His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com



Why this apparently great and sudden interest to see and write of movies? The interest has always been there, of course... I have a deep suspicion that I have a deep suspicion that, to borrow a well-worn phrase, cinema is dead. It will continue; it's not entirely beyond hope -- Emmanuel Hocquard wrote a wonderful book of sonnets in A Test of Solitude, after all -- but perhaps its vital period is somehow at an end. Of course I'm full of shit, I think, having watched the first ten minutes or so of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil this morning. The essay, that most flexible and wandering of forms, finds its expression in film, and increasingly via the internet. Charles Bernstein once concluded a paper with a funny line about Montaigne, I wish I could remember it, but you won't find it here.


Ran into J. at the movies the other night; we used to see each other at readings, but Ozu's Early Spring was the event in question. "Writing much?" was the inevitable question; J. had the inspired idea to take the day off Friday, take a four-hour train trip and write, wander around a different city, see the art museum, and return home that very night.


Godard has Edgar reading Chateaubriand on the train in the ending sequence of Eloge de l'amour; Stendahl, I think, would be keeping more within JLG's tastes. I think this is, perhaps, an oblique criticism of Edgar. The way the end of the film is intercut with the credits is quite brilliant. The flash of image, the text; the black leader could almost go on forever; it could well fold back into the beginning: Visa No. 90845.


Visa No. 90845 


What if there was no story? There are notes, ideas, memories... Various objects. A scrapbook. A more expansive aesthetic might admit them as a form of narrative.

I think of a word, but it's gone. And so I call it a "memory." Again: what if there was no story?


The Work 


The demand of the work; the demand continued within the work; the demand, encompassed within the work, in turn exceeds it.

The demand -- never to be accomplished in writing.
"We write to prove the impossibility of writing." -- M.B.

[Image via Moleskinerie].

the work 

Unseasonably sunny weather -- is that to blame? Too much coffee? I fear my prose has been rather terrible as of late, and I feel somewhat stifled. Only one more post on Ozu, I promise, and then the promised Godard notes. A little something on Stanley Cavell. And maybe I’ll get around to writing a piece on actual text / performance regarding Chris Mann. Something on notebooks, and some thing from the notebooks. Maybe a pretty picture. Not a pretty site.

On the political front, George W. Bush celebrates Presidents’ Day by leaving the country. We thank him for his consideration. Sorry, Europe. And as far as W’s alleged pot smoking, the point whether he inhaled or not isn’t the issue -- it’s the matter of his blowing it up the public’s collective ass, “shotgunned,” of course, by corporate media.


artifice & event 

I'm thinking about the nature of cinema as event; I was mildly surprised recently when a friend found it odd that I'd go see a movie despite the fact that I'd seen it the night before. (I only do this with some pictures, mind you). After all, films and shows are repeated on tv, and there was the video/DVD revolution -- one can easily build a film library now, and refer to films as one would books. DVDs have the added ease of being divided into "chapters" for browsing. Why shouldn't one view a film again -- especially if it has some intellectual heft to it (or is simply aesthetically pleasing?) So before the advent of the VCR, was going to the theater to see the same movie again some kind of eccentric act, or fairly common?

After a long period of going out to the movies maybe twice a year, I've become fascinated with the experience of film in real time.
Something __________ in the handling of cinematic time, the plasticity of image/text/sound -- the pacing of the it, the framing of image, sequence of shots; how character and sound are presented to the viewer. One must be on time to catch the beginning (or not; interesting how many mainstream movies, like television shows, have a sort of self-enclosed vignette that runs before the credits; it works like an operatic overture -- for the most part, purely set-up; plays no larger part in the narrative [Antonioni does this in The Eclipse]). At the theater you're at the mercy of the projectionist and you can't put the movie on hold while you get to go to the restroom. While viewing, caught up in the wake of a thought or a lingering image one might well miss something; the time we spend reading subtitles detracts from the visual information being presented to us.

