10/02/2018

Was Lear a director?

King Lear, directed by Jonathan Munby

Every time I watch "King Lear" I am perplexed that the initial events are staged in a gallop that somehow makes the intentions of the main character fuzzy.

The latest with the giant Ian McKellen is no exception.  This approach opens the question what motivated Lear to act this way.  Dementia?  Madness?   

I would love to see a production where Lear would at first be calculating, a somehow amused director who sets things in motion just to see the limits of human nature.   He maintains this curiosity as the events snowball and later expends it not only to those dearest to him but also to himself.    

Surely there had to be such a take on the Bard.   I would appreciate some pointers.

9/30/2018

Ethics from above

The space - before the screening 

 Jean Pierre Lasota-Hirszowicz 
about his friend Marek Siemek

"The View from a Cathedral" is mostly about friendship, loyalty and ethics.  Three main characters are philosophers Marek Siemek and Bronisław Baczko and astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Lasota-Hirszowicz

In a magical/ serendipitous turn of events the first public screening of the film took place in the astronomical observatory in Olsztyn.   The images were projected high above the viewers on a surface for the sky and the stars.

Later there was a panel on philosophy and film.  Philosophy represented - Dariusz Barbaszyński, Ph.D.,  film studies - Aleksandra Drzał-Sierocka, Ph.D., history - Artur Sobiela, Ph.D.,  film practice - yours truly.  The discussion was moderated by Magdalena Drozdowicz.

 the panel
the audience

The location seemed so natural and the subject discussed so fundamental  ("how can we...?", "is it possible...?", "why Siemek?") that only afterwards I realized the connection between the screen presence of the renown astronomer and the venue.  Furthermore it is prof. Lasota who in the film directly voices ethical concerns.

Siemek was a Kantian philosopher and so the statement "starry heavens above me and and the moral law within me" got a pretty appropriate framing due to the choice of the venue.  

Big thank you to Dorota Sepczyńska, Ph.D. who conceived and organized the event.  
  • “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.”  -  Immanuel Kant
the panel photo by Wioletta Mądzelewska 

9/23/2018

More of Siemek

Marek Żmiejewski talks about his friend, prof. Marek Siemek

Initially I posted on youtube a few interviews about Marek Siemek - I thought they would make a supplementary material for "The View from a Cathedral".   In the process of working with them however, I changed my mind.

I have made the interviews already online private and stopped uploading the new ones.  Out of the interviews I gathered in the process of making the film I have decided to cut another project, a companion of sort to "The View from a Cathedral."  It will most likely be named "Beyond a Cathedral".   Stay tuned. 

9/21/2018

Mastery of flashbacks



"The Conformist" is the only movie that organically moves back and forth between flashbacks and the present.  Others, even the great ones, have jolts and require momentary re-organization of perception.  In "The Conformist" every step backward in time moves forward the narrative.   Another aspect of the flashbacks is that usually they act as a padding device or a cheap way out from the inability to sustain a tension of the present (for example "The man named Ove", or otherwise incredible "Femina" by Szulkin).  No so in "The Conformist". 

On another subject:  There is an interesting dialogue between Storraro and Bertolucci about shooing "The Conformist".   Particularly the part when Storraro explains how he handled with light the Plato's metaphor of the cave.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5RRhqrPuE4

9/20/2018

Fantasy vs. reality


Game of Thrones
Dear C,

I appreciate your enthusiasm about “The Game of Thrones”.  I see how the accumulation and development of various motivations drive the narrative forward, how that creatively complicates the subplots and increases the “what next” heat and the consumer’s curiosity.  Still there are some aspects of the fantasy genre which I would like to clarify for myself and am rising to post them in its raw state here.

