Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Margaret and I had a wonderful dinner/movie chat tonight, though we wished everyone else had been able to make it as well--hopefully next time. One of the many topics was a possible "next film": has anyone seen Orson Welles' "F For Fake" yet? I thought it'd be a provactive choice--it's not your typical movie. It's all about the nature of forgery and authenticity, in film, writing, art and personal history. The label "documentary" has so many connotation as regards "truth" and "objectivity," and "F For Fake" certainly makes us question these concepts. So, if people are up for it, the movie is on DVD (a nice two-disc edition from the Criterion Collection) and was also on VHS at one time (from Home Vision/Janus). It should be available, I know Kim's has it, and Bobst Library has it at the Avery Fischer Media Resource Center.

Also--there is a Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective at IFC Center on Weekends through Februrary. I'll be there this Saturday at noon to see "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" if anyone happens to be wandering around Waverly and Sixth Ave at that time.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

While Cullen and perhaps everyone else has been out watching films, I spent a filmless week. Not one film since last Sunday night's Outfoxed...or was that two weeks ago (this must sound to some of you like not eating or sleeping for a week)? Books I ordered, though, did arrive, so now I can bemoan not to have read in addition to not to have watched...I am eager, though, to read the essay you recommended, Cullen, Phillip Lopate's "In Search of the Centaur: the Essay-Film," which I've skimmed, and its first sentences sound like exactly what I've been hoping to find:

My intention here is to define, describe, survey and celebreate a cinematic genre that barely exists.
As a cinephile and personal essayist, I have an urge to see these two interests combined through the
works of filmmakers who commit essays on celluloid. But, while there are cinematic equivalents to
practically every literary genre, filmmakers tend to shy away from the essay, and that in itself is
intriguing. (Totally Tenderly Tragically New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1998: 280)

Love the verb "commit"! A frustration is that even though end matter in the paperback tells that this essay was first published in The Threepenny Review, no date is given...even if you guys didn't know already how I feel about this, isn't this frustrating? When Lopate writes about films that might or might not be essay-films, don't we want to know if this was written in 1998 or maybe 10 or 15 years earlier? The latest film Lopate discusses is from 1990, but there's an afterward, undated but possibly written for this paperback in 1998, in which the latest film he cites is from 1993. So I am left wondering if anything has changed...after all, 1998 is eight years ago!! Blogging explosion aside, think how much has changed in eight years! So, has the number of essay-films increased? Has the term come up more? Has anyone categorized My Architect as an essay-film?

Lopate gave me an idea for a candidate for our next documentary/essay-film, Nanni Moretti's Caro Diario, which Lopate discusses on pp. 338-39 of the same book (and possibly elsewhere)--he made me want to see it.

Also, casing the local library for more things I won't have time for, I brought home Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960), which the video box matter says was "voted the second greatest film of all time in a poll of international film critics by Sight and Sound Magazine." [What was the first??] Should have brought it home on DVD if it existed--now the argument in our one-TV home of whether or not to turn the TV on at all, turn it on for this, etc. When I set up my little computer and external DVD drive w/headphones, no compromise necessary. Still, also, want to see the new Woody Allen film, around in local theatres.

Went kind of wild when ordering the Lopate book--also bought Jack C. Ellis's and Betsy A. McLane's A New History of Documentary Film (New York: Continuum, 2005) and Liz Stubb's Documentary Filmmakers Speak (New York: Allworth, 2002)...anyone know about either of these? Have barely glanced inside so far.

Hope some of you can join Cullen and me Tuesday! (see email)


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Time 2 Meet Up?

Hi, blogmates,

Cullen and I thought maybe we need a dose of face time, so if you have Tuesday classes (or not), would you like to meet at ten p.m. next Tuesday, 31 Jan., at French Roast (11th St./6th Ave.) for a drink and to plan our next two films? (Btw, regarding Brokeback Mtn., did anyone hear on NPR (I think) that at a "press conference" recently, someone in the audience asked Pres. Bush if he'd seen it. His response was to end the "press conference" and leave the room. hmmm...)

