Sunday, February 05, 2006


Artforum has to be the heaviest magazine I subscribe to—we’re talking pounds here, not ounces. Fortunately, not all of it is reading material, or I’d never get through it. The majority of each issue is given over to large and visually striking ads for art shows, and they provide hours of doodling inspiration. The articles on art and film, relatively few though they might be, are usually quite solid, and I end up ripping out and filing many of them. (I wonder: Do other bloggers also have a penchant for collecting writing? I have a filing system in my basement made up of vinyl-storage crates, with files indexed by director and a few national cinemas. While much of it is from print-only media, there’s a fair amount run off the Net, because it’s often more convenient to read it in paper form, mark it up, etc.)

In the new issue of Artforum, there are two terrific film essays. J. Hoberman writes about Mexican director Carlos Reygadas and his second film, Battle In Heaven. There are many blunders one can make at a film festival and my doozy in Toronto last year was to head back to the hotel for a snooze while my friends Darren and Rob headed over to see this film. I don’t remember how good my nap was but I can tell you it probably wasn’t worth it. Thankfully, the film is now being released here. Hoberman’s piece is not on-line but here’s how it begins:

Made forty years ago, Andy Warhol talkies like Vinyl and Beauty #2 remain the reductio ad absurdum of behavioral direction, a technique that requires non-actors to cope, with negligible instruction, while the camera grinds relentlessly on until it runs out of film.

Orchestrating a Warhol is never easy, but ambitious directors have intermittently experimented with this form of situational performance. Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (1998) and Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002), for example, are each predicated on a setup designed to cue on-camera improvisation. And the thirty-four-year-old Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas has recently established himself as a Warholian impresario who, working without a screenplay, creates existential conditions under which nonprofessional actors are compelled to expose themselves—sometimes cruelly—on camera.

Related: Dennis Lim on Reygadas in today's New York Times.

The second essay is on the films of Guy Debord, now available on DVD thanks to a project headed by Olivier Assayas. Keith Sanborn writes:

The Society of the Spectacle is a feature-length film essay—Debord's own adaptation of his renowned work of cultural and political history and theory. Debord not only speaks about the spectacle—he himself reads the incisive voice-over that occupies most of the sound track—but redirects the spectacle's own weapons against it, a strategy the Situationists call détournement. Debord puts into service feature films from "East" and "West," newsreel footage, ads that look like soft-core porn, and soft-core porn that looks like ads. He makes innovative use of subtitles and intertitles to problematize reception. For the spectacle, as Debord reminds us, "is not a collection of images, but a relationship among people mediated by images." In the highly distilled and allusive reflections presented and in their presentation, a complex critical apprehension of the relationship between image and text, individual and society is produced.

When I renewed my subscription recently, they threw in a year’s worth of Bookforum for free. Again, most of the articles in the new issue, like Kent Jones on Marshall Fine's new book on Cassavetes, are not on-line. But here's an interesting essay by Tom Holert on Edgar Morin, who made, with Jean Rouch, the pioneering cinema-verité film, Chronicle Of A Summer (1960).


Blogger girish said...

Michael--I like how you've been blogging about the same film more than once.
I've been watching fewer films lately, wanting to spend more time with each one, and feel like doing the same thing.

February 05, 2006 9:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

At the age when I was playing street cricket, getting into scrapes and walking around in short pants, this kid is making feature films.
[Thanks, Doug].

February 05, 2006 9:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

New issue of Bright Lights Film Journal.

February 05, 2006 9:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm not into celebrity dish but this is irresistible.

February 05, 2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger Shasta said...

i LOVE Aftforum. i need to make money, (like one make's time), to afford it.... gut post senor!

February 05, 2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Shasta, I've tried subscriptions to other art magazines (like Art in America or ArtNews) and always end up not renewing. This one's different. I like its level of discourse--not too basic, not too esoteric.

