The ability to wonder

I just finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and loved it. Then looked at the reviews. The once I caught were mostly sneering and looking down at the Murakami’s craft. That pissed me off.

Don’t literary reviewers know the notion on style? If the same (skillful) narrative technique was applied to a film the critics would clearly get it and rave about the sophistication of the director.

Why do so many pompous and condescending reviews of the Murakami’s book point out to its (seeming) shortcomings and don’t allow the possibility that the book’s specific storytelling (supposed over-explaining, giving action though dialogue, cliche characters, describing simply simple and known details of life) might be a choice and a conscious use of such “naive” tricks in order to put a reader under a spell?

Which I think they are and which I find fantastically effective since to me 1Q84 is the deliciously vibrant and alert meditation on the wonder of the now and the human adventure as we all experience it.

I would go on about it but Steven Poole in the Guardian review (unfortunately followed by a horde of “sophisticated” and irritatingly snobbish commentators) has put it quite accurately:

“Murakami's heroes and heroines are all philosophers. It is natural, then, that his work should enchant younger readers, to whom the problems of being are still fresh, as well as others who never grew out of such puzzlements – that his books should seem an outstretched hand of sympathy to anyone who feels that they too have been tossed, without their permission, into a labyrinth.”


Vaclav Havel leaves the room

I dialed a number. She immediately picked up the phone.
- Hi, this is Pawel, I said.
- We’re are all crying here, the Czech woman in Warsaw responded.
It was a few hours after the news of Vaclav Havel’s death went public.
- Can you help with a bit from the unused Havel’s interview?
- I’ll be right over.

With the subsequent help from an American we managed to prepare a few minutes from the final moments of the interview conducted in Prague in the spring of 2010.

In the piece, Havel’s final words before leaving the room seem to be: “Please edit my words properly.”

Can we do that?

Can we honor the spirit and the vision of this man?

The video is available at http://youtu.be/Sv1i2yfgpb0

On the station

Does it have to be that

you are the platform

and I am the approaching train

which will depart shortly?

Or the other way around?

Does it have to be that

one of us needs to step back

when the other approaches,

not being certain

if this is the right connection?

Can’t we just whoosh

through the station


Or stay on the platform

watching the passing trains

and holding hands?


The walls

(to kvetchers everywhere)

Finally the walls are up.

Safety restored,

build with the shortcomings

of others.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

The structure is needed

to keep wrong doers away

and her soul within.

For the soul to remain soul.

For her to be her.


she would leak out,

the little of her there is.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

Her hurt is the weapon,

the mason and the surgeon.

Her indignation the corset

and the crutch.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

No explanation needed.

No reasoning sought.

No empathy given.

The walls safely around.

Condemning the others.

Boosting the self.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

Irony attacks, no way to know

who speaks from the heart,

who lies.

No way to know

what is this guy’s real game.

No way to know

what that gal truly wants.

No way to know

why they cheat and lie.

All of them.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

And when the flash

“could she be also among them?”

flies through her mind,

it is forgotten promptly.

And when the thought

“perhaps I'm wrong”

knocks to her mind,

it is denied entry.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

When will finally people

be open and honest and nice!

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

Bad world, bad world, bad world.

When will finally people

be open and honest and nice!


Dear Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Peli: can we make scary scarier?

“Paranormal activity”, written/directed by Oren Peli

In case you have not yet seen the superb original “Paranormal activity” - be warned, I will discuss its ending.

I’d like to pose a question to those who did watched it and hypothetically even to those who were behind making it. The press materials say that the movie version ending was suggested by the Maestro Spielberg himself, hence the title of this post.

The body flying toward the camera is strong, shocking and fabulous. Yet it felt disappointingly fast as a conclusion of a very suspenseful scene and the film itself.

I wonder what would happen if an additional beat was introduced: mainly after the victim leaves the room and before the throw of the body toward the camera the victim escapes the horror of the hallway into the room, collapses onto the floor and lies there scared out of his mind.

