Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quick Plug: Medicine for Melancholy

by Ryland Walker Knight


Last Thursday I had the pleasure, first, to finally see Barry Jenkins' debut feature, Medicine for Melancholy, and, second, to meet Barry briefly alongside the film's star (also a Daily Show correspondent), Wyatt Cenac. They proved as affable as their film and it came as no shock that Barry named three lady filmmakers as his favorites, whose influence one can trace in his work: VINYL-favorites Claire Denis and Lynne Ramsay as well as another we here would like to know more about (that is, we would like to see something), but have not yet encountered, Lucrecia Martel. And while I've not seen a Martel film, if pressed I would say that what ties these three filmmakers is their interest in the cinema of sensations, or impressions, built from oblique (yet discrete) moments. There is a delicious passage in Medicine for Melancholy where our leads, Cenac's Micah and Tracey Heggins' Jo, jump aboard a carrousel that can easily be seen (for all its yummy and tender singularity) as bearing a certain tradition's stamp. However, this film's image, made with digital cameras fronted by "old" SLR lenses and pushed in post towards a sepia hue, tends to bleed light in a way more akin to what Jia Zhang-Ke and Yu Lik-wai capture with their kino-eyes. And, like Jia's films, Barry's is definitely about witnessing a space (here San Francisco instead of, say, the World Park) and how its angles and complexities play out in both the private and public spheres, and what's available in both those arenas. Medicine builds into this project an often-angry portrait of how unwelcoming the upper-middle-class skew of San Francisco's demographic can be to its marginal residents, and specifically how one young black guy can't shake his anxieties during what has to be one of the most blissfully ignorant 24 hours of his young life.


It's a love story, see? Only, not so much one of those everlasting kind of things. More like one of those, "This is a one night stand," she says, kind of things. It's about naive assumptions, about willful ignorance to look beyond your lap, about youthful indiscretions many of us have indulged for better or (more likely) worse. It's a really lovely thing to watch. Especially since its vision of young San Francisco is shockingly similar to the one I recently left behind. For instance, Micah and Jo go dancing at the Knockout where we see the guys behind Elbo Room's Saturday Soul Night spinning 45's. (For the record: Barry confirmed in the post-screening Q'n'A that these dudes were spinning their usuals but for the sake of consistency he scored the dancing to "indie stuff"...)

The film opened yesterday at the IFC Center here in NYC with plans to roll out across the country, which you can check up with at this website. So go see it. It may not be earth-shattering but it's easily a lovely, thorny letter to a city I miss and a lot of its often-annoying problems, including but not limited to the consistent shunting of any people of color. I'd love to say more, and dig in, but plenty have already so for more reviews, consult the guru Hudson right here. I just felt good that night so, well, I thought I'd repay the favor and say, Thanks, one more time. I hope all you VINYL readers in the Bay who have yet to see the film (that is, I know Michael was hip before us all) will track it down. I'd love to hear what you have to say. If anything, it'll make you smile with pride that Micha's right: San Francisco is beautiful, and you shouldn't (in fact you do not) have to have money to enjoy that. Here's the tasty trailer:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Christmas Tale. A house is an outfit. [part two]
Found Facts: A touching image

by Ryland Walker Knight

[This was made the day I left California. This is fair use, I promise. Also, I'm not homeless anymore. That makes me feel great. Makes me feel like all those millions of bucks I don't have. Now all I need is a lamp and a desk and, uh-oh, a bed. In case you forgot, I've made other videos, too.]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Magnificent Obsession: We poor devils

by Ryland Walker Knight

confront your self-world

The angles are the director’s thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy.

Douglas Sirk

It's really hard to sound intelligent talking about an object like Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession. Especially when you're something like homeless and everything like jobless and the worst song on the radio could probably dig deep behind your eyeballs. Nevertheless, I tried my best over in a piece published at The Auteurs' Notebook. Also: I threw together an image essay over at VINYL IS IMAGES. For some more (that is, real) smarts, I would recommend Tag Gallagher's piece at Senses of Cinema (again, way back), titled "White Melodrama," not only because of all the smart things said therein but also because I find its layout design a rare instance of web journalism playing with arrangement in a dynamic and exciting way: it makes you rethink your reading space. I feel the images in their array. (This is something I try to do in these posts, but, clearly, there's more to be done, as Andy Rector so often illustrates.) Plus: Tag there helps his visual argument when he writes things like this: "Will need not destroy; it can vitalize, it can lust for good. Here Sirk improves on Schopenhauer, who saw cessation of pain only in cessation of desire." Equilibrium? Who's level? I don't even think I want to be that deep in the middle, let alone aim for it. I'd rather immolate.

