Sunday, September 30, 2007

Susana: Buñuel at Play

by Steven Boone

a crafty eyeball

Luis Buñuel's Susana (1951) might be his worst, most entertaining film. After shooting his low-budget masterpiece, Los Olvidados in 1950, Buñuel was on rocky terms with Mexican audiences. That film represented Mexico as a nightmare in which failed social services and a hostile or indifferent economy resulted in children tossed aside like trash. Bunuel's producer, Oscar Dancigers, had agreed to let the aging surrealist make one personal film for every two commercial ones. Buñuel had delivered, with two crowd-pleasers, the musical Gran Casino (1946) and the screwball comedy The Great Madcap (1949). But the hostility toward Los Olvidados ended Danciger's and Buñuel's scheme just when it really got going. The director made Susana for another producer, Sergio Kogan. (The ironic postscript is that Los Olvidados went on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes before its release to worldwide acclaim in 1952.)

With Susana, Buñuel honed an elegant "invisible" storytelling style that would reach perfection in Viridiana. This might account for the overacting and bombastic musical score: Maybe Buñuel was so caught up with camera choreography (on a tight 20-day schedule) that he let the performances run amok. Seen today, the bombast works as camp. It kind of fits this (literally) stormy melodrama about a female juvenile delinquent (Rosita Quintana) who single-handedly wrecks a wealthy Mexican rancher's home by seducing him, his son and his most trusted ranchero. Fernando Soler (who brings the most subtlety of the entire cast) plays the rancher as a tough-minded middle aged jefe who Susana reduces to a fool in love.

Buñuel uses the horny premise to indulge his leg fetish and favorite sacreligious themes. Buxom, hot-blooded Susana prays to the "God of prisons" to bust her out of juvie-- and He does. She escapes to don Guadalupe's ranch and proceeds to eat every man in sight. If you watch Susana without sound, it's as feverish and irrational as something like L'age d'Or. Buñuel's camera gets away with sensuality and eroticism less visually adroit directors wouldn't know how to manage.

Here's a sample of that craftiness, set to David Axelrod's song A Divine Image:

[Editor's Note: This is a belated submission to the Luis Buñuel blog-a-thon (hosted by Flickhead) that ran last week. I was planning on seeing Los Olvidados to contribute a tandem piece with Steve's delightful little appreciation, here, but life got in the way. So, if you want more on Buñuel from me, you'll have to wait. Luckily, thanks to a special gift from Senor Boone, I will be able to watch a lot of the Mexican films sooner than later. So stay tuned. -- RWK]

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Peter Berg brings America to The Kingdom. Get ready for the onslaught.

by Ryland Walker Knight

You tell me about fashion?

Despite its questionable politics, Peter Berg’s busiest film yet, The Kingdom, blows up a lot of stuff, and kills a lot of people, really well. Which is to say it never bores however bull-headed it may bluster. The flip side, of course, is that the film assaults its audience as much as its villains (and its heroes). Aping Paul Greengrass (the Bourne sequels) and producer Michael Mann’s recent work (Miami Vice), Berg’s always-already moving camera has neither the sense of style (composition, color, editing) nor the formal curiosities of his influences. Worst of all, though, The Kingdom has a simple bully mentality, not any generosity.

[For the rest of the review click here and you will be forwarded to The Daily Californian's website.]

You want to do what?

