided to leave the United States, and that was in 1984. I had this idea of Europe and so I decided to come. I was traveling around but after about two years I decided I should Photo by Cecilia D. Courtesy of Jeffrey Babcock
STS: Where are you from originally? JB: I’m from Kansas. I was born in a place called Dodge City, and the only other person that I know from Dodge is Dennis Hopper. But I was like eight months old when my parents moved. STS: So you got out of Dodge.
STS: You’ve been active in film for a while now, but where did you get the idea to start the Underground Cinema? JB: I’m passionate about film. I was making films here in Holland for a while with a friend of mine. But cinemas were becoming more commercialized in the form of chains and multiplexes, and I thought that there were plenty of movies being pumped out these days; therefore, I shouldn’t be putting my energy into making more films. What we really, really need are places to see the films… alternative places to see the films. That was the original inspiration. But I have to backtrack a little bit and say that when I came to Amsterdam in the 1980s, it was a magical place. I was shocked that such a place could exist. This was a city that was tolerant, open, free, and you could live here with no money without any problem. There were squats through the entire city, squats on every block. And that meant you could basically live the way that you really want to live, 25
Photo by Cecilia D. Courtesy of Jeffrey Babcock
and live for free as far as rent goes. Like, 15 dollars a month, and this was possible. I was really impressed by that. I had friends from America that came to visit me here and they said, “America has nothing to do with democracy. This is really democracy.” I had friends come from Russia say to me “That has nothing to do with socialism. This is really socialism.” I’m keeping the spirit alive of what I experienced 20 or 30 years ago. There was an incredible amount of creativity in Amsterdam in the 1980s and that kind of communitybased creativity was an influence in the cinemas. STS: There’s something rather anti-capitalist about the cinemas. Is that principle important to you? JB: Well in a sense I’m anti-capitalist, but I believe in a balance, in a kind of fusion of looking at the options in different systems or models to create your own way of doing things. Now, as far as the cinemas go… At the moment I have about eight different places where I’m showing movies. Half of them are really cheap, and half of them are for free. I try to have as many free options for people as I can every week, because I feel that when people have to pay a lot of money for a ticket, they end up going to see things that they know already, things that they can count on in a way. With my kind of film programming, you never know what you’re going to get. My program is pretty eclectic, pretty diverse, and pretty off the map in a lot of different ways, for normal cinemagoers in any case. STS: How have you found and chosen your venues? JB: First, I believe you should only work with people that you like. Second, the cinemas have to be cheap or for free. What I’m trying to do is take advantage of technology and the possibility of being able to create a cinema in any space for one night. For example; last year, the University of Amsterdam decided that they were going to sell off a university building and build a new building further west because the property was becoming expensive and they could make a lot of money fast. When they did that, the students from the Sociology department occupied their old commons room. I thought “it would be great to show movies there,” and I started having a cinema there with them, which lasted about a month and a half before they were thrown out. Then three weeks later I was going down past the main library building of the university, and there were a bunch of students outside. They said “Hey Jeff! Guess what? We just occupied the library!” which is this huge, beautiful, art deco building that looks like a fortress in the center of the city, and they occupied it. They had tables barricading the front doors
and the only way you could enter was through the back windows where there was a ladder going up, and they said, “Why don’t you schedule a movie and get some people here?” It was important that there were people inside the building. They had people constantly, and they had lectures going on, but they had to have other people, the more people inside the building the better. I guaranteed them that at least 40 people would come, and told people to meet outside on the main street at the corner. So ten minutes before the movie began I went out and there were like 150 people on the corner waiting to get inside. So we brought them all around and 150 people went up the ladder and through the window and we had a screening in the old boardroom of the library, with all these paintings on the wall of these stuffy directors of the University and we just packed people in to the ceiling and showed the movie. STS: Was that the week that you showed Putney Swope? JB: Yeah, that was the film that I showed, and the movie takes place in a boardroom, so I thought it was kind of nice to match that space. I kept on showing movies while they were there for about two months, then the police came again and threw them out, and then one day later they occupied the main administration building, also in the center of the city. So I continued showing movies there for about two or three months while they were holding that building, and then about six months ago, they occupied the oldest bridge in Amsterdam, right on the main canal. So now every Wednesday I show movies in this beautiful catacomblike space inside the bridge. So once again, any space can be used for a cinema. STS: I assume the audience must be made up of a number of students, but who else goes to the screenings? JB: Diversity is a huge part of my screenings. I’m really fighting against the idea of standardization, so each space has its own mood and its own atmosphere and they are just radically different from each other. The kinds of movies I program every week are also radically different from each other. Because I show movies with English subtitles, it opens things up to all different kinds of people from all over the world, and every economic background. So you get a situation where you have an illegal immigrant, who has no money, and someone from, say, Dutch television both coming to the screening. So these two people are meeting and sharing a space together within a society that likes to keep these kinds of people apart. The way that I’ve
designed the cinemas is to break down those boxes. So there is an incredible diversity going on in terms of the kinds of people that come to the movies. STS: Is that social factor something that you try to preserve, the “sociality” of viewing the films? JB: Definitely. I believe that film is a communal social experience, and part of the community of cinema is that you have a room full of people all dreaming together. I find that the way our world is changing is that people are becoming more and more separated from each other and this was one of the reasons I started this, ethically. I could see this in our society and I would try to create alternative spaces, underground spaces, which brought people back together again. When an audience watches a movie together, the audience also changes the movie. There’s an influence going on, there’s an interaction between the audience and the movie, and after the film people stick around and they talk to each other about it. Also, there’s an aspect that is kind of formal, so you don’t have this thing where people are watching movies at home by themselves and turning it off or pausing it or breaking it up in some way. In a cinema space they endure it and appreciate it. There’s too much attraction to what people already know and they only want tweaked versions of what is familiar. The fact that so many people are coming and seeing movies that they never would have watched in any other kind of way, I think it’s a really great sign. STS: Is that why you maintain such a diverse collection of films? JB: If I was going to have a Film Noir cinema, or a Horror Film cinema, it would probably be full every week but it would always be the same people. By creating diversity in the programming, I’m mixing up different genres and different types of people and I think that some people just began to trust my opinion. If you look at a movie as kind of a door to another world, then what I’m trying to do is open up as many fucking doors as possible, because that opens up people’s minds, and that sparks imagination. People might say that I’m an activist in some kind of way, but in the end, I’m an activist of the imagination. That’s how I see myself. I believe I’m defending culture, and I think culture is something that is being lost rapidly in a world where everything is hyper-commercialized. Art used to be something different. Before, patrons gave money to art without expecting a return; people just gave it up because there was an inherent value in culture. So I’ve sometimes called myself a cultural activist because I believe in that.
STS: I’m wondering if you have any kind of mandate, would cultural activism be it? Because you are bringing people together, you are protecting ideals, you’re probably changing their tastes – or at least broadening them – and that’s got to have consequences. JB: I would say so, yeah. There are also people who’ve called me a distribution activist, because I’m redistributing films in a way that’s radically different from other people around here. But you know, I’m alternative. I’m underground. I tell people that if something works out, try it again. Try to push it further and further, and this is how you start creating a situation like what I’m doing. I hardly ever show anything that was distributed in Holland, so I have to get films from strange places. That’s another thing; before, cinemas were all showing real film. And there is a difference between real film and digitized cinema – we’ll call it that. The quality in mainstream cinemas is becoming worse, while the quality on my side with Blu-ray is becoming better, so I find that to be a very interesting development. STS: Other than being diverse, is there anything that links these movies together? Do you have criteria for your films, since they are all so different from each other? JB: I pay attention so that every time I see myself starting to show too many black and white films, or too many American films, or too many horror films, or too many whatever, I try to break it. I push and push against any kind of stream of direction. The only criterion I have in what I show is that every film is absolutely unique in some kind of way. It can be in the cinematography, or it can be the acting, or whatever. I also tend to show the movies that are being neglected and forgotten about. So there has to be an Ingmar Bergman movie next to a John Waters movie; it has to be alive. It’s what keeps the audience alive, and what keeps the programming alive. STS: I’m wondering if there is any other side to the Underground Cinema. Do you face any challenges or peculiarities in doing this? JB: No. There’s no other side, it’s pure magic. This is what I’ve been doing with the cinemas, and what a great medium to tap in to the imagination. At the same time, what a great medium to chart history, because all films are documentaries. Now, there’s an organization in Holland that is responsible for all film screenings, and when I first started they contacted me to say that I was supposed to give them a percentage from every movie.
They told me to send them a list of the movies that I’d been showing, and they said, “We don’t know what the hell these movies are. We have a library here full of all these movies that we have rights for, so if you show one of these, you should tell us and you should give us some money. But otherwise, we don’t care.” And I’ve been going like that ever since. I’ve gone through lots of different locations, and they’re all so special and things keep on changing and new possibilities for new locations pop up, and the audiences are always changing. STS: Have you ever been tempted to show movies that you’ve made at a screening? JB: Well no, I shouldn’t be showing my own movies, it’s ridiculous. I should be showing other people’s movies. I always give like a 15-minute introduction to the films, always from a different angle. Like, it can be about the history of the director, or about a sociological or technological aspect of the film. Basically what I’m doing with the cinemas is giving respect to the directors again. There’s a film museum in Amsterdam, and the people who program the thing just sit in an office all day long and then go home when the day is over. I can’t imagine not running into the theatre and explaining to people why I’m showing this movie. I can’t imagine people not doing that. Of course, it’s totally normal, but it’s unimaginable to me. STS: With everything going on, including the commercialization of film programs, are you pessimistic? JB: It’s impossible for me to be pessimistic. Look at the passion that I have for the cinemas, you can’t do that and be a pessimist. You can’t do that and be cynical. I’m glad that people are still looking for new things and are curious about what they don’t know. I believe that you never know the end of the story until the end of the story and even though things are getting worse, you just never know. Even though everything is becoming gentrified, and international corporations are coming in here and changing the city, nothing is set in stone and it’s still all possible and I believe that with all my heart. So I’m an optimist. Babcock has previously published “Screening as an Ideology” in collaboration with Agata Winska. His second book, “Séances,” came out in February 2016, and was published in collaboration with Cecilia D. For more information, or to be added to his mailing list, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Cecilia D. Courtesy of Jeffrey Babcock
Truths that Rise up Above the Surface Like the Humps of a Sea Monster : A Review of 20,000 Days on Earth by Harris Frost Edited by Kameryn Whyte
A thin-faced man with a menacing brow drives along the English coast. His baritone narration portentously describes the metaphorical ghosts of his past clawing their way through his memories. Suddenly, we hear another voice, already mid-sentence. In a single cut, we see someone else is now in the car. It’s pop icon Kylie Minogue. The man is not the least bit surprised. The two share a conversation about fame and performance. The conversation is somewhat unnatural, as if neither party quite knows why they’re speaking to each other. After a few minutes, she vanishes from the car. The man, nonplused by this almost supernatural encounter, continues driving. This is the type of scene that makes 20,000 Days On Earth an unusual documentary. The film, released in 2014, is a docu-drama about celebrated Australian rock artist Nick Cave. And though it features footage of Cave performing, reminiscing about his past, and at work in the studio with his bandmates, it very consciously avoids being a typical rockumentary. For one thing, the film’s visual style does absolutely nothing to suggest any sense of authenticity. The extremely deliberate lighting and framing in most of the film’s shots evoke a film noir more than a documentary. This filmic quality is particularly apparent in a scene taking place in Cave’s office where he supposedly writes his songs. The room 30
is full of inconveniently stacked books. Photos and lyrics sheets cover every bit of wall. And two lamps illuminate a single typewriter that Nick taps away at. The cartoonishly cluttered room makes him look less like a songwriter than an obsessed private detective trying desperately to uncover a dark conspiracy about songwriting. For a personality like Nick Cave though, it fits. Because despite his reputation as a sort of mad preacher or a seductive demon, outside of his performances he seems far more like a reserved man who only becomes these frightening characters through his songs. The film doesn’t apologize for this; it revels in it. It uses this tension between the quiet, frustrating creative process and the catharsis of performance, between the surly man looking out of place in his extremely tight suit and the sweaty madman onstage who makes the suit work. This starts to get at why the film treats its subject the way it does. It all starts with the office scene. The office, like most of the film’s settings, is in reality a specially constructed set and makes no attempt to hide this from the audience. From its opening moments, it’s very clear that this film isn’t invested at all in what Nick Cave’s life is like. It’s far more interested in how his songs make one feel. And perhaps nothing is emphasized
more in his songwriting than the power of personal mythologies. “It’s all just clamor and confusion” Nick says of day-to-day life in one of the film’s voice-overs, “it only becomes a story when we tell it and re-tell it.” And his film certainly seeks to exist somewhere between the clamor and confusion of rawer documentary footage and the fully-formed, fully-rehearsed story of its more constructed moments.
the driving creative force behind the film. It is very obvious from both this film and their previous shorts that they are massive fans of Cave. This knowledge helps contextualize the film’s reverence of the man somewhat. If we look at the film more as a lovingly and carefully compiled collection of Cave’s musings on the creative process and less as pure navel-gazing, it certainly leaves a better taste in one’s mouth.
Because interestingly, even with all of the flashy filmmaking techniques at play here, the narrative structure of the film is actually quite loose. Despite the supposed premise, namely the film representing Cave’s 20,000th day on Earth, there is little attempt to make the film flow like a day at all. There are token references to Nick having a few things to do throughout the film like visit his therapist, stop by at “the archive” to check some things, and perhaps, most strangely, deliver some pet birds to his bandmate. However, these sequences in the film are often interrupted by much more candid footage of in-studio rehearsals, sound checks and performances.
Something else that isn’t exactly obvious just from watching the movie is just how scripted (or unscripted) its more dramatized sequences are. Forsyth and Pollard haven’t quite put Cave in the middle of dramatic scenes featuring famous people playing themselves so much as found a novel way of interviewing their subject. According to interviews and making-of material, sequences like the therapy session, the Kylie Minogue conversation, and the archive visit were essentially interviews shot as if they were part of a narrative film. There were no scripted answers and very few retakes. Nick and the “interviewer” (be it a therapist, a former bandmate, archivists, or Kylie Minogue) were essentially given a few loose topics to talk about and left to their own devices. And this approach pays off for the most part. We are treated flashes of real-ish conversations that complement the rest of the film’s pre-occupations that also help balance out the very eloquent narration.
