Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Joseph Cornell

This post is part of the Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon. Please scroll down for a complete list of links.

Joseph Cornell is sometimes cited as the foremost American Surrealist artist but he was never a card-carrying member of the movement, but instead more of a fellow traveler. What Cornell didn’t take from the movement was its erotic celebration, occasional unleashing of repressed violence, and active scandal-seeking and self-promotion. Instead, his work drew upon the basic Surrealist principle of the juxtaposition of unlikelies—“as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” as Lautréamont put it. Also, like pre-Surrealist Dadaists like Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters, he was drawn to found objects.

Cornell is known primarily for his collages and his assemblages (glass-fronted “shadow boxes”). His experimental films were not much appreciated in his lifetime, especially because he was diffident about them, sensitive to criticism, and reluctant to screen them often. But they’ve acquired a formidable reputation since his death in 1972. Cornell was a devoted collector of 'small things' all his life, often objects that he found in junk-shops; he employed these objects in his art. He also collected films, often celluloid bought by the pound, for example, at flea markets.

The usual route to becoming an artist in the pre-modern age was through drawing, painting or sculpture. But after Cubism invented collage, would-be artists like the untrained Cornell were offered a new way into the art world. Remarkably, he never learned to operate a movie camera—all his films were found-footage constructions, a form he pioneered.

The Children’s Trilogy—which comprises the films The Children’s Party, Cotillion, and The Midnight Party—was conceived in the late thirties and completed in the late sixties. The three films total a mere twenty minutes, and are assembled from the same material, but are packed with great images and ideas. The source material footage is a fascinating mélange of: a children’s party; circus performers and animal acts; science documentary, etc. Cornell cuts freely and intuitively from one to the other, and the first viewing leaves you a little puzzled. A second look reveals all manner of visual rhyming—e.g. a circus strong-man lifts a chair with his teeth/kids apple-dunk at a party; or children fling confetti about/a chorus girl plays flamboyantly with feathers. There are startling contrasts, like a static shot of a metal door (cold/forbidding) cutting to the close-up of an amoeba in expansive motion (warm/organic). And an image of a twirling ballet dancer, overexposed against a pitch-black background, becomes an abstract pattern of fluid shapes, as if it were quicksilver darting about on a Petri dish.

At one point, there is, curiously, footage of a little girl on a horse who is playing Godiva in a pageant and appears to be unclothed under her thick long tresses. It’s an innocent image that is also a tad unsettling. This is generally true of Cornell—there is great innocence and yearning and delicacy in his images, but they contain little spiky dissonances without ever shading into either carnal or outright disturbing. P. Adams Sitney notes:

In a way, Cornell’s wit is like that of Hans Christian Andersen, who can tell a story about an Emperor who exposes himself to a whole city, and especially to a little girl, without the readers noticing what is happening in the story. Successive generations of parents have proven the moral of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by seeing only the moral and blinding themselves to the exhibitionism. The children to whom they read it tend to titter; they understand what it is about.

Cornell’s best-known film is Rose Hobart, a re-editing of an obscure B-movie jungle drama called East Of Borneo (1931) starring the equally obscure actress who gives the film its title. He stripped it of sound and eliminated all the strong plot points—a journey upriver through the jungle, a volcanic explosion—and instead edited together, blithely ignoring linearity and continuity and following only his poetic instinct, a collection of reaction shots, gestures, expressions, and other images that we’d normally not think of as 'important.' Sitney writes:

Cornell’s montage is startlingly original. Nothing like it occurs in the history of the cinema until thirty years later. The deliberate mismatching of shots, the reduction of conversations to images of the actress without corresponding shots of her interlocutor, and the sudden shifts of location were so daring in 1936 that even the most sophisticated viewers would have seen the film as inept rather than brilliant. […] [He] used some shots just as they were fading out or just as a door was closing, omitting the main action.

By wrenching the images out of their narrative function, he suddenly freed them, making them instruments of suggestion. (How liberating for the viewer.)