burn, baby, burn

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reminder: Straub-Huillet (and Ophüls) this weekend.

by Ryland Walker Knight

While it feels funny to shill for no good reason other than sheer nerd excitement, I am really thrilled at what's on the horizon. Thus: Friday at the Walter Reade theatre there's a 2-for-1 double bill that any self-aware cinephile (such as yours truly) would be remiss to skip: Straub-Huillet's The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach and Max Ophüls' La Ronde. Both films intrigue me for a variety of reasons but I must cop to the fact that I'm more excited about the chance to see another Straub-Huillet film on a big screen after falling so heedlessly in love with the first and only other feature of theirs that I have had the pleasure to see (Sicilia!, which I wrote about last spring). It would be plain dumb to be blasé about seeing another Ophüls on a big screen, so with the promotional aid-motivation, it makes a lot of sense to just dive in and enjoy that big and loud as well. But this isn't just some programming lark, mind you, it's a tribute, too. Richard Roud died 20 years ago and his stamp, though faint in name-drop terms, remains an ink blot on our movie-going as can't-fail compass J. Hoberman attests: "Program director (and then just director) of the New York Film Festival from 1963 through 1987, Richard Roud was one of the most influential cine-tastemakers to ever give New York the benefit of his sensibility—an early, loyal champion of such once-outré artists as Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda, Sergei Paradjanov, Dusan Makavejev, and R.W. Fassbinder, to name but a few." If my meager patronage is a vote of appreciation, I'm all for saying "Thanks." Those are some names to give to the world. (Or, at least, this little world I like to inhabit.)

On Sunday, as a bonus, the Walter Reade will screen Straub-Huillet's Moses and Aaron at 2pm, but that ticket costs $35, and apparently New Yorker Films will be releasing the film on DVD next week for a shade less cash. So I may skip that one. Still, that's probably something to see big, too, while the opportunity presents itself. Luckily, a friend of mine says, the Straub-Huillet pictures are all pretty sexy bookings guaranteed to attract a crowd (of fellow formalist goofs like me) in New York so there should be plenty more opportunities to see their emulsion shine in my time ahead here. For now, though, I'm pretty happy with what Friday should bring. Here's a sneak peak at the opening shot of La Ronde:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ray at night.

by Ryland Walker Knight

dont hide, fight

It occurred to me about 4:00 PM Wednesday the 22nd, that I have been in a continuous blackout from sometime between 1957 or earlier until now. I misplaced my soul and I don’t know where I left it.
- Nicholas Ray, 1976


This essay that I link to above, by Carloss James Chamberlin, from the way back machine at Senses of Cinema (which has a good new issue if you haven't looked at it), is something special. Thanks to Zach for turning me on to its smarts and its beauties. I think it's a good reminder for today. That the reason we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off is because, perpetually, we fail. It's a nice reminder that tomorrow I'll be the same guy with the same stink and the same bank account and the same unhealthy patterns as much as some new and vital routines built this fall; that we gotta fight. The thing that may get lost in the hoopla today is that inside that complicated and fiercely intelligent speech our first black President delivered with great passion there was a note struck to signal that, yes, we have to work hard every singly day we step forward. The world does not always stand arms open to meet you. Sometimes, the ones you love and depend on will hurt you. All the time, there's this life. So live. You will lose things. You will misplace passions. You will fall on your face. You may lose an eye. But you may also find some kind of grace pushing up and pulling up and dusting up and building up—even if you're throwing up. Own your peapods. Stuff them full and let them bud, let them flower; let light spill everywhere. Look around you. Forget the weights, or push up past them, and know: this is good.

a pea in a pod

Pick yourself up.

Our man said so, so, you know, follow through: pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.

