Friday, April 30, 2010

FILM SOCIALISME: Explication par la bande (annonce)

"Like the dour-faced farmer in Grant Wood's American Gothic, Dylan seems to have the American Songbook in one hand and a raised pitchfork in the other, aimed at rock critics, politicians, Wall Street financiers, back-alley thieves, the World Wide Web — anything that cheapens the spirit of the individual. His nostalgia is more for the Chess Records Fifties than the psychedelic Sixties. He believes that Europe should lose the euro and go back to its old currencies ("I miss the pictures on the old money," he says). If Dylan had his way, there'd be Sousa bands on Main Street and vinyl albums instead of CDs. Teenagers would go on nature hikes instead of watching YouTube. "It's peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cellphones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in media and video games," he says. "It robs them of their self-identity. It's a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that's got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets."

— from "Bob Dylan's America" by Douglas Brinkley, Rolling Stone no. 1078, May 14, 2009

Arthur Mas and Martial Pisani have written a brilliant piece about JLG's trailers for Film Socialisme, called "Explication par la bande (annonce)", which in English would have to be rendered as something like "Explanation by the Image-Track" + "Explication Through the Trailer". Both the original French version and my English translation are at Independenciahere.


PROGRAMMING NOTE: The full film, Film Socialisme, will be available for web-streaming-on-demand here at Wild Bunch's web-VOD outlet, Filmo TV, on May 18th, simultaneous with the film's premiere at Cannes. Watch this space for further updates.


Scavenging around the other day I discovered a website called Candlelight Stories. The site describes itself in the "About Us" section:

"Candlelight Stories began in 1995 as an educational entertainment site for kids of all ages. Begun as a small web site with one illustrated story by the site’s founder for his daughter, Candlelight Stories was quickly recognized by USA Today as a prime destination for families. [...] Candlelight Stories now offers literary, film, game, news, opinion, and audio content primary for an adult audience. Though our site is no longer designed specifically for kids, we make the children’s content that we do offer as friendly as possible...."

It was therefore only inevitable that Candlelight Stories should offer its readership some remarks about the trailer for Godard's Film Socialisme. The corresponding piece can be found here, but I'd like to quote the post in its entirety because I find it very moving:

"Film director Jean-Luc Godard has made one of the sharpest comments on copyright, piracy and film advertising that I have ever seen by releasing a trailer for his upcoming new film, Socialisme, that is actually the entire film in super-fast forward for 1 minute and 7 seconds. This is wit and intelligence like no other filmmaker in the world can muster. Once you see the opening presented to you by the films of Godard it becomes very difficult indeed to get up the energy to go watch highly paid American film stars mug and smile their way through belabored mega-scripts that seek opportunities to display Coke bottles and laundry detergent alongside Aston Martins and designer shoes. You begin to see that the Hollywood product is in reality just a very large catering operation and that movies are made with approximately 10 to 20 times the resources actually required to make any given film. American films, even the ‘independent’ ones, are shot from exactly the same point of view and think that movies are about telling stories. They are conceptually still living in the 19th century. They all adhere to the ‘beginning, middle and end’ framework and they uniformly lead to a ‘climax’ and a ‘resolution.’

"Godard, on the other hand, functions in the present, treats film as an actual art form, and always uses a unique point of view that cannot be pinned down or turned into a style. He is death to James Cameron. He murders people like Woody Allen. He makes Scorsese look like the heavy-handed New York buffoon that he is. Godard makes films by persuading people to give him money on the basis of totally fake scripts, then shows up with a note pad and a bunch of confused actors and decides literally on the spot what he might want to be making that day and hopes for the best when it comes to fitting his material inside the structure of a project he might happen to be working on. In short, he works just like an artist is supposed to work. He works from himself. The fact that we have been misled by a century of industrial product aimed at showing us Paul Newman’s teeth is not of any concern to him.

"If James Cameron showed up at my door with a contract to be in his next film, I would shove him backwards off my front porch. But I would fly to Europe to stand in the background of a Godard film for free."