Then the noise on the hallway intensifies and the body of the victim is whooshed back into the darkness of the hallway. Several seconds of horrifying cries follow and only then the body flies toward the lenses. Would it not milk the scare longer without taking away the final shock?


Genius as a thief - part four (of four)

Finally, “Light Denied” assumes that we, meaning non-genial humans, can benefit from the presence of geniuses among us not only by consuming their culturally or scientifically “packaged” findings. In certain instances we can also in a safe manner participate in their dangerous, “promethean”, thievery escapades.

The safety is guaranteed only when journeys are done through fictitious characters, when enveloped in skins of screen, stage or page characters we experience catharsis and insights of the quests for truth. It is als close to the real deal as we can get without paying the ultimate price with our sanity or life. That’s is supposed to be the case of “Light Denied” where prof. Feliks Lewinski by gradually entering the Abyss reaches the Truth and as a result looses his mind. Watching Lewinski allows the narrator to diffuse the danger of Mystery and to internalize its wisdom. At the end he concludes:

“I was no longer fearing Nietzsche. I finally understood, that despite dangers, the Dionysian light must be embraces. Because it's the source of life and as such cannot be denied.”

This dramatic device aims to complete the subplot assuming that the viewers with similar sensitivities accept the screen ritual and experience integration with the Mystery. Despite, or because of it, that the integration is a third hand - a genial exploration of Nietzsche is lived through a fictitious character who is watched by the narrator - the viewer can safely participate in a journey. If that’s indeed the case then for some can apply a comment from Dan Pal from WDCB Public Radio (Illinois):

“This film will leave you contemplating its message for days afterward."

“Light Denied”

written/directed by Paweł Kuczyński



Genius as a thief - part three

Alicja Dabrowska and Krzysztof Janczar

in "Light Denied"

When a human mind attempts to penetrate the unreachable/forbidden regions of Knowledge it risks mortal dangers. Faith, theological axioms and religious rituals serve as effective intermediaries between the Unknown and human mind. A naked not covered by a religious insulator mind is helpless facing the forces and dimensions exceeding its grasp. That’s why plugging an unguarded mind into Mystery usually (always?) fries it.

This dangerous possibility is addressed twice in dialogue in the fictitious part of the film. During an encounter with a young librarian who, in his mind morphs into Mathilde Trampedach one of the women Nietzsche helplessly yearned for, prof. Lewinsky dreamingly addresses her:

“Mathilde? Mathilde, don't you think that each of us being together with the other will be better of, will be more free than if we existed separately? In order to withstand that terrifying Whirl, that overwhelming Abyss a human being has to be close to another one. Mathilda, one cannot always listen to music - it would lead straight to madness.”

In another scene prof. Lewinsky tries to pass the knowledge to the President of his university:

Krzysztof Janczar and Stanislaw Zaluski


As the head of our institution, you should be the first to know it.




But not here. Please, Mr. President.


Mr. Felix!


We won't be disturbed here.


Professor, this is highly inappropriate.


Who cares. Mr. President, this is about fundamental matters. I finally got it.




I have understood that...

(he whispers into the President’s ear)


What do you mean by that?

(Felix whispers again)


Professor, you must be joking. Don't forget that I deal with science, too. Please don't forget that we both carry watches. So time exists. At least for you and me.


You understood nothing.

Prof. Hope Fitz comments:

“Probably at the of his life Nietzsche lost his mind. It seems to me there is not clear border between a creative mind and madness. Research confirms it. 80% of US writes had mental problems. I am not surprised by that. Imagine, they are on the edge far away from mass opinions in their thinking. They constantly test the borders.”


Genius as a thief - part two

Light Denied” was born out of three assumptions: the first states that a genius is a go-between our yearnings, phobias and awes and their answers given in coherent, articulated ways. A genius is a person who shortens the distance between our unattainable ontological “wants” and that which is at our disposal to make sense of the reality within and without. In order for the distance to be lessened, a genius has to apply his/her particular technology so that the people he communicates with can find themselves in the place where, due to their own limitations, they would not get by themselves. A genius brings them that which is forbidden. A genius knows or at least senses what others need before they do. Or he is driven by his inner hunger for insight.