A revolutionary remix for a revolutionary day.

by Ryland Walker Knight


Here's a lil goof I made last night. It doesn't quite capture the moment as I'm sure other, better bloggers can and will. But, along with the others I made, which you can see both at freeNIKES! and at the OBAMICON.ME site, I think it gives a quick (albeit oblique) glimpse into how this day means a lot to me. It's an inspiration! It makes me think that we're on the upswing. It makes me think that, finally, thank Him, we have not just a smart guy getting sworn in, but, really, a cool son of a gun. It makes me think we will witness some change, somehow. It makes me think that the arts may yet be a place to build a life. It makes me think that home is just around the corner. It makes me think that color will not continue to trouble consent in many of the ways it has before. It makes me think that dreams can come true. It makes me think families are a good thing to foster and nurture and love. It makes me think that I should call my sister. It makes me think that I should hug everybody I come across. It makes me think that revolutions start someplace, like, say, in the street. It makes me think that our gutters will be swept. It makes me think that I'm nearing naive in my optimism. It makes me think that optimism can be thoughtful and aware and lively and honest and accountable along with audacious. It makes me think, America. It makes me think, world. It makes me think, Lisbon. It makes me think.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Che letters. Part One: Questions, Declarations, Navigations

by Mark Haslam

to the people

[Ed Note: Here begins our ensemble attempt to wrangle our, let's be blunt, surprising enthusiasms for this film. Since the film is so large (without ballooning), we thought it appropriate to situate our understanding in this epistolary form, a series of calls and responses, that may speak to the nature of Soderbergh's film and its ostensible subject—and how these braided objects nail their aims across manifold divides. Our aim, it should be obvious, is to make the polymath sing. Update: Click for Part Two and/or the whole series]


[Preamble notes from Mark: (1) Bay Areans, CHE: THE ROADSHOW is coming to us, hitting the Embarcadero tomorrow, Friday the 16th. And as a special treat, cuz you're all special, Soderbergh will be in house to answer our questions. For those in the East Bay not willing to cross the bridge or duck into BART, it will open as two films at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley next Friday, the 23rd. (2) It may be useful to keep Pedro Costa's seminar (at ROUGE) on closed doors in mind. (3) Also owe a look to: The Cry at Zero.]

so wistful
mexico city

Che is not about Che."


After a single viewing of Che, this is all that seemed appropriate to say; the one thing that I (to whom confidence comes but rarely) am pretty damn confident of saying. And here it's remained, at the top of a piece of paper, awaiting the explication it seems to deny. And the question it implies produces a response both silent and choral, a nothing and an everything: “What is it about?”

Our first approach faulters. We stumble, or stop, and wonder, how do we approach Che? So much criticism up to this point, positive and negative, tends to description and observation (itself an impressive feat, given the scope and scale) over analysis or thesis; few attempts at a true approach to understanding the film have been made. But then: do we approach in the first place? And if not...? Aha, an avenue: only in resisting representation does the film approach its figure. The non-approach must be our approach, too.

thru the woods

—certain films...are like doors, even if there are no doors in them. They resemble doors that don't let you enter as the protagonist of the film. You are outside. You see a film, you are something else...

For distance is a thing: tangible, like numbers. Especially for Soderbergh. Gaps, spaces, in-betweens...these are bricks, mortar. An absence or offsetting of one thing in relation to another, we come to see neither—or both, but only in the periphery—as our focus lands on distance. Indeed, it is focus, which seems so central to the film's technique that calls our attention to this: a camera—zooming in, zooming out—enacting distance.

But distance comes in many forms. If Cuba gives us Che, at times, at a physical proximity, distance is produced elsewhere. Take the battle sequences that are overlaid with Guevara discussing the ideologies, tactics, or justifications for the images we're seeing. His words don't explicate but complicate. Che doesn't speak in terms concrete enough for explanation. He is all ideal, totally abstract. Indeed, few figures in recent history have been as subject to abstraction as Ernesto Guevara, because, with him, it's easy: a man so determined by his ideals, so apparently detached from the material world, from his own body, that he already seems a vessel....

So, these sequences which might've been exciting and rousing are emptied out, abstracted. Again and again the image becomes an image of distance.

look at a remove

—that also is very important in the cinema, to love at a distance.

None of this is not distancing. I mean, it isn't aloof to us. We're not cast into indifference. I feel Che precisely because I am not asked to—better yet, I am asked to not feel for Che. The camera builds distances and in doing so builds avenues—long entrances. Entrances that are also closed doors. We see a film, we are something else... And the film, I think, like its subject, finds its center in love. But love undergoes a revision: think of Che's line that nobody is indespensible. This isn't intimate love. It's a re-vision of love—and, for that matter, equally of pain—that requires a response more than just reflex.

Our next approach then is a careful step, in step with the film, backwards. The images are abstracted: image distanced from itself. Meaning has been displaced, and the images, even those of triumph, now emptied out, take on the form of a lament. This is made clear in Bolivia, where everything feels, literally, dry, tapped. Even a downpour has no sense of moisture. In Cuba, death was Guevara's neighbor; present but only in the abstract, as one beyond your wall. Here, death is his house. “To survive here you have to fight like you're already dead.” This is the precise cry, the lament, love—a distance from yourself, an exile from yourself.