These moments provide a break from the other very conversation-heavy main segments, but also downplay the sense that the film can fully be classified as a scripted film. And overall this was probably a good decision, as a full-on drama featuring Cave playing an exaggerated version of himself would likely be too selfindulgent even for many of the most diehard fans. Of course, accusing this film of being self-indulgent isn’t much of a stretch either. There is an assumption that the viewer already likes Cave’s work or at least wants to like it. Then again, it would be unreasonable to expect a movie that’s so enthusiastic about the work of its subject not to feel slightly full of itself at times. And the fact that Cave both narrates and scores the film does not help shake the nagging suspicion that this is a vanity project for him. One particular sequence that plays into this is one where Cave visits an archive seemingly devoted entirely to cataloguing old pictures and knick-knacks of his. The archivists prod him for specific details about this or that and hang on his every word. The “archive” of course isn’t real. It’s just a visually engaging way to show off some interesting old pictures and have Cave engage directly with his past, but it still comes off as slightly ego-stroking. It is important to note however, that despite appearances, the film is not simply a self-portrait by Cave. It is directed and co-written by occasional Nick Cave collaborators Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard who, according to promotional press for the film were
Perhaps the most laudable thing about the movie is how much care was put into it. Nick Cave, though not an A-list musician, is a very well-respected artist who has been an important figure in many musical circles for more than three decades. It would have been quite easy to release a more run-of-the-mill documentary made up almost entirely of talking head interviews, live performances and archive footage. That the filmmaker’s chose not just cash in on Cave’s clout but instead chose to make something that plays with the conventions of the rockumentary genre is deeply refreshing. 20,000 Days On Earth is not a masterpiece. But it is an extremely well made and emotionally satisfying take on a subject who from afar might seem like something of a cliché. And with the documentary aesthetic becoming more and more ubiquitous in narrative works, this film offers a rich and expressive alternative to the documentary form. It’s hard to say that this film should be the model for other documentaries or rockumentaries because the creative choices it makes are so deeply tied to its specific subject. Regardless, the adventurous spirit and clarity of vision on display in this film should serve as inspiration to all documentary filmmakers. A genre is what you make of it. 31
La scène inaudible : autour d’une rencontre avec Corneliu Porumboiu PAR Catherine Bergeron Le cinéma semble avoir le don du voyage. Depuis ses tout débuts, il s’envole de gauche à droite, il ne reste jamais en place. C’est comme si, pour le cinéma, les frontières n’existaient pas ou plutôt c’est comme si elles gagnaient à être mises à l’épreuve. On aime les cinémas nationaux comme si on cherchait, à travers eux, la découverte de l’inconnu, la découverte de l’autre et de son expérience unique du monde. À travers un film, on a l’impression de découvrir à la fois un homme et un pays. On pense alors les œuvres comme des miroirs ou des symptômes d’une nation, une nation qui pourrait grandir, chaque fois un peu plus, en se regardant à l’écran. Pourtant, il reste souvent que les films nationaux se révèlent être plus estimés et regardés à l’étranger que dans leur propre pays. Comme si c’était trop lourd, ennuyant ou inintéressant de passer quelques heures à regarder à l’écran sa société, sa culture, son quotidien avec ses propres problèmes et complications. Alors, à qui s’adresset-on lorsque l’on fait un film? Il existe un mystère, je trouve, dans notre passion commune et universelle à aimer les cinémas d’ailleurs, à être séduits et séduites par la réalité, le quotidien, les histoires et les problèmes des autres. Les cinémas nationaux offrent à voir, à vivre, 32
un monde tout autre, un monde avec sa propre histoire, sa propre culture, ses propres traditions, ses propres symboliques et son propre langage. Ils donnent à vivre, à distance, l’expérience de l’humanité. Judith Butler propose, à travers sa notion de grievable life, qu’une image ne peut réellement toucher quelqu’un que si celui ou celle-ci arrive à y reconnaître la précarité de la vie humaine.1 Que voyons-nous finalement dans l’œuvre cinématographique nationale d’un peuple étranger? L’autre jour, la mère de mon ami regardait un film à la télévision. Elle ne connaissait pas le titre, ne connaissait rien du film. Le film était dans une langue étrangère, une langue qu’elle ne connaissait pas, une langue qu’elle arrivait à peine à reconnaître. Ni phrase, ni mot n’étaient traduits. C’était comme si la parole n’existait pas, comme si elle n’était que bruit. Qu’y avait-t-il à comprendre? On est alors loin du cinéma muet. Le cinéma muet avait, pour sa part, une parole : la parole des gestes, la parole du corps. Mais dans une œuvre qui compte sur la parole, qui utilise les mots comme une partie de son discours, que reste-t-il à comprendre lorsque la parole disparait? Si la précarité de l’homme reste toujours visible à travers l’image, s’il est toujours possible de faire marcher son imagination pour
comprendre l’énergie d’une scène ou pour formuler un récit, que perdons-nous en perdant la parole? Perdons-nous la lisibilité de l’autre, de sa précarité? Ou perdons-nous, au fond de nous-mêmes, la force nécessaire pour la chercher et pour aller à sa rencontre? Il y a peu de temps, je suis partie vivre quelques mois en Roumanie. Voyage personnel, découverte de l’ailleurs. Si on est, ne serait-ce qu’un peu, intéress�� par le cinéma contemporain, par les géants du septième art d’aujourd’hui, il est peu probable qu’on n’ait jamais entendu parler d’un cinéaste ou d’un film roumain. La nouvelle vague roumaine a la côte et il y a de quoi. On aime son esthétique unique, son humour ravageur, son réalisme distancé, son regard critique sur l’après-Ceausescu. On aime que les films roumains soient roumains, qu’ils nous parlent de leurs réalités, de leurs perspectives du monde. Je suis arrivée en Roumanie et Comoara (2015), de Corneliu Porumboiu, venait tout juste de remporter le prix Un Certain Talent au Festival de Cannes de 2015. J’avais eu la chance de voir le film, à peine monté, sur un petit écran d’ordinateur, quelques mois auparavant. Je l’avais vu un peu par hasard, juste grâce à des connaissances communes. Les couleurs n’étaient pas encore travaillées, mais les sous-titres anglais y étaient. J’ai tout compris, j’ai tout aimé. J’ai compris l’humour, j’ai compris la vie, j’ai compris les attentes, les rêves, les relations humaines et j’ai compris le génie de Porumboiu, qui y écrit la vie avec une plume de maître, une plume qu’il trempe tour à tour dans la poésie et l’absurde. J’ai presque tout vu des longs métrages de Porumboiu. Et alors j’ai cru comprendre un peu mieux ce qu’est la Roumanie, ce qu’est l’aprèsCeausescu. Je suis donc arrivée en Roumanie en ayant l’impression d’avoir déjà compris, en ayant du moins déjà vu plus que ce que l’on peut voir dans les livres de voyage. Je suis arrivée en Roumanie et c’était un peu comme dans les films. Ou peut-être je voyais un peu le monde comme on me l’a montré dans les films. Les gens, les paysages, l’énergie y étaient un peu pareils, d’une certaine manière. Mais une chose très importante me manquait, une chose essentielle qu’on prend peut-être trop souvent pour acquis : les sous-titres. Personne ne parlait français, personne ne parlait anglais et le roumain sonnait à mes oreilles comme une langue extraterrestre tombée du ciel. J’avais mes traducteurs, mais le monde en tant que monde arrivait à mes yeux comme une scène inaudible, illisible et toujours, déjà, partielle.
Et alors, je ne m’y retrouvais plus. À peine quelques jours après mon arrivée à Bucarest, je me suis ramassée, un mardi soir bouillant d’été, dans un magnifique quartier du centre-ville, le seul quartier ayant réussi à garder à l’abri les joyaux d’architecture ancestrale de la vieille ville d’avant le communisme. Je me suis ramassée dans ce quartier pour aller rejoindre, un peu par hasard, encore sur les bases de connaissances communes, Corneliu Porumboiu, qui nous attendait pour aller prendre un verre de vin sur une terrasse. On a marché dans la chaleur pour aller s’asseoir sur sa terrasse fétiche, une belle terrasse simpliste, à même le trottoir, parée d’un grand auvent noir. Le propriétaire est vite sorti et a salué notre compagnon avec un grand sourire et une belle poignée de main. On y a passé deux ou trois heures à parler et à boire du vin blanc. On a parlé de Cannes, de la réception de son film au festival international et au TIFF (Festival international du film de Transylvanie), de ses projets du moment et un peu de ses plans à venir. Mais ce dont on a parlé le plus, c’est de la ville : il faut aller voir les toiles de Nicolae Grigorescu, voir la demeure de George Enescu, marcher dans les rues de la vieille ville... On a fini la soirée en mangeant une glace italienne, spécialité du petit bistro. J’ai quitté la soirée avec l’esprit trouble, à la fois heureuse d’avoir eu la chance de rencontrer un grand artiste et étourdie de ne pas avoir su quoi en tirer. Je me sentais comme un psychiatre qui aurait aimé poser dix milles questions pour comprendre toute la richesse et la complexité du « patient ». Je n’étais pas en entrevue ou en train d’assister à une conférence, j’étais dans la vraie vie, simple comme bonjour. C’est comme si j’aurais aimé que la réalité devant moi soit mise en récit, soit résumée et offerte à lire comme dans un film. Tout ce que je pouvais voir et comprendre de la ville, du pays, m’avait été expliqué. Par Corneliu comme par bon nombre d’autres gens. Il ne m’était finalement accessible que les œuvres déjà construites et aimées : les peintures, la musique, l’histoire architecturale. Ce qui était là, prêt à être compris, dans cette ville et cette culture à dix milles lieues de la mienne, n’était rien d’autre que le déjàdit, le déjà-écrit. Le reste était trop complexe, trop éloigné, trop autre. Je pouvais voir le monde qui m’entourait avec son rythme, son énergie, sa forme, mais que pouvais-je réellement y comprendre? Et qu’est-ce que cette culture unique et riche, dans 33
ses joies comme dans ses peines, pouvait avoir envie que je comprenne d’elle-même? N’avait-elle pas finalement envie que j’y vois plus ses joies que ses peines, ses réussites que ses échecs? Dans les semaines qui ont suivi, on a passé plusieurs séances en visite dans le bureau exceptionnel et historique de Corneliu Porumboiu. L’immeuble a été construit par un célèbre architecte de style art déco. On en a visité tous les recoins, en a regardé toutes les courbes. On ne fait pas bureau plus inspirant. On s’est assis dans son lieu de travail, sur les chaises ocre inoubliables de Métabolisme. On a vu passer les multiples appels téléphoniques, les multiples rendez-vous et visites. On s’est brûlé la peau sur le toit d’acier de la terrasse, à regarder le plus magistral quartier de la ville se déployer devant nos yeux. On a vu le milieu, le quotidien, de l’un des grands cinéastes de l’époque contemporaine. On a battu un instant à son rythme de vie. Et puis, un jour, on est allé voir Comoara, au cinéma, avec sous-titres français. C’était en plein centre de Bucarest. Avant même que le film arrive à Toronto. J’étais enchantée de revoir le film sur grand écran, de voir comment le public roumain réagirait à l’œuvre. Le jeune garçon du film était présent dans la salle. Il était habillé sur son trente-et-un et était accompagné d’un grand groupe de garçons et filles de son âge. D’autres adultes étaient présents dans la salle. Plus le film avançait et plus les gens riaient. Je riais au même rythme qu’eux, comme si on comprenait la même histoire, les mêmes blagues, le même langage. Mais je ne pouvais faire autrement que de me demander s’il y avait quelque chose que je ne comprenais toujours pas. Quelque chose qui me dépassait et que le langage du cinéma et les mots traduits en français ne m’apportaient pas. Pasolini a un jour dit: « toute poésie est translinguistique »2. Si le cinéma est poésie, il semble posséder son propre langage, un langage qui serait, d’une certaine manière, universel. Les images, les mouvements, les couleurs, les sons, tout semble s’unir pour parler un seul langage. Mais alors, coupons les mots, coupons la parole et que reste-il sinon le dépaysement? Que reste-il sinon le voyage? Sommes-nous réellement prêts à voir la précarité de l’autre sans pouvoir y mettre des mots, sans pouvoir réellement la comprendre et l’intellectualiser? Que voyons-nous en l’autre sinon le reflet de nous-mêmes, de nos peurs, de nos doutes et de nos rêves? Les sous-titres sont finalement plus qu’une simple béquille qui nous 34
aide à pallier le simple bémol que peut représenter, pour certains, le langage. Les sous-titres viennent réécrire l’histoire, réécrire la culture de l’autre pour nous la rendre lisible. Ils sont le pont entre l’autre et nous-mêmes. Ils sont la petite voix intérieure, servant faussement à nous rassurer que nous pouvons tout comprendre et tout savoir du monde. J’ai un amour fou pour les cinémas nationaux, pour les œuvres qui embrassent leur histoire, leur culture et qui comprennent la force de ce médium qui voyage. Je suis par contre convaincue qu’il est toujours important de réfléchir cette expérience de visionnement comme étant toujours déjà partielle et de réfléchir en quoi cette partialité en constitue un point central et intrinsèque. Regarder une œuvre cinématographique nécessite ainsi de demander : « à qui s’adresse le film? », « qui suis-je comme spectateur devant ce film? », « quelles sont les limites de lecture et d’analyse? », « quels mots et quelles expressions ont été enlevés, modifiés, transformés dans le processus de soustitrage ou de doublage? ». Et finalement, peutêtre que ces limites, qui seront alors réfléchies et intellectualisées, gagneront une force nouvelle et laisseront émerger un respect encore plus grand dans la rencontre et l’écoute de l’autre. Références 1 Judith Butler, Precarious Life : The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London ; New York : Verso, 2004), xi-168 ; Judith Butler, « Introduction : Precarious Life, Grievable Life », dans Frames of War : When is Life Grievable (London ; Brooklyn : Verso, 2009), 1-32. 2 Pier Paolo Pasolini, « La langue écrite de la réalité », dans L’expérience hérétique : langue et cinéma (Paris : Payot, 1976 ), 168. Bibliographie Butler, Judith. Precarious Life : The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London ; New York : Verso, 2004. Butler, Judith. « Introduction : Precarious Life, Grievable Life ». Dans Frames of War : When is Life Grievable, 1-32. London ; Brooklyn : Verso, 2009. Pasolini, Pier Paolo. « La langue écrite de la réalité ». Dans L’expérience hérétique : langue et cinéma, 167-196. Paris : Payot, 1976 .
À l'arrière-scène de Comoara (2015), un film de Corneliu Porumboiu Behind the scenes of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu
Toma Cuzin and Adrian Purcarescu, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Toma Cuzin, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Corneliu Porumboiu holding the treasure, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Adrian Purcarescu, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Toma Cuzin, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Adrian Purcarescu, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Toma Cuzin, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
Corneliu Porumboiu, on the set of Comoara (2015), a film by Corneliu Porumboiu. Photo by Bogdan Stoica. Courtesy of Bogdan Stoica
The horrific and hilarious absurdity of conformity in The Lobster BY Olivia Frey EDITED BY Joshua Wiebe Once again, the outlandish cinematic vision of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos leaves viewers spellbound with The Lobster, a twisted allegory mirroring a contemporary social malaise in human relationships. In a parallel time-space not entirely remote from our own, an all-powerful state employs the ideal of coupled bliss to reduce its population to a servile, unquestioning homogenous herd. Interlacing existential metaphor with dumbfounding black humour and heartfelt pathos, The Lobster does not provide a comfortable viewing experience nor any easy answers to its mystery. It nonetheless sucks us into its perplexing otherness with hypnotic imagery and absurdist comedy, distilling at its essence the instinct to love amid the prisons humanity erects for itself and its bloody-minded violence. Echoing Lanthimos’ first feature film Dogtooth (2009) in which three siblings grow up in total confinement and unquestioning obedience to their deranged parents’ dominion, The Lobster asks us to look onto humans, their relations to each other and the universe with a new set of eyes. In both films, human beings are a malleable material, their minds and bodies actively moulded to conform to
an authoritative worldview. The parents in Dogtooth, the father especially, thrive off of the power they exert over their family, claiming an unwavering belief in shielding their offspring from the wrong kinds of “stimuli” of the corrupt world that has corrupted them. Although The Lobster has largely been described as dystopian science-fiction, Lanthimos affirms that while giving shape to the tale’s bizarre vision of an engineered, herd-like society, his aim was to make the strangeness of its world resonate strongly with our own environments and present. Yet instead of alienating us and condemning human relationships altogether, its bleak atmosphere invites the redeeming possibility of genuine love and empathy. Deeply and palpably influenced by the quintessential surrealist Luis Bunuel, Lanthimos follows a self-contained, absurdist logic in his films, placing his characters in atemporal nonplaces and treating them as players in complex test-tube experiments in human nature. The film’s eponymous lobster clasps its claws to the surrealist movement by its allusion to Dali’s emblematic surrealist object “Lobster Telephone” (1936), both playful and menacing. Viewed through this lens, the film’s obscure premise becomes a projection of a collective nightmare of totalitarian dehumanization.