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kentucker Audley

Five essays below.

Scroll from south to north on this page to read (it spills over onto the next one too, for the first item) or click in this order:

Team Picture [2007]

And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You [2007]

Ginger Sand [2008]

Family Tree [2009]

Holy Land [2010]






Open Five by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

A boy wants a girl to love him again but she says it's complicated. An email asks where the money will come from and the answer is it's complicated. Can't do a full withdrawal of the forces on the ground — it's too complicated. And you say this land is your land but don't you know it's complicated.

It's very complicated, and it's difficult to express all the dimensions of a matter. So Kentucker Audley made something called Open Five — the first film of the new decade in more dimensions than three. With it comes the feeling, at last and all over again, that the cinema's finally free.

Holy Land

The Reckoning

In Kentucker Audley's tectonic, astonishing second feature people show up and dissolve like they're being swallowed into the land, itself always shifting, tilting from one locale to another between cuts as unsuspected as buried faultlines and just as sharp. Sometimes the adjoining geography has drifted far out past a chasm of black leader. Time is elastic, expanding to extend a slow moment, or contracting till a future point's unexpectedly here at hand. One's got the sense of a natural cycle churning and permuting, that the mesozoic hasn't left the continent, that splendor still remains. The action of the piece and its form and its locations come inextricably connected — a game of golf (the most 'landed' sport) occasions mention of the Mid-South's seismic history (all connotations of the phrase apply), and the protagonist's visit to a wellness clinic early in the film triggers a suggestion-recording to incant on the soundtrack: "We're gonna ask you to release that stress, release the pain, and forgive the cause of the stressor that created the allergy." The push-pull, peak-and-pass rhythms of the film exist consonant with activity in a bloodstream, and there's little to differentiate Cole (Cole Weintraub) and his behavioral cadences from the material of the work itself (which goes into motion shortly after the clinic sequence wherein our principal's connected by electrodes to the film-frame). Holy Land and Cole aren't just tangent to one another, and they're not even superimposed — he's walking fossilized within the matter of the movie. Impossible to say which wrought the other, no chicken-or-egg deal, only proto-Genesis and the holy land that a lot of us have forgotten, presided over by Audley who retains no illusions and reserves awe as he films the 'actual' streams at the end and beginning of the picture, where, incidentally, a bottle of Alizé's blown in for good measure.

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

The actual Holy Land — which is to say, Holy Land, Virginia (think of that billboard in DeLillo's White Noise) — can't compete with the sanctity of its forebear, capital-N nature. The 'official' veneration of the place is press-on, just slogans on signs. Yet the signs are exalted too by the terrestrial calm that generously surrounds them, so in the beautiful passage of Cole's arrival they've metamorphosed out of something cheap and crass into 'stations,' to be sure, but ones totemic/immemorial. This give-and-take courses throughout, as when Audley shoots the poles along a stretch of power-line to show the way their 'incidental' cross arrangements provide an aleatory, and totally genuine, consecration: the presence of man on the planet.

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

Everything's manifold here. When the roundtable convenes to critique Cole's work-in-progress novel (mentioned in the prologue by CW to a hammock girl we never spot again, whom he takes unreplicated initiative to invite on his trip — salient detail), the attendees' remarks come across as well-intentioned as they are totally dispiriting, absent of obvious throughline, and oblivious to authorial potential — but fair is fair or something: this novel by Cole's got low chance of fruition right now and, in any case, is already the film itself. Check it: this sequence grinds the knowing joke home about the movie's own structure (though as I've suggested Holy Land's the process of its own creation) and another one too about conformist philistines. You can learn a really good lesson from classrooms: namely that (I'm quoting my dad) "opinions are like assholes — everyone's got one."

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

But before Cole makes it to the focus-group, and after his wheeling in town to crash at the house of a friend (appearing only momentarily in silhouette this friend registers another disappearance), he encounters a girl. Where does she come from? One trace of dialogue suggests she's a friend of a friend, who positions her as "the most extraordinary female that you've ever met, right."

