I had become enchanted with San Pedro long before I discovered that a great American poet lived there.
Every other weekend my wife and I would drive 40 minutes or more just to bask in a small, unassuming low cost ocean community or leisurely cruise through a modest neighborhood always magically enveloped in a refreshing breeze, a trip always ending near a giant Korean Bell on top of a picturesque hill. The temple overlooked the ocean and was just around the corner from a small bikers’ bar. The bar was a genuine all American drinking hole, off the beaten track, often with Harleys parked in front of it.
I don’t think that my woman and I ever discussed the Poet who lived near by. (Maybe once and in passing as in “doesn’t Chinaski live somewhere here? Yes, he does.” - that’s probably all we spoke on the subject). Strange, considering that she was a talented and educated American writer and I was a starry eyed immigrant, nuts about every local film or a literary icon. The Poet was already a huge name. Yet neither of us made a move toward him.
OK, I do remember my inner voice once going - “suppose I find the guy (I didn’t really understand his poetry, probably didn’t even bother to fully enter anything he wrote, but was aware of his statue, so was considering approaching him out of sheer snobbery,) so suppose I find this guy and than what? What would I say to him?” That’s why I didn’t attempt a meeting.
Why wasn’t she inquiring about the Poet? What was her reason? I do not know. Never asked. Now, I am curious.
I know however that we both loved San Pedro and felt charged and invigorated each time we visited the place.
Now, after all those years, swimming in his writings, I suspect that part of the magic of going there could be him, after all.
Perhaps our souls were smarter than our minds. Because do we have to meet a poet face to face to feel his tune? Do we have to go through an awkward social dance to drink from his poetic well? Doesn’t a true giant of feeling and words and life exist beyond his living room, a modest fence, perhaps a barking dog or a socially required trip to a near by liqueur store? (I bet that's how it would go.)
BS Pawel, a voice says. It’s all BS. You had a chance to meet him and you blew it. Now you read him and you think you understand him, but he is no more.
I silence the voice and cry: Chinaski, my friend! Why haven’t we talked? I understand your every line, I get your pain, elation and wonder. Every action and non action of yours is clear, a must, saving grace. Couldn’t we have talked about it then?
No, Pawel we could have not. That’s how it works. You just read on. And don’t you ever forget San Pedro.
the favorite painter of Zygmunt Bauman,
whose latest (in Polish) is “Life in contexts.”
(Interviews by Roman Kubicki and Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska)
Reading this book is like taking part in a complex, profound and fast paced conversation of quick minds. Therefore my reaction is most likely full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Yet I see this "book meeting” as an important “directing lesson.” Here’s why:
Bauman considers mystery the most important in art. He says that a great painting has to have a mystery that has “a life-sentencing quality” because (as I understand it) the mystery is unescapable and ever present. To the Professor, art should “show unusual in what we consider usual.”
Visual arts play a strong role in the craft of this visionary thinker (and a recognized photographer, although he downplays this part). In his texts there are references to painters, performers, motion picture directors. For example: to Bauman some Bergman films are more telling than many sociological treatises. Discussing his own biography Bauman admits to the big role of a blind chance in his life and brings up Kieslowski’s “Blind chance” as an illustration of such mechanism.
“Life in contexts” shows a search for the proper visual metaphor for our confused and confusing times. As if the golden solution to our sociological and philosophical ignorance lies in assigning the proper image to our chaotic world. Once we get this image-reality connection right we will understand who we are and what’s going on. It would be a mighty elevation of a role of the visual. And a painful downplaying of the might of the abstract.
As if the abstract strives to embrace the visual or emerge from the visual. Is there an assumption that “down deep” in a pre-linguistic order of things the essence of what both the abstract thinking (sociology, philosophy) and the visual doing (paintings, films) try to articulate is one?
Recent sociology has worked with various metaphors to describe its field. Bauman brings up additional images. Desert and liquid. The last term he used several times in the titles of his books (“Liquid Life”, “Liquid Love”, “Liquid fear”.) However his metaphors are not only static. When discussing a model for morality he talks about “caressing” as a model of ethical behavior toward the other. To caress is not to conquer the other but to validate her (the professor clearly means a human interaction beyond gender, an interaction in social and ethical terms. It is my linguistic clumsiness that makes it gender specific here). So, to caress a being is to “document’ her own independence and the importance of the caressed to the caresser. Bauman writes that caressing best represents the intentions of Emanuel Levinas, whose work is devoted to praising “the other.” With all wonderfulness of this metaphor, we also have to be careful, warns the professor. Too much or misguided “caress” can degenerate and bring out a “mamma boy” in us.
