Sunday, January 31, 2010

Viewing Log #31: Foam forts make islands, traps [1/25/10 - 1/31/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Parade 2
Parade 1

  • Casa de Lava [Pedro Costa, 1994] # I'm about to start it. Seems fitting, given the Tourneur I watched and the box set coming out soon, about which I hope to say more when the time comes. Until then, I'll enjoy this masterful other mode he worked with first. And Inês de Medeiros. What a babe.
  • Band of Brothers "Crossroards" Episode 5 [Tom Hanks, 2001] The most theoretical episode so far with Winters literally writing history and bullets becoming letters at one match sound cut. But, as ever, the pathetic appeal is always thick, even in this quieter and calmer and altogether well constructed cliffhanger. Biggest surprise of this episode was easily Jimmy Fallon showing up for about five seconds of screen time.

  • Youth Runs Wild [Mark Robson, 1944] After a fabulous collage opener, all kinds of headlines and newsreels jumbled and layered, it got kinda boring. And I fell asleep. Shucks.
  • I Walked With A Zombie [Jacques Tourneur, 1943] # Stunning on such a screen despite the scratchy print. Despite all the murk moving, it's a crisp picture. More Monday.

  • Scarface [Brian De Palma, 1983] # Watched the first half. It starts so well, actually funny and wild and silly, but it quickly takes on Tony's worst qualities and does its own tailspin. Or so it seemed as I gave up and went over to watch the Warriors lose to the Bobcats.

  • The Informant! [Steven Soderbergh, 2009] # Still my favorite American film of last year. Precisely because it's so American, and funny. Lots there I'm not going into here. Maybe later, but probably not; probably, if you're really curious, you should just ask me about it. UPDATE: Actually, I'll probably publish some thoughts on it at the newly-launched website Thought Catalog, where I will join fellow VINYL-head Daniel Coffeen to contribute pieces on somewhat of the regular.

  • Band of Brothers "Replacements" Episode 4 [David Nutter, 2001] Nicely coiled episode that keeps things contained to one "Bull" character getting left behind, or having to stay behind, enemy lines after an ambush. That said, the same manipulative stuff irks me, and I'm mostly intrigued by Winters' calm ascent more than anything. I'll keep watching, of course, to see more visceral action scenes (but why the wash out standard, Steve and Tom?) and to see who all the old guys from the preludes are in this grand-scale re-enactment.
  • Casino [Martin Scorsese, 1995] # Finished it, as I tweeted, and boy does it drive itself down. A lot of scenes are hilarious, and others would be if they weren't so brutal. It shows life as perpetually preposterous, spectacle of death to the end one bloody baseball bat at a time. And, to reiterate my tweets, the cinema-as-a-gamble thing is crazy despairing, however beautiful, and I don't want it to make as much sense as it does.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Our City Our Words: Calling all corners

by Ryland Walker Knight

Get your own copy all beat up

Here's a final reminder and syllabus, of sorts, or at the very least a notice, about my proposed group reading of Stanley Cavell's Cities of Words. I expect the weekly series to be a Thursday feature and, given the roll out these daze at home base, these posts will largely sit atop the vertical all weekend until the viewing log Sunday night. That gives us plenty of time to trade some ideas, if you decide to play this game with me. This will also, I hope, attract eyes away from the weekly Lost posts I plan to take on, though I'm not sure if they'll be recaps or idea strings or images grabbed off the television or what; chances are it'll be a goof, like the show, and, like anything on this blog, it'll just be designed to make me laugh. But that's not why we're here, in this post, today.

Today I'd like to talk Cavell, having re-read the preface and the introduction, as my own preface/introduction to why I chose this book and why I chose it now. My favorite beginning begins so: reading Cavell makes me feel good; plain and simple, as I tumble through his sentences, I can feel my face widen. Of course, it's never so plain nor so simple as that. There's a lot loaded into this pleasure. At this stage in the game, my mind is directed towards this text through too many lenses to filter in words without wasting everybody's time. But, largely, I'll say that though plenty of this pleasure is at the level of the prose, sure, it's the very idea of such writing that gets me going; the audacity, what Cavell might call the arrogance, of philosophy and its aim to speak for so much, so many, is never just "admirable" in its seriousness but hilarious in its ludicrousness. (Bloggers are a joke for a reason, but it should be admitted, as ever with human expression, some blog corners do yield fruitful thoughts.) Cavell, however, doesn't pitch modest to counteract any of that; nor does he pitch pompous. Rather, as a thinker invested in thinking about talking, about conversation, his words are largely conversational. Thus they meander, ambling around ideas as much as burrowing into them—but over all we get the sense that Cavell has covered every inch of an idea, explored the entire plot of it, or at least been curious enough to scour around as long as he can.