My review does not mention that in four minutes of screen time, maybe, Jeremy Piven steals every second he's given. I didn't see Smokin Aces but I heard he was a little toned down. I think we all know he's at his best (or most fun) when playing a jerk, or simply a frail human (on the inside; his physique is astonishing, impressive, fit). But he's no reason to see the movie. If you plan on seeing the movie go for the shoot out scenes. I think Berg is developing a nice filmography as a director but he may be relying on his version of the Greengrass aesthetic a little too much. Friday Night Lights succeeded because there were moments of calm littered throughout, and a few terse home-life scenes that dug deep, not because it was nonstop motion. The reason the third Bourne movie works well is because the plot is all MacGuffin. Every scene is exposition. This makes plot irrelevant. The film announces itself, all at once, as a deliberate recapitulation of the whole trilogy while renewing and rewriting its purpose. Also, Bourne is not about politics: it's about movement through the ever-encroaching modern world. Its motives are squarely ethical. The Kingdom, on the other hand, subverts its ethics/morals under the weight of its politics. And it's not like it's got some novel ideas. It's Syriana, but oddly right-wing; and it has a less complex (obfuscated?) plot. What's funny, though, is both The Kingdom and Syriana rely on their plots in a way Bourne Ultimatum does not, which makes Bourne's political implications (while oblique and vague) resonate in a more honest, less propagandized, fashion. If Greengrass argues for anything in the last installment it's that surveillance is scary-quick now and you are its prey at all times, even if you have magic in you like Jason Bourne. Also, the Manhattan car chase is fucking dope. The Kingdom doesn't have anything to rival that. But it does have a good, if slightly misguided, cast. (That enough side-commentary? Maybe I'll finally write more about why The Bourne Ultimatum actually does kick some butt at a later date. Now I've got to see about some Wes Anderson.)

UPDATE: Friday, September 28th, 2007:
Steven Boone has some similar thoughts over at The House Next Door. I think his first sentence says it all: "The Kingdom is a two-faced liar." (Also, the comments section is already contentious. I mean, wow!) So a few more words to the wise: Skip The Kingdom this weekend. Go see Morocco on Sunday at the PFA, if you live in or near Berkeley, California. And tonight you have the opportunity to see Seconds at the Castro, in San Francisco. (It's clear how I organize my film-going timeline, right?) Also, you could go see The Bourne Ultimatum since it's probably still playing in a lot of cities. Or, how's this, see both Bourne and The Kingdom and tell me if you think I'm way off base in my practice of evaluation regarding these two objects of interpretation and how they (kind of) speak to one another -- or how they use wildly different voices while (superficially) employing a similar visual vocabulary. (Another key distinction: The Kingdom is about how Jaime Foxx and his team engage the world they are temporarily inhabiting, whereas Jason Bourne literally runs through everything.) Okay, now I really need to write this thing up, right?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Obligatory 70mm Film Festival image for the evening

Waltz wit it

Believe. One, two, three, One, two three, One, two three....

Monday, September 17, 2007

A fog of unfunny. On the new Westerns.

by Ryland Walker Knight

a fog of unfunny

The Daily Cal published my review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford today. The skinny is I think it a waste of time. The dash-off long of it can be read here. Similar problems plague this Brad Pitt vehicle that did last week's 3:10 to Yuma but they move in opposite directions from a base misunderstanding of their genre, and its current demands. Andrew Dominik's Jesse James picture tries so hard to be special it can only fail to live up to its amplified flamboyance; James Mangold's 3:10 remake is so flat it never gets going, even with a barn-burning at the opening. Or: one tries to re-invent the wheel with borrowed gimmicks while the other tries to fasten the wheel back in place with worn (however trusty) tools at hand.

A problem I didn't really get into in my newest review was Dominik trying to make a hagiographical film while at the same time deflating the legend. I hint at it when I said it lacks irony but let me be a little more clear. The cake-and-eat-it-too problem here is related to the filmmakers' approach to the genre. Invoking Unforgiven in my review of 3:10 was probably a miscue because there's more to mine comparing it to Jesse James. That is, Clint Eastwood and David Webb Peoples get it right and Dominik fails. Eastwood doesn't need voice-over. Eastwood doesn't need flashy lens tricks. Eastwood doesn't need three hours. And, you know, Eastwood and Gene Hackman versus Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck? Talk about a mismatch. Finally, the new idea of The Western has been infected by the success of Unforgiven and David Milch's Deadwood so that nobody making one feels comfortable simply making one. Part of Eastwood's success is he quoted and commented on the genre in the flow of his storytelling; something he did equally well in Million Dollar Baby. There was nobody screaming, "Wasn't The West histrionic and hypocritical?" You just saw it as such. I think the problem 3:10 faced was it hoped to adopt this posture (scheme) but there was nothing novel in any element of its execution. And it's jokes weren't funny. (That's what Dead Man has: a ripe ironic sense of humor.)

