The clash of visions

Budapest, Liberty Square

In addition to the above seek out a piece by Nora Berend and Christopher Clark on the Hungarian government’s attempts to rewrite the country’s past.  It's in the London Review of Books.  Here is a quote:

"The European Community was founded after the darkest period of European history, in the hope that it would safeguard democracy, create prosperity and foster reconciliation. Under the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ agreed by the European Council in 1993, the conditions for accession to the EU include ‘stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities’. In the last decade or so the EU has acquired new members in regions that have only a fragile democratic tradition. Some of them, like Hungary, don’t meet the Copenhagen criteria."

Similar tendencies are at work in Poland and could start rolling in the US.  

I can't believe it's happening.  My deepest suspicion is that it a delayed global reaction to the revolution of the 60's.  A vision of empathy, acceptance, love, understanding, respect for others is challenged by fear and hate. 

Which side are you on?


Genius in cinema

In a documentary "Student Andriej Tarkovsky" which follows Tarkovsky's notes from his time in WGIK he, among other things, muses on what makes a genius.   Genius represents quality without which we can't do, says Tarkovsky.   On the other hand if a writer or an artist (his oeuvre that is) is not absolutely necessary he is not a genius. 

These ruminations sound weird when uttered by somebody who hasn't done anything yet, particularly when its pretty clear the subject is on his mind most likely because he's set to explore it personally.  In another documentary "Rerberg and Tarkowski, the other side of Stalker", Rerberg recalls Tarkowsky intimating he thinks of himself as a genius.  It is already after "Andrej Rublow" and "The Mirror", so his reported claim  could have some factual support, still such self analysis sounds weird coming from the guy whose philosophical and artistic concerns seemed boldly transcending the pettiness of human nature. 

Then in a yet another documentary: "Directedy by Tarkovsky" I found a quote from his book "Sculpting in time".  The quote is so powerful that it instantaneously validates self absorption of its author. 

Here it is:

"Time cannot vanish without a trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category."

When Tarkovsky in his book talks about time in film it is not that shots and their arrangement represent time - it is that within a shot time is mold-able, it is time within a shot that is the basic building element.   And as such is flexible, could be elongated or shortened.  Could also, be a subject of other manipulations, found in Tarkovsky's films. 


True Television

True Detective, season 1

I have got to see the True Detective with huge delay. I am glad I didn't skip it all together. It is a fantastic piece of television. At times. I was riveted by the main positive characters. On the other hand the bad guys were way too cartoonish and I was bored by the rest. TD2 layered by male death wish of its three characters seemed way too predictable and simplistic in its psychology.

In TD1 A concept of “psychoshpere” as the playground for ritual conducting alchemists (hopefully not being true) on a purely narrative plane deserves a more sophisticated set of tools, props and procedures than those offered. Even if they are scapegoats.

Both series proved that it’s easier to stage breathtaking fights and suspense sequences than to give justice to the - I assume - complex realms of occult and psychology. If our inner and outer mysteries are so vulgar as the show wants us to believe and on the nose, than we are indeed in huge trouble. On the other hand it’s only television and as such it was a hell of entertainment.

The TD1 famous six minutes tracking shot is incredible so is the TD2 shootout. The action still rules.


Explosions in consciousness

A festival triumph of "Fire at sea" 
by Gianfranco Rosi

Indeed an amazing achievement.  Simple yet sophisticated.  Relevant and moving.

Rosi said that his filmmaking is based on giving "less and less", on removing the obvious and (paraphrasing) on not hitting the viewer over the head.  He contrasts this method with that of Michael Moore.  The "less and less" method actually elongates the working of the film.   It allows the story to engrave itself in the viewer's mind.  At least in this viewer's mind:

I experienced several well.... explosions related to that film.

First the strongest and the most surprising  happened half way through the screening.  There is a moment when finally the underlying POV of the director leaped out of the screen and colored everything before and after.   The revelation that the two levels of the narrative are after all actually intermingled was only possible because at first the filmmaker played with viewers saying "the locals and the refugees are not connected".   The effectiveness of this directorial maneuver worked because he assumed (unfortunately quite right) that we entered the cinema with a low level of consciousness, understanding, empathy and care.