Watching Tokyo Story a second time allowed me to reduce my level of attention to the text and concentrate on the movie as a visual artifact. Not only was this immensely rewarding, but I found that (curiously enough, despite having seen another Ozu movie immediately before it) -- that it didn't drag in any way -- if anything, upon second viewing it seemed shorter than its 138 minutes. Part of this is the way Ozu works, I think (see post below).
Re-reading books, I'm amazed at how much I've previously missed, or forgotten, and need the re-reading to jog my memory -- curious how a few sentences suddenly bring back an entire scene -- and also how seemingly insignificant bits have taken on greater import than a closer reading would suggest they should.

There is, too, the differential between the near-total immersion in the filmic medium when in a theater vs. viewing it at home, where the image is contained in a piece of furniture. I can hardly believe that, until last month, the last time I saw Godard in a theater, Ronald Reagan was in office. (And that was a university film series screening of Breathless; Hail Mary was something my housemates and I rented while borrowing a VCR from a friend. THAT was an event, borrowing a video player and renting half a dozen movies, something we can be so casual about & take for granted now.

So, I wonder -- thinking how Ozu's use of depth of field, the subtle visual pay-off of his typical low-angle shots and his framing in Tokyo Story (or Floating Weeds, where he employs color to stunning effect) -- how these can only really be appreciated in a theater. How does the VCR/DVD shape opur perception of the medium? (I'm not for a minute taking my good fortune in seing these pictures in a cinema for granted; my first Ozu was Floating Weeds, seen on video ten years or so ago, and that was a great experience; interesting how as time has gone by, I'd managed to forget almost all of the story, but certain scenes produced an effect of immediate recognition, almost like going to a museum and unexpectedly seeing a painting you'd only seen before reproduced in books).

Conversely, I can review Eloge de l'amour at my convenience, as I would a book or essay. I'm a little stunned and a bit envious that a friend saw it, not only in a theatrical release, but at a discount house. Notre Musique just showed for a week at a small independent theater. What the hell happened?

These observations are nothing new and offer little to cinematic or cultural discourse; there's no original thought and they seem marked by a bit of the dilettante; I'm just sorting things out here.

Feeling something like fresh or renewed love, I'm glad for the opportunity to see things on the big screen; I'm also happy for the convenience of the VCR. "Straight to video," while a quick way to easily dismiss a bad movie, may in fact be the best way to view others. We all have our preferences and eccentricities -- for example, as much as I love opera, I've actually been to the opera ONCE. I don't care much for the crowds, the prices, the theatricality or the plots. It is, for me, almost purely about music. In the case of opera, I have little concern with the event.


Cahiers du Doute is finished; like any notebook, it's reached its end and that's that. You can find it to the right under "hovering, dubious." A new notebook has been started here.



"The grimmest and most melodramatic of Ozu's postwar films, Tokyo Twilight takes place in a dark, wintry Tokyo, a nocturnal town of smoke-filled bars and seedy mahjong parlors. A father whose wife left him yearss ago for one of his subordinates has led his daughters Takako and Akiko to believe that their mother is dead. At a time of crisis for both sisters -- Takako returning to her family home following an argument with her abusive husband, Akiko seeking an abortion after a futile search for her boyfriend -- the long-missing mother makes a visit to Tokyo with her new husband to devastating results."