Philosophy can be easily debased, as Cavell argues, as the indulgence of idle minds prone as they are to returning to a text or to an idea. And, no doubt, it takes a certain life to support such a style, such a mode—such a pursuit. I, for one, understand that despite any complaints I may harbor (what twenty-something doesn't gripe? who hasn't been shit on at least once?), I lead a charmed life. I'm never hungry and I live in a world class metropolis. I work every day, I walk a dog every day, I have the luxury of a spice rack, I even find time to blog. (That is, I make the time.) And here I am, making time to go over a book I've already read at least twice all the way through not to mention any stray dips into its trough since 2007. Because I can, yes, but also because I think it will help me with a number of thoughts about things I love to think about, and need to rethink, here and now. I'm terrifically flattered that some of you readers out there are, indeed, planning on joining me as I go through these ideas in public. Put otherwise, I look forward to learning things from you, and about you, as this silly some-kind-of syllabus progresses. However, despite my interest in philosophy's therapeutic angle, I'll try not to bore you all too-too much with me. There's plenty of particulars in the text, and in the films.

—First up, her. And them.

For instance, now it should be no secret where I got the inspiration for my A Conjunction of Quotation series. I adore the idea of an epigram mix tape as imagined by Cavell here. I'm sure others have told similar stories elsewhere, but I first saw this construct here (and in the opening to Pursuits of Happiness). I just hope my attempts don't belittle the form; I certainly don't propose to claim it for my own.

For another, the exploration of "perfectionism" gets at the heart of this project: I'm not trying to master the text by any stretch. Rather, I'm just trying to understand it better. And I want to do that because I think it will help me live better. I want to answer the voices of my mind with more than a shrug or a to-do list; I hear their call of disappointment just like anybody else; I know I can find my words and actions with less head and heart aches. What's most curious about a project such as this, or such as a classroom, is located precisely in Cavell's first epigram from Emerson: "I know the world I converse with in the cities is not the world I think." Because what does calling for fellow autodidact "pedants" to join my pastime mean but an attempt to bridge, possibly even erase, that gap? (Related, broader: what's this impulse to blog? We all have a voice, and a life. Is it refuge? Or is it passion? Fuck shame: I will cop to both.) This idea starts another line of thought, though, which we will undoubtedly return to as we move forward with Cavell: skepticism, other minds, and how transparent can or should we be or get?

This line is the focus of The Claim of Reason, which was culled from Cavell's dissertation. One of the problems you might encounter reading Cities of Words, if this is your first Cavell, is that it's almost a summation book. Everything is bound up in his long life of thought. It reads richer the more you read by him. However, that should not dissuade you. His sentences may frustrate you from time to time and it may be easy to tune out and let your mind wander but every now and again I guarantee there will be a sentence that drops your jaw with its insightful redescription of an event in a film, or a line of a text. So, as he says/writes, read fast and slow and hopefully you'll have some fun with it. After all, for any selfish reasons behind a blog such as mine, and a project such as this, the guiding impetus is to inspire further curiosity. I hope you seek out the films, and the book, and other books that have inspired this effort at charity (on my part, on Cavell's part, on your part). Put otherwise, let's build something big. You know, expand our horizons. You know, for fun.

If you have already read the introduction, feel free to drop any ideas you have looking ahead in the comments. I'll be more than happy to trade topics. If not, no biggie! I'll see you back here next Thursday, the 4th, to continue this conversation. Until then, try to get outside.

Alamo squareset

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #26

by Ryland Walker Knight

—How could we forget?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lost Light Lewton: Cat People + The Seventh Victim

by Ryland Walker Knight

[PFA's got five double bills of Val Lewton pictures over the next few weeks. See the line-up here. I've never seen any of them on a silver screen until now, so here's a little catalog/tour of this new angle on things. If you want to play along at home, the films are all on Netflix thanks to this handy box set.]

7th 3

Cat People proved more popular, as ever, but The Seventh Victim's got audacity and depravity and terror in spades and in shadows all its own, all the deeper and deleterious. In more surprising turns than the Tourneur, this later, odder picture may also be the best argument for suicide ever put on film: the act is never not selfish, but the film seems to say that death's end can be a welcome and necessary release for some souls. Alternately, the sidelines of this Victim (most of which masquerade as the "a-plot" though the most poignant claims its right to speak near the close, as an aside) chant a hymn to living—in the world, with its vicissitudes and with its frights, without fear for the diurnal. But there is a pressure in this world, a cloud clamping its spirit, and it begins with the film's opening epigram, attributed as "Holy Sonnet VII" to Jonne Dunne (natch & sic): "I runne to death, and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday."