Other explosions of rage, sadness and helplessness keep happening every time my consciousness returns to the subject of the film.



Miles Ahead, directed by Don Cheadle

I found this movie totally captivating. It is a bold and successful attempt to enter psyche and creativity outside of a linear, cause and effect, “let’s examine the evolution of talent” approach. Watching it I felt that the makers capitalized on many cinematographic techniques but pushed them further. For example blending of scenery and morphing it to reflect the inner state of a hero has been done before but here it’s done with power, sometimes with fury, which almost allows to forget the trick and be immersed in the inner life of the hero.

The way scenes are shot (or is it the result of some inspired editing?) uncover feelings rather than present action, which is a result of the former. And that’s how the storytelling should happen, shouldn’t it? The film seems fresh also on a structural level. The hook of the story turns our attention into a state of being that does not easily fall into a Joseph Campbell formula. Although there are obligatory car chases and gun swaying and shooting. Still they all feel like rather insignificant nods to the market requirements while the film breaths its own way forward anyway.

The drive and the anguish of the main character is so palpable and the directing so inspired that I don’t even mind the tired and a bit boring script devise of “a reporter enters the life of the hero and we get to know it through his eyes.” Every time I see something like that it screams “we don’t know how to tell the story so let’s bring in a front character who will do it for us”. Please! This clumsiness is however quickly forgiven partly due to the great acting and mostly because of the overall directing and cinematographic riffing.

After the encounter with such a splendid “bio picture” one should be thinking twice before telling the story of a real person just surfing through his or her life events.

If we start telling stories focusing on things that are outside of the aristotelian schtick, would


Cats need respect too.

Nine lives, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld

Amazing.  How could they manage to fail so badly on so many levels? And the premise was delicious and the names involved promised a high end entertainment.  Why did it collapse?  I suspect nobody really cared.  Doesn't anybody there live with a cat?   

Oh well, some consolation can come from reading reviewers having a blast with this flick.  Pretty funny.  "Cat-asthrophic" is my favorite.   


Bronislaw Baczko

Bronisław Baczko 

I was privileaged to meet Bronislaw Baczko while working on a documentary.  Here is a small part of the interview from that encounter.    


Are revolutionaries in reality conservatives?

Young George Lucas

The classic “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood” by Peter Biskind is a fascinating read. It brings close the characters and personalities of the key players of one of the best decades in film making anywhere. Interestingly there is very little about the essence of their contribution to the film making craft, besides emphasizing their understanding and connection with the zeitgaist. Maybe that’s what makes or breaks the film. Still, we learn more about the shortcomings of Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese and others as humans than about the reasons why their film were so revolutionary.

The phrase “saved Hollywood” seems to have a double, ironic meaning. Many of the characters point out that it is Lucas and Spielberg who changed the film industry into its present, blockbuster, comic book based mode.

In this light the Lucas’ remark "Popcorn pictures have always ruled. Why do people go see them? Why is the public so stupid? That's not my fault.” sounds particularly chilly. I’ve read the book carefully but didn’t register this particular sentence. Maybe it was a denial on my part. Only later I found it on the amazon page for the book.



Warsaw, July 2016.  Polish Academy of Sciences

I enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones at the XI World Congress of ISUD.  Here is a video I produced from that event.  

Once you are there you may check the Warsaw Congress Playlist with additional 34 clips from the event. 


Love and philosophy

The flyer of the tenth edition of the Philosophical Film Festival, Krakow.  This year the subject was love.

Juxtaposition of these two cathegories: philosophy and love is a huge challenge.

Prof. Marek Siemek, the hero of my (still in the works) documentary "The View from A Cathedral" astutely noticed that the ethics of love stops where the ethics of law begins.


When birds spoke

Henryk Schonker in "The Touch of an Angel" 
by Marek Tomasz Pawłowski

I watched this amazing documentary around the time I saw another Holocaust-themed film, the Oscar winner "Son on Saul". The comparison automatically sprung to mind: the feature with its frames soaked in attempts to recreate and authenticate many a time took me outside of its goal: I was seeing staging on screen and couldn't get it out of my mind. On the other hand the documentary did not hide its kitchen, things would start as the recollection and then move to their recreation. At which point I was hooked without reservation.