So why spend more time talking about these failures, right? Well, because a lot of people are going to like these movies. And a lot of each movie could have been good. Now that Brad Pitt won a Silver Lion at Venice I'm sure he'll get all kinds of "award buzz" and whatnot. Even as good as Pitt is, he's been better, with better material, in other movies I don't quite enjoy for one reason or another, like his 01990s David Fincher double bill: Se7en and Fight Club. For all of the latter's problems, Tyler Durden was always exciting, and funny. Dominik's vision of Jesse James is always obnoxious, and boring: a bona fide shit heel. So what he was elevated to celebrity because of his crimes (and his theatrical death)? What else? Tyler Durden's celebrity is way more interesting because it has scary ramifications. Both films' authority annoys me (who wants a movie to scold them?) but Dominik's is so achingly serious I wanted to leave twenty minutes into the thing (and then again and again at every twenty minute interval). At least Mangold's film gets in and gets out. (This from a guy who loves INLAND EMPIRE? Well, yeah: Lynch opens new worlds every second, Dominik simply takes a featherweight facsimile of this one and slaps you around with it.)

All of which is to say, Don't waste your time with these new Westerns. If anything watch old ones. Or Deadwood. They understand America, that fictional world of promise. And they understand icons without spending three hours on it. Really, this is all to say My Darling Clementine is what Dominik wishes he could make and, more obviously, the original 3:10 is what Mangold wishes he could make. And both are far worthier of your time. (Especially Ford's film: I mean, wow.) Oh, and Clint Eastwood is pretty fucking tight. But Brad Pitt is really pretty.

pretty man

[ASIDE: Can't wait for No Country For Old Men. That will be a real Western. Won't it, all you from Toronto Film Critic Camp? (The first trailer below, the red-band at the site linked to above.)]

Friday, September 14, 2007

Commercial Compromises

by Michael Strenski

I sat here this morning watching the new Volvo commercial featuring a reworked version of "The Wheels on the Bus" written and performed by Mr Stephin Merritt, a huge hero of mine. At first blush I was absolutely appalled. How could a man of such genius sink so low? But soon I found myself thinking "you know this isn't half bad. The production sounds good, there is that trademark Merritt ukulele, I have good childhood memories of the song and the revamped lyrics, though about a sports-utility vehicle, are witty and playful. It's also way less offensive than the dog food commercial that used 'I Need A New Heart' in it..." I watched the video twice and then went about my day. But as time wore on, a little voice in my head starting nagging me. Was I really into the song or was I just making excuses because I think almost everything Stephin Merritt touches is gold?

A short ponder later and I realized that the voice in my head was my 16-year-old self fighting back. Ten years ago, if a hero of mine (let's say Odelay-era Beck or Sonic Youth) had done the same I would have been infinitely crushed and would probably never have been able to engage with their work the same way again. I always prided myself on my stubborn, bullheaded, punk rock morals when it came to selling out, and for most intents and purposes I believe I still adhere to those ideas today. I still hold people like Ian MacKaye in the highest regard when it comes to ethics. But then I started to think about all of the commercials many of my favorite artists have been involved in in recent years and all of the ways that I had explained it away in my head.

The band I most clearly associate with commercials is DEVO. One of my biggest influences in terms of intelligence, aesthetics and twisted visions, DEVO has been selling out since the '80's.

But of course I'd say to myself, that was the whole point of DEVO. The band always talked of being a subversive entity while bowing down to corporate coffers (Mark Mothersbaugh famously stated that when he was commissioned to write a jingle for Pepsi, he hid secret messages like "Sugar is bad for you" in them). DEVO always reveled in their selling out, just pointing to it as a sign of further De-evolution. They never pretended to have any sort of moral code. From Honda to laserdiscs to Dell adverts, DEVO always got a free pass in my book.

On the absolute other end of the spectrum was a man who stood for integrity from the outset of his career. But even Bob Dylan ended up using his face and song for product, famously appearing in a Victoria's Secret ad a few years ago.