To Bauman there are not simple solutions to anything, no ready recipes, no “auto pilot” mode. Freedom in life constantly requires from us the nerves of steel, reasoning and self-reflection. So what consequences could all that have to the craft of the narrative visual storytelling? Well, for example:
No banality in showing the visible.
Reverence to what’s “out there”.
No close-ended thesis (no truth as oppression.)
Less ontological vulgarity (as in “that’s how it is!)
No superficial rendering of events and characters.
Attention (to details.)
Respect (to mystery.)
Empathy (to us all.)
Isabel Adjani and Sam Neil in "Possession",
written/directed by Andrzej Żuławski
Andrzej Żuławski recently, while praising a film by another director, has said (a loose translation): “Look how everything can be seen in this film. He doesn’t hide behind long lenses or fast cutting. Such hiding happens when a director does not know how to stage things.”
This feels very true. Could it be that showing fragments, chopping the reality is a cheap way out? If so, what could we say about poetry? Poems frequently fish out for “gold” by fragmenting a scene or an emotion or a thought.
Great screen masters indeed tend to evoke power from a strong composition, a rhythm inside a frame, proper lenses and other tools. We, the audience, sense and appreciate when a storyteller treats us seriously. When he spins his tale respecting its core and our intelligence. By showing “it all”, a good storyteller allows us to feel that this which is presented is indeed “true” and not manipulated. Of course, a dose of manipulation is unavoidable because there is no way to truthfully represent neither the world “out there” nor our perception of it. Yet the method mentioned by Żuławski seems more noble and sincere than cheaper directional gimmicks he refers to.
It is however possible I over interpret his saying since in another quote (I found it on Facebook) Żuławski says: "To please the majority is the requirement of the Planet Cinema. As far as I'm concerned, I don't make a concession to viewers, these victims of life, who think that a film is made only for their enjoyment, and who know nothing about their own existence."
“The victims of life, who know nothing about their own existence” - isn’t it chilling? Doesn’t it challenge both the craft of directing and the art of living? The potential repercussions of fully thinking through this line are immense.
What an amazing fuck you are.
It’s a blast having sex with you.
It sure pays to deal with a professional.
Oh my God!
Yet afterwards questions flock
like drops of sweat on your beautiful skin.
Have you not sold your soul
to that initial, yet forgotten ideal,
which took over your brain
and now rules there?
Aren’t you just an addict, hooked on
Ph.D.s and scholarly treatises?
You fight my accusations well.
Fully conscious of your allure
you uncover and spread your thighs.
I can barely utter my other meekly howls:
Can you really be objective?
Aren’t you just a paid propagandist?
Doesn’t your demagoguery make you sick,
while you object it in others?
Don’t you try to justify your biases
by maneuvering and conniving
while giving geysers of pleasure?
Yet, these are just technical skills,
coldly applied to get money from your clients.
You don’t care about them or me
Already waiting for a next client
to seduce him. Or her.
Oblivious to who you sleep with.
Conquering is all that matters.
You don’t understand that I am a goddess.
You answer in a low voice.
My back shivers.
The best woman you’ll ever have, you continue.
I clear my throat.
(Could she be right?)
I need to fight so I say trying to sound nonchalant:
A pimp just took you over
with the false promise of importance.
He made you his slave.
Rape, reward, domination, the world’s oldest trick.
It’s your luck you have met me.
I’ll liberate you.
We will both roam the world.
Energized, honest, piercingly inspirational.
Just let me saw off your chains.
He won’t beat you up anymore.
I’ll defend you.
I keep talking, impressed by
my perceptiveness and intelligence.
All that becomes unimportant once you look at me.
At this moment
I just have to open your book.
and enter deep.
Afterwards, lying in your arms,
I raise on my elbow
look at your shinning face and notice
that your pupils change colors from green to gold.
Clearly that happens because
of our holy liaison.
Pupils can't lie.
That is why
I’ll never leave you.
Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in “Blue Angel”
How could I have missed this one in film school! “Blue Angel” is the first major German sound film and already a great one. Made in 1929, it still is fresh and powerful on a large screen. It is a solid storytelling, based on a novel by Heinrich Mann, directed by Joseph von Sternberg.
Sternberg was quite a character - always moving, never repeating himself, audacious, confrontational type. He did his own cinematography and editing. He added “von” (together with mustache, stern walking and intimidating speech pattern) to strengthen his image. Lars Trier repeated the “von” maneuver. It worked! (From now on, you know how to address me, don’t you?)