First a self-directed warning via a quote from Roger Ebert’s review of “Synecdoche, New York” (bzw. one of the very best flicks ever):

“I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, 
‘If you understand something you can explain 
it so that almost anyone can understand it.  If you don't, 
you won't be able to understand your own explanation.’ 
That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. 
Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

Now, let me respond to a part of your letter:  No, I haven’t properly watched “The Game of Thrones” - just the pilot (twice) and a few fragments from the rest of the series.  Granted, the phrase “Winter is coming” is used around me a lot.   And I find a perverse pleasure in using it as well.  So, why haven’t I gotten in with the program? 

There is something about the fantasy genre that generally pushes me away.   I hope it’s not generational.  Neither the Star Wars movies, nor the Hobbit series nor the Game make me want to watch it more.   There are two, swimmingly contradictory, factors for that.  

The first is that I perceive the entire set up to be way too removed from our reality.  That which is here and now, broadly speaking, is so rich, complex and challenging that every time I see an attempt to extrapolate our humanness into a comic book set up (historical or futuristic) dressed in unreal make up, costumes and sets the first thing I perceive is the artificiality of such approach.   I suspect it comes down to the production design in those movies.

Then, on the opposite side: these films employ the contemporary rhythm of storytelling, traditional staging, optics, camera moves and editing.  To me it further  extenuates their “ontological suspiciousness” (sorry, can’t help myself). 

When watching something supposedly coming from a reality I don’t have a connection with I want to feel the new, the fresh, the unexpected also in the way the story is told.   Contrary to the prevailing opinion that we humans don’t change much throughout  history and that the basic ways we relate to the outside reality remain the same regardless of the external historical set ups I suspect we are much stronger than we think connected to the cultural and material environments.   If so than the way we tell stories from different epochs should reflect that.   Otherwise the application of a modern narrative set of cliches only makes the fantasy more “fantasy”.   That’s my issue with “The Game of Thrones”, which as a normal movie and contemporary storytelling is smooth, engaging, nice to consume and all that.  But to me it’s not convincing, due to the above factors.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

There are people whose sensitivities and talents make me suspend my disbelief.   Directors like Kubrick (in Barry Lyndon, 2001) Tarkowski (in Stalker), Alfonso Cuarón (in Gravity), Piotr Szulkin (in Obi-oba, the end of Civilization), Michael Bay (in the Transformers series).   What?!  Bay?  The epiphany of the very comic book approach?   I am ready to defend the list:-)

Later,

9/16/2018

Szulkin 3 - too bad



Szulkin made six feature films.  The first four are free on ninateka.pl till the end of September (without English subtitles).  To me the best of this series of semi futuristic metaphors is “Obi-oba, the end of civilisation” (koniec cywilizacji). 

Some of its images are hard to forget.  For example a crazed, starved crowd fights over the food, a pulp from shredded books and the bible, dispensed from large overhead tube. 

The second in the series “The ward of the worlds: next century” got the main prize at a film festival where Sam Peckinpah headed the jury.   Szulkin recalls that during the festival Peckinpah stopped him on the street and asked “Are you Szulkin?” When Szulkin confirmed, Peckinpah responded “too bad”.  This exchange got some questioning in the book long interview with Szulkin, where its gist was - if I remember - that perhaps Peckinpah saw something in Szulkin that immediately telegraphed to him that Szulkin’s brilliance would for some reason not translate into a global success.  And it did not.  Very sad.

9/01/2018

Szulkin. 2.


Rhythm and that which is beyond the screen. 

As a student Szulkin made a short “Everything”, which already shows enormous talent.  Reading about it and watching it reveals a huge gap between writing about film and the film itself.  Most of the descriptions of this short are uninviting and bland.   It is as if writers were helpless facing the medium that at its best (and that’s the case with Szulkin) can’t be reduced to or even justly described by words.

Since the concept is based on rhythm and non-vulgar metaphors it is very difficult if not impossible to describe the essence of those short seven minutes (unless a reviewer were a poet and wrote a poem, but that does not happen in film criticism). 