In addition to Cullen's essay suggestion below, when I was getting my new essay course ready, I came across this info about essays:film on encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Essay:

Film can also be used to produce the more subjective reflective attitude characterisitic
of essays. Important essay film makers include Chris Marker, Guy Debord, Raoul Peck
and Harun Farocki. One working definition of the essay film is "documentary laced with
self-portrait." Theoretical approaches to this genre can be found in the works of Michel
Beaujour, Raymond Bellour and Roland Barthes. Other filmmakers who have been active
in the essay film are Orson Welles, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Hartmut Bitomski, Alexander
Kluge, Jem Cohen, Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Kramer. Perhaps the original essay
filmmaker was Dziga Vertov.

Perhaps I'm the only one chewing on this (for the obvious reason)...but I've only seen films by two of the names on this list (and you can guess which I'll bet). Lots to catch up on. I first thought that My Architect is a "documentary laced with self-portrait," but then how much do we really learn about Nathaniel Kahn as an adult? ... a lot, both about his childhood memories and his newly forming relationship w/his half-sisters and that with his mother of course, also some about his education at Yale, or at least that he was lucky enough to have taken Vincent Scully's history of architecture course...but somehow, he remains unknown. Maybe it's in comparison to how much more, quite logically, we learn about his father.

Blog back or email Cullen or me if you can f2f with us next Tuesday.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


That's very helpful...I'll look up Lopate's essay. I watched My Architect again last night, as luck would have it, straight through. I was no less drawn in--maybe more so with the advantage of an uninterrupted viewing (not quite just like in the theatre...the tv was on, then the good music was blaring, then the piano-playing hour began...but I had my new $14. earphones!).

I was struck with the notion that Nathaniel Kahn is Telemachus, searching for news of his father Odysseus. My copy of The Odyssey is at home and I'm here, but in Edith Hamiton's Mythology, she writes "[Athena] was exceedingly fond of Telemachus, not only because he was her dear Odysseus' son, but because he was a sober, discreet young man, steady and prudent and dependable. She thought it would do him good to take a journey while Odysseus was sailing home, instead of perpetually watching in silent fury the outrageous behavior of the suitors. Also it would advance him in the opinion of men everywhere if the object of his journey was to seek for some news of his father. They would think him, as indeed, he was, a pious youth with the most admirable filial sentiments." Doesn't this match Nathaniel Kahn (and his "role" in MyArch) to a "t"? Well, except that he's not exactly a "youth"...I figure he was about 36 when he made it. I was perpetually intrigued at NK's facial expressions...I'm convinced he meditates. He hears the presumably painful reminders about his father with such equanimity. One of the moments I thought I would have cried is when Kahn's colleague working on the gorgeous Salk Center tells NK that Louis Kahn used to spend Christmas with the colleague and his family...how could NK not think "why didn't he spend it with my mother and me?" But this and other such moments of revelation about LK's life, kind of like Odysseus's trials on his long journey home--covering such territory, too, like Odysseus, from Philadelphia to LaJolla to Bangladesh--NK hears with a mostly impassive face. (Many times I thought he was such a great listener.) I'm trying to remember the one moment when I saw a fleeting hint of pain...maybe it's there in the magically lit, thanks to LK's genius with natural light, stairwell at the Salk Center when NK hears the detail about Christmas.

More later,


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Phillip Lopate wrote a essay called "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film" that might be worth considering in this discussion. It is featured in his collection "Totally Tenderly Tragically." He discusses several films in the essay, including the Bunuel "Land Without Bread," Michael Moore's "Roger and Me," Alain Resnais' "Night and Fog," and numberous other movies by Welles, Marker--the list goes on. Perhaps it is worth reading the essay and choosing a film from it to watch?