The film begins in this plot, following little sister Mary (Kim Hunter's all eyes) as she searches for her missing sibling, Jacqueline. Robson and Lewton (and DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O'Neal) keep Jacqueline off screen for as long as narratively possible, and her first sighting is the briefest tease possible, which fits and throws fools for fits. She's more an idea than a person that way, kept intangible even when cloistered, impervious to the whole ball of wax rolled about her, including love. Every angle on her in the world is some kind of leeching, a pedestal or a clamp or a knife. That is, through its increasing ellipses, all things fly by like in life and demands pile up, the picture puts us in her paranoia, inside her depression, and all we understand is all that pressure from without. Mary's plight is motivated by saving her own skin, not her sister's, and once it's locked secure with that perverse reversal of fortune that is the love of Gregory Ward (Jacqueline's husband), the film drops her significance. She's played "naive" and kept a doll, at the world and Ward's surprisingly tender mercies. But it's the banal prejudices of these "betters" that keep Jacqueline tethered to life; we slowly see that their concern is just as selfish as her need to escape. It's about control, not debt. It's devastating precisely because it makes sense why this beauty might want to thud dead alone in an empty room. (So sad that Jean Brooks, too, was similarly unfit and unhappy.)

—not quite bottled, or adrift

Control is of course the theme in Cat People, too, as its Simon Simone fails herself, but that's more or less unavoidable. We are beasts of lust, the film says, bent to prey on each other. It's a fantastic metaphor, and the film's so gorgeous you can easily forget how wonky it unfurls. You cannot forget, however, how Simone's Irena does herself in because she can't handle her truth, her history, her instincts. Things get fudged all the time and every image moves eight ways; as with Victim, each scene is laden with significance to pull interpretations in as many directions as possible. See, it's not just about sex, which is where Schrader failed. Of course, sex is a huge part, and the only problem I'd pose with these two films is their rather typical structures (though each climax is muted) date the film's view on women, and sex, in obvious ways—but that's like complaining that Chandler used sentences not stanzas. Besides, any time you can turn dread productive, as with The Seventh Victim's interrogation of the death drive, you've got a curious object. If I owned the DVD, I would like to look at just how blocky the film is, how its connect-four space links up lines of thought, and how that searchlight does cleave the picture to signal the descent. After all, even the girl looking for one last night on the town has to go down (some stairs) to find it, to find some last laughs.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Convergence for your banshee leach (1/25/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Playtimes 4
— my wipe

Viewing Log #30: Color cannot clean a canting [1/18/10 - 1/24/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Playtimes 1
—Sat behind Godard.

  • Casino [Martin Scorsese, 1995] # Like for the first time. I'm blown away. This is the ur-Scorsese picture. Everything's dialed up delirium, all the colors and lights and camera movements. For such a sad and scary movie, it's damned fucking giddy. I'm publishing this as I'm watching it, so my giddiness is sure to wane as these fools keep fucking up their silver lined lot.
  • Californication [Most of the third season] It was way too easy to do errands and little writing projects and just plow through this in one day. Rain played a part, but, also the sex.

  • Playtime [Jacques Tati, 1967] # Yes, the best. Really: the best.

  • The Seventh Victim [Mark Robson, 1943] # I tweeted a hash tag (#bestmovieever?) that gets at how powerful this thing is for me, especially at this stage in the game, with its weight and frisson of social anxieties. More Monday.
  • Cat People [Jacques Tourneur, 1942] # Simon Simone's nose, let me tell you, can do things to a boy. Also, Tourneur's pace is all wonky: a real jam of angles keeps this from slipping down easy. More Monday.

  • A Letter to Uncle Bonmee [Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009] Watched on The Auteurs for free (click here) and then wrote this little nugget about it.
  • "Parisian Goldfish" by Flying Lotus [Eric Wareheim, 2009] Watched at the behest of Danny while talking Coachella. It's really something. Watch it here. It's very NSFW. It's weird: how much is celebratory? How much is a joke? Can it be both? I'm continually flabbergasted by the audacity of T+E.