Genius is a bit like a thief, like Prometheus, who in order to posses something that somebody else might want needs to get it first. First, using all his might, he needs to travel to the source of insight. Once at the destination a genius needs not only to spot and recognize “the goods” but also to find a proper form to translate them back to his tribe. For that he uses among others Images, sounds, words, abstract thinking and mathematic formulas.

A second assumption of “Light Denied” deals with danger. The film is not concerned with theories that Nietzsche’s madness was caused by syphilis or was genetic (his father died of brain softening). Instead the narrative states that Nietzsche went crazy because he crossed into a forbidden zone of knowledge.

There exist regions of exploration which are closed to human mind. Mind although being able to formulate abstract hypothesis, such as mathematic formulas can’t envision the border of the universe or the state of the universe before its beginning or radical micro or macro divisions of time and space. Actually, categories of time and space are the chains put over our imagination to prevent us from accessing Knowledge.


Genius as a thief - part one (of four)

Paweł Kuczyński introduces “Light Denied”,

a screen riff on Nietzsche’s madness.

During the debate “Cultural status of a creator. Genius or madness” organized by the Philosophy and Sociology Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences Pawel talked about the assumptions behind the film:

“Light Denied” attempts to work through a narrator’s fear of entering too deep into the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In a documentary part appear Werner Krieglstein (College of DuPage), Alan Rosenberg (Queens College), Hope Fitz (Eastern Connecticut State University), Victor Krebs (The Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) and Karl-Otto Apel (University of Frankfurt am Main). In a fictitious part the film follows a philosophy professor (Krzysztof Janczar) obsessed with Nietzache. At the beginning a director/narrator set the stage:

“Dare to think! Reject all dogmas! Follow the light! These demands have frightened me ever since I was a teenager. I suspected that Nietzsche lost his mind because of the depth of his inquires. I was almost driven insane by his call to embrace the light of Dionysus. Hence I retreated waiting for years to approach Nietzsche again. (...) I returned to Nietzsche, when a fictitious philosophy professor Felix Lewińsky appeared in my films. He too badly wanted to find the truth.

The fact that Friedrich Nietzsche is an important writer is obvious even to his ardent opponents. Early on in “Light Denied, prof. Karl-Otto Apel explains:

“I am not a Nietzsche fan. Nietzsche, of course, as everybody knows, is a good writer first of all, exciting writer. I was never a fan of Nietzsche. For ethical reasons.”

Calling Nietzsche a genius is subjective. It springs from individual preferences and group/social/cultural setups. What exactly then in an individual, contemporary and subjective perspective could mean referring to Nietzsche as a genius?


The Bauman’s Window

Before the screening of “Lawnswood Gardens
organized by Polish Sociological Society
and Warsaw University Students Association

A panel discussion afterwards. Prof. Nina Kraśko - the moderator,
Paweł Kuczyński - director, Andrzej Chrzanowski - co-producer,
Piotr Rejmer - head of post-production.

“The film is brilliant. (...)

There is no such thing as a Bauman school.

However, there is a Bauman window”.

- Prof. Monika Kostera, Ph.D.

This comment refers to two elements of the film. The first comes from an informal talk where prof. Bauman’s says (in Polish):

“I don’t think I am going to leave behind something like the Bauman school for example, because in order to form a school of thought, you have to discover a method which distinguishes this school, and then any person who wants to do a Ph.D. has to prove that he can use this method adequately. This to me seems like schooling in conformism and in following a recipe, like unexperienced cooks who surround themselves with cookbooks and know (to add) 5 grams of that, 10 grams of that, here 5 minutes boiling, there 6 minutes etc. I’ve never created anything like that. What’s more, I think something like that would be against the sprit of the humanities.”

the second is a quote from “Modernity and the Holocaust”:

“...(the analysis) showed beyond reasonable doubt that the Holocaust was a window rather than a picture on the wall. What I saw through this window I did not find at all pleasing. The more depressing the view however, the more I was convinced that if one refused to look through the window it would be at one’s own peril.”