The film’s expository long shot shows a woman driving a car, who will not reappear during the entire film. Stopping by the side of the road in front of a prairie where two donkeys are grazing, she comes out with a shotgun and shoots one of the donkeys to the ground before getting back in the car and driving off. The remaining donkey walks toward its dead companion. This first cryptic scene, viewed in retrospect, captures the film’s central enigma. In The Lobster’s desensitized society the individual’s pacified subjection to an extreme state of social control results from a fundamental urge to assert one’s power over other beings. By showing humans hunting down their own kind, monitoring their functions and downgrading those who fail to partner-up to the lower strata of animal kingdom, Lanthimos probes the extreme folly of humanity’s hierarchies and murderous instincts.
Colin Farrell plays David, a dull and pudgy middleaged man whose wife has recently left him, a fact which, in the parallel universe he inhabits, is a serious threat to his livelihood. A female voiceover narrates David’s day-to-day activities at the hotel – meals, seminars and dances mostly, with a bit of swimming – as well as his passive thoughts, with exceedingly deadpan factualness. Narrating David’s wife’s callous rejection of him, she states unfeelingly: “He was thinking his wife didn’t love him at all anymore. He didn’t burst into tears and didn’t think that the first thing most people do when they realize someone doesn’t love them anymore is cry”. The individual here, is in constant tension with the set norm. As we will learn later in the film this mysterious narrator (Rachel Weisz) is one of the renegade “Loners” who live feral in the hotel grounds and are hunted by the inmates at night.
The Lobster (2015), by Yorgos Lanthimos
Now celibate, David is arrested and placed in a vast, aseptic hotel where single individuals are given 45 days to find a marriage match and, in the event of failure, are transformed into the animal of their choice and shooed off into the woods. While this absurd premise some may find preposterous, every aspect of its development convinces us of its profound implications. Implementing a perverse eugenics via advanced technologies capable of stripping the human species of its human physical fabric, those in power engineer a deterministic stifling of individual thought and will, ultimately preventing the reproduction of perceived human weakness. Indeed, what seems to separate our world from David’s is a homogenous monotony of character and lack of affect, a collective state of dimwittedness and passive obedience to a soulless processing system, evoking mass-lobotomy.
In the regimented and impersonal world epitomized by the hotel, “loners” are criminalized and hunted down to be killed in the forest, where they live like rebellious outcasts of the civilized world. We learn that “falling in love” consists of finding a person with the same physical defect or “distinguishing characteristic” as oneself, such as being shortsighted like David (a metaphorically significant trait), having a limp, a lisp or frequent nose-bleeds. The idea is laughable yet profoundly disturbing, considering the vacuous impersonality of their interactions. This rule favours an orderly matchingsystem ideal for breeding, preventing any genetic deviations for future offspring. Through this flagrant absurdity, Lanthimos depicts a despotism that encourages in its population a shot-sighted complacency and narcissism rather than openness to difference. And those who are too ugly or singular to find a match are out of the game. Thimios Bakatakis’s off-balance compositions often sever characters’ figures, placing them off-centre or blurring them in the background in the presence of an isolated, foreground character. The characters’ short-sightedness and detachment from one another is thus visualized, through short-focus and unusual framing. The Lobster (2015), by Yorgos Lanthimos
Upon his arrival at the hotel David is visited by the female hotel manager, played with perfect, steely austerity by British actress Olivia Coleman, who convinces him of the complete absurdity of coupling a penguin with a wolf or a camel with a hippopotamus. David’s incongruous wish to be turned into a lobster for its longevity, fertility and the “aristocratic” distinction of its blue blood, ironically expresses a deep-seated desire to be different and unusual, to distinguish himself from the crowd. It also suggests the conditioned valuation of breeding, class and wealth. Once married, couples are rewarded with a two-week honeymoon aboard a yacht, a privilege perceived as the peak satisfaction of one’s life. In order to show David “how easy life is when there are two of something rather than just one” the manager has a lock bolted to his pants belt and has a maid pay him frequent visits for the purpose of sexually arousing him and denying him intercourse. The powers that be employ sexual repression, in ways equally as disturbing as the parents’ incestuous prescription of sexual intercourse between their own children in Dogtooth, to physically engineer a programmed response, claiming the process “psychologically beneficial in (his) search for a partner”. Masturbation is, of
course, a major transgression. While the staff stage manipulative demonstrations of how couples behave as opposed to singles (the single girl lets the choking man die while in a couple, she saves him), associating single-hood with uncaring selfishness, it is standard procedure for the authorities to punish acts like masturbation with astounding cruelty, like shoving one’s hand in a toaster. The necessity for the human species to distinguish itself from animals clashes ironically with the baffling cold-blooded violence it perpetrates against its own kind and the ease with which individuals subjugate their moral responsibilities under strict authority. These trained automatons begin to thrive off the power they are given to shoot the enemy and wish they were given actual guns instead of tranquilizers. It is no coincidence that the dog that David brings with him to the hotel and must keep locked up in his room (who is in fact his brother who was not able to find a match quick enough) is, symbolically, a herding dog. Lanthimos beautifully deploys this irony in several ethereal slow-motion shots during the loner-hunting scenes, in which the hotel residents are sent into the forest to capture the lone survivors in docile
compliance with the rules dictated from above. In these dream-like sequences figures float and tumble graciously through brilliantly-lit tableaux of rich greenery and dark shadows, the clear chirping of birds married to a melancholic, vibrant female voice singing in Greek, lend a poetic grace to the insanity of the situation. In nature humanity’s savage instincts run free as the camera glides with them smoothly. In contrast, static shots frame the homogenous and sterile environment of identical rooms, symmetrical furnishings, walls and carpets, of horizontally aligned single dining tables facing rigid rows of couple’s tables. Uniform dancing gowns, expressionless faces and strictly menial conversation convey a culture of repression and conformity. A variety of menacing string themes punctuate these scenes, often intruding violently, dramatically enforcing a threatening perception onto the image.
The Lobster (2015), by Yorgos Lanthimos
Within the de-humanized institution, couples form on an illusory basis and primarily out of selfinterest, to avoid the degrading shift into something humans stare at in a zoo or boil for a casserole. Granted the status of couple, one is freed from the stigma of being alone and admitted to the dazzling, higher spheres of luxury lifestyles. Yet this bliss is short-lived as the newlyweds are to be followed and “monitored closely” in their new lives in the city and if tensions build, are “assigned children, which usually helps”. The absurdity of the matching system builds to cathartic violence and to David’s ultimate escape to singlehood in the forest, when he decides to seduce the “heartless” woman. Superbly impersonated by Angeliki Papoulia, who has held central roles in all of Lanthimos’ films, this character, defined by her inhuman lack of empathy and relish in murder, is pivotal.
In a particularly disturbing yet hilarious scene, in what looks like a brochure for a luxury spa facing the ocean, David moves from his cubicle-jacuzzi to the one in which the heartless woman is bathing, with the aim of becoming a match by appearing himself to be heartless. Swallowing the decorative olive from her martini, she starts to choke. David looks on blankly without reacting. As she reveals she was only pretending, they decide they are a match by their mutual insensitivity thus cynically subverting the logic demonstrated by the staff earlier. When she later discovers he does have feelings after having killed his dog/brother, they chase each other through the hotel’s white, aseptic hallways until he finally shoots her with a tranquilizer and takes her into the transformation chamber. The gruesome process is not shown, its gory horror having been described earlier by the man with a limp, as they drink cocktails in a quaint saloon. As in Dogtooth, acts of physical violence escalate in graphicness throughout, whether shown, described or suggested, erupting as instinctual reactions to confinement within a diseased structure. The cleanliness and aesthetic order of modern living structures act only to project a civilized surface, harbouring a perverse amorality. In both cases, as will be discussed further, self-violence becomes the individual’s ultimate catharsis, misguided and perturbed as it is, in re-appropriating one’s own pain.
The second part of the film evolves in the forest where the loners live together yet separately. All must dig their own graves in the event that they get hurt and at night they each dance to techno music wearing isolating head-sets. Here David learns how painful it is to be alone, for he is confronted with his own emptiness, his personal void. The perverse rules that have marginalized the individualists from the herd of couples find violent expression as well in the forest. Here sex, love and even flirting are criminal and punished savagely, as indicated by the man and woman whose mouths have been slashed after exchanging a kiss. The female narrator now enters the frame as a nameless woman, played with great subtlety by Rachel Weizs, whose backstory is never revealed at all, keeping her personality on a surface level and impenetrable. She, too, is shortsighted. This being their binding characteristic is metaphorically significant as it suggests a diminishing of the senses as a precondition for love. Blindness, both literal and figurative, is an essential trope in all Lanthimos’ films signalling in various ways a profound, internal division. This is strongly echoed by the lyrics of Nick Cave’s love ballad “Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart” (“Keeping my soul and my senses apart”) performed with dreadful flatness by the hotel managers. The film’s conclusion takes the proverb “love is blind” to literal extremes.
The Lobster (2015), by Yorgos Lanthimos
Indices arise that su of the relationship, t satisfies self-inte Conditioned to see the matching of such superficial characteristics as a sign of compatibility and love, their union is inevitable despite the obstacles they must face. Through her voice-over, Lanthimos gives us access to some of the fantasies of the characters, revealing the impulse for union as animalistic and closely linked to death and violence, when sexuality is subject to fierce repression. When she notices David for the first time, the narrator describes her dream of being sodomized by David in the fancy city apartment they live in, where suddenly a thug intrudes and stabs them to death in their stomachs. These lines absorb us into the secret desires that lurk within the unconscious. In addition, the two forge a relation after she saves his life by stabbing a hotel inmate intent on capturing him and in return, she asks him to hunt and kill rabbits for her to eat. From then on, the narrator’s voiceover switches to address David in the second person, introducing a new sense of intimacy as they embark on their secret romance, communicating through a coded language.
At the heart of the film is an attempt to grasp what brings the two together and to distinguish where their love originates. Indices arise that suggest, on both ends of the relationship, that the attraction satisfies self-interest above all. David seems to value his loneliness for some time though he would benefit greatly by having someone to spread ointment on his aching back. She profits from her ties with men in the group who bring her rabbit meat, and as was mentioned earlier, has a voracious sexual appetite. Their first physical encounter occurs during a visit to the city and to the parents’ house of their leader (Léa Seydoux). They perform their own fantasy as the trendy, professional, child-bearing couple. Their physical intimacy arises in a situation that demands civil and polite behaviour and in a sense, like unknowing children, they expose the hypocritical incoherence of a society that dictates matrimony and conversely sanctions overt sexuality. However, their union fits the social mould which we see is being monitored with methodical alertness by the police in a mall, interrogating shoppers suspected of being single. The stiff, procedural interaction between the inquisitive officer and David encapsulates the civilian’s obedient acquiescence to the civil forces. In a series of ghostly slow-motions, the camera follows the picture-perfect couples through a neonlit drug-store as they discuss different brands and products, seemingly in a blissful, consumerist trance. Acquiring material possessions seems to provide a binding ritual and marker of success. In diary entries that read like advertisement brochures, the narrator writes of her fantasies of living in the city, wearing high-end fashions and traveling abroad to deluxe resorts.
uggest, on both ends that the attraction erest above all Yet a profound desire for connection emerges as well, or what David calls “synchronicity”. In a particularly touching scene, the couple put on their individual headphones and play a love song, pressing play at exactly the same moment as a way of bridging together their separate, internal experiences. This “exercise in synchronicity” expresses a longing to share an experience, to fuse one’s consciousness with another, to merge subjectivities and to be as one. When their ruthless leader decides to blind the narrator to punish her for their infraction of loner rules, their increased proximity suggests heartfelt devotion. Sneaking off together, David tries to distract her with games such as “touch, guess, think, win”, as if to maintain her connection to the external world by having her palp and guess various objects. The film’s most visually remarkable shots unravel as the couple escapes the forest in their best civilian clothes, David guiding her rigid body carefully through a swamp, along a road before a vast mountainous coastline, and through a far-reaching field of barley. The immensity of these open landscapes may figure as an opening into freedom for the couple as they venture toward the unknown. The off-centre framing of their dwarfed figures against infinite spaces effectively visualizes their fragility. Yet they appear constricted in their tight clothes and hesitantly march forward. Even in nature, the threat of being discovered is sustained when a hotel coach passes and they must hide behind a hedge. Their life-long experience of living under overbearing surveillance has made hiding a habit.
The shock of The Lobster’s final scene, David’s act of blinding himself in a diner bathroom, is polysemic. It asserts that genuine love involves self-sacrifice. It translates an unmitigated desire to identify with the loved one at the expense of one’s reason. Yet it is also an indictment of society’s irrational terms of conditioning, one that dictates such futile and destructive laws on its population’s private lives. For those living under the fallacious dictates of an oppressive regime, self-mutilation becomes a desperate attempt at catharsis. In Dogtooth, the young girl is lead to believe the cost of her freedom from the familial prison is the impossible event that her canine tooth will fall out and grow back, and only then will she be ready to face the outside world. Gouging one’s eyes out or breaking one’s own tooth, in both cases, registers the brutality with which such laws enforce selfdenial and thus, the absurdity of any form of power trying to shape the public sphere according to its ideology by regimenting the private sphere.