  • Band of Brothers, "Currahee" Episode 1 [Phil Alden Robinson, 2001] Halfway decent, but a lot of it is what I hate about war movies and World War II movies in particular. I appreciate that generation, of course, since it gave us its youth in ways I can't imagine, but I'm pretty sick of it getting called "the greatest" all the time. Weird to see so many British actors playing Americans, including Simon Pegg of all people.
  • The Sopranos "Live Free or Die" (S6,E6) [Tim Van Patten, 2006] # The world opens for one man, for a bit, in the form of a vase and a bed & breakfast. Too bad you know this natural can't escape that hateful haunting in his history. There's more Paulie's than Tony's in this world. Even with Bacala's dunderheaded "Well we can't have him in our social club no more; that I do know."
  • The Sopranos "Mr. & Mrs. John Sacramoni Request..." (S6,E5) [Steve Buscemi, 2006] # A devastating episode of perceptions: misinterpretation abounds, even from the people fearing it the most (ie, Tony). Then again, the biggest perceptive revelation—Vito's true identity, as a gay man, um, coming out into view—is deferred an episode by Tony's misguided attempt to reassert his power. Oh, man, men make bad choices.

Casino credits 1

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nimble epistle, verdurous carrion

by Ryland Walker Knight

I do love letters, even letters that aren't love letters, so I quickly warmed to Joe's short A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, though it is quite cryptic. Then again, I like cryptic, too. Especially beautiful cryptic. Thus I wrote this little ditty for Danny in The Notebook. You, too, assuming you're signed up on The Auteurs, can watch the short film (just 17 minutes) by clicking here. Then you can tell me things about what you saw turning those corners and hearing those voices.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Convergence for your mind drips (1/19/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

—deadbeat summer smack center in winter

Monday, January 18, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #25

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Real mouthy luster

Bright Star: Fold a fabric cheek by jowl

by Ryland Walker Knight

[This essay originally appeared in German, as seen below, in Cargo No.4. The film is long gone from theatres, but it will hit DVD next week if you still want to see it.]

Cargo No.4, 2

Funny to find Jane Campion, now, getting chaste with Bright Star after her previous feature, In The Cut (2003 sounds so long ago), dripped with sex. Which isn’t to say Bright Star is sexless, or not sexy; rather, desire is couched in words and fabrics. The social sphere, here, limits advances and, most surprising, economics determine the course of events. If there’s any feminist push to this film, whereas In The Cut pushed everything, it comes from literal subtext—asides, contrivances, allusion—though the basic premise of a stout young lady demanding to live and love without care for reputation fits the bill. No doubt, the film belongs to Abbie Cornish (she plays that fickle muse, Fanny Brawne) more than Ben Whishaw (he’s our poet, John Keats), as her performance is subtle and strong in all the right ways, directing our attention to how this bundle of emotions called a poet came into and out of her life, how it affected her path. But, at heart, which is to say despite that slant, Bright Star is a simple love story.

Flirtation starts and stops until the pair wind up kissing on a river bank and it’s all-in from there on; in fact, as befits their age, their love affair is perfectly adolescent, all devotion and no questions, every feeling feeling bigger than life. They write letters, they pine, he writes poems and she sews couture clothes. The film opens with Fanny sewing, alone, in a room of her own, before the Brawnes pay visit to the home of Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider gambols through his role behind a beard and garish, plaid trousers). Fanny wears a brilliant red top of her own design. She’s marked from the start as apart, refusing the drab palate around her: Campion frames her in the center, no less, a focal point of color in a brown and muddy world. Further, she refuses the boyish baiting of Brown, steadfast in her fashion, flipping his taunts back onto him with a needling “And I make money at it” to mock the poet’s plight. From this beginning, Brown is host to Keats, and Keats is host to a cold, laying low outside the social call. We meet him with Fanny, as she brings him tea, and their game starts here—for he, too, has never made money with his art. And of course he never does.

Keats financial woes are the crux of the struggle for this love affair. As custom dictates, Fanny is discouraged from considering Keats as a lover for the simple, typical fact that he has no prospects with which to marry her. His poems hardly sell (we meet a book seller with overstock), and he’s frail; he lives with his friends and he has no family, really, after his brother dies. He lives by Brown’s side, by Brown’s generosity, living in constant debt. After a snowy trek home from London in a thin jacket he falls ill. Given his state—of funds, of health—his friends pay his passage to Italy hoping the milder winter weather will help buoy his condition. This plan, of course, proves a lost cause and Keats is lost, another poet sent penniless to the grave only to turn evergreen in another era.