“Blue Angel” is perhaps about a furious power of obsession/love. Love as the force for itself and by itself with disregard to the outside world. Interestingly, von Sterberg in a different, political context said - “reality failed to interest me," and “I do not care about a story, all I care is about how it is photographed and presented.” We could reword “presented” as “performed by a storyteller.” Lola Lola, played by Dietrich, is also driven by the need to perform. The story and the storyteller say that true passions, obsessions, desires are oblivious to anything external. Be it love or art or a need to tell a story - the desire is always the goal for itself. In case of a story with emphasis on “to tell” not on a “story.” What happens to those driven by “a story” and not by “to tell”? I suspect they don’t make it. “How” is more important than “what.” That could be a Joseph von Sternberg’s directing lesson.
The film is also a book case scenario for a technique to show a psychological process. “Blue Angel” creates a field for the main character's psychology by selecting a dramatically different start and end points of his journey. Everything in between the point of departure (normal, safe life) and arrival (death due to obsession), is filled with stages in a journey to self-defeat. The narrative does not dwell on how the character changed from one stage to another. There is not much “psychological transitions” there. Von Sternberg shows subsequent stages “in jumps.” Thanks to that, our imagination is active.
Von Sternberg directs by paying attention, giving scenes time to develop, always being mindful of context. For example the Blue Angel back stage sequences are told with a wonderful devise - every time the door opens - the outside music and noise burst in. It creates a hypnotic and humorous rhythm.
The pacing looks surprisingly contemporary. A hefty dose of humor in the first part only sets up drama in the second. Aside from a bit of overacting from the professor (a leftover from a very recent silent films) no false notes are on the screen. And of course Dietrich is already almost a Goddess. Clean, steady compositions, sometimes baroque, often expressionistic focus the attention of the viewer.
An early quote “To be or not to be” - sets up the second theme: can we be different than who we already are? Does the film warn against leaving your post? Life is brutal. Everybody is out for themselves. People do not connect. Even if they do, as Lola have done with the professor (out of pity? calculation? fun?), they revert to their own obsessions. Everybody follows their own bliss. The strong ones manage it well. The weak ones are doomed. Hence the story of professor Immanuel. Is the name significant? When Germans make a story about an intellectual and name him Immanuel, can they not think of a certain philosopher?
Because of some emotional and visual commonalities, I suspect Bergman and Kurosawa studied this film carefully.
I've always felt that musicians have been pretty close to “true nature of reality”. Among them, jazz players are my favorites. A recent interview with Leszek Możdzer, an outstanding Polish pianist, has an interesting line: “God is clear consciousness.” To me in “who says what”, “who” is as important (if not more) as “what.” Możdzer, by being experienced in pain, search, defeat and success, has earned the right to be listened to carefully. Musically and otherwise.
So, the level headed, honest and sincere Możdzer says - “God is clear consciousness.” “Clear” I read as undivided, whole. Our sens of ourselves, of our consciousnesses, due to the fact of being singular, cannot grasp a state of being undivided. No matter what we do, we are unable to transcend this limitation.
Yet we try. The above graph shows the undivided, whole (God) versus divided, singular (human consciousness). The 23 year old Australian, the maker of the image, uses terms “distinction-less reality” for God and “distinction reality” for human and other forms of the universe. Above this graph (in my interpretation) resides undivided, distinction-less, transcendental reality. The arrow pointing upward indicates our strive to reach it.
How does the Total Whiteness above the quoted graph (if I may upwardly extend the image) manifest itself in our reality? One answer is religious. Another musical. Music hints at the connectives, power, sublime, playfulness and beauty of the creation. It hints at this amazing moment a few seconds just after the Big Bang in which the Undivided divides Itself. Its parts, in the process of ever accelerating separation, still can sense their original wholeness. Those precious few moments magically continue until now. In jazz.
(Isn’t the Big Bang a weird idea? Isn’t it is on the same level as “the universe rests on four giant elephants” concept? Both, in their clumsiness, unwillingly seem to support the suspicion that the singularity cannot grasp the whole.)
Możdzer quotes (Osho, I believe): “If you want to be somebody - you’ve got to become nobody.” It makes sense: the way for us to reach the whole is to negate that which separates us from it. Meaning, we need to drop the ego, that which is singular, divided.
Singularity is the price for being and at the same time the in-passable limitation in our understanding of the universe. All of our attempts to transcend the prison of “unclear” (singular) consciousness want to reach God. Such are love, art, people friendly politics, philosophical theories "with heart". All beautiful. All earthly strives for “togetherness.”
Aside the appreciation of the technical skills (I wish I had von Trier’s command of the craft) I didn’t like the film. For the first part it kept me cold and bored, during its second part I was sucked into it, but ultimately confusion won over.