"It could be said that all first-person narration tends toward the essay, in the sense that, as soon as an 'I' begins to define his or her position in and view of the world, the potential for essayistic discourse comes into play. First-person narration in film is complicated by the disjunction between the subjective voice on the sound track and the third-person, material objectivity that the camera tends to bestow on whatever it photographs, like it or not...[First-person narration also] superimposes a thoughtful perspective, looking backward on the supposed "now" of the film..." (300-301).

Lopate, Phillip. "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film." Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Essays and Criticism from a Lifelong Love Affair with the Movies. New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998. 280-311.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Still wondering about the documentary as audio-visual essay (while preparing the new essay course)...watched MM's Bowling for Columbine last night, and, like his Fahrenheit 9/11 (and even, we might add, My Architect, with the director on screen and taking us through the story he creates though the details are confirmable fact), it's one distinct person's exploration of an idea/issue/question. The person's point-of-view is the story, or as Einstein put it, "the observer is the essence of the situation," my favorite, as you know, coup de grace on the question of the "I" in an essay. If anyone has any thoughts to share on my question of documentary as a-v essay, I'm listening. How common, btw, is it for the writer/director to be the on-screen narrator in documentaries? On my schedule for tonight are the documentaries Spellbound and re-viewing My Architect. I bought headphones, so now I can sit on the liv.rm. couch, watching a dvd on my little tablet notebook w/earphones while Peter watches football on the tv. Sweet!
Enjoy the snow (we have about 5"),

Friday, January 13, 2006

Only a bit of time now to make connections, but thanks for bringing up the title Brokeback Mtn. I kept looking for its contour when it was on screen, to see if it looked like a broken back (whatever that looks like). But it also metaphorically describes Ennis and Jack, their "backs" having been broken by their fears and society's prejudice, and even literally their living broke, or at least this is true throughout for Ennis though Jack later benefits from Lureen's dad's prosperity. It's kind of Dickensian as a name. The contrast and escape magic of the mountain v. every other aspect of their revealed lives is central...leaves me wondering about the vastness of the mountain. Despite it, Ennis and Jack are laid low by small-mindedness. They don't trust it enough to stay there, to find a way to make a life there permanently. What does this suggest about human nature? Born to suffer, hence the recurring need for escape?

Btw, how would I get that Bunuel film? I wonder still about pt-of-vw...how does Ang Lee reveal his? What's he known for?

More later about the many interesting ideas you posted, Cullen--thanks!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Re: Fri. 30 Dec./Margaret: Is searching for/being stymied by/hiding one's identity a thematic link between BbkMtn & MyArch? Is MyArch's 1st-person narration inevitable for a documentary? (Am I remembering accurately, or is this term used for feature films, that BbkMtn seems to be "told" by an omniscient narrator...hmmm, no, that doesn't make sense for drama, does it. It's "told" audio-visually via action in space and time....)

To me, the difference between the narrators is that Nathaniel Kahn comes out from behind the camera and makes himself as much a "character" as a "director"; Ang Lee, while he is telling the story, never enters into it as a character. So there is a difference between how a "narrator" tells a story, and how a "director" tells it--but can both be happening simoultaneously? Or must it be one or the other? An interesting film to throw into this sub-topic is Luis Bunuel's "Land Without Bread." In it, he is able to have a narrator that exhibits one point of view, but Bunuel the director is able to counter it and project his own viewpoint. He accomplihes it through images and montage, by having the visual element of the film clash so highly with the audio that the movie takes on an ironic, cynical air that is not present in either the sountrack or the images alone.