Fanny grieves, in blue-gelled frames, and goes for her own walk in the snow, all properly bundled, to recite a poem her beau had written for her, about her. She’s wearing black to rhyme with the naked branches above her, and her bonnet is a pall, not a halo, as she crosses the bottom of the frame (Campion angles up from below), leaving the image empty a beat before the final cut and the credits begin to roll. The credits, as it happens, are a highlight of the film despite the lack of filmmaking: Ben Whishaw reads “Ode to a Nightingale” in its entirety over the scroll. Here Keats' words come alive in ways Campion can’t figure. For here we hear the words—they are given space in the near-black of the theatre—and they sink images into our ears. Throughout the film, Keats’ words compete with Campion’s images, which cheapens both. Campion is a sensualist, an undeniable image-maker incapable of turning light dull, tied to color and composition, to the play of focal lengths; she is a filmmaker of proximities. Keats created images, too, of course, crafting affective paeans to immanence and to emotions, indeed to romance. But their methods are at odds with one another when placed against/over one another. Instead of pretty, the picture becomes “pretty.” Despite the insistent wordplay of In The Cut (Meg Ryan’s Frannie, natch, is a junior college English professor obsessed with slang; nearly every bit of dialogue’s a double entendre), it’s an image movie: color and bodies and fluids make it work, push it forward and farther into deep and dark corners of lust and luster. Bright Star wants to be about the word, and its epistolary sequences seem to work for the most part, but Campion’s romantic images (fields of purple flowers; Keats climbing a tree for a dusk-lit stretch on top of its branches; Fanny surrounded by butterflies) become postcards, to say tidy signposts, when layered with Keats’ words. Every image is beautiful, but each is almost ostentatious.

The performers save the picture. It’s Cornish, playing wounded, who turns love letter despondency from indulgent bathos to genuine pain. It’s Whishaw’s wry and wiry frame, his elfish smile and curious-though-quiet voice that changes a recitation into a seduction. Indeed, if these two were not so beautiful, their mutual infatuation would just look fatuous. Paul Schneider, though, is the secret. He seems heavier with his beard and his pot belly, though it may be swishy, looks like a real load. His Irish brogue is not light, but his pride and his bluster and his quickness to laugh help make his Brown not just an ape of loutish vulgarity—though he often is just that—but another devotee whose love is reigned in by his own mistakes and shortcomings. His unguarded admission of guilt, declaring for Fanny that he failed his friend, is right plaintive as his voice mounts louder and he kicks a chair off screen to quell his tears.

Such loss forces evaluation, and such “failure” as Brown’s begs the question of capitalism, of debts. A life cannot be valued in accounts. Neither joy nor passion is quantifiable. Perhaps that’s the value of Bright Star: to reaffirm the qualitative—to show the luxury of a lounging intellect against the incalculable commoditization of thought—over the demands of the quantitative in this ledger world we live amid. Because, as much as it’s a tragedy that Keats died so young, the real tragedy Bright Star would have you believe is that he died alone, or at least away from his Fanny and his friend Brown. Not only was his potential never fully tapped, but it dripped spent in near-solitude. The cost of the trip proves not economic after all, but pathetic and affective. That’s the film, too, we realize: flattery and shame for all struggling nobodies, a reminder of our clichés despite the will to individuality; for it is precisely one’s characteristic spark, what defines our singular imprint, that we cannot appraise; our light, we hope, shines steadfast past us to tie together all us wayward eremites. The privilege of this pair, we might say, is that they found a fabric more luxurious than most, however brief. But that’s pretty romantic, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Viewing Log #29: Spots like Fort Knox [1/11/10 - 1/17/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Sixteen minimeters between me and you

  • Jour de fête [Jacques Tati, 1949] # Straight from my notebook: J. Tati just gets it. Life's cycles, all circles, a merry-go-round of comedy. And why not have a laugh? The body's the best joke machine—it's your number one interface with the world. Life, for Tati, is bounded by one's capacities to move through this obstacle course; all we can do is hurdle and parry and jump; all we do is dance with things. Tati's definitely an artist of things. Things: a bike, a pole, a tent, animals, hills, fences, night vision (of a lack of it), booze, a piano. And everything circles back in the end. The world's too fast, too, it seems, for things to elude you forever. (Also worth noting: so much more dialogue than the others.)
  • L'École des facteurs [Jacques Tati, 1947] A perfect little sketch for the bigger feature to follow.

  • La Captive [Chantal Akerman, 2000] # Lots here, including Vertigo right off the bat and a lot of Levinas-like investigations of "the other" and how confrontation takes different forms. My second Akerman, believe it or not, and easily a right angle away from that linoleum-bound block of process that made her name. Still, makes me want, even more than normal, to see more movies made by women about women. There's a reason Bigelow gets a lot of pub: she's into boys in the way a lot of male filmmakers are into girls. But this one—this lady and her film (her films)—is all about how the differences in sex (during cinema, embodied in gender, across a windowpane) make a difference in how we act. Wild but true: this is Proust! Phew! Makes me want to know those books (that book?) all the more! I think I'll have more to say soon. (Also, I'll have more on Akerman when I finally get around to Icarus Films' recent release of D'est, which everybody assures me is an odd blood beauty.)