Now this was different. This wasn't a post-punk art school band slyly winking to us through the gloss of corporate control. This was Dylan. And yet, I found myself excusing this too because I figured that Bob's given us so much by this point and hell, of all the ways to sell out he's in a panties ad! That's awesome! An interview was soon uncovered from the '60's when Bob was still being touted as the spokesman for his generation, where he flat-out said that if he were to use his likeness in a commercial venture it would be an underwear ad. He hadn't changed his tune at all! Okay, I said, no problem Bob.

And yet, I still make snide comments when an artist I don't like sells out. And what of the bands and artists who had no control of their work being used for nefarious purposes? What if John Lennon was alive and had still approved of Nike using "Revolution"? Would I blindly let that one pass? What if Jello Biafra still owned the rights to the Dead Kennedys songs he so justly deserves but still allowed their use in khaki ads? Would I just shrug and think about how he just needs to get paid like everybody else? In a day and age where Martin Scorsese and Larry David pose for credit cards and I actually read the accompanying survey for insight into their creative minds, should I just give in and kill the me of sixteen? Should I declare battle lines and be unforgiving towards my tarnished heroes? Should I continue to turn a blind eye when I deem it acceptable?

The biggest conundrum is when I not only excuse the work but actually enjoy it. A lot. Hell, I loved the Wu-Tang Clan's St. Ides jingle so much that I even downloaded it from Napster back in the day.

The White Stripes are the only big band around nowadays that I give one whit about. They have since day one posed as a model of integrity whilst releasing albums on major labels and appearing at ridiculous video award ceremonies, all of which don't mean a thing as long as the band ROCKS. And they do in spades. And I honestly believe that they are in this for the right reasons. But then Jack White did a Coke commercial. He explained himself very passionately by breaking down the differences between allowing an previously released song to a commercial and being commissioned to write one (the latter of which he did), plus, their absolute corporate evilness aside, Coca-Cola is the best tasting drink ever. I cringed and waited with baited breath. The song fucking rules. I can't help it, I love it. I want to own it.

The sixteen-year-old me is dead.

The Denis kind of Chocolat for the day

RWK says: I was looking at Darren Hughes' 1st Thursday blog and then went into his regular blog, Long Pauses, and found some screenshots he'd (presumably) captured from Claire Denis' first film, Chocolat. Denis and Agnes Godard are a miracle team. I'm trying to see the rest of her oeuvre and then write about each one. Travis Mackenzie Hoover almost has her corner of the cinematic world marked out as his own but I think there could be room for two of us in there. So, take a look at Africa, and France:


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beefheart for the Day

Poem for the Month: September 1913, Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save:

Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,

But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,

It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You'd cry, 'Some woman's yellow hair
Has maddened every mother's son':

They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they're dead and gone,
They're with O'Leary in the grave.

[William Butler Yeats]

[Pics: Mirror, Tarkovsky: can't quit.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"America is a place, fictional no doubt, in which that happiness can be found."

by Ryland Walker Knight

I believe in America, and rivers.

September 11th is huge. So huge it compels people to place purple fliers in the shape of over-sized "9/11" on a deliciously green hill on the aptly named Memorial Glade outside Doe on campus here at UC Berkeley. I wanted to vomit. I said to my friend, "This is a real day, right? They don't do that kind of shit on December 7th, do they?" He replied that "they" do not and that today is, in fact, a real day. It felt good to be affirmed. But you know what? That misses the point, as funny as it may have been to me. The point is not that such displays are naive and silly. The point is that such displays are perfectly American. This place breeds that kind of ostentation, and entitlement. "These are my feelings, writ as large as possible, and you will have to deal with them. I will force them on you." Funny, I find the sentiment adorable, even rousing, in films like 25th Hour (a personal touchstone). But stapled purple fliers on a green hill? Please: there's no magic there. America is a magical place. It only exists as a myth, as a fiction, continually rewritten by its people through its events small and big, domestic and abroad: everything everywhere.