I would agree about the thematic link between MA and BM being about identity. One of Kahn's partners fled to Maine when she was having her baby, not unlike Ennis and Jack's retreat to Brokeback Mountain. To what degree are Nate Kahn and Ang Lee revealing identity with their films? Certainly this seems to be at the forefront of Kahn's film--rediscovering his lost family--but what about BM? Was their relationship hidden, or was it a "known secret" as Ennis presumed? What about that end scene when he visits Jack's parents? it seemed to be that they knew about his and Jack's relationship, or at least inferred as much.
Some more thoughts...
Escape is a large part of the Western genre, and parallels can be drawn between Brokeback Mountain as a location, and Ennis and Jack's dilemma, and the Western tradition. The Cinematic West exists either as an unsettled, law-less territory, or as a dying landscape, on the verge of being tamed by law and order. Its inhabitants are feeling their past, looking for a new start on life: ex-gunslingers (Shane, Johnny Guitar) or homesteaders (Shane, Bend of the River). Westerns are about rebuilding, starting over again--and the landscape is an important part of this. Planting new roots finds a literal metaphor in nature: living in a more pure nature becomes a way of rediscovering one's self. Too, if these characters are fleeing from a modern society, unsatisfied with it as they are, then they should flee all signs of modernism and (sub)urbanism. Their new life--landscape and all--should be unfettered by all that has corrupted their former life: it is as though they reject an entire history. That is why lawlessness is important to the Western: it allows people to start again. The crook will inhabit any society, but without an omnipresent law (encompassing a society's morals and ethics) anybody can begin to live a little freer. Jack and Ennis, dissatisfied with their conventional homes and duties, are able to find temporary solace on Brokeback Mountain.

So much about BM was wonderful--the photography, especially, stood out in my mind. I could hardly recognize Heath Ledger--he seemed more like Chris Cooper. He (both his acting and the make-up crew) did a great job of aging himself throughout the movie, sort of like Welles in Kane.

I, for one, considered BM to be a Western (I'm also a fan of Westerns, I should add), so I thought I'd make my first posting be about BM and the Western genre.

Westerns, more than other genre pictures, seem to be in conversation with one another. Perhaps it is because of its consistent/insistence on environment and location: the desert, the woods, and the prairie are all common Western locations. Even the title of the film (and the story) "Brokeback Mountain" calls attention to location. So, what does the mountain mean to the story, and what does setting mean to Westerns in general, or can we not generalize something about this?

I see some sort of relationship between the mountain and their jobs. Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) bucks broncos and rides in rodeos, while Ennis (Heath Ledger) has this cowboy, herder status. Both men's jobs are about controlling nature, conquering animals, yet they retreat to this unbridled nature--Brokeback Mountain--where they too can become unbridled.

What did everyone else think?


Questions posed in our posts so far (I hope I haven't missed any--if so, please post them) in most-to-least recent order (maybe the opposite would make more sense?):

  • Sat.7 Jan./Cullen: Any Bergman fans? What is everyone else watching?
  • Tue.3 Jan./Margaret: Definition of "point-of-view shooting"?
  • Mon.2 Jan./Margaret: How did you like/has anyone learned any interesting details about BbkMtn &/or MyArch? What's Ang Lee known for? Have I correctly picked up that none of his films is like any of his others? Is Fra Angelico a 15th c. cineaste? In MyArch do we have point-of-view shooting or rather point-of-view-everything since Nathaniel Kahn is an on-screen 1st-person narrator? Is there point-of-view shooting in BbkMtn? Is documentary film equivalent to an audio-visual essay? What's the classic definition of documentary film?
  • Fri. 30 Dec./Margaret: Is searching for/being stymied by/hiding one's identity a thematic link between BbkMtn & MyArch? Is MyArch's 1st-person narration inevitable for a documentary? (Am I remembering accurately, or is this term used for feature films, that BbkMtn seems to be "told" by an omniscient narrator...hmmm, no, that doesn't make sense for drama, does it. It's "told" audio-visually via action in space and time....)

My notion, I guess, is that maybe some discussion-building lurks within? Hope to hear from anyone with answers and/or more questions or other discussion,

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Finally back in the city--so much to catch up on. Finishing the Hitchcock retro this week at Film Forum (excited for the Young and Innocent/Downhill double feature Monday night...two movies for the price of one!). A recent Italian film, Best of Youth, has re-opened at Cinema Village...lots of praise for the film, I'll be catching it for sure. And, of course, the Fassbinder retro at IFC. This weekend it is Merchant of Four Seasons, a personal favorite, so I'll be there. (Alexis, Pickpocket is also playing at IFC this week). And, somewhere in between all this, I'll find time for Brokeback and M.A.