There is a technique Cornell uses in The Children's Trilogy that may be mined for some insight into his strategies. He inserts title cards but only holds them for a frame or two, with the result that they fly by in a flash and are impossible to read. On the other hand, he’ll take an ordinary image—a boy sleeping or a girl sneezing—and will freeze-frame it and hold it, forcing us to examine every inch of it with care. In other words, elements of the film that might provide information about plot, character, narrative causality, etc., are purposely de-emphasized, while our eyes are redirected to stay with ‘unexceptional’ images on their own and in conjunction with other images (through montage), so that they start to appear anything but banal. Perhaps this is one key function of avant-garde cinema—to get us to spend time paying attention to something 'familiar' until it turns into something unfamiliar.

The Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon includes, in alphabetical order:


Blogger girish said...

Tomorrow morning, and periodically through the day, I'll be checking Bloglines (my RSS reader) and updating my post. If I happen to miss your post, please drop me an email or leave me a comment. Thanks.

August 02, 2006 12:39 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

I'll be at least a day behind the others with my contribution for this event. Most of this week, I've been recovering from the Auckland International Film Festival which ended on Sunday. Really looking forward to doing some fun blog-a-thon reading in the coming days!

August 02, 2006 2:06 AM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

I had no idea Cornell made films.

I'll be a day late with my post, too. As I mentioned back in -- what was it, May? -- I'd find myself on August 1st, wondering what exactly I'd write about. And here I am, stuck at a friend's house with all my resources contained within a laptop with a dead battery...

August 02, 2006 2:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Mubarak and David ~ Take all the time you need. I'll make sure to republish after you post.

August 02, 2006 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I probably should have mentioned in my article that both Brakhage and Jordan were mentored by Cornell.

August 02, 2006 8:28 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Mine will come later tonight! Just scanning over & beginning to read posts now, more comments on everyone's will follow. Looks like a fun couple days' worth of reading will result ...

August 02, 2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Fascinating write-up, Girish. Are these works available for viewing anywhere?

August 02, 2006 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Thom said...

I think you're on the mark when you write about de-emphasis of narrative elements in avant-garde cinema, girish. We're so used to following the narrative that we often miss the beauty in other elements of a film unless we see it more than once. The avant-garde want to skip that multiple viewing track and force us to focus on the non-narrative elements right away. Good post.

August 02, 2006 3:29 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G, Joseph Cornell is one of my favorites. I love the birds and astronomy imagery in his work. He did collaborate with Stan Brakhage and Rudy Burckhardt as his cinematographers, but you are right, he never shot a film with a camera.

Have you heard the story of how Joseph Cornell's first screening of Rose Hobart? Salvador Dali was in attendance! When the film began, Dali became enraged, he knocked over the projector, and declared that Cornell had stolen his dreams! Or so the story goes...

I really enjoyed your observations about Cornell & Hans Christian Anderson, the Emperor's New Clothes, childhood and innocence. It's very right on!

I stll haven't read Visionary Film. Ssshhh

August 02, 2006 3:30 PM  
Blogger Richard Gibson said...

I'd never come across this film maker, so thanks for sharing this Girish. As always after reading one is keen to seek out some material.

Which brings me on to my second point mm I misremembering but did someone say they or we even were going to keep track on how many of the avant garde film makers were available via DVD?

August 02, 2006 3:52 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Wonderful Dali story, Jennifer!!

August 02, 2006 3:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Merci, tout le monde.

Maya ~ I caught Rose Hobart at George Eastman House, and the Children's Trilogy is on the Unseen Cinema 7-DVD set, which I picked up used on amazon and is probably the best seventy bucks I've spent in years. I love this thing. (It's also at Netflix.)

Thom ~ Thanks for joining us. I just re-published and linked to your post, in the process discovering your site. What an utterly cool idea for a blog! I look forward to keeping up with it.

J. ~ I realize Cornell's revered in a-g circles, but I hadn't seen any of his work until recently, which is why I decided to read a biography of him and catch up with some of his films. The blog-a-thon gave me a deadline to do all that.

Visionary Film is a blast--I've only just started reading it but it's a very inspirational book--his close and attentive descriptions of the films are really something! You'd love it, Jen...

Richard ~ Perhaps this blog-a-thon will give us a better idea of what works are out there and available, which would be nice...

August 02, 2006 4:06 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Sorry, I think I'll be late too. Somehow I registered "august 3rd"... Maybe tomorrow, or I'll split my contribution over 2 posts.

Nice turnout so far!