On screen much effort has been made to open the space that the film is portraying.  It is the space that transcends the images, the emotional and mental (and social) sphere that the rhythmic visual and auditory structure points to.  And that space, although easier to name is still more than a few sentences that could possibly describe it. (I am not even trying)

EVERYTHING
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_gdDIiYfAw

Another Szulkin’s short, “Working Women” is based on a smilier rhythm, space expansion, this time more directly hitting the social.    It is devastating in its diagnosis.   The communists hated it.

WORKING WOMEN
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTc62oasVuM

Szukin’s most abstract short of the three mentioned here is called “Copyright film polski”.  It is another exercise in opening the perception space, if I may risk a term.  Here Szulkin works with   juxtaposition of sequences, sound and images, fabric of images and rhythm again.  This time his social observation hides behind an existential, abstract dimension.   It is a very short piece, almost a joke,  yet very disturbing.

COPYRIGHT FILM POLSKI 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIMci_SCgmQ

8/31/2018

Szulkin. 1

"Obi-Oba.  The End of Civilization"  
by Piotr Szulkin

Almost genius.  A genius.

Earlier this month a remarkable film director passed away.  His name was Piotr Szulkin.   Or rather, his name is Piotr Szulkin.  Due to a combination of weird and often moronic (on my part) factors I wasn’t really familiar with his work.   He was only five years older and started studying at the Polish Film Schol five years before me.   Having spent the last week watching his films and reading his book long conversation with two film scholars (Zyciopis published by korporacja halart) I am floored by his film and intellectual vision. 

For starters: a few thoughts from the beginning of his conversation/book: “the screen doesn’t lie, it always exposes.  It exposes value or stupidity.”  At first I bucked at this with “well, does it make stupid some people who are smart and intelligent yet not talented in film whose work falls flat, clearly not?”  However, upon a bit of thinking one has to say that clearly yes, there are no excuses.   Screen is a powerful, dangerous and unforgiving medium.  Whoever touches it has to be aware of the dangers it imposes.   The same goes for any creativity.  Does the same goes for any other kind of human activity?

Szulkin states that will be talking mostly about that which moved him to create his films and about that which influenced him to give them their specific shape.  He calls it metaphorical but can’t remove it from anecdotal, which is a more vulgar, confined and yet sometimes necessary to explain things.   Because, as I understand this thought, the metaphorical can only reveal itself through facts and occurrences. 

Talking about his father, Szulkin uses a phrase “my father was a physicist, touching the threshold of a genius”.  Further comments reveal that Szulkin had an uneasy relationship with his father and that he wanted somehow to relate/debate/perhaps spare with him.  Strangely, this “touching the threshold of a genius” phrase could be applied to Piotr Szulkin as well. 

The word “touching”, or “hooking onto”, or “almost” is the key here.   Looking at Szulkin’s films I sense that he was indeed a cinematic genius and yet analyzing his career and the reception of his work it seems that there was something small yet vital missing in him, or around him that prevented him to enter the very top level of world cinema.

7/26/2018

Art and Sex

 On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan

This meditation on the nature of creative energy does a lot with staging and lenses to explore the subject.   The story is anchored between two females (the mother and the wife) who - while both artists - manifest the creative/sexual energies in opposing ways.   The mother is “out there” in her nakedness, madness and connection to more complex layers of reality, the wife is restrained, cold.  

It is the restrained one who achieves the recognition as an artist.   The guy in between - with his uncomplicated sexuality ends up only a consumer (of art).  His promise - he got the highest mark at the university - does not translate into professional success.  Hers - she got the highest mark too - brings her eventually fame and artistic fulfillment.  

Every time  Edward visits his mother the camera and the set design switch gears.  This beautifully shows “the mother’s” sphere, her influence, the potential she brings to Edward.   Which he does not seem to understand.

There is an amazing shot of a piano recital where Florence assists in turning pages.  A long, sensuous camera move along the piano to the male player and then to Florence reveals the interaction between sensuous/sexual and artistic within Florence. 