Anybody know of any other great screenings this week?

Hey, blogmates,
How did you like My Architect and Brokeback Mountain? Has anyone learned any interesting details along the way about either? One new question that's occurred to me is what is Ang Lee known for?--I think this is the first of his films I've seen, and have I correctly picked up that none of his films is remotely similar to the others? I think amongst our blogs so far is a small collection of questions. Maybe I'll go through them and make a list.

Read Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" tonight. The film is as identical to her story as I can imagine film being. No brown paper bag, though, so I suppose that synecdoche is Ang Lee's. Somewhere I read that her reaction to the film was something like amazed...can't google my way back to that comment.

Hope to hear from you all. Cullen, your filmgoing is amazing, too. I spent Saturday at the Met, seeing for the second time the Fra Angelico show. I guess he was like a 15th c. cineaste. It ends the 29th...don't miss it!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cullen, I've watched my share of Bergman films...grateful to have seen them, maybe not eager, considering all the unseen films I want to watch, to see them again now...but you are a wonder of new ideas. Want to throw into the discussion this from a hot-off-the-press film review in the new NYer (where else?), David Denby reviewing Match Point, near the end of which he writes "Filmmakers understand the laws of narrative all too well: an audience, properly hooked by point-of-view shooting, will root for a bank robber or a murderer to get away with what he's doing" (9 Jan. 2006: 92). I was struck by the expression "point-of-view shooting"--is that Denby's invention? In My Architect, do we have point-of-view shooting or point-of-view everything? Is there point-of-view shooting in BbkMtn? Guess I'm looking for a definition?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Any Ingmar Bergman fans? I've been re-watching many of his movies this break--Hour of the Wolf, Winter Light, Through a Glass Darkly. Also, I saw for the first time The Serpent's Egg, which had (oddly enough) David Carridine. It took a little while, but he was quite good in it.

Long list of other movies I'm watching--too many? That's not for me to say.

Oscar Micheaux movies on TCM this morning (6 AM....I was up for them): Within Our Gates, Symbol of the Unconquered, Body and Soul (Paul Robeson's first film) and Swing. I'm going to try to get more down on these later. Micheaux was an early independent filmmaker starting in the 1920s. He financed some of his early works by selling his novels door to door. They had very poor distribution in their days, and sadly most of his movies are lost.

What is everyone else watching?

Hi, all,

As if I don't have 37 more undone items on my vacation to-do list, I got curious to find Annie Proulx's short story of "Brokeback Mountain" (or whatever the story title is), and found, on her website (www.annieproulx.com), a link to an interview in The Missouri Review as well as some thoughts on her story and the film on her FAQs. Also discovered a book is out, containing it seems the short story and articles by the two screenwriters (Peter said he saw it at Borders for $11).

NPR did a review of My Architect by Neda Ulaby "The DVD Room" (11 Mar. 2005) and an interview with Nathanial Kahn on "Fresh Air" (20 Fe. 2004) which can be listened to ( a transcript only for purchase, under $15 but I didn't go far enough to find out more), both on www.npr.org.

Unrelated, watched Outfoxed last night (catching up on my long list of recent documentaries I never saw). I have to say, I nearly wept that such a convincing case could be made--
before the 2004 election--about why never to listen to anything Fox News Channel broadcasts as "fact" yet not prevent Bush from "winning" (nothing will convince me Ohio and maybe also New Mexico or other states weren't stolen). I'm also thinking along with these viewing experiences that documentaries are audiovisual essays (if my definition of an essay is an exploration of the writer's[/documentarian's] thinking about a specific issue/question/dilemma)--anyone have any thoughts about that? Is there a classic definition of a documentary?
Happy New Year to all you blogmates,