While filming I considered exploring views from various places where the Baumans lived and naming the film “The Bauman’s window”. Even though I abandoned this path something from that concept must have filtered through into the final version.

photos by Anna Polańczyk


A short poem

to be read alongside “The angriest dog in the world” cartoon.


and "Lost Highway" and "Mulholand Drive" films:

We think that we don’t ...

but we do.


The independence of ideas, part two.

High above our minds

there is a platonic world where ideas float

waiting for the human race

to mature enough to grasp them fully.

So don't kid yourself:

you don’t think ideas

they merely allow you to play with them

testing your character, assessing

if you are worthy of them.

Once an idea realizes

that you are not honest

that you’re using it

that you don’t respect it

it goes away leaving with you

a shallow caricature of itself

to carry on its revenge

to make a fool of yourself.

If your transgressions are

truly malicious and harmful

an idea stays within you

and kills you from within.

High above our minds

ideas await our maturity.


The independence of ideas, part one.

The “I” is frequently too loud to hear that which wants to reach us.

Therefore the message falls on our ears deafened by the screaming ego.

On the other hand the realization of non-personal origination of ideas is often a road to individual recognition and personal greatness. Ironically, it is stepping away from the “I” that tends to build it. The trailblazers who humbly realize that ideas are not theirs achieve rightfully deserved admiration by showing us new vistas.

Two masters in their respective and very different games come up with quite similar conclusions regarding the origination of ideas:

“.... the process (of generating ideas), to a large degree, is in my opinion spontaneous, it has its own mechanism, its own logic. Like Levi Strauss put it beautifully: ‘I don’t think my thoughts but my thoughts think themselves”. - Zygmunt Bauman in “Lawnswood Gardens”.

“Ideas are the strangest things because they suddenly enter into your conscious mind and you don’t know really where they come from - where they exist before they were introduced to you. They could mean something, or they could just be there for you to work with. I don’t know.” - David Lynch in “Lynch on Lynch”.

It is something to consider when, enveloped in drunken hubris, we claim that ideas are “ours”.


Documentary truth, part 2

"The Arbor" by Clio Barnard

This is an attempt to discuss the assumption that in a documentary the more unfiltered reality is, the closer to truth.

The previous post argued that in a documentary film a public, charismatic personality usually (either consciously or subconsciously) “performs” since being “on” constitutes the core of such a personality. Therefore one should not talk in such cases about “truth” understood as something that is revealed despite the filmmaking conditions. In short - I don’t see much of cinema verite in the documentary about Vaclav Havel.

The documentary truth in that group of films therefore is synonymous with “presenting oneself”, which assumes a certain amount of performing, where performing is not a negative term but the acknowledgment that in order to present something to the public that something has to be dressed up in a form (a bow to Witold Gombrowicz here.)

What about a form when a film deals with more private people or with events or trends that have no self-consciousness of their public dimension or simply do not have any trace of “performing”? I am inclined to say that the similar process could happen there as well.

“The Arbor” by Clio Barnard seems to be a case in which the more reworked (enveloped in a form) reality is the closer it gets to its core. (The core would stand for reaching a basic pattern or emotion or the dramatic origination of the story being told). For example an amazing energy is evoked when two sisters (portrayed by actors) recall their childhood trauma as this very trauma plays behind them in the room. This obvious break with reality only adds up to the intensity of the message.

Some, writing about techniques in “The Arbor” bring up Bertolt Brecht and his “distancing effect.” Perhaps, however many “quotation marks” narrative maneuvers in the film rather than alienating me from the events in order to force my thinking about them, have the opposite effect. By bringing up various “look this is not happening for real” tactics (like staging interior scenes from a play in the square while the neighbors watch or famous lip-synching) the film actually manages to dispense the ever present suspicion with the medium itself. Once the thorn (as a film form inherently fake and therefore untrue to reality) is named and brought up into the open, I the viewer, can relax and am able to travel straight where the storyteller wants me to be.