The Florid and The Sublime: Richard Mosseâ€™s The Enclave by Claudia Edwards EDITED BY NINA PATTERSON
Richard Mosse’s 2013 documentary features an immersive, non-linear, experimental videoinstallation, presented at DHC/ART in 2014. The Enclave was shot in 2012 and 2013 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where fighting continues amongst rebel groups despite the official end to war in 2003. Close-up and personal depictions of life in rebel and refugee camps is counter-balanced with sublime sequences of lush hillsides, thick jungle and waterways. Evermore destabilizing is Mosse’s use of Kodak Aerochrome infrared film to capture the footage. Developed by the American military during the Vietnam War for the purpose of aerial surveillance, this type of film reads infrared light and translates it into the colour red, perplexingly transforming all plant matter into vibrant shades of red and magenta. The installation
consists of seven floating screens and six accompanying speakers, spatialized throughout the exhibition room so as to make it impossible to view all of the screens at once. The viewer is forced to move through the space in order to catch the total effect of the varying film reels. His immersive approach to disorientation harkens back to Dan Graham’s installations in the 1970s.1 Graham created full environments fractured by glass and mirror, as if to situate the viewer inside of the very film camera that the television-generation was so beholden to. Mosse’s piece similarly responds to our current generation’s relationship to film and video: to our state of desensitization. Here, the act of documenting the reality of war in the Congo as something beautiful, horrifying and
The Enclave (2014), Richard Mosse, presented at DHC_Art Foundation, Montreal, Canada Photo by Catherine Bergeron
thus sublime serves to reclaim the power within images of war, and to restore our understanding of regional conflict. The Enclave counteracts the Westerner’s detached relationship to war-torn lands: a relationship curated to support a specific worldview that disengages its viewer, through the mass-media onslaught of explicit and degrading images, statistics, and rhetoric. In his essay, “The Fate of Art in the Age of Terror,” Boris Groys explains “the artist [...] stands no chance of rivalling the supremacy [of] commercially driven image-generating machines. And beyond that the terrorists and warriors themselves begin to act as artists nowadays [...] Especially video art became the medium of choice for the contemporary warriors. Bin Laden is communicating with the
outer world primarily by the means of this medium: We all know him as a video artist in the first place.”2 What is missing then from the types of images and films produced by war-makers and terrorists is the intention of re-presentation and cultural mediation, in opposition to straightforward depictions of truth. There is no reason for the public to question if the self-shot video of a terrorist act or other war crime is real or not – we know this violent reality to be true. Beyond straight documentation of the Congolese conflict, Mosse’s non-verbal soundtrack and cinematic seven-screen experience removes the viewer from typical perceptual experience, drawing us into a livid pink jungle of sound and light.
From the film’s colour-inversion and its vintage appearance, to the wide-angle lens elongating bodies and objects caught near the frame’s periphery, to the aural-immersion of numerous soundtracks that cannot always be clearly linked to any particular moving image: everything works to destabilize and disorient the viewer, and to thus pull us out of mundane temporality. His series of long non-linear sequences shot at a distance – always as an outsider – capture both the violent, destitute, but also celebratory facets of daily life in the Congo. The film’s final effect comes by successfully rehumanizing both victims and actors of war, through a shared passage of time and through intimate experience, while never allowing his viewers to feel as if they have seen the full picture
ENDOTE 1 Micheal Rush, Video Art, 2nd edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2007), 79. 2 Boris Groys, Art Power, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 121-130. BIBLIOGRAPHY Groys, Boris. Art Power. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. Rush, Michael. Video Art. 2nd edition. London:Thames & Hudson, 2007.
The Enclave (2014), Richard Mosse, presented at DHC_Art Foundation, Montreal, Canada Photo by Catherine Bergeron
there needs to be a movement to promote Black Canadian films and it doesnâ€™t really exist right now 52
Portrait of Stefan Verna
Black Canadian Cinema by Kameryn Whyte Edited by Nina Patterson Editor’s note: Portions of this interview were edited for clarity. Stefan Verna is an accomplished Black Canadian filmmaker from Montreal known for his films Drawing Blank and Diversidad: a Roadtrip to Deconstruct Diner. As well, he is a Concordia Graduate with a major in Film Production. He was a guest speaker in the Fall 2015 English-Canadian Cinema class at Concordia. In this interview, I asked him about the issues surrounding the visibility of Black Canadian cinema. There have not been many Black Canadian features made over the years, and of the few that have been made, they have not had much visibility or commercial success within Canada. Verna suggested that Afro-Canadians should create a Black television network that would promote, showcase and fund our films. As well, he suggested that we create a collective similar to that of Ava Duvernay’s (director of Selma) ARRAY, which focuses on the creation, promotion and distribution of African American films. If we had these networks and a collective for Black Canadian filmmakers similar to ARRAY and BET, in Canada, there would be better opportunities for emerging and existing Black Canadian filmmakers to create and distribute
their work. As well, there would be a medium that promotes these works, ensuring the existence and visibility of Black Canadian cinema. Kameryn Whyte: Do you think that Black Canadian cinema is prominent in Canada? Stefan Verna: Ah, no (laughing). I think it suffers from a lack of visibility and a lack of funding, the funding part is harder to, I mean all these problems they have different solutions, it’s just that it’s hard to identify the problem because; a) I don’t know every black filmmaker, each of them have their own stories. I mean filmmaking in general is in crisis especially in the last 10 years because of all the cutbacks that Harper has created so I think if you talk to even a white man making films he would be complaining because it’s a tough game for everybody but it’s obviously even tougher for a person of colour. In every industry, it’s who you know right? If you grew up in an environment where people you know are in a position of power, then it’s easier to get your stuff done. It just kind of works that way so there are people who just make it through in spite, because they have enormous talent and that’s great, like Clement Virgo, for example,
Drawing Blank (2012), by Stefan Verna. Courtesy of Stefan Verna
who did Rude, but it’s just a tough business, so it’s a harder thing to pinpoint where the problem is, it’s just that, that’s the state of things right now. KW: Why do you think Black Canadian cinema is not as prominent as other types of Canadian cinema? SV: Well I think it’s the same problem that perhaps Canadian Black music has, it’s always looking for your audience so I think Black Canadian culture in general is in the shadow of Afro-American culture. Whether it’s in music or in film or in any art form, the US is such a dominant cultural force that it just takes over a lot of media space. I think black people in general tend to be more commercial in their taste in movies. I think there is still that feeling that film is seen as entertainment and not as art, and I think somebody like Spike Lee has been able to sort of find that middle ground between the two. But his films are made and distributed by Hollywood, so that’s part of why he’s had a world wide appeal. Put Spike Lee in Nigeria or put Spike Lee in Toronto, his films might be great but it just doesn’t have the same exposure. I think it’s just the film viewing culture for black folks in Canada, they don’t go to repertory cinemas, so basically most people see
what they can in the movie theatres or on television and those are two distribution channels that aren’t really necessarily championing Black Canadian films. The internet, with video on demand, I mean, hopefully that can change but there needs to be a movement to promote Black Canadian films and it doesn’t really exist right now. KW: In one of the articles I read, the author kind of suggested that since black Canadian cinema brings forth the true racial history of Canada, which is kind of avoided in a lot of textbooks, that might have an effect on the fact that it’s not promoted as much and not visible. Do you agree with that statement? SV: That the fact that Black history, Black Canadian history is not promoted that that’s part of…? KW: She says that a lot of Black Canadian filmmakers focus on putting forth slavery in Canada in their films, so she says that the reason why it’s not promoted as much is because of the kind of material in the films. SV: I mean, that’s hard to tell. You can say that but then the CBC just did a whole mini-series called
The Book of Negroes which is totally about slavery. I don’t know when this essay was written but that’s like something that is recent and I mean I think it’s a breakthrough because as far as I know it’s the first Black Canadian mini-series. It’s the first time that Black Canadian slavery is really discussed and is presented for such a wide audience, so I think there is some truth to that but I don’t think it’s the whole truth. One thing I should add is that, like I said before, it’s so hard to identify the problem because Black Canadian independent cinema has a lack of exposure, right, so if you look at that you know, this is how many films are shown in theatres and this is 56
how many are Canadian (using his hands to gesture that a large amount of films are in theatres, but a very small amount of those films are Canadian). So the problems are already just being a Black filmmaker, being a Canadian filmmaker already is handicapped, so if you’re black you know what I mean, so it’s compounded by that. KW: Do you think there is a way to get more exposure for all of Canadian cinema and hopefully that will help get exposure for Black Canadian cinema?
SV: Well, I don’t think we could take that route, because then we are just hoping that somehow, I think we have to do like I mentioned in class, this collective called AFFRM (now known as ARRAY) that (Ava) Duvernay started, I think we have to do something on that level because if we wait for other people to do the dirty work, well we are just not going to go far. It really has to start to come from us, we have to create that kind of movement and then promote our films, past, present, and future so that they get seen and they get featured and that. It’s the only way. And when you make a film, ultimately you want it to have an audience, virtual or live and that’s
what you do, it’s the medium of communication. If you make these films in a vacuum and if you are only preaching to the converted, then you’re not really…your work is not complete. The NFB has definitely made a few documentaries talking about Canadian history and I think Black Canadian history and I think these films have been shown in high schools and colleges and universities and that’s fine. Obviously, that is a very good start. I think some of these films, whether they are fiction or documentaries or animations, need to also go to a broader audience.
Behind the scenes of Diversidad, a Road Trip to Deconstruct Diner (2011), by Stefan Verna. Courtesy of Stefan Verna
KW: What is your opinion of the NFB (National Film Board of Canada) and the role it plays in regards to Black Canadian cinema? SV: Well I think that it’s been a great institution for us in terms of giving us, I think, I got my start at the NFB doing research on a documentary about a jazz musician. And they used to have a program before to really encourage people of colour, it wasn’t just black people, it was like you could be Asian, Arab, from South America. So they had a program to encourage filmmakers of colour to work in different aspects of filmmaking and so the NFB and they produce quite a few by Black filmmakers and those films are accessible but it’s just that the NFB has a very niche market, and so if you watch…or the people that watch NFB films, you will see Black films but you know…
to a demand, they usually don’t respond to some kind of conscious awakening, so I don’t think the executives at the NFB will wake up one day and say, “Oh you know, we should maybe encourage Black people to make films”, or something like that. I think they get pressures from different people saying, “Okay well how come those stories are not being told” and that kind of thing, and I think in the 90s there was definitely much more advocacy campaigns to promote people of colour and that sort of came and went. Now there isn’t as much or any more and I think it has to do a lot also with the fact that they have been underfunded for 10 years, so in a way it’s like there is also a crisis for the NFB and so I think those specialty programs have been stopped.
KW: Do you think the NFB has a duty to make Black cinema more visible?
KW: Do you think that there is kind of, I don’t know the right word, not responsibility really but a need for the Black community in Canada to request more Black Canadian cinema and that’s how there will be more?
SV: My understanding of the way history works, especially advocacy, because that’s what we’re talking about, is really institutions usually respond
SV: Well, see the problem with us as a people in Canada is that a) we’re relativity small, like demographically right, so let’s say all the advocacy
Behind the scenes of Diversidad, a Road Trip to Deconstruct Diner (2011), by Stefan Verna. Courtesy of Stefan Verna
that’s happening now around native filmmakers, which is long, long overdue, that has to do something because there are that many native people in Canada because they’re the first people. And there is a sense of white guilt, there is a sense of; okay we need to give voice to that history of colonialism, and as for us, we are often lumped into the whole people of colour type of equity packages and that’s where we need to fight our way, compete with other people of colour. At the end of the day, that’s my main advice I will give to any Black filmmaker, or any emerging Black filmmakers, that at the end of the day, it’s a competition. Filmmaking is a highly, highly competitive environment and you have to be very thick skinned, you have to persevere, you have to really, really want it. You have to be well connected, you have to be talented, all these things. I think we also need to create a support system because you’re going to go through a lot of hardships making films. And it would be nice if there was a support system that was a Black filmmaker’s support system in Canada. There used to be one in Toronto, the Black Film and Video Network, which no longer exists and I think that helped a lot of filmmakers make films and have that community. Right now, what we have is the Montreal Black Film
Festival and the Toronto Black Film Festival and I believe there is also one in Vancouver but those are festivals which happen once a year for like a week or like 10 days and the problem is that it doesn’t sustain you through the grind of making a film. I think that, that’s the problem with, I mean I think it’s a great thing that it’s happening, Fabienne Colas, is the founder and director of those two festivals in Montreal and Toronto. But, like I said, the two things that we would need is a television network that would promote our films and showcase our films and fund our films, and also some kind of collective so that we could really share our struggles. KW: Thank you for your time.
A Critical Take on Hollywood Genre: Christian Petzold’s Phoenix
BY Maggie Mills EDITE BY Joshua Wiebe German director Christian Petzold’s Phoenix (2014) is a film that deals not only with German society in the period following the Second World War but also with the male gaze and the treatment of women in the kinds of classical Hollywood films Petzold references. The tropes of mistaken identity and a deceptive female character, exemplified in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) are quoted by the director, who recontextualizes this narrative from the perspective of a female heroine who is dealing with the denial of her trauma by those around her and her own inability to inhabit her pre-war identity.
In the film Nina Hoss plays Nelly, a singer and Auschwitz survivor who returns to Berlin immediately after the war in search of her nonJewish husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). Nelly’s face has suffered gunshot wounds and she undergoes reconstructive surgery. When she finds Johnny, working at a nightclub in the American quarter called Phoenix, he does not recognize her but recruits her to impersonate his dead wife for the purpose of accessing her inheritance. Nelly agrees to go along with this charade even as it becomes increasingly clear that Johnny betrayed her to the Nazis. Johnny trains Nelly, who adopts the name Esther, to perform the role of her former self. The film ends with Nelly singing the jazz standard “Speak Low” accompanied by Johnny on piano for an audience of their former friends. As Nelly’s voice soars Johnny realizes that the woman before him is undeniably his wife. A network of looks is constructed in the film to communicate the experience and denial of trauma. Nelly is a victim of state-sanctioned murder, as well as a female subject controlled by the male gaze and denied her own identity and experiences. Her intimate relationship with Johnny, and his lack of recognition, make up a microcosm of a larger denial on a societal scale. In being self-referential about the medium of cinema through his quotation of classical Hollywood and Vertigo specifically, Petzold brings to the table considerations of how film narratives have been a part of the denial of female subjectivity, especially with the use of the surveilling, objectifying male gaze. Petzold is interested in exploring a story of mistaken identity and characters struggling to make space for themselves in society from the perspective of a female character. In interviews he discusses his interest in deconstructing the gaze and the attempt to “be at eye level” with female characters, as opposed to surveilling them from above.1 Petzold’s work is in dialogue with contemporary German cinema, especially the Berlin School of which he is considered a part. The Berlin school is associated with a social and political critique that tends to resist popular genres in favour of a traditional art-cinema approach.2 Petzold’s filmmaking practice thus differs from this movement in his genuine interest in reviving genres and engaging with the structures they provide to give shape to his critical engagement. In his book on Petzold, Jaimey Fisher states,
“Petzold’s films consistently negotiate between genre and art-house cinema, between globally circulating images and national particularity, leaving them deliberately suspended in crisis and abeyance- central themes…within the films themselves.”3 The relevance of such a distinction between “arthouse” and genre cinema in a post-modern context may appear to be questionable but Fisher goes on to point out that these categories are of particular import in Germany, referring to “a persisting, crippling polarization between art-house film and genre film”4 specific to the German context. Fisher cites the reconciliation of this gap as a central concern for Petzold, and this can be read in terms of his approach in Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014), where there is a constant oscillation between distance and identification and pathos at play. Fisher points out that Petzold does not attempt to hide the influence of popular, Hollywood cinema on his own work, suggesting that he “describes and credits” theseinfluences “more than any other major art-house cinema director currently working.”5 The films operate as feminist critique as far as they seek to expose the male gaze in its cinematic as well as societal manifestations. Phoenix represents a notable example of contemporary cinema that engages critically with classical genre. While other auteurs associated with the Berlin school are eager to shun genre altogether, Petzold wants to bring these narratives to a space of social relevance by using them as a tool to explore the treatment of women in cinema, a longstanding but continually relevant issue. Visually Petzold’s work references the Hollywood of the past but the gender issues that he is interested in bringing up, and the tensions that he amplifies, are entirely relevant to the contemporary situation. Petzold quotes the classical Hollywood treatment of the elusive identity of the female character in Hitchcock, but offers the subjective perspective of his heroine throughout the story rather than that of the male character who is duped or who is projecting. A contemporary example of this sort of narrative playing out in an uncritical way are films like Ex Machina (2015) and Her (2013) in which artificial intelligence and anxieties around it take the form of an individual character, who is constructed or imagined as female.