The words of the title of this post come from that Stanley Cavell essay on North by Northwest I mentioned in my brief missive about my Honors Thesis. It's a phrase that continues to astound me, and reverberate in my headspace, when I think about the kinds of American films I cherish. The New World is not a comedy, nor is it really a melodrama (who thinks they have a genre to slot it into?), but its core is in that Cavell aphorism. There is hope in the new world: possibilities abound for life to work. Even in death, America's afterlife thrives in the present. The waters run, the trees sway, the leaves fall. Things continue, and they are beautiful. John Rolfe returns home, anew, and America will embrace him, prepared to propel him forward. 25th Hour's fantasy finale is the same thing. It's also a spirit found in Preston Sturges films. With my fall disbursement I treated myself, finally, to that box set that came out last year. It's fantastic. But it is missing two crucial films: 1944's The Miracle of Morgan Creek and 1948's Unfaithfully Yours. The former stars Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken and cannot be capsulated. The latter is available from Criterion Collection and it is phenomenal, hilarious, and dark. Both are as much about America and its arms-open plenum as the other films I cite. So, on a day like today, I say we salute that which we only continue to lose sight of: the foundational perfectionism, the gumption, and the hilarious hubris of America.

[Trailer 1: Unfaithfully Yours / Trailer 2: The Great McGinty]

[Pic: The Main Salmon River in Idaho, Salmon Falls. As I always say, "I believe in America, and rivers."]

UPDATE, 9/12/07, 5pm: Kevin Lee's most recent Shot-Down picture is Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours. You can read his take here or watch his video essay here. Kevin's project is nothing if not ambitious and extensive but I fear there's a tendency to foreground psychobiography, at least here, comparing Rex Harrison's conductor character to Sturges himself. This can only illuminate so much of the film. I much preferred reading the excerpts from the other sources, and figuring out what made those links between quotes significant for Kevin's argument. Perhaps I can offer more thoughts later after I re-watch the film. Still, do read Kevin's work: he is a fine writer, and committed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

by Steven Boone

The first big action scene in James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma remake is a spectacular, old-fashioned stage coach chase and robbery--old-fashioned, that is, until the filmmakers bust out the futuristic-looking, coach-mounted Gatling gun and the exploding horse. Yo, it's Yuma: Reloaded!

When the smoke clears, dapper villain Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his psychopathic toady, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), methodically execute the survivors, all but twirling their mustaches as they deliver cruel kiss-off speeches. You know, stuff like, "Well, if it isn't my old friend [so-and-so]. Such a pity I must kill you now. It reminds me of that time many years ago..." Why do movie bad guys get bouts of logorrhea just when they're fixing to kill somebody? Looks like Mangold doesn't care. He clearly loves every last old-time Western trope and was determined to get them all into this one silly/serious, sprawling/unimaginative cowboy flick. Alongside this fanboy preoccupation, the film also squeezes in some post-Unforgiven revisionism. Strange brew.

If you caught the film's theatrical trailer, you've basically seen the whole show. Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a dirt poor rancher who volunteers to escort Wade, a murderous outlaw, to a frontier town where at 3:10PM a prison train will take him to justice. Along the way, Wade's robber gang, Dan's ornery son William (Logan Lerman), Keystone cop Pinkertons, Injun snipers and thuggish railroad workers complicate the journey. William tags along because his admiration for Wade and disdain for peaceable Dad provide the film with its main oedipal thrust. Wade is simply more charismatic and powerful than Evans. The latter signs on for this mission because he's desperate for cash in a season of drought, but also to prove (to himself as much as anyone) that upholding the law, toeing the line and doing unto others are not for suckers.

Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (working from the original film's Halstead Welles adaptation of an Elmore Leonard short story) add provocative new wrinkles to the premise by making Wade a sort of progressive antihero: He talks to women (including Dan's wife (Gretchen Mol)) with sensitivity and respect for their intelligence; he enchants William with literate, worldly accounts of his adventures in the big cities. And he can draw nudes, too. (At one point I expected to see a copy of The Village Voice tucked in his ammo belt.) Wade constantly points out that his captors, representatives of the state and big business, are really gunning for him because of the property he's stolen or destroyed over the years, not "all the lives I've taken." He also mentions all the slaughter his nemesis and chief escort, the bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) has presided over in his time. These facts trouble Dan's sense of mission, since he's no friend of the bosses and barons:In the film's first scene, hired thugs burn down his barn to remind him of his debt to the landowner. Later, Wade kills one of these goons, who has joined the “Yuma” party as an armed guard. As in the Delmer Daves original, Dan and Wade find themselves awkwardly simpatico even as their personal codes line up for a direct collision.