I have mixed feelings about melodrama. I'd like to say that I'm fundamentally, constitutionally and intellectually opposed to it, but I can be taken in. Oh, hell. Sometimes I just plain love it. Unlike Tokyo Story, which is a small story writ large, there are stories involved here that are of operatic quality. Yet, at 141 minutes, Ozu takes his time with them. It's easily an hour into the film before the absence of the mother is addressed, and mention is made of a lost brother. Like Tokyo Story, another long film, Ozu takes his time with the development. I don't intend to come off as sounding grandiose here, but to let the work take its time is perhaps the most important lesson the practice of art has to give.
The films of Ozu I've seen are all essentially family dramas, and his use of the same actors and settings create repetitions. I think a little of my first experiences of Bergman -- wondering "is there any movie of his without Max von Sydow or Bibi Andersson?" -- and how using the same actors gives them the freedom to utilize their skills to show greater nuances, nuances that become all the more rewarding through careful observation. The variations of the almost omnipresent Chishu Ryu. Setsuko Hara's performances in Tokyo Story, Early Summer, and Late Autumn seem all of a same type --- the sweet, demurring young (or not so young) woman; there's a harder edge to her character in Tokyo Twilight. I'm looking to seeing the ones I've seen with her again: she's wonderful. Sigh. In the case of this retrospective, seeing two different movies two days in a row is a real blessing.
In all cases, what catches my eye first is Ozu's impeccable sense of detail and composition: the framing of shots is exquisite. (All the more pronounced in Early Summer, I think -- it's been awhile since I've seen it, but that's the one, I'm pretty sure, where he shoots the entire film from a camera set 3' above the floor. Low angle shots are pretty much an Ozu trademark). Also a gentle, rhythmic pace, masterfully handled: I didn't feel my sometimes attenuated atention span making demands of the work, but neither did I feel the work was making special demands of me. Beyond the usual, of course.
I also become rather acutely aware of my own cultural biases: I realize that there are details that any Japanese will get and that I won't; also of my own culturally-determined pejoratives of his work as "exquisitely framed" or "restrained" -- as if I might as well be talking about ikebana or sushi. A lot is given away in a simple nod or a smile -- or what is not acknowledged. Ozu works a large canvas, but does so in terms of small brushtrokes.
I know that Ozu is critically regarded as one of THE great film-makers; it's really only after leaving the theater and walking down the street that the regard grows, and I think that not only have I spent over two hours of my life watching a movie, it's enriched me.
There is, what seems to me, a pervasive sense of melancholy, dare I use the loaded word "fatalism," about his work. But it's justified, I think, in that there's an accompanying sense of acceptance of life and what it brings and fails to bring, our decisions and our failures, that is universal. The exchanges between the daughter-in-law and mother, or again between her and the father or sister in Tokyo Story are compelling and heart-breaking.
"Life is disappointing, isn't it?" asks the younger. "Yes, it is" replies the elder -- but there's a smile and a look that says yes, life is sad, but there is more. There's a common bond. It's an awkward and terribly delicate moment.

Now before I get all weepy, let me just state that I sat down simply to write a quick post about a notebook and wrote this instead.



dreaming / praxis 

I thought, for a moment, that I could dismiss Amelie, say, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as mere escapist fare... but then I think of Notre Musique, or Nostalghia, or The Double Life of Veronique. Or The Communist Manifesto. Aren't these all tools to dream with?
Isn't one of the great failures of the radical left the failure to employ the imagination? Or does my thought precede my pen here? I think again, for a moment, about Russian Futurism, Constructivism, Formalism... but the Bolsheviks really only admitted these grudgingly -- and they were effectively purged by the end of the 1920s. Maybe the events of May '68 grab our imagination and hold it because it was a time when the imagination took to the streets following a series of strikes: art following political practice.
The American, French, Russian, Chinese revolutions were all necessary, beyond a doubt. (The American one the least, I think -- but it was anti-Imperial struggle, even if led by the business-owning class). The problem with revolutions is that you need another one within a short period of time, and not a counter-revolution, but the germ of it held in reserve. If it ceases to turn, to revolve, it ceases to be a revolution -- right? Jefferson and Trotsky both understood this, in their ways: the revolution must be continued; it's a process. (Of course, one has to answer for owning slaves and the other for Kronstadt). When they succeed, it's only a matter of time before the party/ies involved take on the more dubious aspects of the regimes they came into being to replace. Permanent revolution may well be unsustainable, except as an ideal; as in reading, a matter of continually engaging the subtext rather than succumbing to the allure of the text or pretext.
Documentaries have their place; I suppose melodrama does, too. Possibly.
[I woke up at 3 a.m. and wrote the above, waking around seven to find the notebook beside me]. I continue, thus:
It's a matter of attitude -- does one approach the work as tool, or an outlet that powers a tool -- or an outlet to plug a television set -- or any other escapist drug -- into?