Petzold places a great deal of significance on visual expression in Phoenix, and particularly the kinds of standards victims must live up to in order to be acknowledged. In the film’s opening scene Nelly’s friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf) drives Nelly, whose face is covered in bandages, through an American checkpoint. The jovial but aggressive soldier insists upon seeing Nelly’s face but as the bandages are unravelled he becomes embarrassed and apologizes, waving them through. The fact that the film opens with the recognition of Nelly’s suffering establishes the central theme of the work, but also sets up a certain expectation that all recognition will be so easy to gain. In fact, recognition seems to arise in the film only when physical evidence of suffering is exposed. The opening and closing scenes mirror each other in the sense that in each the male character is silenced and shamed through the presentation of undeniable proof of Nelly’s suffering, be it her face beneath the bandages or the tattoo on her wrist. Important information in the film, including the climactic ending sequence which has the greatest deal of emotional resonance for viewers, is communicated visually and specifically through a network of looks. Although we look with Johnny at Nelly, we ultimately feel with the latter character as she decides to walk away from her old life, which is no longer a habitable space for her. Though she may finally look the part she has lost the desire to occupy her former identity. The film works up to a dramatic moment of recognition that, when it takes place, is wholly unsatisfying. Endnotes 1 Megan Ratner, “Building on the Ruins: Interview with Christian Petzold,“ Film Quarterly 66, no. 2, 2012, 17. 2 Rajendra Roy, The Berlin School, (New York City: MOMA Press, 2013), 10-12. 3 Jaimey Fisher, Christian Petzold, (Chicago ; Springfield: University of Illinois, 2013), 12. 4 Fisher, Christian Petzold, 13. 5 Ibid., 11. Bibliography Fisher, Jaimey. Christian Petzold. Chicago ; Springfield: University of Illinois, 2013. Ratner, Megan. “Building on the Ruins: Interview with Christian Petzold.” Film Quarterly 66, no. 2 (Winter 2012): 16-24. Roy, Rajendra. The Berlin School. New York City: MOMA Press, 2013.
Anna Karenina (2012): The Mirror of Russian Love by Kimberly Glassman Edited by Matthieu Marin “Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement; art is a greater matter”1 An adaptation, by nature, challenges the concept of the new, new narratives, and new representations. We begin to question - is anything is ever truly new? Or, as Linda Hutcheon argues, are all art creations, like stories, based on other ideas?2 This essay explores the concept of film adaptation in relation to the definition of the ‘new’ through a critical analysis of the 2012 movie, Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright with screenplay by Tom Stoppard. Though unquestionably an adaptation, this movie is not singularly so. Though there are countless instances of what Ludwig Wittgenstein terms family likeness (common shared qualities between an adaptation and its source)3 which bind together the ‘new’ with its ‘source,’ the film is also bound to Russian cultural history. The adaptation in question is not simply a translation and appropriation of Tolstoy’s eponymous novel, but is also an adaptation of the story’s Russian origins and context. By breaking the barrier between film and theatre, the director displaces the audience and his characters. The stage on which they stand serves not only as a reminder to the viewers of the characters’ performance, but warns the actors themselves of their actions and the makeup (in both the sense of physical macquillage, and the composition or constitution of themselves) which governs their souls and identities. Joe Wright, known for directing movies such as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), has recently produced a controversial film that has been, until now, unfairly evaluated in my opinion. 62
Anna Karenina was adapted from Tolstoy’s novel based on an idea: to collapse plot and ideologies into one cohesive piece by blurring the lines between film, theatre, and novel, and—in doing so—collapse the boundaries between time and place. The choice to shoot the film in a theatre was, according to Wright, motivated by “this idea that they were living their lives as if upon a stage.”4 Wright emphasizes the notion of an ‘identity crisis’ permeating his film. The plot is simple enough to follow despite the novel being 800 pages long: A Russian aristocrat, Anna, engages in a life-altering affair with a cavalry officer, Count Vronsky, at the expense of her pristine reputation and marriage with the respectable statesman Count Karenin. Anna’s identity crisis forces her into a state of instability, vulnerability, and capriciousness, which serves as an individual account of a social phenomena plaguing Russia at the time the novel is set: “Russian culture at the time wasn’t really Russian. They were trying to be something other than Russian, they wanted to be French. They all spoke French, they read etiquette books on how to behave like French people, and they dressed in Paris fashions.”5 It is this, above all else, that led Wright to set his film in a theatre once he decided to divest himself “of the trappings of realism.”6 By filming the entire movie in a theatre, Wright has expelled all forms of reality, emphasizing the fictional quality of Tolstoy’s story. The identity of the individual then serves as a symbolic representation of the identity of a nation, in this case, Anna and nineteenth-century Russia. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on two motifs present throughout the film: the presence of mirrors or mirror images, and the ‘French’
Fig. 1 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
inclusions. In analyzing these motifs, I consider Linda Hutcheon’s stated truism that stories are born from other stories in the same manner that art is derived from other art.7 Hutcheon claims that artists use the same tools as storytellers: resourcing from elsewhere instead of creating something completely new.8 Darko Suvin and Ludwig Wittgenstein believe adaptations have a “family likeness”9 where some parameters are shared between both art objects (adaptation and source).10 However, Hutcheon adds to this, claiming that an adaptation is also a creative act of appropriation (to take something for one’s own use) and of salvaging (to retrieve or preserve something).11 In Wright’s Anna Karenina, the director simultaneously appropriates Tolstoy’s characters to express a historical Russian culture while ‘salvaging,’ or preserving, the three main love stories, among other plot details, in order to emphasize this appropriation. Thus the source art object and the adapted art object are linked through permeating common parameters, yet distinguished by independent creative appropriations. While Tolstoy’s novel embodies nineteenth-century Russia by virtue of it being created in that time, Wright must highlight the French-obsessed Russia through costume and set design to achieve the
same result for the modern-day audience. In addition, Wright heightens this self-reflexivity through the reflections (literal and symbolic) of his characters. Mirrors are not created anew but appropriated from Tolstoy’s novel into artistic and symbolic motifs for Wright’s adaptation. The viewers are not always given a clear shot of Anna. More often than not, Anna is filmed through a mediator-mirror (Fig. 1, 2, 3). Killian Fox, writing for The Guardian states that “[i]t’s rare that a cinematographer on a big digitalage production is asked to create effects in-camera rather than relying on computers to fill in the blanks in post-production, but on this movie McGarvey used mirrors, Georges Méliès-style, to realise Anna’s premonitions.”12 These mirrors serve as windows to the soul and identity of the characters. For example, the mirrors of the film track Anna as she transforms from a reserved respectable wife into an illustrious dependent lover. Self-reflection eventually transforms—in both novel and film—into dissociation, which culminates for both Tolstoy and Wright in Anna’s final moments at home before she commits suicide. Kathryn L. Ambrose 63
draws attention to Anna’s “final examination of her conscience and confrontation of her self-identity,” when she sits in front of a mirror, identifying that her relationship with Vronksy is over.13 A few pages later, “Vronsky glances at Anna’s almost corpselike reflection in the mirror before he leaves for the last time.”14 Wright materializes Tolstoy’s words in the last scene before Anna commits suicide. Anna and Vronksy share one of their many glances from afar. Always separated in one way or another, Anna and Vronsky’s many gaze-exchanges epitomize their relationship: desperately yearning to be close and free, yet constantly distant and restricted. Through the mirror, Vronsky looks at Anna (Fig. 4) who returns his mediated gaze (Fig. 5). Wright condenses Anna’s self-reflection and Vronsky’s last glance at his lover in one final moment: when Anna thinks, after failing to recognize herself, “Yes death!,”15 and Vronsky leaves looking upon Anna, according to Ambrose, as “already dead in [his] eyes.”16 Moreover, the overabundance of mirrors present in Wright’s film is symbolic of the mirror imaging between relationships and personalities prevalent in Tolstoy’s novel. Firstly, Anna and Vronsky mirror one another in their desire to give in to their carnal cravings. Kitty, seeing Anna and Vronsky dance together at the ball (Fig. 6), “looked at him, and was horror-struck. The sentiments that were reflected on Anna’s face as in a mirror were also visible on his. Where were his coolness, his calm dignity, the repose which always marked his face. Now, as he addressed his partner, his head bent as if he were ready to worship her, and his look expressed at once humility and passion.”17 In this situation, according 64
to Kitty, Vronsky does not simply mirror Anna; he is transformed by her into her mirror image. Vronsky later on acknowledges his changed life in telling Anna: “‘I assure you,’ he added, smiling, and showing his white teeth, ‘that it was overpoweringly unpleasant to me to look at that old life again, as it were, in a mirror.’”18 The mirror in Tolstoy’s novel and in Wright’s film becomes the symbolic vehicle for self-reflection, change, and transformation. Secondly, the relationships surrounding the love triangle of Karenin, Anna, and Vronsky, are the two contrasting marriages of Anna’s brother, Stiva and his wife Dolly, as well as Dolly’s sister Kitty and the landowner Levin. According to Ben Heineman, “[t] hey are mirrors within mirrors, creating a sequential and dynamic series of vivid comparisons and reflections.”19 To Wright, “there is no Anna Karenina without Levin, he is kind of the point of it.”20 Wright uses Levin as a balance or equalizer to Anna’s story. The director states that “[i]f you don’t have Levin, then all you have is an anti-heroine because it is a book about being human and it is a book about how we can strive towards our humanness through our experience of love,” a line which Tom Stoppard gives Levin in the dinning room scene Fig. 2 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
Fig. 3 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
at the Scherbatsky’s near the end of the film.21 Mirrors are thus used to metaphorically juxtapose an alternate reality, or other dimension of the ‘love story,’ and used literally to instigate and prompt reflection in the character. Anna, who remains the main focus of both novel and film, is surrounded by mirrors: looking-glasses in her home, the mirror image of her son that she looks at while on the train, and Levin who serves not as a reflection but as an opposite, mirroring her situation. He is the ‘standard’ that provokes self-reflection and contemplation in our heroine, even if not directly. Though Anna Karenina (2012) may be easily identified as an adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel via plot details, characters, and motifs, Wright’s appropriation of French-obsessed Russia pushes his adaptation further, outside the confines of a simple translation or materialization of the novel. Wright over-exaggerates the book’s cultural aspect in order to fulfill his artistic vision through luxurious garments of the 1950s Paris fashions, inconsistent with Russian garb at the time, among other design elements. Wright, like Tolstoy, uses the peripheral love stories of Kitty and Levin, as well as Oblonsky and Dolly to demonstrate this French-fixation. As mentioned before, Wright claims that Tolstoy’s characters, and Russians in general, “were trying to be something other than Russian, they wanted to be French.”22 Wight depicts this ‘other’ as over-the-top, overdramatized, and almost humorously trivial. The juxtaposition between the ‘true Russian’ and the ‘French Russian’ thus emerge in Wright’s work. When, in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Oblonsky invites
Levin to dine at one of Moscow’s most fashionable restaurants, “he displays his refined taste by ordering a totally French meal: soupe printanière, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poularde à l’estragon, macédoine de fruits;” while Levin, “very much the Tolstoyan character,” would rather eat a simple bowl of overwhelmingly Russian shchi (cabbage soup) and grechnevaya kasha (buckwheat groats), a scene also highlighted in Wright’s film.23 The dichotomous relationship between the two men, and between the opposing camps in Russia—the Westernizers and the Slavophiles—is dramatized throughout the passage in the food they order.24 Moreover, actor Domnhall Gleeson’s Levin is quiet and sensitive in stark contrast to the grandiosity of Oblonsky. Levin is “the character [that] stands in for Tolstoy and is arguably the poetic soul of the story.”25 His costumes were deliberately designed as more authentic of the period and region, with jackets edged in folkloric trim. According to Academy Award-nominated costume designer Jacqueline Durran, “Levin is the person that we tried to make accurate, with all the Russian books that we had,” emphasizing that “[e]ach of his pieces were copied from authentic Russian costume,” whereas Oblonsky was “larger than life.”26 Durran laughs in an interview, as most of us do during the film’s opening sequence for: “[t]he first time you see [Oblonsky] on the stage being shaved by the barber, he is wearing that huge printed velvet robe — it was just to make him that much larger than life.”27 However in contrast, when Oblonsky awakens in Tolstoy’s novel in the opening pages of Anna Karenina, “his gray dressing gown lined with blue silk is a witness against him.”28 Tolstoy has already 65
The adaptation in ques translation and appro eponymous novel, but of the story’s Russian o told us that Oblonsky is an unfaithful husband through his described gold morocco slippers, testifying, “that he is a self-indulgent man.”29 This self-indulgence speaks greater volumes in the film adaptation, which Wright salvages and appropriates to effectuate the grandeur and amplification of the divide between Russian and French through dress.
The Russian courts are another area where Tolstoy and Wright both unveil the pretentiousness and fraudulent French-speaking Russian. For the film’s overall costume design, Durran took her inspiration both from the nineteenth century setting of the original novel and from director Joe Wright, who requested costumes inspired by 1950s Paris couture. In particular, the dresses of 1870s Russian aristocrats “emulated those of the French women in the period and had something of a bell shape, with skirts that were draped and swagged with wide bustles and crinoline.”30 In Tolstoy’s novel, French for the aristocrats served several purposes, it was the official language of the Russian Court and permitted one to move in the highest social circles for “the best philosophical and political discussions were [supposedly] held in French.”31 In the novel as in Wright’s film, many of the most hypocritical characters of the novel unapologetically speak French much of the time, including Countess Lydia and Countess Vronsky.32 However, French was also used in the novel by Anna and Count Vronsky to address one another because, unlike in Russian where “it seems that the distinction is more extreme,” they could use the polite but still personal congenial vous form for a while, until their relationship developed into something more intimate.”33
Just as Wright materialized Tolstoy’s contrast between Oblonsky and Levin through distinct clothes, so too was Durran commissioned to separate Anna, who at the beginning of the novel is noted by Tolstoy to “speak mostly Russian, but towards the end she changes over to French,”34 through her ostentatious dress. According to Holbrooke, “Anna’s gradual transition from Russian to French language and culture corresponds with a change in her ethical views and religious identification. Tolstoy sees her gradual abandonment of Russian Orthodoxy in favour of Catholicism as a negative development, culminating in marital infidelity and suicide.”35 For Wright and Durran, clothing can be “an effective means of storytelling,” engaging the audience in an immersive atmosphere.36 The final scene before Anna’s suicide, for example, involves her getting dressed. We witness the whole process being put together before our eyes. Durran confesses: “I maybe overemphasized the 1950s details, especially on Anna’s costumes … because I wanted the audience to recognize we weren’t necessarily doing an authentic period piece.”37 Accordingly, Anna’s own garment colour was always meant to be at odds with the palett of the ‘chorus figures.’ For example, at the ball, her burgundy gown clashes with the women, all of whom are “swaddled in pistachio, violet, and icy pink tulle.”38 Moreover, “a quivering red feather perches in Anna’s coif, foreshadowing her status as scarlet woman.”39
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina uses Russian identities and Russian language in opposition to European culture and French language to highlight “the superficiality of the Russian aristocracy in the
estion is not simply a ropriation of Tolstoy’s t is also an adaptation n origins and context nineteenth century.”40 Similarly, Wright’s Anna Karenina decided to “instead of [film] an elaborate (and budget unfriendly) shoot in the Russian locations where the story takes place,” opted to “set the movie in a derelict theater, to give the feel of decaying 19th-century Russian society.”41 In the context of Tolstoy’s novel, “honesty to oneself is the highest expression of being” and unless one lives in truth, “one cannot lay claim to a genuine existence.”42 In an interview, actor Keira Knightley stated that her character, Anna, “gets destroyed almost by being the most honest person in the whole film, and it’s that honesty, that lack of inability to live within a lie, that is the thing that leads to her destruction.”43 Thus, unlike Levin, Anna is unable to
live with herself as she cannot be genuine to who she really is—a veritable truth and overarching theme of the novel brought into fruition through clothing, set design, and the actors themselves.