—"Your real name's Bunny, or is that like a nickname people call you or somethin'?"
—"Yeah, it's my name since I was born. Given to me at birth, yeah."

First of all, and here's what I was getting at in the piece on Family Tree, this piece of 'dialogue,' her response, exhibits the quality where if you're reading it in a novel or short-story, maybe one by George Saunders, you say to yourself: "What an ear." But it happened before a camera, was caught by a mic, and instead you say, "That's not just an ear, that's lightning in a bottle," and this is the sacred element of the movies, one particular to the movies, where life's loveliness not only gets preserved and redepicted but, like revelation, helps bring life itself alive a little more. Those two "yeah"s are like bookends for the private library that's more than just words.

Second, and adhering to the line of scrutiny: Literature may well succeed in presenting a Daisy Miller, an Emma Bovary, or even a Caddy Compson but only the cinema, and only one so attuned as Audley's, will give you a Bunny Lampert. Contrary to received wisdom, the cardinal standard of casting is not "be Meryl Streep" — it's "be interesting and be charming," and that's the Truth. So here's this Bunny Lampert, not the Bunny Lambert-with-a-B signified by the end credits (a 99-year-old American aristocrat heiress of the Gillette fortune and widow of Big Paul Mellon) but rather Lampert-with-a-P, a "midnight beauty", to pilfer Du Bois' phrase from the Ginger Sand essay, whose soulful eyes and emotional delicacy coordinate a moral constant, the polestar in relation to which the Cole/film mechanism diverges in soft parallax.

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

There can be no explanation for the ebb/flow of Cole's behavior or rejection of Bunny in the succession of scenes that follow their first lunar kiss (green stockings and a kneehole, beautiful composition, an abstract knot), although it might do to mention that the fortune-teller on the back deck predicts with the cross of tarot some beneficial outcome for the boy in "a trip over water". And while we certainly see Cole paddling at three points in a boat to nowhere-in-particular, once for each of the tarot reader's "card clarifiers" (Cole:"How come you didn't want to come over... the boat?" His friend played by Tim Morton: "I don't know, I just didn't feel it. Bad news, or sumpin'."), the prophecy hardly chimes with much resonance till we recall Bunny's words spoken under the sun: "I have olive undertone in my skin, it's from the Mediterranean blood on my mom's side."

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

Lightning over water. People and matter exist as one in Holy Land, and Bunny is the good-luck-charm, the rabbit's-foot talisman that Cole rejects at his peril. His final encounter with Bunny, who's come to spend time at the flop-hostel where he's residing, ends in this exchange:

—"Say something to me. Say something."
—"Say something. I came all the way out here."
—"What do you want me to say?"
—"Say something."

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

The plea for intimacy, in Lampert's open voicing, breaks the heart. Cole, closed-circuit, opts not for the romanticism of Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde" caught floating fragmentarily out of his car radio, but rather the idle bull-posturing he can share with his buddy at the crash-pad:

—"Like in the middle of the night, if you do end up getting that hooker or whatever..."
—"What's the demographic for prostitutes, out here, is it, it's like, strict 'Vietnamese', or..."
—"It's gonna, it's gonna be, poor — 'poor black'."

After Bunny departs from the world of the movie, the flip-out, breakdown process in the Holy Land-mechanism, first intimated by Cole's to-camera address at the picture's midpoint ("I guess this movie's already getting a little easier to make." — preceded by a shot where the shadow of the camera apparatus like the shadow of the cross marks his body), subsequently stifled, now achieves inexorable momentum.

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:

Primordial chaos. A random deal of the deck.


A new beard.


Lunch with sister Betsy.


Blind-date and puke from a shot.


Firing a rifle, militia-focused.


Labor for wages.


A paddleboat.

He'll circle and dance with you.

"The Physics of Night".

Lightning in a bottle.