Therefore as performing of a charismatic individual is a must for his truth to emerge so the narrative that “performs” is often needed to reach the essence of a story.


Documentary truth, part 1

On the set of "Citizen Havel".

What is truth in a documentary? What does it take to accurately portray a person on the screen? Does the term “accurately” relate to the way a person sees himself, the way others see him, or both? Are we who we think we are, or who we are in the eyes of others?

“Citizen Havel” by Pavel Koutecky, Miroslav Janek provides some food for thought on the subjects.

Some say this film is a “fly on the wall” documentary, or the ultimate “cinema-verite” of political films. To me it is more of a showman’s piece where the hero is most of the time “on” and fully controlling the message.

Despite statements from the filmmakers that Havel could “tune out” the camera there is always a clear indication that there is something between his very own self and the way he present himself to the public/camera. Yet even though this obvious barrier exists as a thin film over the screen we get the sense of Havel’s earnestness and his noble nature. It happens largely I think because we sense his efforts to be right.

Vaclav Havel is all about making an effort to be better, “to keep vertical” (as Kieslowski used to say, according to his friends), to improve the world around by leading, providing an example. That can’t be done without self examining and self consciousness. In this respect Havel by his very nature and his calling uses the presence of the film crew to telegraph his essence. Some say he forgets the camera, I would say he plays it as a good director or a stage play writer designing the story. His theatrical sensitivity should not be a surprise, he is a dramatist and probably,
more than many of us would be capable of, sees himself as a character in a life's play. Luckily, Havel is congruent in his message and in the way he is. That’s why, the more the director gives him screen time, the more president Havel reveals his true self - a warm, genuinely carrying guy with an surprising sense of theatrics.

Overall this documentary film is a creative effort both on Havel’s and the director’s part to present a certain class, an attitude which Havel employs in his life and makes an effort to articulate and strengthen via his public appearances, to which the film clearly belongs. There is a noticeable effort on his part to be “right” - in things small and big. He wants to be always prepared because he knows that everything he does sends a message. We “civilians” could only learn from him.

There are two scenes in the film where the camera retracts mostly to high angles and watches cars from above: during the arrival of president Clinton and at the funeral ceremony of president’s Havel wife - Olga. Both times - with different moods of course - the filmmaking eye catches the essence of events in a very cinematic way mostly via the mechanical movements of soulless machines, yet the spirit of each occurrence is
precisely telegraphed.

I’ve briefly met mr. Havel during a half hour interview for “Lawnswood Gardens”. He was exactly like the person in the documentary: thoughtful, sensitive, precise, concerned, slightly shy yet with power inside. It was a professional situation which at the same time spoke plenty about the private man. I may soon post on my youtube channel another “Lawnswood Gardens“ making of with a clip from that meeting.


Images want our sanity

What follows is a totally subjective riff only loosely inspired by a few W. J. T. Mitchell remarks, which very well could be totally misunderstood.

It is intriguing that Mitchell, the premiere current theoretician of the visual in the modern culture, the man who flirts with giving an image a voice (“What do pictures really want”?) at the same time unleashes an attack at the abstract as if wanting to lessen its cultural power.

In his lecture “Seeing madness. Insanity, media and visual culture” Mitchell presents a claim that, well ... we all may be mad. How come? He starts with Kant. Kant opens his Critique of Pure Reason with a chilling sentence: “Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.”

So we are doomed to be dumb. At least we know that the tool we got for making sense of the world is insufficient for the task. Yet the human hubris prevails and the madness thrives. The madness resulting not from chaos and disorder, but rather from having birth in actions of pure reason. Both madness and pure reason as expressions of our minds are hard edged on logic, order, causality. It is just that somewhere early on in their reasoning a fatal step of a wrong assumption takes place and then there is no escape from disastrous results.