February 06, 2006 5:43 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay. Just got an email from Rob. He was at Sundance last week, and interviewed Reygadas at length. He sent me the transcript, which is utterly fascinating, and will be posted before too long on the Paste website as a podcast.
At one point, they're talking about Reygadas' favorite filmmakers (Bresson, Ozu, Antonioni, Tarkovsky...) and guess who he points to as one of the greatest American directors? Yup, Abel Ferrara...

(Oh, and nice work, Rob, on being named "chief film critic" over there...)

February 06, 2006 5:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Online-only Claire Denis interview outtakes (with Gavin Smith) on the Film Comment site:

Denis: ...I have a dreamy distance with reality, which is not a really good thing.

Smith: I think it's very good for films.

D: But for life it is not.

S: Maybe not. I have always felt that your films were very difficult for me, maybe because I tend to be rational despite being drawn to the poetic or imaginative work. I look at a film and try to understand its mathematics. But that doesn't work with your film.

D: As an audience, I do not ask any questions of the film. The film can lead me anywhere. I can go and see any film, a good or a bad one. In Saraband, when the young girl speaks for the first time about her father and there is this flash image of the father grabbing her. It's a vision, probably not the vision of the girl, but it blew me away. I say this is the greatest thing I have seen this year. A real vision, a vision of violence, but something that doesn't tell the exact truth, because it's kind of hard to speak about the relations you have with your father. It feels like a kind of hidden consciousness. I am not able to do that. But I understand logic. I have been educated to be logical, so I know what logic is.

S: But you don't choose it?

D: No, but I don't reject it as something I don't like. I'm the opposite: if I have a discussion with someone, I would not be very tolerant with someone who has no logic.

S: But when you watch a film?

D: I ask for nothing.

February 06, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Girish, for a moment I missed the "hotel" part and thought perhaps you had napped at the movie, which would have been a bigger blunder, I suppose. Years ago I had a couple of subscriptions to Carnegie Hall, way up in the gods, and my friend and I would look down at the well-dressed businessmen in the good seats, dropping off to sleep during the first movement. Quite the expensive nap.

J. Hoberman is not my favorite critic (forgive me!) but I do want to see this director's movie now.

February 06, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Campaspe, I think it always takes me a few days to get adjusted to the filmfest rhythm, and until then I'm always half-exhausted. And the European ones are worse coz there's jet lag to contend with. By the time you're over the lag, it's time to come back home.

February 06, 2006 7:42 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Weird bit of synchronicity this morning: I just printed out my ticket order for next week's Film Comment Selects which includes the only screening of Battle of Heaven for the series, and I'm in the process of writing up something for Marker's Le Joli mai which is heavily influenced/inspired by Rouch's Chronicle Of A Summer. Next thing you know, we'll be coordinating outfits or something. ;)

By the way, Gavin's comment about being rational in the Denis outtakes is pretty funny; he's probably the least "rational" when it comes to film; he's very much anchored to aesthetics and philosophy rather than trying to make logical sense of it.

February 06, 2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Re: Gavin, that struck me too!
Interesting how one's own self-perception can be so at odds with how one really is. (Unless he was exaggerating a bit to make her respond more strongly...)

February 06, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

On a Herzog-related note.
I've heard that some of his DVDs have excellent commentaries by him, but I haven't heard any.
Recommendations would be welcome.

February 06, 2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Joshua on John Banville's Booker Prize-winning The Sea:

"But what interested me most in the book were the various references to Faulkner. Of course, this can only go badly for Banville. His novel bears little resemblance in style to Faulkner. Where Faulkner is all outrage and fury, Banville is cool and polite. His sentences flow with fluidity and grace, and for all his playfulness with time, the plot nonetheless has a most un-Faulknerian suspensefulness, full of foreshadowing and evasiveness. His occassional dips into a more energetic prose are rarely successful, in that they break apart his novel's mood, one of its best traits."

February 06, 2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

New issue of Senses Of Cinema, with Best-Of-2005 lists.