  • The Sopranos "The Fleshy Part of the Thigh" (S6,E4) [Alan Taylor, 2006] Really great movement between threads in this one; written very well. And there's even a quick fade to black punctuation at one point, not to mention the treelines of the final moments moving from Tony's respite by the pool to Paulie's beat down of the Barone heir and then back again (twice!) to show what's in the background of all this big life of grab-all.
  • The Sopranos "Mayham" (S6,E3) [Jack Bender, 2006] An underrated episode, no doubt, even though one might call the coma-world a bit of a reach; I, for one, totally dig all the cross-consciousness interaction because there are jokes, as ever, to go with the scares. Also, Paulie is amazing.

  • Gone To Earth [Powell and Pressburger, 1950] Fucking fell asleep. Twice. I felt like an idiot. Still do. However, what I did see was pretty amazing, though Brian tells me I missed a lot of contextual "a-ha"s as the film closed.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox [Wes Anderson, 2009] # For a memory jog over breakfast I watched a few moments, got some laughs and a few notes.

  • La Captive [Chantal Akerman, 2000] Amazing first eight minutes. Then an amazing cut to a title card, which prompted me to shut it off. I tried again the next night, but other things and people got in the way.

Fête 1
Gone 1

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Represent Repertory #3: Tiers on tires, on tableaux

by Ryland Walker Knight


Really, if you didn't read Brian's Tati preview, you should. He's got all the links you need and then some, including this one, which points to a translation by Bert Cardullo, complete with introductory table setting, of Bazin's review of M. Hulot's Holiday at Bright Lights. I missed the PFA screening on Thursday because of a certain poodle's stubborn ways and the resulting headache that installed but I am hoping to maybe trek up to the Rafael this week to catch it since that theatre is even better, and easily better than the YBCA screening room and the Red Vic (Jan 28 and Feb 3/4 respectively), not to mention the fact that, despite certain impulses (and my reputation?), I don't want to spend all day Saturday, January 30th, at the PFA.

I do, however, want to spend some time there on that day because, in addition to all the Tati going on around town these first two months of twenty-ten, the PFA will be hosting a Val Lewton series. Last summer I watched a bunch of the films via Netflix, but I've never seen them on a big screen so I'm pretty damned excited for that light and those shadows to meet my eyes all emulsified. What's more, the series is structured around double bills, which seems particularly apt given the B-movie status/history of Lewton's catalog. (Also, as many of you know, I'm a fan of that film-going format.) To a certain extent, I plan to mimic my Dreyer and Resnais format/s for this series, so expect some enthusiastic notes once the series starts next weekend, on the 22nd, with one of the best pairs imaginable: Cat People followed by The Seventh Victim. Not only are both films brisk (neither tops 75 minutes), they're plain bizarre—especially Robson's Victim, which I did not do justice to back at first blush. Flip-side: I'm particularly proud of this Cat People image essay. More to come for sure.

Though I may miss the James Benning night at YBCA on Friday, February 26th, I am marking the Nathaniel Dorsky evening earlier that week, on the 23rd at the PFA, as a must-attend. First billed as a trio, the night is now a full quartet of films. I've been very excited to see Sarabande and Winter since they debuted at TIFF 2008 and spawned a number of great articles, including a pair from The Notebook: Darren Hughes' interview with Dorsky and David Phelps' consideration of Sarabande (from its NYFF showing). If I play the game well enough, I might be able to interview Dorsky as well as have the chance to write about his newer works ahead of the pack as (I'm guessing, since he's bringing them with him) the second pair of films on the program that evening, titled Compline and Aubade, will be enjoying their Bay Area premieres. (I'll get back to you on all that, but, for now know that it's all very exciting. Especially since I've got my own brand-spankin-new copy of Devotional Cinema already broken in, already not-so-spankin-new.

Finally, to round things out, there will be a reprise of Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness on Saturday February 20th, which follows a putatively rare Ozu the night before, a silent gangster melodrama from 1930 called That Night's Wife. I hope to see both. But now, on this rather gorgeous day, I need to go for a run before I catch Jour de fête a little later on across the Bay.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Better not pout about a horizon

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Pascale can't lose though we lost her

Among so many dream projects, I've been meaning to get to know Rohmer's movies for some time now. Funny how news like yesterday's can make you want to jump so much quicker into such an endeavor. But, as it stands, I'm going to stick to my guns and, despite my love of words and pretty ladies, keep M. Schérer on the shelf for now. For now, among the standard rep-house coverage and viewing logs you've come to expect from me, I'm going to begin two other overdue re-acquaintance projects.