I had a feeling that the narrator was saying “I am so freaking talented” (he is) that even without making much sense I can play with you and you’ll eat it up. Some folks apparently do.
The “nature’s evil nature” is an interesting concept, worthy of either a serious screen treatment or an ass-kicking entertainment. This film delivers neither. Theological pretentious abound. Visual references to Tarkowsky are promising but stay just that - some potential directions never explored, instead pushed over by hysterics. There were laughs in the movie theater, and I doubt they were intended. I have to admit that the way the film articulates one of its main thoughts - “Chaos rules” - is really funny. Yet, it seems to try to be a dark turning point and not a comic relief.
Tarkowsky was serious and treated his viewers with respect. Trier giggles, switches styles, drops ideas, races madly where the Great Russian would take his time and explore. I realize that comparing those two is not right (even though von Triers invites it by dedicating the film to Tarkowsky). “The mirror” and “Stalker” are uncompromising mediations, while “Antichrist” feels like a quick job to make money. Such talent like Trier's is clearly capable to enter a serious dialogue with Tarkowsky and still make a popular film. Pity he just got high on “look Ma, I’m directing” part.
“Entering an image” - this would be my title for the second part of the presentation by Bruno di Marino (details in part 1) on the 100 years of the Italian experimental cinema. The underlying assumption is that we need to pierce the photographic obviousness to get to reality. How? Following the Italians! For example:
“Film stenopeico” by Paolo Gioli. Due to a camera obscura technique, scenes of everyday reality acquire a haunting, bizarre dimension. Perhaps, more than our “anesthetic and well behaved” (meaning lying) ways of seeing, what Gioli proposes is closer than we think to what is really “out there.”
“Trasferimento di Modulazione” by Piero Bargellini, (1969) chemically manipulated old footage turns a porn scene into an abstract interplay of shapes, blobs and movements. As if saying that what first reaches us in dealing with the reality is not its neatly organized visual structure, focused details and clearly understood spacial relations but rather the sheer energy, emotion, expressiveness. Surely the theme helps in making this point.
A video by Michele Sambin, gradually multiplies and overlaps an image of the author’s head moving sideways in and out of the frame. The camera standing in front of “our” camera, shoots the head against a monitor on which it appears with a slight delay. Then the same image starts floating between “our camera” and the action. It also appears behind the monitor. Soon, it gets really crowded on the screen. Such approach produces a hypnotic, layered state of perception. What is “now”, when we see something?
Bruno says that the gap between the experimental and mainstream filmmaking is not as huge as we would assume. Weren’t Welles or Kubrick experimentalists? Among Polish filmmakers he considers Skolimowski, Kieslowski and Polanski (in such order) important innovators.
“He makes his films instinctively, immediately, with a draw of a great painter” says Bruno about one of the Italians. “Instinctively and immediately” is a wonderful phrase. The pubic senses and approves of something spontaneous and fresh versus calculated and rigidly prepared. Of course the masters are capable of “preparing and calculating” in such a way that their fresh insight is preserved throughout the production and miraculously reaches the viewer.
And finally, Ursula Ferrara, “Almost Nothing” (Quasi niente, 1997) - liquidity of reality uncovered by playfulness of happy, dynamic “one thing turns into other” style. Because isn’t everything connected?
I’m attending a two day film event conducted by Bruno di Marino, a film scholar, media specialist, film events curator. In two 3 hour sessions he presents 100 years of the Italian experimental film.
The selection of clips is fantastic: all are fresh and inspiring. An example? In 1909 Giacomo Rust made “Storia di Lulu” - a story told shooting only feet of a village girl who enters city life. It seems pretty bold for 1909. In comparison we look lame with our tired and used up ways of visual narrating.
Even with the present film language openness, we are still trapped in the old. Yet the audience appears to yearn for new ways of storytelling. Some filmmakers push the boundaries with success, mostly in the area of editing and pacing (for example the Bourne series, “24 hours” , or earlier “NYPD Blue”). Yet other ares of the film making craft seem old.
The above pictured “La Verifica Incerta” (1964) is made with the “second hand” footage. Clips from Hollywood films are assembled in a provoking, challenging the “norm” way. No narration in a traditional way is offered, yet the emotional dimension is clear and mesmerizing.
Most of the film clips presented by Bruno di Marino contain ideas that, if incorporated into a mainstream storytelling today, would be accepted as fresh and could be “bought” by the general public.
Why don’t we do it? Why don’t we return to the great work of experimental filmmakers? Why don’t we try to bring it to the multiplex “near you”? The time is ripe for such an attempt.
Tomorrow, the 9th of June that is there is going to be the second part of this event. SWPS (Warsaw School of Social Psychology) 5PM.