August 02, 2006 4:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry ~ Take your time. There are many heavy-hitters still to come (Zach, Mubarak, David, etc) and you'll be in good company! :-)

August 02, 2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger Squish said...

Man this thing's really taking off! What a perfect way of expanding my blog bookmarks, (not to mention my readership :P)

When's the next one :D

August 02, 2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

As far as I know, the next one would be Friz Freleng on Aug 21 at Brian's place, Hell On Frisco Bay. (He's on my blogroll, to the left, and even has a current post about it.)

August 02, 2006 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Paul Roth said...

YES, you can order Cornell films on DVD! One of the great Cornell box collectors, Robert Lehrman, did a great book and DVD-ROM about Cornell's history and art; then followed up by releasing a DVD of the films. You can get a package with both DVDs for $35 from the Voyager Foundation via their website:

They are both phenomenal and the DVD-ROM is by far the best multimedia presentation ever made about any artist -- bar none. The film DVD includes the following films:

Nymphlight, 1957
Angel, 1957
Jack's Dream, ca. late 1930s
Centuries of June, 1955
'Cotillion' and 'The Midnight Party', ca. 1938
The Aviary, 1954
Bookstalls, ca. late 1930s
Rose Hobart, 1936
A Legend for Fountains, 1957 / 1965

- Larry Jordan's short film Cornell, 1965, which includes the only known movie footage of Cornell himself.

August 02, 2006 11:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Awesome news, Paul.
Thank you!

August 03, 2006 12:03 AM  
Blogger seadot said...

Okay, I'm on! I just sent you an e-mail, just in case!

I love Cornell. I've always felt a connection with him in my tendencies to make little light boxes, collages, films and whatnot. It's like trying to capture and preserve a butterfly in mid-flight, without destroying the butterfly. Though I can't help but find his fascination with little girls a touch on the...uncomfortable side.

I recently watched a documentary on Henry Darger. He reminded me a bit of Cornell (random pre-bedtime thought).

Anyway, cheers!

August 03, 2006 12:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, seadot. Just added your post, and updated.

Yeah, the little-girl thing is a touch unsettling, but not quite as much as Darger perhaps...

Also, his biographer reports that Cornell lived with his mother and mentally handicapped brother (on Utopia Parkway) pretty much all his life, and died (just a few years after they did) a virgin.

Which makes all his quasi-chaste longing for women (Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, Garbo, etc) interesting.

August 03, 2006 12:28 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Congrats to all involved! I have to say, I have learned so much reading all of you today, it has been thrilling to find so many people so seriously engaged in thinking about film. This is my first Blog-A-Thon, so maybe I am just giddy with the collective effort of it all, but I am still reading posts at 1am and have no interest in sleeping any time soon.

Thanks, Girish, for having me and alerting me to the event. Quite an honor to be listed here.


PS- I liked In The Realms of The Unreal quite a bit and was never weirded out by Darger's little girl fetish as it seemed completely desexualized to me. Those damned Glandalinians!

August 03, 2006 12:55 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, I'm finally finished with my piece on Bruce Conner! whew!

Love the Cornell article. I still need to see these films, and am glad they're available. I have the book and DVD-ROM too, but have yet to delve into the latter.

Someone asked about the next blog-a-thon. To my knowledge it's this Friday, August 4 at Film Ick: Terry Gilliam. My Freleng Blog-A-Thon announcement is found here.

August 03, 2006 2:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Tom and Brian.

You know, last week, I was pretty sure we'd crack no more than a half dozen, and here we are with a small mountain of wonderfully varied reading that will keep us busy for a while.

I was on the phone with a friend last night, describing what blogs and blog-a-thons were, and I told her that if I were a schoolgirl, I'd be drawing "I Heart Blogs" in my notebook right now.

A few more to come today that I know of...

August 03, 2006 7:49 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

The only problem with this particular blog-a-thon is that my number of Bloglines subscriptions just jumped again (and I was already feeling overwhelmed by the scores of new posts that greet me every time I open it). It's nice to see so many new faces around here.

With all the recent talk about the death of traditional film criticism, I have to say that it feels pretty satisfying to participate in a critical dialogue that would never have been possible without film blogs.

August 03, 2006 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Speaking of disturbing child imagery. . .

A day late, but my piece on Shuji Terayama's Emperor Tomato Ketchup is up.