What the glitz of Hollywood or the New York Times Book Review expresses, through silence & absence -- a misdirection or theft of attention from more considered forms -- is the need for other aesthetic and critical practices. And I know -- whether it's P. Inman's poetry, Chris Marker's cinema, Hélène Cixous' prose, or through webblogs and websites, that these practices exist. Quietly, perhaps marginally, it's where they need to be -- awaiting, not forgetting. The politico-aesthetic expressions one associates with May '68 didn't fall from the sky (nor were they innate in the mind); there were sympathetic expressions before, in Lettrisme and other modernist "movements." Some, no doubt, have yet to be (re)discovered -- perhaps on an individual level. I can't imagine Ultraism becoming the Next Big Thing, but I can imagine a few academic books, some articles, something in Artforum or October, with critics reinterpreting and reforming the "movement" to fit the demnads of their 21st century careers. It's being done now, in a way, to Robert Smithson (who introduced me to Ultraism through his writings).

"I don't think we've fully ahd modernism yet; that would be my complete position" remarked Rachel Blau du Plessis a couple of years ago. Or as J. and R. remarked upon my quoting this after a movie a couple of weeks ago, "we'll never fully have it. We can't really have it." So, then, a program for more work -- wch is a consolation. J.'s sculptures, wch could be described as "modernist," are currently showing in a gallery of African tribal art; the welded steel forms fit right in with the carved wood pieces. It's one of those things that shouldn't, technically, work. But it does.
The classifiers, systematizers and tastemakers, be it the New York Times or Ron Silliman in his blog, will always be with us. But there's a silent army of untellable dimensions out in the streets, ambling rather than marching, carrying notebooks, working as bookkeepers in Lisbon, doing ______, or _______, or ________. They're among us, and these people are my heroes.



One rather disappointing thing about the blogosphere (that's hopefully my first and only instance of using that word) is the number of links to Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos is less a "book person" than Oprah. His story is that of an entrepeneur who decided to move to Seattle because it was booming, sent his belongings in a moving van ahead and drove cross-country thinking of what he could sell on the internet. His first thought was music; in books he found the commodity with the proper, er, shelf life. I see the Amazon logo and sigh: if you're going to go to the bother of reading an actual printed book, take a little extra effort: traipse on down to your local independent bookshop and place a special order if need be. You really should get out more. But you're reading this on a computer and thus have some kind of access to the internet: there are many options there... There are distributors such as Small Press Distribution, perhaps THE salvation of small press poetry in the US. There are independents like Portland's Powell's Books (ground-breaking in its own way as one of the first stores to shelve old and new stock together) that have increased their web presence, and now maintain a warehouse of new books purely for internet sales. There's always dealing directly with the publisher, more so with the smaller ones: I bought one of Exact Change's wonderfully designed books recently and I was more than happy with the turnaround time -- and the tape that sealed the package bearing the line "Exact Change: Tomorrow's Used Books Today."
Which brings me to the used market: I'd rather wander around town looking for a particular book, but I know from experience that my chance of finding something by Pinget or Sarraute is exactly that, a chance -- and for that, ABE is a godsend. (Picked up Between Life and Death, hardcover in rubbed dj for $2.75 + $4.00 shipping recently. Like my Exact Change purchase, not exactly the thing that's going to keep a bookseller alive -- but these things add up and ABE is keeping a lot of small sellers going these days). ABE has mirror sites for the UK, Germany, and Spain, you have the ability to contact the dealer directly (which you can't do via Alibris OR the used books sold through Amazon -- which, again, is an entrepeneurial joke: Alibris and Amazon both take larger percentages than ABE, and Amazon reimburses sellers for shipping at such a low rate that the seller generally loses money on the deal. This isn't conjecture; I've reviewed the invoices and done the math). Aside from dealing with an actual human, or having to deal with an ill-tempered bookstore clerk, ABE or Powell's is the next best thing.