I can't help but think of those lovely moments of Che taking photographs of Bolivians. This is how he sees—through people. His revision (a second viewing) of self. Watching his body being carried away in a helicopter, their upward gazes correspond to his gaze, on the boat to Cuba, directed at Fidel.

carried away

—...and there are two distinct entities.

I think, too, of a Caetano Veloso's lyric (one redeployed in Jorge Castaneda's Che biography, Compañero) that says, “Navigating is necessary, living is not.” This is a film to navigate. Because it's a film that navigates with no intention of arrival. It resists. Is itself and not itself. Is exiled within the very place of its exile. The non-approach is seeing the film from over there. And seeing the film as a door at best ajar. The farther back we go, the less that we see, the less that's shown, the more possible it is to open the closed doors. We have to recognize the two ever dividing entities, Che and Che, us and Che, Che and us.

I offer this up as a way, maybe, to begin talking about Che. A way of approaching, and if we're brave, opening, the closed doors. As Costa says, opening these doors is work. So let's work, Ry. I want to navigate. Tell me!

Ever one last re-vision,


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two thousand weight? #8: Hella eyes

by Ryland Walker Knight

ever changing!

Ok, I lied. I do have some more things to say about my year with the movies. I said some of those things, rather haphazardly, in a contribution to Brian Darr's second annual I Only Have Two Eyes poll. That link will open the whole series of posts—starting with Brian's introduction and his own list, and continuing through the alphabetically arranged considerations of (former) fellow bay cinephiles I will most definitely miss seeing around town. One glaring, idiotic omission from my list: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I don't know how I could forget! (Well, I do: I rushed through composing my notes.) In any case, that weekend was a true highlight not just for the films I got to see but for where I got to see them (in that cathedral of cathedrals, The Castro) and who I got to see them with (including Brian, and our lovely czar Michael, and the cosmopolitan Shahn, and the flown-in Darren & Girish). Another forgotten treasure was the SFIFF screening of En la cuidad de Sylvia, which spawned three thoughtful letters between yours truly and our friends Jen Stewart and Kevin B. Lee. So, please go look around at some of these links. For all my two thousand weight dumpy dirt piles, there were beams of light cutting through the clouds to glint across my horizon.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Everlasting Moments: Come, Closer

by Martha Polk

Maria Larsson, photographer

I report with overwhelming gratitude that Everlasting Moments is a film about what it means to be a woman, what it means to produce images, and what it means to be a woman, wife, and mother who is pulled from her very heart center toward art, images, and a certain vision of the world. Let me quick tell you how it goes: Maria Larssen (Maria Heiskanan) won a Contessa camera in a lottery weeks before she was married to Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). Years later when Sigge and the rest of the dockworkers go on strike, Maria tries to sell the camera to help support her four children. Shop owner Sebastian Pedersen (Jasper Christensen) "buys" it from her but lets her keep it, insisting she try it before she let such a prized possession go. And then we're off: Maria's relationship with the camera unfolds along side her relationships with Mr. Pedersen, her children, and her increasingly self-centered and terrifying husband. But of course, I wouldn't be here struggling through qualifying paragraphs if these bare narrative bones weren't wrapped in something special.

[Ed Note: First, click the text above to read Martha's full piece over at her home-base blog, WHAT IS THIS LIGHT? Next, I know this piece took a long time to write and is special to Martha, so please be a friend and shake a hand and read with thoughtful eyes. There's a lot of good stuff in there.]

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Design Poach #5: The sea.

by Ryland Walker Knight


What: A John Constable seascape.
Stolen from: An epic post at The Art of Memory that errbody should go eat right this second.

[x-posted at fN!]

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Getting pretty.

by Ryland Walker Knight

I was laying awake thinking. So, to quiet my brain, I put those firework synapses to work on a long-gestating redesign that is, at best, half done as I post this quick note. However, I did get some essentials onto the sidebar, including that Didion quote I wish I heard at my commencement, and I did get us a sweet banner image, which wasn't too hard. The next thing to do is to reconstruct the blogroll and debate how many "eternal" mascots to include on the sidebar. I'm thinking not too many. The other question is whether or not to have a rotating banner image—or whether it would be just fine to leave it Tati. What do you think out there?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Two thousand weight #7: More reminiscence, more lessons, more laughs. A big leap.

by Ryland Walker Knight

comb snow!
making beds

A bizarre year full of bizarre films and worse turns outside the cinematheque, my 2008 saw our flux drift down into waste for far too long, with far too much fear, before our fall season reminded that we may find flight possible (again) as we recycle another calendar set and cabinet. Events and actions have a history before they happen—and accountability is tricky.

