Monday, June 30, 2008

Going to Telluride 2008. UPDATED.

by Ryland Walker Knight

I've known for a while now that I'll be attending this year's Telluride Film Festival as part of the Student Symposium. But now that I know I've got my travel arrangements squared away, I thought I'd go ahead and blog about this exciting opportunity to invite recommendations (restaurants, bars, where to run, etc), donations (hey, it ain't cheap), stories (who did you meet?), any and all kinds of enthusiasms for one of the most unique film festivals I know. So unique that it won't announce its lineup for a while yet. But if tradition holds there will probably be a few of the Cannes '08 films, maybe some 2007 hold overs, and perhaps even a Hitchcock screening given Slavoj Zizek's post as Guest Director. Plus, as a member of this Symposium, I'll get the opportunity to meet and talk with the luminary artists of the festival; not to mention hang out with a bunch of peers similarly interested (I presume; to a certain degree) in film and film writing.

What I'm maybe most curious about are these opportunities to meet filmmakers and actors because I'm simply unsure what to ask them. I'm usually so wrapped up in my own reading of films that I hardly think of what I would want to ask a filmmaker. For instance: I joined a Facebook group for the Symposium and there were some pictures of an alumi standing with Eric Bana. First, Eric Bana is huge, like 6'3" -- and buff. Second: the first question I think of asking him is something idiotic and shallow like, "Is Marie-Josée Croze as gorgeous in real life as she is in pictures? What about Jennifer Connelly?" I mean, I could ask something like "What's been your most favorite job? Which director did you enjoy working with the most?" But those are going to lead to pretty canned answers about stuff I don't really care about. I'd rather learn what he likes to eat and drink; what's his favorite movie; what movie does he wish he could have acted in (from any period); whether or not he's gone river rafting. Sure, I could question him about the worth of film as an art and all that but I would only want it to come up in conversation. Maybe that's the problem: it's hard to get to that stage in "regular" interviews. Local hero Michael Guillen is excellent at generating a conversation (in printed interviews and in person) but he's a much more outgoing, lively personality than silly, self-conscious me. If somebody like Marie-Josée Croze shows up in Telluride I'll be happy if I don't blush too red, let alone ask her a question.

Perhaps this speaks to my general interest in film as personal accountability. By my lights, a film writer's job is easier said than done: to account for his or her experience of the film and check it against the associations it produces (which change, screening to screening) to build some kind of evaluation of the picture. More and more I'm beginning to realize just how much of me there is in everything I write. Even when I try to avoid the first person, I'm betraying myself (whether my readers know it or not), which produces this constant stammering: the need to offer as many angles on a sentence as possible. But what's the value in me? I'm trying to talk about the art. That's always the goal: to turn out from in. I spend enough hours a day with myself. When I look back, the essays I'm most proud of either completely absent, or completely embrace, the words "me" and "I" (such as "The Touch", or "2007: It's okay to play catch-up", respectively). This is a prime example of what some people like to call the "subject-object problem" and what a lot of the philosophy I gravitate towards grapples with mostly through form, through these kinds of structural dialectics, through what I've called "stammering." But this kind of heady talk can quickly bore most people I talk to. I don't think Eric Bana or Marie-Josée Croze are all that interested in how we get out of the subject-object relationship through varying practices, such as Cavell's skepticism or Wittgenstein's language games or Gadamer's horizons or Freud's psychoanalysis or Zizek's Lacanian-Marxist approach. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Eric Bana sought that role in Munich because he was interested in all the philosophical-theoretical crap at play (besides the obvious political and social agendas) therein. (I could probably write an interesting argument about Munich as a film about tradition as hermeneutics, about how we choose to participate in or diverge from tradition, how we define tradition not as a concept but as a form of life. Of course, you can write that argument about any number of films -- maybe any film, straight up -- but it's pretty unavoidable in Spielberg's almost-masterpiece.) In any event, I could strike up this conversation with Zizek himself, right? Maybe that's what I should mark on the calendar: the possibility of a seminar with the guest director and the attendant opportunity to talk hermeneutics with him. Failing that, there's going to be movies playing, of course, that I can talk about with my fellow symposium participants.