February 06, 2006 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

The audio track for Herzog's first feature, Signs of Life, is by far my favorite commentary of his. As I mentioned somewhere on my site, he discusses the War in Iraq, the new Pope, why chickens scare him with their flat stupidity, and why Bogdanovich's Targets is a stupid film.

Runners-up would be any of the commentaries with Herzog and Crispin Glover together, like Fata Morgana. I seem to remember the track for Even Dwarves Started Small as being pretty stellar, too.

Viva zee Herzog!

February 06, 2006 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, I think ArtForum is heavy enough to be used as a weapon. (I'm not a subscriber, but I check the magazine out from time to time when I visit my local Borders Books.) Thanks for posting the excerpts from the issue. Thanks, too, for the link; I've been thinking about The Holy Girl for weeks now. I had no idea that it would affect me the way it did.

February 06, 2006 1:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Aaron. Signs Of Life will be a good first choice; I've never seen it.
Michael, I've lately been meaning to revisit La Cienaga. Martel was really intelligent and articulate at the Holy Girl Q&A, often responding to questions without hesitation. Wish I'd taken notes.

February 06, 2006 5:43 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

FWIW, Battle in Heaven is being released on R2 DVD in March. I can't imagine it'll get much of a theatrical run in the States -- NYC, LA, Chicago, probably -- which is a shame, because I'd really love to see it in a theater again.

I enjoyed that interview with Reygadas in the Times. I am so completely oblivious to the political conditions of contemporary Mexico. Fox has seemed awfully chummy with Bush, so I assumed he was a good ways right of center, but most of the political commentary in Reygadas' films -- like the politics of Y Tu Mama Tambien -- is beyond me. I mean, there is obviously a political component there; I just wish I were better equipped to interpret and respond to it.

I have a subscription to Book Forum but never seem to make it through more than two or three articles. I'm not sure why, exactly.

February 06, 2006 6:23 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

For those in San Francisco, Battle in Heaven (and his first film, Japon) will be showing next week at the Yerba Buena, with Reygadas in attendance.

February 06, 2006 6:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Darren and Rob.
Here's another Reygadas interview, from the new Senses.

February 06, 2006 8:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Here's David on The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.

February 06, 2006 8:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I'm same way with Bookforum. I'll often start an article, read a few paragraphs, and start fading out.
The new issue has a little more sustained interest for me because of the film essays.

February 06, 2006 8:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Darren, maybe you and I can catch Battle In Heaven in New York next month...

February 06, 2006 9:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I haven't read a lick of Mark Twain's nonfiction but clearly I need to.
Check it out: Maud and TMFTML in conversation about Twain, and then Orwell.

February 07, 2006 7:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

For some reason, I've popped up on Maud's links list.
When I first started reading blogs, hers was among those I was a bit obsessed with.
I especially couldn't get enough of the posts she archived under "Personal".
(And there's a lot).

February 07, 2006 8:30 AM  
Anonymous sacha said...

love ARTFORUM and have about five years worth stacked up in my home office for whenever i need some fresh visuals. i'm a magazine junkie, but it is fave. well, along with W--it's a tie. and Print, i.d., HOW, Communication Arts, Wallpaper, GQ, Esquire, Business Week, BookForum, New Yorker, get the idea.

February 08, 2006 12:51 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish, I fully understand your interest in blogging about the same film more than once. As I'm just developing my blogsite, I've decided to call such posts "catchbasins" because how can it be otherwise? If a film is any good, it will play upon sensibility now and again.

"Next thing you know, we'll be coordinating outfits or something." Hilarious. It feels like that sometimes, eh? As has been mentioned, Reygadas is filmmaker in residence at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this week, I have tickets to see both films and to hear him speak. (We've really got to stop meeting like this!!) So I appreciate the pointer to the Hoberman interview in "Art Forum" and the Lim article in the "NY Times". Unfortunate that the first is not offered on-line and that the second has to be paid for. Is it worth paying the $4? I'll pick up the "Art Forum" while out and about today. Thanks for the pointer!

February 15, 2006 11:03 AM  

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