Scoot on over to The House Next Door [click text above] to read my final words on my past year with films. Since I already skimmed the surface, sorta, with my Auteurs' poll (here), I tried to delve a little deeper and offer something a little more, hmn, investigative of my self in this companion piece since, when it comes down to it, as much as we argue for lasting worth in these arbitrary markers, our efforts are perhaps more akin to lock-box diary notes than sea scrolls. Let's push forward with a smile. Let's build homes. Let's love this muck. Let's find facts. Let's get big. Fuggit: let's lift-off.

saber sun

Two thousand weight? #6: Quick Wendy and Lucy plug.

by Claire Twisselman


I think I want to call it the American film of the year. I think it's for me the way There Will Be Blood was for me last year. Like: how come more people won't see this thing? It's only 80 minutes long! It won't eat up your day like Che. Check here to see when it comes near you. And then see it, of course. People tell me to kick myself that I didn't see Ballast, but I don't think that one will kick me the way this one kicks me. It's a good thing. Heck, it's a great thing. We need to look at the margins more.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Playtime lights up the world.

by Ryland Walker Knight

lit the fuck up

All you need to know, maybe, about this thing is right here: how space is arranged for a laugh, and a rhyme. What struck me most yesterday was how, for all the angles jutting across Tati's 70mm widescreen frame, the movie is so much about internal movement. Form arises from the pinballing nuclei of action within the four borders. It's film as combustion! It should bust you up as much as it roils and romps around those arenas of idiocy. And, as Matt and Glenn and Keith and I talked about afterwards, it's a friendly and hilarious reminder that the world is way fucking bigger than you.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

VINYL IS PODCAST #10: An unfocused invitation to holler on criteria. [In two parts]

by Dan Callahan, Ryland Walker Knight, Kevin B Lee, and Keith Uhlich


[Podomatic stream]
[Direct audio download]
[iTunes subscription available]
[Simple syndication subscription]

an experiment in language

[Podomatic stream]
[Direct audio download]
[iTunes subscription available]
[Simple syndication subscription]

RWK here. For our first East Coast podcast, I was joined by some of my best friends in this (surprisingly little, and ever tight-knit) critical community that I'm jumping into to talk about, as I thought only natural, our criteria for judgment and evaluation. My initial plan was to ask these gentlemen to provide a brief historical account of how their individual criteria developed to our current conversation and how they navigate the distinction between taste and value in their work. This aim was lead astray. This is a good thing. We four wound up talking around this question, or prompt, and, I hope, answered it in another (that is, less explicit) fashion. The curious listener will find how each of our spoken words signals an evaluation as much as these written words forever perform value judgments. It's all about language, always, it appears—and how we develop different vocabularies for different registers of conversation. These are the things I like to think about. So this was fun for me, even though I talk the least among our party (which is a first, I think, for this podcast). I'm continually more interested in how we think about things rather than why, because the former subtends the latter in a subtle way. The problem, then, as ever, is how to account for that, for everything, and how to argue for your favorites as much as revere them (or the opposite). And I think we do a pretty good job here. Please, tell us things. —Thanks for listening!


Friday, January 02, 2009

There is only this. A new New World.

by Ryland Walker Knight


Oh hai, 2009! Thank you, you! I'm more than pleased to offer my first bit of writing of 2009 over at The House Next Door, which operates as an anniversary marker for the site as well as, as ever, an inauguration for our new year. Having just moved to New York City this week, first to the couch at Keith's lovely Slope apartment, the ever hospitable Mr Uhlich and I sat down December 31st and, after watching the Extended Cut of Terrence Malick's masterpiece, The New World, we recorded a podcast. It took us a couple daze to piece together our accompanying words with some handsome stills and arrange it all for you—and now it's ready. You can take in our efforts by clicking this link here if you did not follow the link above. There's plenty more to say, of course, and we look forward to hearing from you all, but for now I'll reiterate myself yet again and say, "Thanks," to Keith and to Matt and to everybody who takes the time to read (however thoughtfully or not) whatever it is I find time to write. Here's to more of this good thing now and further into our future.

a shroom

[An accompanying image essay can be found, and enjoyed, on VINYL IS IMAGES.]