Juicy stuff, so why doesn't it work so well here? Well, let's go back to that exploding horse. The horse blows up because a Pinkerton in the speeding stagecoach shoots her saddlebag loaded with dynamite, blasting her and her evil rider sky high. Yee haw. 3:10 to Yuma is chock full of moments like this, inducements to cheer some ridiculous physical feat for a 2007 audience calibrated to Hostel sequels and rollerblading Deceptagons. The subtle, psychologically intense drama Mangold tries to build in between the set pieces suffers in this cartoon climate.

Sometimes, Mangold's weakness for mannered, massively telegraphed performances (going back to his debut, Heavy, and some of the this-is-me-being-crazy turns in Girl, Interrupted) is the problem. As played by willowy pretty boy Lerman, Evan's son seems more interested in offering himself sexually to Wade than filling his shoes. Foster, who tried way too hard to embody a kung fu adept crackhead in the flick Alpha Dog, bursts even more blood vessels here as Wade's ace psycho. The wiry actor struts imperiously, huffs and tries to project menace the way Michael Jackson attempted not to shit himself facing off with Wesley Snipes in Bad. Worst of all: In a feat of straight-up miscasting, perennial sweetie-pie Luke Wilson cameos as a thug with brown teeth and a permanent sneer.

The real standout stars of this Yuma are not Bale or Crowe, who are both, predictably, great-ish in their tailored roles, but production designer Andrew Menzies, costumer Arianne Philips, cinematographer Phedon Papamichel (providing grand and glorious anamorphic lens flares as visual chorus) and actor Peter Fonda. Under Mangold's direction, Menzies, Philips and Papamichel deliver a lived-in Western canvas worthy of prime Peckinpah, Siegel or Eastwood, and Fonda inhabits this world more solidly than the horses, even the exploding one.

[PS: Check out Ryland's review over at The House Next Door.]

Rob Zombie's Halloween

by Ryland Walker Knight

I'm gonna get you, sissy.

"Zombie’s often-frantic style is not a Tony Scott concrete-to-the-head bully-fest but the bludgeoning of Halloween, here, will not be ignored — not for a second. There is a confrontation with mortality but the outcome feels predetermined, destined. You will bear witness an unfolding without tension. You will know who will die, and why, rather shortly. In the second-half, complete with caesura cut to credits, what you don’t get is a logical “why” for Michael’s terror parade. That part of it is intriguing. But it’s at odds with the first half’s set up. Why do we need the why if we’re going to be told it meant nothing anyways?"

[For the rest of the review click here and you will be forwarded to The Daily Californian's website.]

[I didn't say anything in my review about the girls but lemme tell you, boys, they are attractive. Especially Danielle Harris. Hard to believe she's 30. I totally thought she was 18 and I was even more of a pervert for watching her get naked and enjoying myself. Ms. Harris, you're beautiful; it was painful to see you abused. Take care of yourself. And I hope to see your star rise.]

02007: 109 minutes: written and directed by Rob Zombie: based on an original screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Maurice Merleau-Ponty = ballin out of control.

RWK says: Phenomenology late at night might not make much sense (you need some lamps) but it still tickles the brain. I read an essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty over the weekend called "The Intertwining -- The Chiasm" and it rocked me silly. I decided I would make myself a little crazy and type in a foundational paragraph. It's long, as you will see. And, as you will see, the words are images as much as any jpg would be in here so sit up close and read closer still. But I won't blame you for tuning out and scrolling (or clicking) away real quick: it's not easy. But it sure is beautiful.