Looking over Telluride's program for last year, I see a lot of the Cannes '07 films, which makes me start to look back at the big films from Cannes '08 that might make their way to Colorado this year. Luckily, Andy Horbal already did something like this, and I can look to his post, titled, simply, "Cannes '08". Of the likely candidates for Telluride, the Cannes pictures I'd most hope to catch in Colorado are (all links to David Hudson's tireless Daily GreenCine round up posts): Un Conte de Noel, 24 City, Waltz With Bashir, Gommorah, La Mujer Sin Cabeza, Synechdoche, New York, and, of course, the uncut version of Che. I'm sure there are others from Cannes '08 that are not on my radar (for whatever reason) and I'm sure there are others not from Cannes '08 that are not on my radar (for the reason that film does not start and stop with Cannes) that will surprise me. One title from the past year of festival circuitry I'm hoping Telluride schedules is Reygadas' Stellet Licht, since it has yet to secure US distribution either for a theatrical run or a home video release; and because I'd love to see it again on as big and wide a screen as possible; and because it might mean an appearance from Carlos Reygadas, a man I would love to talk to about film (sure) and life (more), a man that (I get the sense) has lived*. Another I hope to see is Barry Jenkin's Medicine for Melancholy, which I missed at SFIFF, for all the reasons Michael talked about here and for the other reason that the trailer is oh so charming.

If none of these films happen to show up in Telluride, I trust the experience will be fun and eye opening. I'll be sure to take pictures, and write. I haven't even gotten to the Silent Film Festival yet, and I've been feeling the strain of not earning much money, but with the Pedro Costa retro in March and my private (at home) Hou Hsiao Hsien retro these past two months, not to mention all those hours spent thinking and writing about Michael Mann and Terrence Malick (among other names) for my thesis this past spring semester (still holding onto it), 2008 is shaping up as quite an educational and enjoyable year.

*Also, I could ask him in person what he thought the chances of an America release are now given the shuttering of Tartan US. Looks slim. Such a weird thing, this recession, right? We can't even get screenings of those Mexican films with dialogue in Plautdietsch in the States now. Sheesh! What a world!

UPDATE, as if anybody scrolls this far down the page:
I got an email from Lawrence Boone with news of the fest and with code for this Festival widget. I think some other bloggers have put it up on their sites so I figured, what the heck, can't hurt to help promote just a bit more. I mean, I am rather excited. So here's the widget, with all kinds of features, like restaurant guides and photos, all in one tiny 350 by 600 pixel package.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Call Me Murderous, Too #1: Melanie Daniels

by Claire Twisselman

[For the rest of the image essay click here.]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Clarity, not expertise; an interest in singularity.

by Ryland Walker Knight

Sugar Daddy
Batty Mommy

Section 133 of Philosophical Investigations:

It is not our aim to refuse or complete the system of rules for the use of our words in unheard-of ways.

For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.

The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.--The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question.--Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off.--Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem.

There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies.

Towards the very end of Film as Film:

Criticism itself is a public activity, concerned only with what can be communicated. I may feel a picture to be coherent but unless I can explain the nature of its coherence my feeling carries no greater critical weight than my response to the colour of the hero's tie. Though we may enjoy swapping preferences and prejudices among friends, a critical judgement is of value only when it can itself be criticized and tested against others' experience and perceptions.

A theory of criticism is useful, similarly, when it helps us to achieve a clarity and consistency in our discussion by providing an agreed language in which to express our perceptions and define our differences. Theory exists in the wake of experience and must remain adjustable to new experience. We cannot usefully construct a theory to aid in the judgement of movies yet to be made, but any theory (and particularly the one I have presented) should be disregarded the moment it is seen to obstruct rather than promote understanding and discourse.

[The pictures, of course, are ironic. Although it may be argued, with relative ease, that those two bogies are after their own brand of clarity and personal interests in singularity. The problems they face are that their singular interests plain reject anything other than their singular interests. Those two aim to refuse and complete a singular system of rules that will have nothing to do with cooperation, with the public, with other people; it's insulation instead of expansion. The search for singularity should look to find the ways in which the singular can live with its counterparts. Try as you might, you cannot deny or ignore the bonds of the world.]