First off, thanks to Danny I've got now those two Eclipse box sets of Ozu (silent + late) as well as Early Summer at my disposal, not to mention my own copy of Tokyo Story, and I plan on making a biweekly habit of watching one of these films and writing about it. What's more, I'll get a bonus on Feb. 19th, when PFA screens That Night’s Wife, a 1930 silent crime melodrama. So, stay tuned for a newly christened series I hope to expand beyond just these discs as the year carries on, via Netflix and other, um, subterranean means: I'm going to start crafting An Ozu Zone. I think I'll get cracking at it as soon as next week, or as soon as I get a few other writing assignments completed. (Gotta have priorities, even in the blog life.)

Next month I'd like to start a participatory series. As I proposed on the new Facebook page for VINYL IS HEAVY (become a fan why don't you!), I was thinking it might be fun to set up a little reading and watching group structured by one of my favorite Stanley Cavell books, Cities of Words. There are a lot of things motivating this idea. First, as I said, I think it'd be fun. Second, this book (along with Pursuits of Happiness) kind of changed my life when I met it and read it for the first time three years ago in my first seminar back at Berkeley. Third, I love the movies and texts that Cavell converses with and highlights for us. Fourth, the book is structured like a semester, as Cavell writes in his preface, which will provide a good structure for our eventual discussions—as I envision the comments section exploding with thoughtful parries and volleys—about such topics as Freud and The Lady Eve (to say snakes and sharks and moms and dads and sex) or Aristotle and The Awful Truth (to say questions of audience and appeal and sameness and difference) or—get this—Shakespeare and Rohmer and their respective winter tales, which I, no doubt, will try my best to link to Desplechin's, which, clearly, tells me I may well wind up jumping into some Rohmer before long after all.

I say "next month" above because that kind of lag time not only allows me a head start but also gives you enough time to go out and buy the Cavell book, or borrow it from a local library, and maybe even get cracking on some of the films, too—though I would by all means stress the fun of watching the films strictly in tandem with the chapters written about them. In any case, here you have it: I'm giving you two full weeks to get ready to play your part. Now, don't get me wrong, I can't presume that many of my readers out there will actually follow me on this silly little autodidact trip but, believe me, I think it'd be worth everybody's time. And we all might learn a few extra things along the way with a lively comments conversation. Even if you don't read and watch along with me and wind up just reading the write-ups here, I do hope you join me for some fun filosofy lip flappin below the fold/s.

And if all that fails to generate some talk, I'll tell you right now: I'm also planning on recapping/analyzing Lost every week of its final season. That I don't have to worry about people joining in on, do I?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #24

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Her hair isn't modest

Images of ours

by Ryland Walker Knight

Be sure to check out what Danny and I dreamt up to buck the inevitable fad of decade lists: a series of images, one per film and one per writer, meant to mark what mattered to the The Notebook's contributors during these last ten years. Not exactly a highlight reel, I suppose, nor even a selection of out-right favorites (as far as I could tell) across the board, but, yes, definitely a celebration of the indelible. As I wrote in the introduction, today we showcase the images and tomorrow we will offer their corresponding captions. So, please, click here to see how we get from this—

—to this—

—in just shy of 30 steps. And be sure to tune in tomorrow! (As if you need me to tell you...)

011310 UPDATE:
Our words went live. It's kind of like one of my conjunctions of quotations in that I tried to tell a story with a whole bunch of different sources and styles. I think it works.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Viewing Log #28: Shape the way you play [1/4/10 - 1/10/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Won't help to hold inside

  • The Headless Woman [Lucrecia Martel, 2008] # I don't know why people said this was inscrutable. It seems perfectly open to me. Every edit matters and, though nothing's explicit, you have all the tools/information you need to reassemble this brain, this so-called mystery. There is no mystery, in fact, there's only the frame—windows, doorways, sometimes doors are windows, even a car is a frame filled in—and our Vero is forever pushed to its side. Sometimes she gets to throng up an image, but even then her eyes are often off to one side, or looking past this box of light she's in and making brim. I'd love to teach this film in a hermeneutics seminar. We'd read Ricouer and Bazin and Borges and Gadamer. I could keep watching this movie for the next month, but I won't; I'll probably just watch it once more then wait for it to screen in a cinematheque. I watched it with headphones, which certain felt apt and enveloping, but I can only imagine it packs more punch in the dark, sitting alone. (If I'd seen this in time for our double bills, I might have entertained the idea of writing about this flick and Gertrud, or Day of Wrath. It would have been the opposite of the pairing I did come up with—a true vision of light, of lightness even (however colored by hurt)—but sometimes you need the weight to better frame what bubbles up.)