As if I have nothing else to write about, lolling about in the bookstore on a rainy evening after seeing Ozu's Tokyo Twilight earlier -- "the grimmest and most melodramatic of Ozu's postwar films." Rain on.


Blog of Flying Digressions 

If one is to take certain "rules" about narrative as given -- so widely practiced that they that they can be taken as such -- they find an obvious expression in cinema, esp. of the Hollywood variety. Dissociation and disjunction are not readily admitted. In this way I'm drawn to Bollywood pictures and, to a lesser extent, Hong King action films, where the narrative flow in continually broken by song and dance routines or fight sequences. The fights can generally be anticipated, but Bollywood musical interludes often seem to pop up for no apparent reason, disrupting the flow of the story in an unexpected way; sometimes, it seems as if they were spliced into the movie almost arbitrarily.
I rarely go to the cinema because, quite frankly, it bores me. Utterly prgrammatic and desensitizing; the artistic equivalent of thin lager, leaving nothing behind but a vague and unpleasant aftertase, headache & sense of remorse.
I got tired of everyone telling me to go see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it came out (or, as my sister calls it, "Crouching something something something"; my family seems to have some sort of congenital problem with signification) -- and that's to my regret; rather than seeing it on the big screen, I finally saw it on video late last year. Yes, the action scenes were remarkably fluid and well-staged, etc., etc... but the really interesting thing, I thought, was the way the plot digressed into the subplot involving the "mystery ninja"'s past: how this movie of otherwise conventional plot and length, the forward momentum is derailed into this 15-20 minute subplot, with no cutting away back to the current time. A Hollywood film, or even most "independents," would never get away with that, I thought.
Wednesday -- by far the most beautiful day of the year so far, bright and warm -- I availed myself of an open afternoon to see The House of Flying Daggers -- afrraid they'd pull it from the largest screen in town before I could see it. It was worth an afternoon and a premium, non-matinee price. The makers certainly didn't skip on production values -- even a campfire seemed to be constructed out of specially crafted & carefully arranged pieces of wood. There's a lot of eye candy, and plenty of gorgeous details: amazing scenes of a forest in autumn, textures of cloth, green bamboo boughs -- in general, a carefully selected palette -- but again I found myself amazed by narrative choices. There are plot "twists," per se -- but they often occur more as a lateral move than a spinout / turnaround. After a point, the story practically heads off down a siding for the rest of the film. The fact that a plot thread is left entirely unresolved seems more intentional than careless, or a forced ambiguity. [I may be overstating the case here; perhaps I need to see more mainstream movies. Or not; just be suprised by the ones I see].
I caught the end of the afternoon and the sunset before I made it to work that night, still buoyant. Sometimes a picture carries you off and you carry the mood away with you and it colors the rest of you day, or the next.


I shd make at least passing mention of two other movies recently screened: Takeshi Kitano's Dolls. The projectionist explained at the beginning that "though it starts out slow, it picks up more later." He LIED -- if anything, the opposite was true. It's positively glacial. To borrow a phrase from a friend and a different context, "frozen beautiful." And there was Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Distant -- another quiet, slow movie. Istanbul covered in snow. Grey skies. People not talking. Bergman sans existential despair or wistfulness. [For the record, I can't think why Bergman has to be some kind of yardstick for "existential" cinema -- ok, Winter Light -- but I can think of few films as perfect as Winter Light, or Through a Glass Darkly].
Oh, there was Guy Maddin's new one, Cowards Bend the Knee, too. I need to collect my notes on Notre Musique and write a proper post. And explain why I've seen Moonstruck 4-5 times over the past two months. But for now -- a five week Ozu retrospective!

(Funny, I know: only just recently I was mocking people who used to write about books and seemingly gave it all up to write about fucking movies).

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