The most extraordinary and controversial aspect of Wright’s film is the use of the “dilapidated theatre, where more than a 100 sets were built so that actors could believably step from one scene into the next non sequitur—a house among the props stored beneath a stage, or the doors of a theatre balcony that lead into the hallway of Anna’s home.”44 Though there is a distinction between the outside and inside scenes, the last moments of the film reveal Count Karenin with Anna’s two children playing ‘outside’ in the theatre. The artificiality of even the most natural scenes, once again removes
Fig. 4 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
Fig. 5 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
Fig. 6 Anna Karenina (2012), by Joe Wright
Wright’s piece from the realm of realism into one of superficiality and artifice. Wright’s proclaimed interest in Russia’s ‘identity crisis’ extends beyond national identity, to artistic identity. The entire film seems unsure if it is a theatre or film production. Moreover, in certain scenes such as Oblonsky’s factory, Levin in the field, and Anna and her compatriots at the ball, an apparent choreography is executed, almost resembling a ballet.
the ‘source’ art object from the ‘new’ art object, one would discover that the “kaleidoscope of arresting visuals” and the “surreal, images” do not “obscure the essence of the novel: the humanity of character,” but rather heightens it through an adaptation of reality into surreality.47 The adaptation presents traditional elements of the novel in new innovative ways. Unfortunately, a number of reviewers failed to consider his work as an adaptation of literature into film; they viewed Tolstoy’s fiction as fact, and Wright’s movie as a mistranslation of its source. In distancing the ‘source art object’ from the ‘new art object,’ we may objectively view the two as separate artworks of equal value.48
Although some, like those at The Atlantic, might recommend you “read the book, skip the movie,”45 I believe Wright’s film is being misevaluated. The writer for The Atlantic states: “The film does raise the age-old argument about why and how novels can be—should be—translated into film”46—and therein, of course, lies the problem. By distancing
ENDNOTES 1 Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, trans. Aylmer Maude (Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1996 ), 189. 2 Linda Hutcheon, “Beginning to Theorize Adaptation,” in A Theory of Adaptation. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 4.
37 Referring to Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, which were nominated at the Oscars, in ibid. 38 Nathalie Atkinson, “Tolstoy tries on taffeta.” 39 Ibid.
3 Vida L. Midgelow, “Reworking the Ballet: (en)countering the Canon.” in Reworking the Ballet: Counter Narratives and Alternative Bodies (New York: Routledge, 2007), 13.
40 Devin Conley, “French Framing of Anna Karenina: Confused Identities in Russian Aristocracy,” Honors Project for Illinois Wesleyan Univeristy, Digital Commons, 2007, http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/ viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=intstu_honproj.
4 Tara Aquino, “Interview: Keira Knightley & Director Joe Wright Talk “Anna Karenina” & Living Life on a Stage,” Complex, November 16, 2012, accessed January 20, 2016, http://ca.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/keira-knightley-joe-wrightanna-karenina.
41 Mekado Murphy, “Below the Line: The Design of ‘Anna Karenina,’” The New York Times Magazine, January 30, 2013, accessed January 15, 2016, http:// carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/below-the-line-the-design-of-annakarenina/?_r=0.
42 Devin Conley “French Framing of Anna Karenina.”
43 Tara Aquino, “Interview: Keira Knightley & Director Joe Wright.”
Midgelow, “Reworking the Ballet,” 2.
44 Nathalie Atkinson, “Tolstoy tries on taffeta.”
Hutcheon, “Beginning to Theorize Adaptation,” 4.
45 Heineman, “Anna Karenina: Read the Book, Skip the Movie.”
Midgelow, “Reworking the Ballet,” 13.
10 Hutcheon, ”Beginning to Theorize Adaptation,” 4. 11 Ibid. 12 Killian Fox, “How Joe Wright’s Vision of Anna Karenina was Brought to Life,” The Guardian, September 2, 2012, accessed January 22, 2015, http://www.theguardian. com/film/2012/sep/02/joe-wright-vision-anna-karenina. 13 Amy Mandelker, Framing Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel (Ohio : Ohio State University Press, 1993), 94 ; Kathryn L Ambrose, The Woman Question in Nineteenth-Century English, German and Russian Literature: (En)gendering Barriers (Leiden; Boston: Brill Rodopi, 2015), 212. 14 Mandelker, Framing Anna Karenina,94 ; Ambrose, The Woman Question, 212. 15 Ibid. 212.
16 Mandelker, Framing Anna Karenina, 94 ; Ambrose, The Woman Question,
17 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. E. B. Greenwood (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995 [1877-78]), 79. 18 Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 79-80. 19 Ben Heineman, “Anna Karenina: Read the Book, Skip the Movie,” Belfer Centre, January 2, 2013, accessed January 19, 2016, http://belfercenter.hks.harvard. edu/publication/22628/anna_karenina.html. 20 Tara Aquino, “Interview: Keira Knightley & Director Joe Wright.” 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Darra Goldstein, “Introduction,” in A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality (Russian Information Service, 1999), XV. 24 Goldstein, “Introduction,” XV. 25 Nathalie Atkinson, “Tolstoy tries on taffeta: The lavish costumes and unexpected inspirations behind Anna Karenina,” The National Post, November 24, 2012, accessed January 20, 2016. http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/leo-tolstoy-tries-ontaffeta-the-lavish-costumes-and-unexpected-inspirations-behind-anna-karenina. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 Naomi Bliven, “Tolstoy’s Dress Code: A moral schema, in which the impossibly chic are hung by a thread,” The New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1994, accessed January 19, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/01/magazine/ tolstoy-s-dress-code-moral-schema-which-impossibly-chic-are-hung-thread. html?pagewanted=all. 29 Ibid. 30 Nathalie Atkinson, “Tolstoy tries on taffeta.” 31 Anne Mellino, “Anna Karenina: French in the late 19th-century Russian Court,” My frenchlife, April 26, 2012, accessed January 19, 2016, http://www.myfrenchlife. org/2012/04/26/anna-karenina-french-in-the-late-19th-century-russian-court/. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 David Holbrook, Tolstoy, Woman, and Death: A Study of War and Peace and Anna Karenina (London: Associated University Presses, 1997), 171, as quoted in Rina Lapidus, “W”, Passion, Humiliation, Revenge: Hatred in Man-Woman Relationships in the 19th and 20th Century Russian Novel (Maryland ; Lexington Books, 1955), 75. 35 Ibid. 36 Eric Wilson, “Hidden Passions, Visible in Clothes,” The New York Times Magazine, December 26, 2012, accessed January 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes. com/2012/12/30/movies/awardsseason/jacqueline-durrans-costumes-for-annakarenina.html.
46 Ibid. 47 Ibid. 48 I use the term value here as meaning neither good nor bad, but truth. Neither is more true than the other, and neither is considered ‘fact,’ or the ‘real’ Anna Karenina. They are individual, even though they are related. Truth, in my employment of the term, refers to truth in being, in that both equally exist in our world as art objects, and that both are ‘new’ in our context and culture. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ambrose, Kathryn L. The Woman Question in Nineteenth-Century English, German and Russian Literature: (En)gendering Barriers. Leiden; Boston: Brill Rodopi, 2015. Aquino, Tara. “Interview: Keira Knightley & Director Joe Wright Talk “Anna Karenina” & Living Life on a Stage.” Complex. November 16, 2012. Accessed January 20, 2016.. http://ca.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/keira-knightley-joe-wright-anna-karenina. Atkinson, Nathalie. “Tolstoy tries on taffeta: The lavish costumes and unexpected inspirations behind Anna Karenina.” The National Post. November 24, 2012. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/leo-tolstoy-tries-on-taffeta-thelavish-costumes-and-unexpected-inspirations-behind-anna-karenina. Bliven, Naomi. “Tolstoy’s Dress Code: A moral schema, in which the impossibly chic are hung by a thread.” The New York Times Magazine. May 1, 1994. Accessed January 19, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/01/magazine/tolstoy-s-dresscode-moral-schema-which-impossibly-chic-are-hung-thread.html?pagewanted=all. Conley, Devin. “French Framing of Anna Karenina: Confused Identities in Russian Aristocracy.” Honours Project for Illinois Wesleyan Univeristy. Digital Commons. 2007. http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=intstu_ honproj. Fox, Killian. “How Joe Wright’s Vision of Anna Karenina was Brought to Life.” The Guardian. Sept. 2, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/ sep/02/joe-wright-vision-anna-karenina. Goldstein, Darra. “Introduction.” In A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality. Russian Information Service, 1999. Heineman, Ben. “Anna Karenina: Read the Book, Skip the Movie.” Belfer Centre. January 2, 2013. Accessed January 19, 2016. http://belfercenter.hks.harvard.edu/ publication/22628/anna_karenina.html Hutcheon, Linda. “Beginning to Theorize Adaptation.” In A Theory of Adaptation, 1-32. New York: Routledge, 2006. Lapidus, Rina. Passion, Humiliation, Revenge: Hatred in Man-Woman Relationships in the 19th and 20th Century Russian Novel. Maryland : Lexington Books, 1955. Mandelker, Amy. Framing Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel. Ohio State University Press, 1993. Mellino, Anne. “Anna Karenina: French in the late 19th-century Russian.” My frenchlife. April 26, 2012. Accessed January 19, 2016. http://www.myfrenchlife. org/2012/04/26/anna-karenina-french-in-the-late-19th-century-russian-court/. Midgelow, Vida L. “Reworking the Ballet: (en)countering the Canon.” Reworking the Ballet: Counter Narratives and Alternative Bodies. New York: Routledge, 2007. Murphy, Mekado. “Below the Line: The Design of ‘Anna Karenina.” The New York Times Magazine. January 30, 2013. Accessed January 15, 2016. http://carpetbagger. blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/below-the-line-the-design-of-anna-karenina/?_r=0. Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Trans. E. B. Greenwood. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995 [1877-78]. Tolstoy, Leo. What is Art?. Trans. Aylmer Maude. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1996 . Wilson, Eric. “Hidden Passions, Visible in Clothes.” The New York Times Magazine. December 26, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2016. http://www.nytimes. com/2012/12/30/movies/awardsseason/jacqueline-durrans-costumes-for-annakarenina.html.
Carol (2015), by Todd Haynes
Hiding in Plain Sight: The Voyeuristic Camera Aesthetics of Carol 70
by Nina Patterson edited by Harris Frost The latter half of the oeuvre of filmmaker Todd Haynes contains nostalgic looks at the past. Far From Heaven (2002) is set in 1950s suburban America and tackles taboos surrounding an interracial love affair. Haynes’ Carol (2015) is set in the same time period yet explores an affair between two women, another taboo of the time. By following the story of Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara), the film is able to highlight the longing these characters share to live a life outside that of heteronormative society and defined gender roles. The film purposefully creates a nostalgic feel to its look through its use of 16mm film. The camera work also plays a strong part in personifying the need for these two women to hide the nature of their relationship from the public eye and for a large part of the film they are successfully able to do this. The film was shot by cinematographer Edward Lachman who also shot Haynes’ mini series Mildred Pierce (2011) as well as Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999). Carol was shot using super 16mm film. Lachman claims that film is the cheaper medium to shoot in.1 As Lachman explains, “The way colors mix in film can’t be
reproduced digitally.”2 Lachman goes on to say that his preference for film is tied to the feeling of grain that film produces.3 The style of the camera work certainly references the 40s and early 50s, primarily films within the studio system. Many of the themes and camera aesthetics of Carol reference voyeurism. Therese is an amateur photographer and initially feels that taking photos of people is an invasion of privacy. The film opens in a restaurant where an acquaintance of Therese spots the pair from afar. This scene returns towards the end of the film and only then, do we know that the friend interrupts them moments after Carol has told Therese that she loves her. This choice to introduce the pair through an outside eye highlights how inconspicuous their relationship seems to the casual observer. Later, this idea of not suspecting romantic love between two women is touched upon again when Therese brings up homosexuality with her boyfriend Richard. Richard says he’s heard of boys liking boys but can’t imagine it just happening to people. The film is often reflexive of its medium, referencing how filmmaking is inherently voyeuristic. In one
Carol (2015), by Todd Haynes
scene, Therese is hanging out with Richard and his friends in the projection booth of a cinema. They are peeking through the glass by the projector to try and get a glimpse of the film and perhaps the audience below. One of the friends, Dannie says “I’ve seen it 6 times now. I’m charting the correlation between what the characters say and how they really feel.” This statement rings true to the hidden emotions that Carol and Therese have had to hide from others. The film contains many shots of the two women looking out from behind glass. Often Therese is shown from the inside of car windows, looking out. This functions as showing her as an onlooker to society where other women her age are getting married and having children. This idea of using windows to show a divide also works to explore a more positive sort of containment. Therese and Carol embark on a road trip together and we see the pair in the car once again shot from the outside. It is as if the car is a bubble from the outside world, a place they can escape together. These initial shots once again make the audience feel like onlookers, able to glimpse into these two women’s happiness.
The framing in the film is noticeably boxed in or constrictive. The first time that we see Carol with her daughter Rinley, the scene is framed from behind a doorway both voyeuristic and contained as if hinting at the societal pressures on Carol to conform as a wife and mother. This boxed-in framing repeats throughout the film, especially in scenes with people sitting at bars or restaurants. These scenes are shot with usually one character obscured, never in a medium shot from the side featuring both characters. The audience is, in effect, put into the role of voyeur, listening in on the character’s conversation. Carol combines rich nostalgic cinematography with superb acting from the two main actresses. The choice to shoot on 16mm to showcase the grain of film contributes to this nostalgic feel. The framing hints at the societal pressure on these two characters that must hide the true nature of their relationship from the outside world. Although the film references a bygone era, many of the themes tackle issues still faced in contemporary heteronormative society. The camera work, that is at once nostalgic and innovative, proves that there is still space for film in an industry that is rapidly becoming digital.