August 03, 2006 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Oh, and ditto Darren's comment above. Couldn't agree more.

August 03, 2006 11:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, great. Just updated.
Had no idea that's what where Stereolab nicked the name; it's my favorite of their records.

August 03, 2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm glad we're having the blog-a-thon now rather than three or four days ago: I was skating on very thin bandwidth ice at the end of the month, and the site would've gone down for sure from the traffic spike, and that would've been a total mess.

August 03, 2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

What a turnout! I've read several already and will start commenting after I get some much-needed sleep. My Arthur Lipsett piece is up now here.

August 03, 2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Rose Hobart has been on my list of Movies To See for AGES, maybe this will motivate me to go find it by now!

August 03, 2006 2:25 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'm a day late as well, but have an avant-garde related post up at Category D.

Great idea for a blog carnival, by the way.

August 03, 2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Sorry for missing the deadline. Here is my contribution with the first post (with more aspects later hopefully) on Barney's DR9, a review I've been postponing for too long.

Now off to read some of these blogs and to catch up with the discussions.

August 03, 2006 5:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, everyone.
Just updated, and republished.
Back to reading. (There's a lot. And I read slow.)

August 03, 2006 6:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, I'm getting google-eyed from all the reading, so I think I'll go out to the movies now to catch the Altman. If you see any posts that I haven't picked up yet, please leave me a message.

August 03, 2006 7:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Just added Matt Clayfield (whose presence in the blogosphere I've been missing these past few months!)

August 03, 2006 9:49 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G., I hope that you'll have a beer today . . . This must have been a workout for you as well as your computer . . . Thanks!


August 04, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

J. ~ You wanna hear something crazy? Last night, I dreamed not about avant-garde cinema but about avant-garde cinema blog posts!

That's when you know it's time to take a little breather. I've told myself I'll read for no more than an hour each day for the next few days.

And it's only 10 am and I've barely had my Cheerios but I think I might start the weekend early and pour myself a Corona with lime....

August 04, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Just in case y'all don't have enough reading to do:
new issue of Senses of Cinema.

August 04, 2006 10:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren looks forward to the Toronto Intenational Film Festival.

August 04, 2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Might as well post this here: I have to go out of town for several days and won't get to finish commenting on blog entries (I was at least hoping to comment on everyone's) until next weekend. Hope everything is fun & productive in my absence ... but not too much so! Girish, the comment for yours will have to be #1 on the agenda when I get back ...

August 05, 2006 1:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Take your time, Zach; and have a good trip.

August 05, 2006 7:49 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

What a wonderful response to your blogathon, Girish! You are truly the master facilitator among us and--like Darren--I'm so pleased to be part of this experience and to have learned so much.

August 06, 2006 12:41 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

It's amazing that Cornell saw an artistic interest in discarded film strips so early in the young history of Cinema. It's like if art was ready to recycle it before cinema gained its own art status.
Your description reminds me of the imagery and clash transitions of René Claire's Entr'Acte (1924) and Germaine Dulac's The Seashell and The Clergyman (1928). Sounds quite in line with Kubelka and the austrian found-footage school, do you know if they cite him? I admit it's the first time I hear this name.
I wish I had seen any of his films... your appreciation and analysis is beautiful to read though.
Thanks for the post and for this successful blogathon Girish!

Darren : "With all the recent talk about the death of traditional film criticism, I have to say that it feels pretty satisfying to participate in a critical dialogue that would never have been possible without film blogs."
ditto for me too

August 06, 2006 1:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Michael & Harry--you're too kind. My end was the easy part--you all were the ones who did the heavy lifting. So, thank you.

Harry ~ I knew nothing of Cornell, and thought it would an opportunity to be exposed to something new. I haven't seen the films you mention, or any Kubelka. I have great hunger to see avant-garde cinema, but partly because of where I live, I don't get to very much. It's one of my great cinephilic regrets.

Michael ~ Thought you might like to know--Jenni Olson left a comment on the "long take" thread last night; nice of her to do that.

August 06, 2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy's weekend roundup post, including his idea to call for and host a film-criticism blog-a-thon late in the year.

August 06, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish, I'm so glad Jenni has responded to your site. She has recognized, like the rest of us, that there is no better forum for the discussion of film than this space.