For Prof. Michell madness seems to be a cultural tool defined to a large and perhaps decisive degree by those who decide what’s the norm and what’s madness. Therefore it can easily become an instrument of politics. That was the case with the mathematical findings of John Nash’s principle of equilibrium, which in addition of getting him a Noble Prize was also the base for the cold war philosophy with its doctrine of Mutually Assured Distraction (M.A.D.) Madness is therefore the result of reductionistic tendencies of the flowed reason coupled with our insane strive for order and clear answers.

In a world where mathematics supports insanity, where pure reason has to fail by its own definition, where images are aloof and mysterious in their desires ("What pictures want in the last instance, then, is simply to be asked what they want, with the understanding that the answer may well be, nothing at all" - as Mitchell finishes one of his early drafts of the theme), the power goes back to the discerning eyes and the minds and the souls of you and I. It is you and I and everyone who wants to make an effort of being clear, present and honest that could and should stand up against madness. It is us who are capable of restoring sanity by embracing images in their totality and learning from them not to reduce them by logic, interpretation, agendas or our petty "visions". Images are saner than us. They show us how to be more human. Let's learn from them.


The fake cosmos, part 2

"The Three of Life"
written/directed by Terrence Malick

Before I continue the June "
Melancholia" and "The Three of Life" post let me make one thing clear: I consider Terrence Malick a cinematic genius. What follows is not so much about his stylistic choices as about the current direction in visualizing the cosmos.

The opening quote of “The Three of Life”: "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" telegraphs the upcoming film and at the same time sentences it to the unavoidable failure.

The answer to the Book of Job question is only one: “Dear God, thank you for singling me out and addressing me personally. As you know, I was not there. I have no clue how it looked like, what if felt like, why was it happening or even how to imagine it since the event you are referring to totally transcends my insignificant self, my ability to imagine, comprehend or visualize.” “ Yet, I will try, continues Terrence Malick (in making the film), I will try to sing a song of our human yearning to touch the divine, to see that which is impossible to see since we couldn’t have been there.” Hats off for this noble attempt.

Yet, 43 years after the Space Odyssey, after Kubrick, Tarkowsky, Lucas and NASA defined the way we envision the cosmos certain stylistic directions seem used up, not as fresh as they were decades ago. (The more splendid NASA photos are the more they reveal limitations in showing the totality of events they point to.)

We accept the (unavoidable) fakery of a “realistic” film language describing a typical psychological scene be it in a Mallick or a von Trier movie because a) we’ve been conditioned that it is the way things are (they are not!) and b) because we bring into the perception of such a scene a huge amount of our own references. We augment what we see on screen with our own personal experiences or cultural annotations beaten into us by education and culture. Things get more muddy when talking about the beginning of the world. The thin layer of existing iconography is clearly bogus, it does not represent the reality of things. We don’t have enough references to confirm or at least partially justify the reality of the existing canon of the cosmic imagery. How to make it more “real” for us? Whoever figures it out will be a new Leonardo.

For now however the stylistic path "
Melancholia" and "The Three of Life" chose aims for the absolute visual truth in rendering the non-renderable. In this context, starting with the quotation from God himself only begs to close with a quote from the Lady Gaga Madison Square Garden HBO special in which the diva yells:

do you know what’s the second thing after money I hate the most?.... the truth!... the absolute truth!.. instead give me a bucket of bullshit, anytime!”


Lawnswood Gardens

"Lawnswood Gardens"
directed by Pawel Kuczynski
written by Pawel and prof. Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska

Last night we had a premiere screening of “Lawnswood Gardens” - a documentary portrait of professor Zygmunt Bauman. The hero himself attended, which as normal in case of his public appearances, attracted a crowd eager to meet him. We felt bad that the theater management had to turn people away due to the safety regulations.

Earlier in the day "Gazeta Wyborcza", a leading Polish newspaper, run an announcement calling the film “a comprehensive and insightful portrait of an eminent scholar, who grants the camera an unusually close access.”