Carol (2015), by Todd Haynes
Endnotes 1 Micah Van Hove, “Understanding the Value of Shooting on Celluloid with ‘Carol’ DP Ed Lachman,” No Film School, November 29, 2015, accessed January 29, 2016, http://nofilm school.com/2015/11/understanding-value-shooting-celluloid-with-carol-dp-edlachman. 2 Lachman quoted in Micah Van Hove, “Understanding the Value of Shooting on Celluloid”. 3 Ibid. Bibliography Van Hove, Micah. “Understanding the Value of Shooting on Celluloid with ‘Carol’ DP Ed Lachman”. No Film School, November 29, 2015. Accessed January 29, 2016. http://nofilmschool.com/2015/11/understanding-value-shooting-celluloid-with-caroldp-ed-lachman.
CONDITIONS OF LOSS on Béla Tarr’s Turin Horse (2011) by Joshua Wiebe Edited BY Nina Patterson “It is so wearisome. First you put on your shirt, then your trousers; you drag yourself into bed at night and in the morning drag yourself out again; and always you put one foot in front of the other. There is little hope that it will ever change. Millions have always done it like that and millions more will do so after us. Moreover, since we’re made up of two halves which both do the same thing, everything’s done twice. It’s all very boring and very, very sad.” Georg Büchner, Danton’s Death1 “It was very important to show the differences. Daily life is always monotonous, you wake up in the morning, you get up, etc. But every day there is always some difference.” Béla Tarr2 The cinematic image is reducible to a fundamentally hopeful act regardless of its content. It implies communication between an author and an audience and therefore asserts the value of this communication (be it through conveyance of meaning or shaping of impressions). The trajectory of Béla Tarr’s career charts the disintegration of this quality, the slow abandonment of this “biggest kind of optimism”3 which existed in unresolved tension with his continual evocation of the melancholy of existence. The culmination of this project lies in 74
the final entry of Tarr’s corpus, Turin Horse (2011), an end-of-the-world film which captures the degradation of cabman Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi), his daughter (Erika Bók) and his horse (Ricsi). Occurring over six days (reference to the six days it took God to create the Earth), Turin Horse’s narrative is constituted by the evaporation of strength and the repetition of the mundane horror that brings about the onset of the cinematic apocalypse. The characters repeat actions day after day, the difficulty of each gesture weighing on the audience as we bear witness to cyclical motions born of and made towards finitude punctuated only by intertitles announcing our progress through the world’s quiet destruction. This is complex repetition repurposed to reveal the components of the world in which these three characters exist. The drifting camerawork (provided by Fred Kelemen) reinforces the shot as the site of limit creation, a nexus of inclusion and exclusion within which points of interest are contained but not dictated: Tarr’s type of slow cinema resists the prescribed ordering of phenomena within a given shot/scene/sequence. What is fascinating in the restaging of events is the implied relationships between actors and shots which make us privy to the synchronicity of the characters and the camera as they communicate wordlessly through rehearsed gestures and movements. The simple act of eating, as functional a task as is replicable on film (and as fundamentally mortal), becomes host to an exploration of cinematic decision and the ideological, centralizing aspect of the apparatus. On the first day we watch Ohlsdorfer in relative close up as he consumes his meal (fig. 1). The focus shifts on the second day to the daughter; the potatoes, the setting and the costumes remain unchanged. This shot of the daughter begins wider, including part of the cabman’s body as he sets upon the boiled potato before him (fig. 2). As it ever so slowly closes in on her, he exits the frame to the right to provide us with an unencumbered view as she continues to eat. The repetition of the action does nothing to dilute the fact that we are accumulating new information, that this shot is substantially different in tone, framing and quality from the previous one. To equate the two is to flatten the plane of difference that exists between the characters and to ignore the import of directorial choice at all. We follow from here to the third day’s two-shot, a framing of a darker quality and with a substantially different function (fig. 3): as the gaze of the camera
has been aligned with the characters thus far this new location of the camera creates a sense of unease. This disruption of the shot-reverse-shot pattern prefigures the disruption of the meal which occurs with the arrival of the gypsies, drawing the attention of the cabman away from his food. In his book Slow Movies, Ira Jaffe rightly identifies the camera’s motion as an active component of the narrative, stating that “(w)hen The Turin Horse’s camera stares at Ohlsdorfer’s empty bed or the empty space in front of his house, for instance, it seems to both foretell his entrance into the frame and summon him to fill the void.”4 The alienating camerawork colludes with the sparse voiceover to emphasize the audience’s privileged position, seeing as we are given access to information denied to Ohlsdorfer, his daughter and the horse. Whether this takes the form of following one character instead of another, our remaining focused on an empty space or object or being told through voiceover about the dead silence falling upon the house, we are given a novel perspective of the heaviness of existence under which these characters live. This is extended to include our own experiences by both human protagonists’ proclivities for sitting at the
window and watching the windswept landscape, a position we take up not infrequently during the film’s runtime. The implication is clearly one which erodes the threshold between the characters and the viewer. If the camera often foreshadows the characters’ destinations, then the darkness we are plunged into as the film fades out is an anticipatory darkness, a death-image. (It is important here to recall Fred Kelemen’s quote: “Even a black screen is an image.”5) The Turin Horse spirals us towards a quiet destruction, a mundane apocalypse in which the image simply slips away. The characters are warned of this on the fifth day when they are plagued by a darkness their lamps cannot grant reprieve from, an otherworldly glow enabling us to watch as the daughter stubbornly echoes the horse’s silent refusal to eat. “Death is always the most terrible scene, and when you watch someone dying — an animal or a human — it’s always terrible, and the most terrible thing is that it looks like nothing happened.”6
Turin Horse (2011), by Béla Tarr
Turin Horse (2011), by Béla Tarr
longer to be influenced by him but by our shifting apprehensions and viewing environments. The trajectory of Tarr’s career makes a counterpoint to the idea of the artist as producer of commodity; there is a certain revulsion on Tarr’s behalf at the idea of directing for its own sake. This attitude is explored with The Turin Horse’s single long monologue in which a neighbour decries the devastation of the nearby town and, by extension, of the world. The neighbour spouts echoes of Nietzschean philosophy (the poor and the weak reframing their own passivity as virtue) while drawing parallels between an ominous “they” and the debasement of the world, inexorably linked to the reconstitution of objects and concepts as products to be acquired. “Debase, acquire, acquire, debase.” These twinned verbs insist upon the ruinous quality of commodification and so by declaring his filmic project complete, he maps out the sole remaining option for the filmmaker who has exhausted their creative reservoir: to cease producing work.
It is on this final black screen that we find the site wherein death reasserts itself over a world gone to ruin and so it is not only the characters who have reached the end of their lives but the images themselves. The stillness of the daughter points towards the death of the characters (“We need to eat.” Ohlsdorfer says as his daughter remains motionless) as surely as the stillness of the black screen represents the staunch refusal of the camera’s capacity as “transmitter of movement”7. We witness the conclusion of Tarr’s cinematic exploration of his own slight but crucial optimism with the final black screen of his career, the groundwork which has been laid by a half dozen white-on-black intertitles throughout the film. This final repetition and conclusive blackness makes a gesture towards the moment the projector shuts off and the last vestige of light evaporates from the theatre. This extra-diegetic darkness marks the absence of imagery (the death of the image here is the transition from projected darkness to absence of light) that is to follow Tarr’s retirement. The proxemics of despair Tarr so deftly illuminated are now left to be returned to us (and therefore repeated) only upon rewatching his previous films, the minute differences between encounters no 76
Relinquishing control of his filmic narrative (future works always remark back upon past ones), Tarr’s movement mimics that of his characters. His displacement from condition to condition marks what Rancière identified as the purpose of “chart[ing] slowly the accelerated passage to death of a young girl [in Sátántangó], and in doing so […] captur[ing] the deceitfulness of great hopes.”8 This deceitfulness has been combatted by and placed into contention with Tarr’s characters for the whole of his career but in The Turin Horse he takes the conflict to its endpoint only to describe the predicament he now finds himself in. I quote here from the scenario for the film: “They stand there motionless for some time, and as time goes by it becomes increasingly obvious that no matter which direction they may take it will be just totally hopeless.”9
Turin Horse (2011), by Béla Tarr
1 Quoted in Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 4.
Ballard, Phil. “In Search of Truth, Béla Tarr Interviewed.” Kinoeye 4, no. 2, March 29, 2004. Accessed February 27, 2016. http://www.kinoeye.org/04/02/ballard02.php.
2 Quoted in Virginie Sélavy, “The Turin Horse, Interview with Béla Tarr,” Electric Sheep, June 4, 2012, accessed February 27, 2016, http://www.electricsheepmagazine. co.uk/features/2012/06/04/the-turin-horse-interview-with-bela-tarr/.
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
3 Phil Ballard, “In Search of Truth, Béla Tarr Interviewed,” Kinoeye 4, no. 2 (March 29, 2004), accessed February 27, 2016, http://www.kinoeye.org/04/02/ballard02.php. 4 Ira Jaffe, Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action (New York: Wallflower, 2014), 163. 5 Robert Koehler, “Interview – The Thinking Image: Fred Keleman on Béla Tarr and The Turin Horse,” Cinema Scope, accessed February 27, 2016, http://cinemascope.com/cinema-scope-magazine/interview-the-thinking-image-fred-kelemen-onbela-tarr-and-the-turin-horse/. 6 Vladan Petkovic, “Interview: Béla Tarr – Simple and pure,” Cineuropa, March 4, 2011, accessed February 27, 2016, http://cineuropa.org/ff.aspx?t=ffocusinterview&l=en &tid=2207&did=198131. 34.
7 Jacques Rancière, The Intervals of Cinema (London; New York: Verso, 2014), 8 Ibid, 14.
Jaffe, Ira. Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action. New York: Wallflower, 2014. Koehler, Robert. “Interview – The Thinking Image: Fred Keleman on Béla Tarr and The Turin Horse.” Cinema Scope. Accessed February 27, 2016. http://cinema-scope. com/cinema-scope-magazine/interview-the-thinking-image-fred-kelemen-on-belatarr-and-the-turin-horse/. Kovács, András Bálint. The Cinema of Béla Tarr: The Circle Closes. London: Wallflower, 2013. Petkovic, Vladan. “Interview: Béla Tarr – Simple and pure.” Cineuropa, March 4, 2011. Accessed February 27 2016. http://cineuropa.org/ff.aspx?t=ffocusinterview&l=en &tid=2207&did=198131. Rancière, Jacques. The Intervals of Cinema. London; New York: Verso, 2014. Sélavy, Virginie. “The Turin Horse: Interview with Bela Tarr.” Electric Sheep, June 4, 2012. Accessed February 27, 2016. http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/ features/2012/06/04/the-turin-horse-interview-with-bela-tarr/.
9 Quoted in András Bálint Kovács, The Cinema of Béla Tarr: The Circle Closes (London : Wallflower, 2013),146.
Reflecting on the Life of Haskell Wexler (1922-2015) by Patrick Blair Edited by Harris Frost The Bus (1963), by Haskell Wexler. In August 1963, Wexler travelled with the San Francisco delegation to Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘March on Washington,’ producing one of his first documentary films The Bus (1963)
for In the Heat of the Night (1967), which was the first major Hollywood film to be photographed specifically for the complexion of a black person’s skin; his work on the Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), two of the most enduring American films from the 1970’s. But Wexler had a career that expanded far beyond the confines of Hollywood and its imposed limitations, leading him into fascinating, and often controversial and dangerous territories. Wexler was unapologetically political, and his principles informed much of his work. He identified with many of the social struggles of his lifetime and documented them using his craft, leaving a cinematic legacy marked by provocative documentaries and socially-engaged fictional films in addition to the Hollywood classics he has traditionally received so much praise for. A certain difficulty arises when trying to describe the career of someone like Haskell Wexler. The legendary American cinematographer and filmmaker, who died on December 27th, 2015, left behind a body of work and list of accomplishments so immense that it avoids any simple characterization. Wexler’s filmography has a kind of diversity that is rarely, if ever, found in other cinematographers working in Hollywood, and many would describe it as audacious. While many surely recognize Wexler’s name from his celebrated work in Hollywood: his two Academy Awards for cinematography, for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976); his unique genreblending Medium Cool (1969), which he also wrote and directed; his groundbreaking photography 78
Wexler was born in 1922 in Chicago, which would be a subject for much of his film work, including one of his very first production credits, The Living City (1956), a short documentary about Chicago that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Documentary cinema was perhaps Wexler’s central preoccupation in his early film career, and could be said to be how he learned to make films. He recalled his first memories of using a camera, when he was a young boy, documenting his family’s trips around the world with a 16mm camera and cutting them together into a kind of travelogue. Wexler grew up at a crucial moment in the evolution of cinema. After World War II, in which he served as a Merchant Marine, camera technology became increasingly accessible to young filmmakers, as well as increasingly portable. A new era of documentary
Medium Cool (1969), by Haskell Wexler. Wexler’s debut feature, filmed during the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago.
filmmaking began, where filmmakers could now be ‘on the scene,’ ready to passively observe, or actively engage with, the ‘real world’ around them. The Savage Eye (1959), which was one of the first American films to be associated with the burgeoning cinema vérité and Direct Cinema movements, credited Wexler as a cinematographer. Those who were active in the Civil Rights Movement would likely remember August of 1963 as the month of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington culminating in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Nearly 300,000 people - mostly black Americans - marched in the capital that month, and busses brought in delegations from around the country to participate. Aboard the bus for the San Francisco delegation was Haskell Wexler, directing one of his first major documentary films The Bus (1963). The film is everything you would expect from a great Civil Rights era documentary: handheld, 4:3, black-andwhite, grainy film; dedicated activists, impassioned citizens, expressing their frustrations with American white supremacy, and their hopes for change; laughing, marching, chanting, singing songs. Through the early and mid-1960’s, Wexler photographed a number of films, including Elia Kazan’s autobiographical epic America, America (1963) and the political drama The Best Man (1964). His first major achievement in Hollywood came with the release of Mike Nichols’ chamber drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), adapted from the play by Edward Albee. Wexler -who was colorblind- exploited black-and-white photography to its fullest, filling each frame with striking
contrasts of light and darkness to compliment the story’s dramatic nature. The film was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, one of the only films ever to do so. It brought Wexler his first Oscar on the 10th of April 1967, in the middle of the US military’s aerial bombing campaign of North Vietnam known as Operation Rolling Thunder. Upon taking the podium to accept his first major honour, believing it would be the only chance in his life to “speak to millions of people,” Wexler announced: “I hope we can use our art for peace and for love. Thanks.”1 The Vietnam War would ultimately be a subject for much of Wexler’s work. Most notable perhaps is his legendary film Medium Cool (1969), which brought him back to his hometown of Chicago for the first of a handful of feature films he would direct. Wexler had originally written a script titled Concrete Jungle about a young boy who goes missing in the city. Knowing people who were involved in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the time, he caught wind of the rising tension in Chicago surrounding the city’s hosting of the Democratic National Convention in the upcoming summer of 1968: “I knew the anti-war people were planning a demonstration, and I knew that if the Democratic Party did not respond to the antiwar movement, there would be some kind of conflict.”2 Intrigued at the possibilities - and no doubt taking inspiration from contemporary cinema vérité trends - he adjusted his script to create a singular, genredefying creation that hasn’t quite been matched since. The 1968 Chicago DNC predictably erupted into a police riot, with peaceful protesters being beaten and gassed just outside of the convention. Wexler and the lead actress Verna Bloom jumped 79
Wexler had a career that confines of Hollywood and leading him into fascinating and dangerous territories right into the action, and the result was “fictional characters in real situations, [and] real characters in fictional situations,” as was perhaps best put by Roger Ebert.3 The film notoriously received a “political ‘X’” rating, as Wexler liked to say.4 Later, he served as cinematographer for Joseph Strick’s documentary short Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1970). The winner of Best Documentary Short at the 1971 Academy Awards, the film features interviews with American soldiers who witnessed or participated in the infamous 1968 My Lai massacre of an estimated 350 to 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by the US military. In 1974, he directed Introduction to the Enemy, a documentary he made with prominent anti-war activists Jane Fonda and her husband Tom Hayden, reflecting upon the United States’ war on the country and its
devastating effects on the Vietnamese population, famously deemed Communist propaganda by the New York Times associate editor Walter Goodman.5 Later, he photographed the Vietnam veteran drama Coming Home (1978) for his frequent collaborator Hal Ashby. Perhaps Wexler’s most controversial film incidentally also one of his least recognized - is Underground (1976), which he co-directed with Mary Lampson and the distinguished American radical documentarian Emile de Antonio. The film features exclusive interviews with members of the leftist guerrilla group the Weathermen, which carried out several bombings throughout the United States during the 1960’s and 70’s in an effort to “bring the war back home.”6 The filmmakers
Days of Heaven (1976), Terrence Malick. Wexler served as an additional cinematographer for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1976).