The “why couldn’t they have sex before marriage” is just a gimmick in this story.  Perhaps there isn’t enough of their pre-marital “negotiations” to make it more believable.   As is, “the beach” revelation feels a bit contrived. 

Still, the film is trying and mostly succeeding in addressing that which usually is trivialized or misunderstood or just unseen.

PS
I just checked out an interview with Ian McEwan on
https://www.heyuguys.com/ian-mcewan-on-chesil-beach-interview/

Two things are intriguing: he reveals that Sam Mendes was supposed to direct it.  Holy Cow!   Now the energy angle becomes more obvious.   It probably would have gone even higher with Mendes.

Also, McEwan says there is a lot of him in Edward.  (not the wedding night though, he says with a smile).  Since Edward is the opposite of McEwan in terms of success and contentment (so it seems watching McEwan talking) this admission reveals a yet another layer of the primal energy manifesting itself in life.

7/18/2018

We’re all stuck here

 LA 92

A very powerful documentary archival footage build up showing how frustration starts, boils and explodes.   Two things particularly moved me:  an Asian woman standing in a broken window of a store (probably her own) with her arms outstretched to stop the looters and yelling repetitiously with tears, anger and disbelief:  "This is America!", "This is America!", "This is America!"

Another is a quote from Rodney King.  It seems that everybody was focused (with various levels of appreciation) on his "Can we all get along", but he also said "I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while."  The latter transcended the here and now of Los Angeles in 92.  Is is always shocking current, important and forgotten.

7/13/2018

Listen to a whisper



Excellent HBO documentary on Steven Spielberg.   Turns out he values not knowing prior how a scene would look like.  Panic is his cherished MO.  Only then he comes up with good ideas.  Interesting, that his process is emotional and visceral - not over thought.  Although clearly an overall strategy has to be applied, his approach to a scene is instinctual. 

In Jews - what you don’t see is generally scarier than what you do see (there is very little of the shark in the film.)

His camera movements (which to him is the directing) are always more than giving the viewer a sense of space.     They always reveal something additional.

I remember from an older interview with Spielberg his amazement that “they” keep hiring him.  Then his guess that “they do, because he knows where to put the camera”.  That’s what it takes - the ability to select the best camera spot!

Also: there is a page with quotes from famous people.  Below there are a few among those by Spielberg that impressed me the most:
  • “You have many years ahead of you to create the dreams that we can’t even imagine dreaming.  You have done more for the collective unconscious of this planet than you will ever know.”
  • “Our one goal is to give the world a taste of peace, friendship, and understanding through the visual arts, the art of celebration of life.”
  • “All of us every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.
  • “Sometimes a dream almost whispers… it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to, every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. ”

6/21/2018

Encounters in Berlin



 from the upcoming "The Body Philosopher" - 
a documentary about Richard Shusterman.

meanwhile, something that was meant purely as a preparatory step for the documentary above keeps making rounds:

https://www.cineplex.de/event/16684/berlin-neukoelln/

the real documentary is coming:-) 

5/23/2018

ABOUT SIEMEK/WOKÓŁ SIEMKA


Grzegorz Miecugow 
remembers Marek Siemek

While researching/producing a documentary about professor Marek Siemek (The View from a Cathedral - the VOD links are in the previous post) I recorded about 30 interviews with his Polish, German, Swiss and Italian friends.

Because I chose a subjective, "creative" style and focused mostly on one relationship (with Siemek's Teacher - Bronisław Baczko) not all interviews were included, and those which were appear in short fragments.

This unused (or used sparingly) material is so valuable that I want to make it accessible to all interested in professor Siemek.  Hence the "Wokół Siemka/About Siemek" Internet project.

The interviews will be successively uploaded on You Tube.  For now Polish, German and Italian will be presented without subtitles.