  • Up in the Air [Jason Reitman, 2009] Sure, that was fine; there were things to like. But, come on, how many condescending pats on the back do we need? I'm not advocating for some muddy road, per se, but Clooney's charisma can only do so much to make a shiny object, like this riveted thing all aligned, feel spontaneous. What's more, Vera Farmiga is gorgeous and talented and I wish to hell she would get a role that didn't flip her, however strong, into such an easy mark.
  • The Sopranos, "Join The Club" (S6,E2) [David Nutter, 2006] # The best acting the show's got. Easily one of the best episodes ever, too. Would love to talk about this show and its silly brand of surrealism with Alain Resnais.
  • The Sopranos, "Members Only" (S6,E1) [Tim Van Patten, 2006] # So good. Starts with Burroughs, ends with one of the biggest shocks in the series. I was surprised, again, at the ferocity of Junior's dementia. More inspired is the subtlety of that final segment's true structuring device: the pasta. We cut from Gene's suicide by hanging to Tony pouring spaghetti (I think) into boiling water, singing, and the episode ends with Tony gurgling in close-up as dinner continues to bubble under the image, signaling not only that this could, truly, be the end for Tony but that we've reached a definite point of no return; no matter what happens (we know now that Tony lives, duh) things will never be the same. Which, of course, goes against the whole ethos of the series finale (the whole series, really) which is all about how patterns so easily calcify while life marches on. I guess we're just talking a narrative turning point more than anything. And, again, the thing that separates this series from, say, The Wire is that its narrative is as brisk as it is brutal; i.e., its sidewinding always pushes something—some dread, some death, some delusions—forward.
  • Tyson [James Toback, 2008] Mellow Mike is an amazing human being. Hell, Iron Mike was, too. The movie may be "so-so" but its story, his story, should be heard/seen. And in monologue form, what else can you ask for? Indeed, there's some cinematic play, here, too, with all this shifting and polyphony, but the real value of the film/video is its enduring status as a love letter.

  • The Headless Woman [Lucretia Martel, 2008] So, yeah. This one. Best of the decade? Up there for sure. More soon, I trust. Until then, here's some of my favorite people/writers on this marvel (1) Martha (2) Danny (3) David (4) Koresksy [at No.2] (5) Glenn (6) Fernando (7) Sicinski (8) Nathan (9) Danny talking to Ms Martel. —Quick poll: where you at on the other two this lady's made?

  • Death Becomes Her [Robert Zemeckis, 1992] Waiting for the plumber, I reacquainted myself with a few chunks (here and there) from this barf bag of grotesqueries. Maybe Phelps and Kehr are onto something: maybe Zemeckis really is some kind of special image'n'myth maker. I remember really digging the flick when my dad and I saw it in theatres, but, now, wow, it's like brand new (though still the same?). It's almost a toilet, though a shiny one, complete with shit and piss and pissy face-making. And in HD!

  • In The Mood For Love [WKW, 2000] # Cuz of everybody's lists, and to wash that exacting movie out of my brain a bit before bed. I mean, wouldn't you rather dream about Maggie Cheung in form-fitting dresses more than eye-gouging and barn burning?
  • The White Ribbon [Michael Haneke, 2009] # I don't want to say I saw through it the second time around but I think I saw through it the second time around. I've tried again and again to be charitable to this dude's movies since a couple people I love kinda love these flicks, but, at this point, fuck it. More soon, when it opens here in the Bay, but if you want to read a pan I nod with then you should read this bit of bile from Mr. Waggish.

Tyson 4

Weisse 1

Friday, January 08, 2010

Convergence for your cloudbusting (1/8/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

—For Arne as much as for me

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Light Lines

by Ryland Walker Knight


Way back when I said my favorite art "forces you to rethink space, and how light rhymes." I think that has stayed true. Now I'd say my attraction to geometry is something about control, and limits, and maybe even the limits of control (despite Jim Jarmusch's own way-back-machine movie from last year). The point is that I enjoy that order, though I also want to bend it, jam it, crowd it. Above all, as ever, selection is key; i.e., how we frame things matters. I'd like to think these selections show how I feel San Francisco to be a complicated, at times over-determined space. The more I live in this city, the more it feels horizontal, yet it's got hills on end. Seems every corner you turn in this city you'll get a new horizon, a new angle—and in such a small sweep! See more of my SFMOMA trip in this flickr set.

In atrium 1
In atrium 2

Stella deep v

Brick Bend