t expanded far beyond the nd its imposed limitations, ng, and often controversial tracked down members of the Weathermen (when allegedly the FBI couldn’t), including two of the group’s ‘leaders’, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Through their interviews, the film surveys the rise of the Weathermen, their radicalization from the 60’s and 70’s, and their experience living underground in hiding from the US government. Indeed, the FBI later subpoenaed the filmmakers and demanded they turn over all of their footage for investigation (perhaps giving the film its famous tagline: “The FBI doesn’t want you to see… Underground”). “To work on Emile de Antonio’s film we had to undergo severe cloak and dagger and surveillance,” he recalled. “After the shooting and before anything broke, I lived in the Hollywood Hills and had helicopters follow me and my van. Two guys in suits changed a tire in front of my house all day long. FBI came to my door and gave a subpoena to my wife.”7 Throughout his life, he contemplated whether his involvement with the clandestine production of Underground was responsible for his mysterious ejection from the production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). “I was devastated,” he remembered. “There’s only about a minute or two minutes in that film I didn’t shoot.”8 Still, the film won in five of the major categories at the Academy Awards that year. Wexler and Bill Butler were both credited for cinematography. The 1970’s were a peak decade for Wexler, a decade where he produced some of his best work and developed working relationships with his many future collaborators. In 1971 he photographed his first of many documentaries with American investigative journalist Saul Landau, Brazil: A Report on Torture, an investigation into
the torture techniques used by the country’s USbacked military dictatorship. The same year he worked on Landau’s documentary An Interview with President Allende, a filmed discussion with Popular Unity leader Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile who was overthrown by a CIA-sponsored coup two years later. A right-wing military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was installed, who - with full Western support - oversaw the disappearance, torture, and execution of thousands of Chilean civilians. Landau later commented: “Although rumours of CIA activities in Chile abounded, and much news was coming out of Chile, none of the networks had interviewed Allende. They nevertheless rejected our documentary without looking at it.”9 Wexler made a number of other films with Landau, including The CIA Case Officer (1978; about former CIA officer and whistleblower John Stockwell), Land of Our Birth (1978; a campaign film for the popular Jamaican socialist leader Michael Manley), Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1979; about the Atomic Energy Agency’s misinformation regarding the effects of radiation on human health; winner of an Emmy award and the George Polk award), and Quest for Power: Sketches of the American New Right (1982) among others. Yet perhaps his most notable film with Landau is Target Nicaragua: Inside a Secret War (1983), which covers the effects of the death squads backed by the Reagan administration to destabilize the democratic socialist Sandinista government. Situated near the Honduran side of the border, they documented the effects of USsponsored violence by the contra rebels, including kidnapping, murder, and torture. Landau recalled Wexler’s courage during the production, and his 81
A film deeply rooted in the American folk tradition, sha struggle and solidarity, it Wexler’s artistry willingness to protect the footage he so strongly felt needed to be seen by Americans: “In November 1982, Haskell Wexler and I caught the glare from sniper scopes on the Honduran side of the border. But Haskell, clutching his camera like an infant on his lap, was less concerned about his own safety than that the dust, pouring into the jeep, could seep into the camera and damage the film.”10 The film, although it played on few television stations, painted a harrowing portrait of American imperialism’s effects in Nicaragua. The situation made Wexler furious. “Who are they keeping this a secret from?” Landau recalled him asking. “Every Nicaraguan knows the CIA is waging a war. Only the American public remains in the dark.”11 Also for Hal Ashby - who he met at the set of In the Heat of the Night (1967) when Ashby was the editor - he photographed the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound For Glory (1976), famously regarded having the first use of a Steadicam in a major motion picture. Wexler earned his second Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the film. He was famously hired for “additional photography” on Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), which was being shot by his friend Nestor Almendros. Due to scheduling difficulties, Wexler had to take over cinematography duties from Almendros. Even though Wexler claims to have sat with a stopwatch and determined that he shot “over 50%” of the film, nevertheless he concluded that his Almendros deserved director of photography credit.12 After all, he had designed the film’s cinematography, giving the film its characteristic nostalgic and dreamlike qualities, resembling that of a 1916 postcard.
He worked on a number of films with distinguished American independent filmmaker John Sayles, including The Secret of Roan Inish (1993), Limbo (1999), and Silver City (2004). Perhaps his bestknown collaboration with Sayles, and also his most personal, was the first of his films that he photographed, Matewan (1986). A historical drama of impeccable detail that retells the story of a famous worker’s strike in early 1920’s West Virginia, it follows the struggles of a militant drifter and his coal-mining labourers as the violently battle the local ‘Company’ for their right to unionize. The film is in one way a love-letter to a forgotten Appalachia, and also a bitter cry against the attacks on organized labour that characterized the Reagan and Thatcher governments of the US and UK during the 1980’s. A film deeply rooted in the sights and sounds of the American folk tradition, sharing the stories of social struggle and solidarity, it exemplifies the best of Wexler’s artistry. It’s some of his best work, not only because of the brilliance of its photography, but also because it exemplifies the passion for justice that drove him throughout his life. Through the late 20th and into the 21st century, Wexler continued to produce restlessly. In 1999, he helped direct the film Bus Riders Union, a documentary about the struggles of Los Angeles community activists as they fight a tumultuous legal struggle with the local transportation authority for adequate bussing conditions. He helped make the documentary Five Days in March (2000), which follows around 50 American musicians as they travel to Cuba to collaborate with the island country’s musicians. The same year he co-directed
he sights and sounds of the haring the stories of social it exemplifies the best of the documentary Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends but the Mountains (2000), which chronicles the struggles of the Kurdish population of Turkey. Later, he made the documentary Who Needs Sleep? (2001), a provocative expose of the deadly labour exploitation that occurs behind the scenes of Hollywood, which no doubt continues to deteriorate the lives of countless struggling workers in the American film industry 15 years later. We’ve only begun to touch upon a fraction of Haskell Wexler’s immense legacy, spanning over six decades and over 75 different films. Few, if any, filmmakers like Wexler can be found in the history of Hollywood. Indeed, ‘Hollywood filmmaker’ is a term that Wexler would probably (and rightly) denounce. He was an artist, an activist and a storyteller, three
roles that certainly complimented each other well. He took on these roles with an unrelenting passion for justice that can be found all throughout his work, and his passion did not mellow with old age. “I know this is one of the most interesting moments for him in American history right now, when there’s an electoral season going on—he was very involved in electoral politics—and where people in the streets are in the streets, especially around the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Pamela Yates, the director of Rebel Citizen (2015), a new documentary about Wexler’s life and work. “He was very active up until the day he died.”13 Indeed, one of his last films was Four Days in Chicago (2012), where he travelled back to Chicago once again to document the Occupy movement’s demonstration against the NATO summit. (Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel
Underground (1976), by Emile de Antonio, Mary Lampson and Haskell Wexler. Wexler (center) clandestinely films the Weathermen in Underground (1976) with Emile de Antonio (right) and Mary Lampson (left).
Matewan (1987), by John Sayles. Wexler photographed the labor drama Matewan (1987) for director and frequent collaborator John Sayles.
famously declared the summit would not become “another Medium Cool.”) On an appearance on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! program, Wexler opened by expressing his continued frustration: “I’m pissed off. I am angry. [...] I see how the American public is being confused, lied to and given theater, to make us buy that war is the way to have peace…”14 Yates claimed, “you know, it’s funny, because he’s such a force of nature, we never thought he would actually die.”15 And in a sense that is true: Wexler was and continues to be a force of nature. Some of the most memorable events of the last six decades - both purely cinematic as well as social, political, and cultural - have been captured on Wexler’s film stock. So in this sense, Wexler will live on indefinitely through his invaluable body of work. Echoing his famous Academy Award acceptance speech for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), he once attempted to describe his primary motivations: “I don’t attack any kind of script or shooting with some philosophy that is discernible even to myself. It might just be art and love.”16 Art in the service of love and peace might now seem cliché, yet it is undoubtedly noble. To be an artist in the service of love and peace is not nearly as ‘peaceful’ as it may sound, and as Wexler’s life and career demonstrate, it may come with great personal sacrifice. He often put his career in jeopardy, and sometimes his life in danger, to fulfill what he saw as his responsibilities as an artist. So perhaps, as we reflect on Wexler’s monumental life and career, we should remember these responsibilities as we go forward with our own work. In 1989, speaking to a group of film students at the AFI Conservatory Harold Lloyd Masters Seminar, Wexler explained: 84
“The business we are in is potentially the greatest, most transmittable artform there is. And to just do your job, to just do it well, without any thought to what you’re doing and where it’s going and who is using it is to miss half the boat. Most artists in history of any value have always been people who ask the serious questions, who challenge the systems. [...] I think it’s important to look at the filmmaking and the television system and say ‘What’s it saying? What’s it saying to us about human relations?’ You, being good professionals and technicians, have an obligation, because we are privileged people being in this business. We can speak to millions. We can make people laugh, we can make people cry, we can move people. And with that comes responsibility, so... be good technicians, work on it hard. But be good technicians for something that means something to you, that means something to everybody. If you’ve left a good mark somewhere, it’ll make it better for everybody.”17
ENDNOTES 1 Movie Geeks United! “The Art of Cinematography: Haskell Wexler,” YouTube video, 1:00:11, October 4, 2015, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=OhMXp-PtE5U/. 2 John Anderson, “Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93,” The New York Times, December 27, 2015, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www. nytimes.com/2015/12/28/movies/ haskell-wexler-oscar-winning-cinematographer-dies-at-93.html?_r=0. 3 Roger Ebert, “ ‘Medium Cool’ on multiple levels,” Roger Ebert’s Journal. November 30, 1969, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/ medium-cool-1969/. Originally published in the Chicago-Sun Times, September 21, 1969. 4
Paul Cronin, “Mid-Summer Mavericks,” Sight and Sound 11, no. 9, 2001: 24-
Editorial Staff, “Propaganda, Cheap Shots,” The Monroe News-Star, May 12,
6 SDS, Bring the War Home! (Chicago: SDS National Action, 1969), 1-6. Accessed March 2, 2016. http://depts.washington.edu/labpics/repository/d/4140-3/ bringthewarhome_oct11_ocr_op.pdf. 7 Ed Rampell, “Haskell Wexler: Cinematographer/Activist Is Candid As Ever,” Rock Cellar Magazine, November 16, 2011, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www. rockcellarmagazine.com/2011/11/ 16/haskell-wexler-cinematographeractivist-is-candid-as-ever/. 8
Anderson, “Haskell Wexler.”
9 Saul Landau, “The People’s Cinematographer - Haskell Wexler,” Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers, accessed January 2, 2016, http://www. cinematographers.nl/PaginasDoPh/ wexlerhaskell.htm. Originally published in The Progressive, April 1998. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Movie Geeks United!, “Haskell Wexler. “ 13 Democracy Now! “Haskell Wexler Dead at 93: Legendary Cinematographer, Activist Captured the Struggles of Our Times,”Democracy Now video, 00:57:04, December 28, 2015, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www.democracynow. org/2015/12/28/haskell_wexler_dead_at_93_legendary.
Bibliography American Film Institute. “Cinematographer Haskell Wexler on the Responsibilities of Filmmakers.”YouTube video. 00:02:29. January 5, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHgOEBjCxZg/. Anderson, John. “Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93.” The New York Times, December 27, 2015. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www. nytimes.com/2015/12/28/movies/haskell-wexler-oscar-winning-cinematographerdies-at-93.html?_r=0. Cronin, Paul. “Mid-Summer Mavericks.” Sight and Sound 11, no. 9, 2001. Democracy Now! “Haskell Wexler Dead at 93: Legendary Cinematographer, Activist Captured the Struggles of Our Times,”Democracy Now video. 00:57:04. December 28, 2015. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.democracynow. org/2015/12/28/haskell_wexler_dead_at_93_legendary Democracy Now! “Extended Interview: Remembering Haskell Wexler, 93, Legendary Cinematographer & Activist.” Democracy Now video. 00:31:26. December 29, 2015. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/29/ extended_interview_remembering_haskell_wexler_93. Ebert, Roger. “ ‘Medium Cool’ on multiple levels.” Roger Ebert’s Journal, November 30, 1969. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/mediumcool-1969 Originally published in the Chicago-Sun Times, September 21, 1969. Editorial Staff. “Propaganda, Cheap Shots.” The Monroe News-Star, May 12, 1975. Landau, Saul. “The People’s Cinematographer - Haskell Wexler.” Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers. Accessed January 2, 2016. http://www. cinematographers.nl/PaginasDoPh/wexlerhaskell.htm/. Originally published in The Progressive, April 1998. Movie Geeks United! “The Art of Cinematography: Haskell Wexler.” YouTube video. 1:00:11. October 4, 2015. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=OhMXp-PtE5U/. Rampell, Ed. “Haskell Wexler: Cinematographer/Activist Is Candid As Ever.” Rock Cellar Magazine, November 16, 2011. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www. rockcellarmagazine.com/2011/11/16/haskell-wexler-cinematographeractivist-iscandid-as-ever/. SDS. Bring the War Home!. Chicago: SDS National Action, 1969. Accessed March 2, 2016. http://depts.washington.edu/labpics/repository/d/4140-3/bringthewarhome_ oct11_ocr_op.pdf.
14 Democracy Now! “Extended Interview: Remembering Haskell Wexler, 93, Legendary Cinematographer & Activist,” Democracy Now video, 00:31:26, December 29, 2015, accessed January 1, 2016, http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/29/ extended_interview_remembering_haskell_wexler_93. 15 Democracy Now!, “Remembering Haskell Wexler,” part one. 16 Anderson, “Haskell Wexler.” 17 American Film Institute, “Cinematographer Haskell Wexler on the Responsibilities of Filmmakers,” YouTube video, 00:02:29, January 5, 2016, accessed January 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHgOEBjCxZg/.