Here is the link to this work in progress:
You Tube Playlist

5/22/2018

The View from a Cathedral - on VOD

The documentary is now available as VOD on Vimeo:

THE VIEW FROM A CATHEDRAL

and its version with only Polish subtitles:


WIDOK Z KATEDRY
VOD Polish version

4/10/2018

More Ove

A quote from the film:

"If the saying that your fate is the measure of your stupidity is true...... "

3/27/2018

Are we a suffering film crew?

“Disaster Artist“

In this film things get intriguing after the end.  Shouldn’t that be the beginning of the story?

The Disaster Artist would be interesting if it was at least one step removed from 1:1 re-creation of what happened during the production of “The Room”.  The question is not why Wiseau pulled it off?  Or where is he from?  Or how low can one go humoring an idiot.   The question is why on earth James Franco would dive into this project.  Or rather why would a pretty good (excellent perhaps) actor feel compelled to tell the story of a super ridiculous vanity project.  What was the push for such recreation?   As is, watching a series of grotesque moves by the hero gets quickly boring and irritating.   Too bad the space between truly bad and wanting to recreate it was not addressed. 

On the other hand perhaps such a straightforward maneuver chimes with our psyche.

Perhaps people hype this film because in its earnest re-creation of moronic and untalented it hooks into the zeitgeist of our time.   Aren't we paid by people who have no clue?   Haven’t we found ourselves suddenly in the hands of incompetence, ignorance and delusions of grandeur?

3/26/2018

Life as a train ride

 
A man called Ove

I am trying to design a story that somehow chimes with this tale of a man “negotiating” his past.  Maybe because of my current efforts I really appreciate the storytelling brilliance in the film. 

It is amazing how this sentimental and melodramatic story with wonderful actors and strong staging successfully navigates pitfalls of the genre.  There are many elements to the film’s effectiveness.  For example:

As I was watching I was torn in my reaction to the film.  At first the flashbacks felt too easy a maneuver to explain the hero’s predicament.  Yet, my reservation evaporated with the appearance of Sonja.  The way it was done and the wonderful quality of the actress in a flash validated Ove’s inner state.

From that point forward (and backward) all made emotional sense.  And a train compartment metaphor is just brilliant.

3/21/2018

Mind tease?


 mother! by Aronofsky

Maybe it’s because I am studying Michael Haneke at the moment, or maybe it’s just the gut reaction coming from deep within: I just saw and hated mother! by Aronofsky. 

It’s painful to acknowledge since I am a huge fan of “Requiem for a dream” and “Pi”.  (In my workshops I frequently analyse Requiem as an example of superb filmmaking and often point to Aronofsky as an almost genius of cinema.)  Yet his latest I found so pretentious, so boring and so irritating that it matches only my reaction to the Hostel series.  

While Hostels were in my opinion correctly labeled “torture porn”, the biblical/philosophical efforts  of Aronofsky (already Noah was borderline unwatchable) I would call “mythological porn”, or maybe a more apt term would be “pseudo-depth teaser” or “pseudo - profundity porn”, or just "mind tease".  I am actually searching for a term that would hook sexual “teaser” - as in cock-teaser- to the same mechanism of arousal without fulfillment in the realm of intellect.  So far no apt term comes to mind.

On the other hand porn detonates the focused, stripped down gratification of desire, the delivery that vulgarities and cheapens that which is being delivered.  In case of mother! it’s not that we are given stripped down nitty-gritty of the mythological and religious.  That wouldn’t be bad, whatsoever.  Instead, we are faced with many unclear, tired suggestions and references to the act of creation, creativity, love and biblical mythology.  The problem with all that lumped together is that the film being so specific by its nature can’t handle too many abstract statements dressed in concrete images and sounds.  And they are always specific, hence the dificulties with philosophizing on the screen.

One abstract statement stretched into a full movie could probably work in the hands of a very gifted technician and the technique for each shot and each scene in mother! is impassive, the actress is phenomenal and all that.  But when the metaphors start overlapping and film history references start pushing against each other all I can perceive is the barrage of bad taste, lack of originality, confusion of the story teller and intellectual gibberish.

