Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BANG BANG: Matthew Flanagan

[BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.]

by Matthew Flanagan

I seem to be roughly a year behind with everything at the moment, so will have to shirk the brief here and recall films I saw in and from 2010 instead. Perhaps that’s best: reflecting on a year too soon tends not to leave enough time for its patterns and convergences to emerge, if they are to. A few neat couplings from 2010: films about the sea and its displacement of capital (trade and gold) — The Forgotten Space, Film socialisme; gentle forest fictions — Yuki & Nina, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; the past and present of American cities — Get Out of the Car!, Cold Weather; sharp, lucid digital films, shot for love and little money — Saskia Gruyaert, Raya Martin, Antoine Thirion’s Tales & Gina Telaroli’s A Little Death; and, loosely, Daïchi Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis & Richard Skelton’s LP Landings. There were other films of note — Thomas Arslan’s In the Shadows, Sharon Lockhart’s Double Tide, Jean-Claude Rousseau’s Festival, Nathaniel Dorsky’s sublime Compline & Aubade — but, in all, two favourites: Liu Jiayin’s 607 and Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins.

Liu’s Oxhide II (2009) is, in its small way, an extraordinary structural film, but I think I like the lesser-known 607 more. It’s an ostensibly minimalist work: a single, 16-minute shot (followed by three brief dissolves) of clear water in a wooden bathtub: a quiet, almost serene, space, just theatrical enough. The actors are Liu’s hands and those of her mother and father, a porcelain fish, a few bobbing mushrooms and the disruptions of the water line. That’s all. The hands tease and hook each other, and it seems most movements exist for their sound: ripples breaking and bubbles tearing the surface. A minor, playful film, and the most pleasurable of recent memory.

Robinson in Ruins was first screened here in the UK at LFF on the 19th and 21st of October, the days immediately before and after what was probably the year’s defining domestic event: the announcement of the CSR, a structural adjustment programme aimed at permanently altering the role of the welfare state in British society. Keiller’s film was shot between January and November of 2008, documenting that year’s financial crisis before the cost of its systemic collapse was transformed into the class project of austerity. Its study of mostly agrarian, bucolic spaces — connected by a network of military bases, oil pipelines and sites of social unrest — questions, laterally, the autonomy of our landscape by way of a biophilic inventory of flowers, plants, trees and a few animals. With this shift in focus, Robinson in Ruins leaves behind the urban and (increasingly invisible) sites of industrial activity in London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997), and that geography is remapped instead in Owen Hatherley’s superb book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, published concurrently. Hatherley’s book is a more pointed analysis of the abject failure of the neoliberal project, and together with Robinson in Ruins offers a vital base to reflect on the point of transition at which we find ourselves: wondering whether the CSR signals a permanent reentrenchment of neoliberalism amidst crisis (seemingly, its natural state), or whether the strain of underwriting its collapse will prove too much for the vestiges of democratic capitalism to bear. This year, we’ve watched as the locus of what began to unravel in 2008 has shifted from the US, via the UK, to the most intertwined states of Europe, and it’s likely one particular sequence from 2011 could prove prophetic: the end of Christoph Hochhausler’s high-finance art movie The City Below and its hushed final retreat: “…it’s begun.” Hatherley’s book ends its dérive in Liverpool amidst one of the most striking visible corpses of the Blairite redevelopment project: the few lonely cultural and residential substitutes for deindustrialisation at the heart of its docks, the thinnest of economic and social hopes. We visited Liverpool on the second to last day of 2010, and, picking out some lights on the other side of the Mersey, the immediate future looked pretty bleak. This year, it’s bleaker still.


Matthew Flanagan lives in the UK and blogs sometimes at his blog.


  1. Great mention of 607, a really beautiful, sweet and wry film; thanks for reminding me of it!

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