Saluting is like pointing, kinda. Steven Boone on SpoutBlog.

by Ryland Walker Knight


So my buddy Steven Boone has been writing for Spout Blog every Friday for a little more than a month, in case you had yet to see. You can check his archive here. But last week's "Felon Fest: Notes on Camp" is my favorite so far. And not just because he references a favorite film at the close of the piece but for Steve's careful, yet lively, prose. I told him via email that I want to read more of this kind of writing from him, that incorporates narrative into the criticism; if you can call this criticism. I guess this is closer to the Phillip Lopate personal essay. Which, I guess, is where Steve is going with his work for this column (and beyond; but I'll leave that to him to disclose). In any event -- not that it needs my recommendation -- I simply want to salute my friend. And point anybody who visits this blog (if there are some who still check in here) towards his recent output.

I also wanted to say that, like Steve, I'm always blown away by the encounters between Jim Caviezel and Sean Penn in The Thin Red Line. Those scenes are the heart of the picture. Trying to see what spark is left in the light of the world. Or how we may rekindle.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Our repose is brief. Embrace the mystery.
Happy belated Father's Day.

by Ryland Walker Knight

brief respite

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

That's the last graf of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I guess you might be mad at me for grabbing it. But, you know, it won't ruin the book if you haven't read it and were planning on reading it before it transforms into pictures later in the year. The reason it won't ruin the un-read book is because that book is easily the best thing I've read of McCarthy's. Granted, all I've read prior is All the Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men and some pieces of The Crossing. However, no other words of his that I've read have stirred me as much as these -- these quoted and these of the whole. It's a simple book with a simple argument (really, all his stories are pretty simple), but the occasional sentence, or glimpse-graf (as I described it to a coworker), stuns the senses. The thing he does best as a writer, I find, is how he can create an affect with words. Part of the reason I've refused to read Blood Meridian is because I bet, if all its faithful are correct, it's a harrowing novel to indulge in; and as much as I don't want to read it, I don't want to see some of the things those faithful have described transformed into images by Ridley Scott, who has not made a movie I respect (much less enjoy) in quite some time.

But back to The Road.

There was this puff piece in the NY Times drumming up interest almost a month ago, which is where this picture comes from. The only other bit of coolness from that story is the casting news, which I guess you shouldn't read if you want to read the book but I was happy to hear about Michael K Williams' role especially since I want him to have a good career.

Anyways, back to The Road, the book.

McCarthy still kinda irks me in the usual ways: I get what he's doing with the no quotes and everything but sometimes it just seems like a posture. The pullquote from the NY Times on the back of the book reads: "Vivid, eloquent. . . . The Road is the most readable of [McCarthy's] works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization." That's from a well written appreciation by William Kennedy you can read right here. It's better than I can offer here and now.

But, still. I'll push forward, like the father in the story. He's driven to do whatever to keep his son alive. The thing I responded to more in this book than previous books of McCarthy's is how his prose here sounds more like a fable than sermon. Also, it's affirmative. As much as the world is dead and dying and the father and son encounter death along the road, it's a book about living in the world; about what it means to live, and what choices we make for why we want to keep living in the world despite the ugliness. No Country seems to be simple a parade of death, of deaths meted by evil. And its argument, with its varied points of view, sets up the author-as-God misread that can turn people like me off: why are you orchestrating this, dude? (That's what people don't like about silly crap like The Happening, which is better than terrible but only so.) No Country and All the Pretty Horses kind of wallow in the violence and grisly details. The Road is brisk, always moving forward, easy to read in a day or two. And, well, it's about dads. Being a boy with all kinds of shortcomings, who loves his dad despite all his dad's unavoidable shortcomings, I cannot ignore the fact that this father-son relationship touched me because it is about the mutual failures and giant-small success stories that can and do sustain that bond, even past the grave when mystery is all we have to look for, all we can see, all we're given, all we have to embrace.

It's okay.

[John Hillcoat's adaptation comes out nation-wide November 26th, 2008. The book is widely available at all local libraries. I should have given my copy back to my dad yesterday as a present.]

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Poems for the month: Gerard Manley Hopkins.
"The Caged Skylark"



I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night,
in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe
of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit,
lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow,
of dark Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him,
entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight,
unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me,
eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

eyelid of slumber

The Caged Skylark

As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage
Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells―
That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.

Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,
Both sing sometimes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
Yet both droop deadly sometimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest -
Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,
But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,
But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bones risen.

[Poems found through links on Hopkins' wiki page. Pic 1 from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Pic 2 from Youth Without Youth.]