It's either the techniques of both storytellers or the cleverness of the initial deflecting of "it's not real" reaction. Or the combination of both.  An example of that "start with the talk and move to its recreation" is also in the scene that, breaking through the screen and further through the limitations of "now and here"  totally floored me.

In the scene Henryk Schönker recalls a 1938 Auschwitz conversation with a young mentally challenged boy as they both stand by a river bank.  The boy points to the other side of the river,  toward Auschwitz, and says "I see a lot of your people burned there, but you will survive". 

Henryk is perplexed and asks where did he get that from. The boy points to the birds flying above and says "the birds told me so".


Swimming in Kieslowski

Filming "Blue"

It just so happened that I have started analyzing "Blue", which for a long time I treated as the second best to "Red".  Now reading the script and going scene by scene I am amazed how profound a meditation it is.  How that which originally I perceived as unclear is in fact extremely sophisticated.

While "Red" hits with its precision and strong interconnections obvious to anybody with open eyes, "Blue" is way more subtle.  Perhaps because it deals with even more esoteric and mysterious matters than these in "Red".

The accomplishment is really head spinning.  One of the explanation for this mastery may come from the way Kieslowski worked.  As he explained in an interview while writing each subsequent piece about the upcoming movie he always went for  wholeness.  The wholeness of each "pass", even in editing was something he valued the most.  This means he always thought about structure.   Although it sounds obvious, it is not.  At least not to me, since it's so easy to get lost in particular sub themes of a story.

For the ability of thinking "wholeness" all the time one has to have a precise and poetic mind. Otherwise it just won't work.


The camera behind

Son of Saul, written by Laszlo Nemes and Clara Royer
directed by Laszlo Nemes

I dreaded seeing this film. Every trip to Auschwitz leaves me sick for days.  The subject is almost too much to be touched with a camera.  Regardless of the level of the craft employed.  

One day however I was taken to see this film.  The reaction noted below might be an extension of the just mentioned attitude.  When something is so much outside of one's ability to process and comprehend one can attempt to seek refuge in criticism of the aesthetics. 

Here is mine:

Son of Saul, with the exception of one dantean night sequence brining in your face with full harrowing force the Bosch like imaginary, has kept me confused. For surprisingly long gaps I felt out of the narrative. I wasn’t clear if I was supposed to feel with the hero or just watch his horror.

The immediate reason I think comes from too often placing the camera behind the hero’s back. Why don’t I see the face of the hero, I wondered many times. Then I learned that the main part was given to a rock musician/poet and a theologian.   Nothing wrong with basing a film on a non-professional actor but it carries certain limitations (unless one is David Bowie) and “Son of Saul” might be an example of them. To be fair, the musician playing the lead is doing fine as much as he can. But clearly when the task is too much (and the challenges of that role are huge), the director uses a substitutive camera technique, which when overdone, throws the experience of kilter.



How to show that which can't be shown

"Interstellar" by the Nolan brothers. 

My comment assumes that the reader knows the film:

Perhaps I saw it wrong or didn’t get something but the final sequence in “Interstellar” raised my eyebrows. It's possible I didn't get the connection between a library and that which is beyond them. But if a weird technological space structure was the justification for the "other side" of the bookshelf, it was not convincing.

The end of that film posses an interesting dilemma: how to show metaphysical? The script states that a more advanced civilization uses not four (space plus time) but five dimensions. This allows for interstellar travels, time manipulation and generally opens up the possibilities for interactions that we mere three dimensions living in time mortals can perceived and treat as metaphysical.

When the hero finally figures out this dimensional structure it cleverly explains the anecdote of the story and that’s great.

However in addition, the filmmakers chose to tackle the five dimensional challenge head on and to show it on screen. As is it looks complex and technological. And a bit ridiculous to my taste. What were other options? Perhaps to intimate the hyper dimensionality by more organic elements? Something like that is attempted in “Interstellar” when a spacecraft travels through a black hole? But that attempt wasn’t totally captivating either.

What’s amazing is that “2001” almost fifty years ago tackled these issues in a more convincing way. Seems that Kubrick was aware that he can’t escape the flatness of the screen and was successfully building on just that to transcend it.

The issue is crucial to any story trying to explain what’s beyond our senses. How should we intimate the existence of that which we don't have access to?