August 06, 2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Aw, thanks, Michael.

August 06, 2006 3:44 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

Such a marvelous collection of reading. Still have a lot to catch up with since it demands a lot of concentration - there's so much new knowledge. Lettrism, for example. It was Acquarello's lovely post on Maurice Lemaitre that introduced me to it and hence the connection with Girish's writing on Cornell. According to "lettrism", cinema is dead, or more appropriately - about to die. It is over-complicated, over-used, on the verge of explosion. In this sense, avant-garde is its saver - it deconstructs it to its archetypes, thus making it compatible with innovation once again. When Girish says,

"Perhaps this is one key function of avant-garde cinema—to get us to spend time paying attention to something 'familiar' until it turns into something unfamiliar."

it is, probably, this deconstruction that he's speaking of (or I'm mastaken?), which counterweighs cinema's inclination towards self-destruction (through satiation and then remoteness from its origins). So, the avant-garde directs us towards the non-narrative and everything else we might miss out, but it also establishes a balanced terrain for cinema to evolve. It allows cinema to achieve immortality by dissecting it to its foetus, thus being reborn over and over again.

Girish, I'm sorry if I twist your words too much. This blog-a-thon is very much my thorough dive into experimental cinema and would like to thank you and everybody else for your knowledgeable and lively essays. These gatherings are truly unique. Great work!

August 07, 2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Hey Marina, Bulgarian Cine Daily: is that a site modeled after GreenCine Daily, but in Bulgarian?

August 07, 2006 4:39 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

Andy, yes. It's actually pointed on the top of the page, Bulgarian. It's started pretty soon, but with a vacation and some trips - it's a bit stif right now.

August 07, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Marina ~ I guess what I was struggling to say in that last line of the post was something like this:

Often, in regular, narrative cinema, much of the content of the frame at any point doesn't register with great force or at least, a force that demands and receives extended contemplation from the viewer. Instead, the content of the frame serves an almost utilitarian function, filling out the frame to set a context in order to serve in one way or another, the needs of narrative, character development, etc. But the same objects and figures in the frame, liberated from the slavery of that "utilitarian" funtion in a-g cinema, can now register strongly and receive greater attention and contemplation from the viewer. So, we go from ignoring (or not paying extended attention to) so much of the ("familiar") content in the frame to having time to contemplate the mise-en-scene at length until all its detail registers and surprises us (making the familiar unfamiliar). At least, that's the feeling I sometimes get when watching a-g cinema.

And btw, here's an attempt at defining the term avant-garde/experimental cinema by Fred Camper, thanks to Harry.

August 07, 2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I can't believe how fast the summer has flown--just three more weeks before classes start up again. Today, I'm making my last movie road trip of the summer, before TIFF, to Toronto to catch a Mizoguchi/Antonioni double bill. (A Woman Of Rumour/Zabriskie Point, neither of which I've seen before.)

As always, please feel free to post links, chat, make yourselves at home.

August 08, 2006 8:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I was having some issues with Blogger yesterday, so the above comment didn't appear till this morning.

Here's Mubarak in a report from the Auckland filmfest.

August 09, 2006 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Barry said...

Got nothing to say about the avant-garde, but Joseph Cornell happens to be the title of a
by one of my favorite bands, The Clientele

August 09, 2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I hope you like Zabriskie Point on the big screen as much as I did last fall. And that Mizoguchi is one we're not getting here at the PFA's series that starts up on Friday, unfortunately.

August 09, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, that double bill was astounding; I'm still speechless. Although I hope I won't be for too long, coz I'd like to blog it.

August 09, 2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Barry, I've never heard of the Clientele, but I'll be glad to listen.

August 09, 2006 4:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--Jim Emerson excerpts a dozen "World Trade Center" reviews.
--Filmbrain on "WTC".
--MZS: "Deeper Into Images".
--Owen Hatherley on Wim Wenders.
--Victor Morton, a.k.a "Rightwing Filmgeek," responds to that Ingmar Bergman/John Simon interview excerpt I posted a while back.
--Jen posts a bit of Jonas Mekas.
--A fistful of new movie capsule posts at Steve Carlson's.