Prior, culture.pl, the official site of the cultural program of the polish EU presidency has published the following write up:

"Lawnswood Gardens" is a 53-minute film portrait of Bauman, who serves as one of the main representatives of Polish intellectual thought. The core of the film is based on Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska's brief visit to the Professor's home at Lawnswood Gardens in Leeds in the spring of 2010. The film includes archive materials and other interviews, exploring the links between Bauman's "Modernity and the Holocaust" and "Winter in the Morning", a diary from the Warsaw Ghetto written by the Professor's wife Janina Bauman, who passed away in December 2009.

The film also includes a conversation with artist Mirosław Bałka about his "How it is" exhibition at the Tate Modern and the Professor's response to Bałka's work, providing a sociologist's perspective on art.

The film also features the Professor's friends from Leeds: Anthony Bryant and Griselda Pollock, as well as Aleksandra Jasińska-Kania, Nina Kraśko, Jerzy Wiatr and Vaclav Havel. Bauman's daughter, painter Lydia Bauman, served as the artistic consultant on the film.

The film was realized thanks to the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the National Centre for Culture and ZAiKS.

The full text of the write up is linked below (one correction in the director’s bio: my philosophy study lasted only one year)


The fake cosmos - part 1

"Melancholia", by Lars von Trier

Two strong and very impressive recent films: “Melancholia” and “The Three of Life” base their philosophizing and the artistic “umpf” on enveloping human stories in a grandiose perspective of the cosmos. The stories however resonate with us predominantly because they access our own human reference points, fears and concerns. Be it a complex relationship between two sisters (“Melancholia”) or dynamics of growing up (“The Three of Life”) the screen breaths vitality, genuineness and psychological insights - all convincingly presented.

Then comes the cosmos. Promoting “Melancholia” Lars von Trier talks about his decision to put the end of the story up front so that the viewers know from the very beginning the finale. The issue of how much of the ending in a given story its consumers want to know, should know, expect to know or suspect could in itself be a subject for another post or even a Ph.D. dissertation. :-)

For now let’s just stick to von Trier’s way of presenting the ending, that is to the computer generated clash of the planet called “Melancholia” into Earth. This clash, in what will become indisputable only later in the film, ends life as we know it in a spectacular bang.

The opening of the film situates the CGI clash image of the end of the world in the company of art inspired tableaux taking their cues from art (Ophelia) or stylizing them as a high brow art situations. The opening therefore does not represent reality as such but rather dives into the territory of the possible, the feared, the subconscious. In this company the earth crash does not announce the reality of the ending, it only shows the possibility or a fear of a terrible thing coming. That’s why I don’t think the opening puts the end up front, rather it telegraphs in a teasing way a potential of something bad. Which, in a way, is much more interesting than "the end at the beginning" maneuver.


Documentary hubris

Recently I’ve watched a few documentaries which did not impress me. Why do movies about fascinating events, people, problems often end up lame? Where does the lack of storytelling talent come from?

One of the working hypothesis is that it is generated by the inflated ego of the makers, who by not being able or not wanting to step aside, do not allow their subjects to fully shine. It’s plain hubris and the lack of humbleness on the part of those whose duties is to report, show, facilitate meetings between the audiences and their subjects.

Directors have “ideas”, present their own “insights”, are too impatient to think things through - and disasters strike.

Perhaps talent as the ability to step aside, to let things that are talked about in the particular piece of work come with full independence, bloom and their own reasons. On the other hand filmmakers can be paralyzed by the importance, statue, scope of their subjects and don’t seek interesting ways into the subject matters.

Clearly some balance must be achieved between the assertiveness of a storyteller who’s reporting what is and his skills to listen and watch. Without the assertiveness of a teller a film falls apart. So what is the role of the self in storytelling? What does it really mean: “a story cannot be told objectively, somebody has to tell it as there is no no objective reporting?”