Holy Land by Kentucker Audley, 2010:


Family Tree

That Pouty Voice Defeated Thing

It's here:

And it's got 8,115 views at the time of this writing — is in need of at least a hundred eighty-thousand more. Because Family Tree demonstrates (and by no means am I saying here the film represents the concussive singular instance) that if you let people be themselves in front of a camera, and a good director's there to keep things alive and is of more than half a mind to cut the dross out later, you'll have magic and everything that happens outside the movies suddenly gets redeemed. I think it's probably just time to throw away the word "actor" and we had good cause to do so even at the point of Warhol or Godard/Gorin or now Costa or before that Méliès in whose pictures specifically (to reverse my obsessive reframing of Lumière in the realm of fantasy or, I don't know, non-realism, i.e. photography) we're hardly ever resident within the world of a scene, rather are watching a film that recorded someone performing. Anyway, either we chuck "actor" or we expand our idea of what an actor might be. "Its author's bizarre cognomen is his own invention...", etc.

In this getaway film that pitches its tentpole midgrounds between Super Mario Galaxy and Sense and Sensibility there are two really good shots:


GIRLS (in my generation) SIT IN FRONT OF LAPTOPS AND PLAY YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF SONGS. THIS IS WHAT THEY DO. AND THEY USUALLY DO IT WHEN THEY'RE THREE GLASSES IN W/ THE CÔTEAUX DU LYONNAIS. So if Audley ever makes plans to caption the film for an older crowd I might suggest:

Family Tree by Kentucker Audley, 2009:


The second two-thirds finds Lena and Tim, both great actors, the latter peripatetic as ever in Kentucker's pictures, extending the pretense of brother + sister. I find the repartée and evasive eyelines very touching and very genuine, though full-disclosure, I never grew up with siblings. Still, I can share this: I had an uncle that once claimed to have recreated inside a safe-deposit box the surface conditions of the planet Venus. He used to dare his children to stick their hands inside as a test of will.

Family Tree by Kentucker Audley, 2009:

There are two supporting players beside Greta Gerwig worth singling out for vivid presence, and since we don't learn much about their backgrounds in the film I'll sketch them further right here and say the one lolls about like someone's eccentric niece, and the other's the sort of girl who if she ever moved to California would probably take a pass on the Karina Longworth readings but still apply for a vanity license that matched the KBL 852 plate in Kustom Kar Kommandos. That's not easy casting.

Family Tree by Kentucker Audley, 2009:

Or is it? Family Tree boasts the bond and the joy among friends making a movie. Moral: family trees might be more spontaneously generated than any blood-uncle could venture to guess.



Ginger Sand

Chamber Trauma

"Once upon a time I taught school in the hills of Tennessee, where the broad dark vale of the Mississippi begins to roll and crumple to greet the Alleghanies. I was a Fisk student then, and all Fisk men think that Tennessee — beyond the Veil — is theirs alone, and in vacation time they sally forth in lusty bands to meet the country school commissioners. Young and Happy, I too went, and I shall not soon forget that summer, ten years ago."
—W. E. B. Du Bois, "A Negro Schoolmaster in the New South" [1899]

The Chickasaw air has been vanquished by Chicago winter's harsh gusts, and the shift is so abrupt as to reinforce the Team Picture milieu as Utopia and its summer as a moment in time to be prized. In the epilogue short Ginger Sand, David has ventured north, either in pursuit of that Sarah girl, or not, or got derailed somewhere long the course of the quest. Sarah vanished like all visions, and her substitute, Brandi (Brandi Perkins), has chanced to visit across the same weekend Eric and his girlfriend (Rose McCallum) are set to show. Their arrival activates a garrulous new mood in the host, before Brandi's passive-aggression tempers it back into catatonia by short's end.