If we turn now to the seer, we will find that this is no analogy or vague comparison and must be taken literally. The look, we said, envelops, palates, espouses the visible things. As though it were in a relation of pre-established harmony with them, as thought it knew them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory—I do not look at a chaos, but at things—so that finally one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things that command. What is this prepossession of the visible, this art of interrogating it according to its own wishes, this inspired exegesis? We would perhaps find the answer in the tactile palpation where the questioner and the questioned are closer, and of which, after all, the palpation of the eye is a remarkable variant. How does it happen that I give to my hands, in particular, that degree, that rate, and that direction of movement that are capable of making me feel the textures of the sleek and the rough? Between the exploration and what it will teach me, between my movements and what I touch, there must exist some relationship by principle, some kinship, according to which they are not only, like the pseudopods of the amoeba, vague and ephemeral deformations of the corporeal space, but the initiation to and the opening upon a tactile world. This can happen only if my hand, while it is felt from within, is also accessible from without, itself tangible, for my other hand, for example, if it takes its place among the things it touches, is in a sense one of them, opens finally upon a tangible being of which it is also a part. Through this crisscrossing within it of the touching and the tangible, its own movements incorporate themselves into the universe they interrogate, are recorded on the same map as it; the two systems are applied upon one another, as the two halves of an orange. It is no different for the vision—except, it is said, that here the exploration and the information it gathers do not belong “to the same sense.” But this delimitation of the senses is crude. Already in the “touch” we have just found three distinct experiences which subtend one another, three dimensions which overlap but are distinct: a touching of the sleek and of the rough, a touching of the things—a passive sentiment of the body and its space—and finally a veritable touching of the touch, when my right hand touches my left hand while it is palpating the things, where the “touching subject” passes over to the rank of the touched, descends into the things, such that the touch is formed in the midst of the world and as it were in the things. Between the massive sentiment I have of the sack in which I am enclosed, and the control from without that my hand exercises over my hand, there is as much difference as between the movements of my eyes and the changes they produce in the visible. And as, conversely, every experience of the visible has always been given to me within the context of the movements of the look, the visible spectacle belongs to the touch neither more nor less than do the “tactile qualities.” We must habituate ourselves to thinking that every visible is cut out in the tangible, every tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching but also between the tangible and the visible, which is encrusted in it, as, conversely, the tangible itself is not a nothingness of visibility, is not without visual existence. Since the same body sees and touches, visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes—even more, every displacement of my body—has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space. There is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Poem for the day: The Ister, first strophe

Now come, fire!
Eager are we
To see the day,
And when the trial
Has passed through our knees,
May someone sense the forest's cry.
We, however, sing from the Indus
Arrived from afar and
From Alpheus, long have
We sought what is fitting,
Not without pinions may
Someone grasp at what is nearest
And reach the other side.
Here, however, we wish to build.
For rivers make arable
The land. Whenever plants grow
And there in summer
The animals go to drink,
So humans go there too.

[Friedrich Hölderlin]

[Also, I'd like to see this film called _The Ister_, now. But who knows when that will happen. Maybe I shall, indeed, return to Netflix. More on that later, I hope. (The experiment is coming to a close, I fear, with little participation on my part. Or, less than hoped.) Hope is funny, wreckless. Be here now, be well, be liquid.]

[Can't wait for that _Sans Soleil_ DVD to arrive. Talk about liquid.] --RWK

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Big face, small razor for the day.

by Ryland Walker Knight

I'm not a red herring
I'm not a red herring

I'm thinking I located a good primary object of interpretation for my Honors Thesis, which holds so many more objects within that it will take a lot of elucidation. Especially if I relate the conversation to, oh, say, Michael Mann's Miami Vice and Stanley Cavell and VF Perkins and the nature of film style on screen and in criticism. There's a lot at stake, and a lot riding, in that big face. Now, don't get me wrong, Hitchcock's film is almost unreal in how good it is and Miami Vice is far from that brand of perfection, but there's a lot of dialogue here. Like, how these directors are constantly referencing themselves and their own work, and how they exist in those oppositional genres Cavell set up: Comedy of Remarriage VS Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. For a primer, of sorts, check out this nifty site about Cavell's essay (found in Themes out of School) on North by Northwest. They have more pictures, including one of Eva Marie Saint, the statue, crying; it kills me.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sunset for the evening.

that's all you
[Willie, standing on a roof.]