Disturbing mirrors of a sci-fi thriller

"Source code", written by Ben Ripley,
directed by Duncan Jones

Early on in “Source code” its hero, confused with not understanding who and where he is, glances into a train bathroom mirror and jumps in shock seeing somebody’s else face as his own reflection. This potentially intriguing revelation, due to the genre of the film, is quickly dealt with a stock sci-fi explanation. Yet, seeing that we are not who we think we are, breaking the safe walls of our identity convention is one of the rarely touched domains of film, which seems to be the ideal medium for such explorations.

Another disturbing moment of the screening occurred, this time, outside of the screen. As the plot kept moving around a terrorist thread hidden in a car, a voice come through the movie theater speakers calling for the owner of a particular car left in a parking space to immediately return to the vehicle. A slight wave of nervousness rolled throughout the theater: was the car just blocking somebody wanting to get out or was it already surrounded by anti-terrorists suspecting a bomb and the shopping mall was to be evacuated? Were we in danger? Was the reality mirroring the film?

What do we attend dark movie theaters really for? Is it to come close (but never too close) to those questions that we are afraid to face in reality?

Are the screens acquiring some sort of artificial intelligence and perhaps start to reflect back to us that which we may not be ready to face?

Isn’t the constant strive for films to become current plain dangerous? In a very practical way the reality and its screen representation may get entangled in each other so much that we will lose the sense of who and where we are.

Another strange conclusion from “The source code” - once dead, the only way to stay alive for a short while longer is to assume the identity of a (more?) dead person. If you do it with heart and for the right reasons, it may grant you new (alternative) life!

All that is telegraphed, galloping with the requirements of a spectacle. Such films are as much intriguing, stimulating, entertaining as they are frustrating with their unrealized potentials. It seems that the genre is already nimble enough to deliver thrills without necessarily being contrived in their plots, issues and their solutions.


Original impulses

Technologies in music conducting and documentary filmmaking.

Kai Bumann, a German conductor working in Poland, when describing his method stresses the importance of understanding the original impulse for a given music composition. Before conducting a particular piece he wants to know how its composer saw the word. For Bumann music is closely connected with philosophy and theology. Finding the impulse that preceded a given score becomes the basis for the conductor's work. For example, sometimes during these searches he arrives at “deep layers of sorrow.”

Seeking the original impulse is a noble and elegant technology of any interpretive craft. Can the same be applied to a documentary filmmaking? Not always, seems to me.

I’ve made a few film portraits that indeed were based on what at that time I perceived were the initial impulses forming the lives of their heros. Among others, “Philosopher’s Paradise” was based on such approach, so was “Red with Black”. The latter was obvious and easy since Henryk Musiałowicz speaks straight about his artistic turmoils. “Philosopher’s Paradise” (although favorably received by critics and viewers and accepted by its hero)
left me concerned because my approach forced a spiritual diagnosis of the inner core of a philosopher, who to many (including himself) is a hard core materialist. Was I really allowed to force my POV on an image of another person? To this day I remain hesitant about my directorial choice in this film.

The above reflections were perhaps one of the few reasons why my latest project - “Lawnswood Gardens” - purposely stays away from any kind of (be it metaphysical or historical) investigating of its hero, instead it focuses on an attempt to render emotions connected with my meeting with Zygmunt Bauman. Granted that the word “my” is dangerous in this above context. Yet, there seems to be a qualitative difference between uncovering somebody’s initial impulses and reporting one’s own reaction to this person.

Does it mean that a conductor could be more free exploring his “heros” (composers) than a filmmaker exploring his screen subjects? Perhaps we are approaching here a wall of a documentary filmmaking. The wall of humbleness toward one's own limited understanding of others and of respect toward their complexities and vastness. Another wall would be potential harm that a film could inflict upon its heros -one of the reasons Kieślowski abandoned the documentary form.

It’s possible that I am just splitting hair here. It’s possible that a certain arrogance (of vision) is necessary to make documentaries. Perhaps this never easy maneuvering between one’s own perception and understunding of its potential dangers is the hardest element in a documentary film directing.