If the film is supposed to be also about an artist, price of talent, fame and abuse of those around him it does not advance beyond cliche and grotesque.  A satire?  Maybe, but then why so absurd, primitive and surface based?  Isn't Aronofsky taking himself too seriously?  Doesn't he need a strong producer to slap him around?

Haneke says that “reduction is the most important tool of an artist.”  He quotes Brecht that “it’s simplicity that is most difficult” and then comments “it’s much more difficult to be simple than to be complicated.”

With all due respect to Blake, profound on the screen does not come from excess. 

3/19/2018

best of 2017

The Florida Project

Some time has passed since I made the list so without re-watching the films I am relying on my memories and these elements that struck me the mostCould be (is) quite subjective: 

"The Florida Project" amazes me because its aesthetics communicate social matters in an unusually powerful way.  The oppressiveness of kitsch evokes economic entrapment.   Never before the ugly was so painful.  Perhaps because the ugly was conceived as pretty and inviting by its makers and it screams on screen both with intent, it's hypocrisy and failure - all in one.

"Twin Peaks" refreshes the narrative in a strong and nonchalant way.  Not all has to be nicely tie up and connected and logical.  Well, that's an understatement in this case.  I like the fact that action and mood and mystery are equally important there.  And it's wonderful to experience total freedom of the storyteller who at the same time fully commands our attention. 

"I am not your Negro" - for its power and clarity.  Also it's impressive that the director Raoul Peck manages to be a fabulous documentary filmmaker, a pretty good feature film director and in addition a mister of culture.  Wow!

"Birds are singing in Kigali" - a very disturbing and innovative work.  I am shocked that it didn't get more recognition.  The stylistic restrain and "space off camera" techniques are right on in telling this horrifying story. 

"The Square" - I love the way the space and the rhythm there strengthen moral ambiguities and hypocrisies discussed.  Already the "Force Majeure" made me sit straighter because of its elegance (and cruelty) of form.  "The Square" seems to take it one step forward.  Watching it (twice on a big screen) I had a feeling of the pulsating, ironic, dramatic energy projected.

1/11/2018

Karma 2.O

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

In the next several posts I will share my 2017 discoveries.  These are the films that moved me and or inspired in one way or another.   Here they come.  In no particular order.  

Naming the new Lanthismos' film one of “best of” somehow does not sit well with me. The film is so disturbing and challenging that I am inclined to say “I hate it”. Can I hate it and name it among the best of 2017? I hate it and at the same time I tremendously appreciate it for its audacity, technical dexterity and the questions it posses.  

The questions:
How, if at all, do we take responsibilities for our actions?
Can we afford to be oblivious to our actions?
How mindful are we in our lives and work?
Do our actions return to us?  Do they have to?  
If so, how?
How do we pay for our mistakes?
Where is the border between the private and the social?
Can we will justice on others?
Do children posses moral radars that we have lost?

The story is quite troubling. It's troublesome irk comes from a combination of two techniques: the first is a preposterous assumption thrown into a reality and then treated with utter seriousness. The same happens a lot in Kieslowski's films – for example in Double Life of Veronique.  

The second comes with externalizing and visualizing (and making audible) that which is about to happen. The result of which is the unnerving feeling that the boy on the screen is an exemplification of something bigger. Or that his fury is foreshadowed and somehow made subconsciously known to the main character.  (The first possibility narrows down to certainty if we follow the myth of Iphigenia.  But I assume that not everybody pays attention to the clue and that furthermore not everybody remembers the myth.)

There are many decisions of varied degree of subtlety layered in the film.  For example most of the time Collin Farell speaks fast as if trying to put a spell on reality. He can't. Nobody can. Our deeds will hunt us until we will have to pay for them in full conscience.  Hence karma 2.0