Poetry is better than film, she said.
It’s better because it is more respectful of me.
It lets me think and feel for myself.
It gives me space.
The film is an art of oppression.
It is a masochistic devise.
That’s why it is so popular.
She said inhaling a cigarette.
An image is brutal, manipulative and overwhelming.
It is a weapon of aggression.
Every cut forces itself on me.
Every scene brutalizes that which is real.
Poetry on the other hand allows
for breaths and wonders.
What about Tarkowski or Antonioni, I asked.
They too were on ego trips, don’t assume they weren’t.
They had to, I opposed.
That what I am saying. Even them. She smiled. And added:
Just look at all those who make movies.
All those types in seemingly casual attires,
with wolfish eyes, fancy gadgets,
calculating their every move.
They just ooze fear.
And their leather jackets, please, she snorted.
Pushy, opinionated jerks.
It takes a strong character to make a film, I said.
Too bad for the film, she murmured.
And kissed me.
I am a drop of water which tries to understand an ocean.
Or perhaps I am a puff of wind trying to understand a hurricane.
Or a speck of light thinking it is a sun.
Or a grain of sand arguing the nature of a desert.
Futile attempts, senseless strives, impossible challenges.
You, on the other hand,
are fire and water, blue and red,
fast and slow,
spinning and stopping,
You have no ending, you have no limits.
All I have to do is to let you be
and then to extend my hand
to touch you.
Written by: Torah, history
Director: (read on)
It is one of those long term, open ended dramatic projects that are difficult to review because the ending hasn’t happened yet. However if the show follows the requirements of a good story (of which we are not certain) a lot can be deduced from its beginning.
This classically archetypal tale (at least at its first and the second act) follows a character of a Creator who struggles for perfection, goodness and harmony. His arch begins with having limited consciousness, not knowing what to do and how to evaluate itself and the outside. In the process of bringing elements to existence, the Creator learns their value and builds a moral scale. He did not know they were good or bad before he created them. His names things that he continues to bring into existence as “good”.
The horrifying first image of almost unnamed abyss with no direction, no separation, no purpose and no place. Plenty of water. The first creation, full of ambiguity, awe and danger is is looked at from above by the Creator, who at this time does not know yet. His inner struggle (for self expression? consciousness?) is yielding light. This is a major step forward for our hero. The inciting incident of the story.
It opens nicely: with Bereishit (at the beginning) - no back story here! However early on the script backs off returning to the creation of a human. Why do the writers do that? Why such narrative devise so early on? Wise rabbis comment that it’s in order to clearly point to the first objective of the story and that is justification of the rest day upon the creation. This reviewer respectfully wants to offer his interpretation: it is to position the created elements, that is humans, within “good” context, even though they do not deserve it.
The Creator brings into existence a human, his (what will turn out to be) rival. At first he does not see much separation between himself and his deed. (He created his “rival” copying himself). This opens an interesting dramatic question: is the villainousness of man an inherit trait of the Creator, or does it result from some mishap during the creation? In either case the Creator is to blame. As in every good story, he is a character with a flow. It is left to us to identify with him and cheer him in his attempts to become a complete, fulfilled being.
The creator overlooks his obvious creative limitation - human, which is the only element that is not immediately upon its creation commented upon as “good”. Rather it is included in all that has been created, which is labeled “very good”. It is as if the Creator knew that something was not quite right but went with His euphoria anyway. (How human of Him). This wish-full thinking of our hero will come to hunt him later. Because human kind is far from “good”. The creator has to struggle to keep his "goodness" intact and frequently has to annihilate his rivals. When they reappear they are conniving, lying, blaspheming and stupid.
The opponent, later transformed into a group character, is a rather dull, pathetic creature, overplayed and predictable. The Creator on the other hand is portrayed so subtly that spectators at times do not see him on screen! We wonder where was the director of this show!
The journey of our hero at times is heartbreaking. He faces constant objections, lack of understanding and has to fight the plethora of human vices. It takes its toll. At the beginning of the third act the protagonist needs to be kept on a life support system.
Mixed genres annoy. Melodrama blends with horror, suspense with cheesy sentimentality. One more time somebody assumes the audience to be less intelligent that they really are.
Production values are spectacular. The size of the production is breathtaking. The sets bring awe, however costumes are only passable. Music is superb (too many composers to list here).
The question remains: will our hero make it? Will he fulfill his destiny? Will he complete his character arc? Will the opponents evolve and change?
I am waiting not only for the conclusion of this huge story but also for its sequel which is clearly assured by the box office success of the original.
Top image: Hieronimus Bosch