Ginger Sand by Kentucker Audley, 2008:

A lot of us have been in that exact apartment more-or-less, and there's no point to analyzing the subtleties of the situation's dynamic because Audley's already accomplished the task and if the cinema's there to give the straight story without the 'writing' then my doubling-up on the matter would be, I think, not only a redundant effort but would make me look like a bigger idiot with the ill and age-old wish that performing 'criticism' on the matter can enact Mastery........ The question implicitly rises: "Who're your subjects, Master?", to which I guess the would-be critic would have to respond, and only then when forced: "Why, I am now master of this work," although what he really means to say even if he can't recognize it or won't admit it is: "This artwork is now my subject, and I have also mastered its artist, because I have spoke him." Q.E.D. Film criticism is above all an act of tremendous vanity. On one hand. On the other, I've decided, it's anxiety over the act of being a consumer as opposed to a creator.

Ginger Sand by Kentucker Audley, 2008:

"Excuse me, rude awakening, get up!" riffs Morton (in another amazing performance — this guy is something else) about turning the tables on Brandi, chef of what Morton terms "ginger sand" and who's a far temperamental cry from his own tagging-along GF, let alone the vision-girl in that line from the Kentucker recording stashed on the Benten disc: "And we could look up grey-goo on a website every day and take notes." A perfect sentiment and one that for me too's probably just as good as the someday patter of little feet.

Ginger Sand by Kentucker Audley, 2008:

But that's the thing with girls — they charm you with a little Du Bois and next they're inveigling a knife in your spine.

Ginger Sand by Kentucker Audley, 2008:


And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You

Train Your Eyes! This Guy's Also Dissolving

On to black-and-white, a surveillance aesthetic and apparatus, the somewhere else that's not here. A cat passes through, and that's the something here that's living, keeping the place presenced.

Observe the difference between the cat's body's felicity and the lumbering bulk of the character Nick (Adam Craycroft), eyes fixed to the computer. And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You — a nice title, funny, pulled from later on in the picture during a dispute that's comical and harsh. But also a reminder we're somewhere between the lands of the living and of the dead, where he just comes around and dances with you. Everything's washed in brushed-aluminum greys, like the waters seen from the ferry.

And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You by Kentucker Audley, 2007:

Or a CTA train. Dateline Chicago. A passenger's got a stud off-center beneath her lower lip. Nick's agaze. He's a stocky and beaten Richard Garriott. As much as he'd like it to be his eyes can't operate independent of that twisting mouth, he's a mouth-breather on the inside, like how nowadays folks drink milk only inside of the movies. He does a bad job of spying on himself — what does Nick think he's putting forward when he evades a neighbor that passes in the stairwell with "I kind've been lookin' forward to gettin' dinner on, so.", or hunkers with his cell to tell Jessica, who's in England, whose apartment he's either sitting for or squatting at, "So you know what babe I think I'm gonna get ready for bed."? This man with a moustache like the pedipalps of a spider who cuts things short. This man with the expression like he's not sure whether he just shit his pants.

And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You by Kentucker Audley, 2007:

It's a lead-up to later — he's Sour Disgust-Puss as he audio-iChats the girlfriend about a guy who's "teaching her how to dance" ("a real whiz on the dancefloor"), and the "fuckin'"s start to flow like leachate. It's as though the caller to the talk-radio show's managed to teleport in-studio, moustache an extra frown above his lip. Bad-humor's quantum with this guy, next you know he'll be in your kitchen, and he'll be drinking your milk, and what's more he'll be doing it in an inside-out t-shirt, motherfucker. Kentucker Audley knows that two-gallon jugs are the dumbest-looking containers and that a marble counter can help exploit this reality.

And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You by Kentucker Audley, 2007:

The movie ends on a dream-sequence — well, not really, it's more another 'manifestation' in-film, another interzone. A woman's on the train-platform speaking in Spanish. Nick — or Craycroft — is wearing glasses now and reacting in stammers, his face ping-ponging confusion and (at last) focus. Inside and outside, here and not here, reacting but wanting: one expression vacant with wondering re: a tax refund and the other seeming serious to convey: "Stop the Genocide of the Tamils in Sri Lanka."

And He Just Comes Around and Dances with You by Kentucker Audley, 2007:


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