August 10, 2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--Lots of good reading: the new issue of Reverse Shot.
--At Zach's: the classic Gjon Mili jazz short Jammin' The Blues. (If you watch this film and dislike it, I promise I'll buy you a beer.)
There's a close-up of guitarist Barney Kessel's fingers as he solos; he's the only white musician in the film and it's said that he was placed in the shadows and his hands colored with dark berry juice for his skin color to blend in with everyone else. The dark jitterbugging silhouettes against a monochromatic light background were, I suspect, inspirations 50 years later for both the Gap ads and the title sequence of Mulholland Drive.

August 11, 2006 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Just a thought on a future blog-a-thon based on some postings done a while back: Woman filmmakers. Maybe everyone could contribute a piece on an individual film or a career overview.

August 11, 2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger Victor said...

I dibs Leni Riefenstahl!!!

August 11, 2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah yes, I remember doing a poll/post on that in the days of infancy of this blog; it's a special interest of mine. Perhaps in a few months (winter, maybe) I'll try to issue a call.

August 11, 2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Thom said...

re: a women filmmakers blog-a-thon. I support that idea. I'll write about Alice Guy.

Thanks for that link to Jammin' the Blues; you just made my afternoon, Girish.

August 11, 2006 7:10 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Seconding the praise. That's a great short.

Women directors, huh? I could write about Jane Campion (or at least An Angel at the Table--always a pleasure to watch that one again).

August 11, 2006 8:16 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Diggin' the "Woman filmmakers" idea. My first thought is to write something called "Upon discovering that Carol Reed was not, in fact, a woman filmmaker. . . ."

August 12, 2006 11:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Think I'd love to do Claire Denis or Chantal Akerman but I might get killed by Darren and Acquarello (respectively) for claiming dibs on either of 'em! :-)

Seriously though, as Peter suggested, we don't have to do an entire oeuvre, even just a film if we want we could easily "share" a filmmaker...

Give me a few months, and I'll do an announcement post. Might be just the thing to warm up a Buffalo winter for a few days.

August 12, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Girish, fantastic write-up. (Whew, and still so many more left to get back to and comment on!) I think Joseph Cornell is one of the 20th century's major artists; the Art Institute of Chicago's collection of his boxes (and all its other, European, S(s)urrealist stuff) is something to behold indeed. There's something really tender about his art--not fragile exactly, but one gets a sense (or at least I get a sense) of vulnerability and openness while looking at his art, whether it's a box or a found footage film. As you say, I think a lot of it is because of his rearrangement of the familiar--but he does it so lovingly, so (to rephrase the sentiment of yours) defamiliarization is only one part of the process; the other part is an intensification of the pieces' beauty and mystery.

Women filmmaker blog-a-thon: I'd be tempted to write on Elaine May, myself. But not for certain.

August 12, 2006 4:51 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Hey, I love reading about Akerman as much as I like insinuating myself into conversations about her, so it'd be great to have someone else evangelize about her.

I must admit, I'm a bit ambivalent about a women filmmakers spotlight though, if only because I think it perpetuates a kind of ghetto-izing of the role of women in the history of cinema. I guess I just don't compartmentalize art in terms of sexes.

August 12, 2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Zach. I've never been to the Art Institute of Chicago and would love to go. There's a wonderful, relatively recent book on Cornell co-edited by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan (it comes with a Voyager Foundation DVD-ROM) that has me itching to see his boxes "in person."

Acquarello, you make an excellent point. I agree I'm a bit ambivalent too. I think for me personally, the reasons that would justify it might be the following:

(1) I see cinema made by women as artifacts made by an Other (just like e.g. African cinema or Queer cinema might be for me also). I am eager to work harder to help these voices be heard, because historically we've suppressed these voices. So this, to me, is a worthy cause. It's ironic that after all the great "supposed" strides made by women in the last 30 years in our society, a fantastically high % (surely > 90%, I'd guess) of narrative features are man-made.

(2) You mentioned: "I guess I just don't compartmentalize art in terms of sexes."

I guess I'd say this: the cinema of Denis or Akerman, for example, could not have been made by a man; in many ways, it is different from man-made cinema. And I think I'd like to (as a critical endeavor) struggle to identify some ways how this might be so. What exactly does it mean for a work to have a "female consciousness"? This question interests me.

The (hopefully) positive thrust of these impulses trumps, for me, the (negative) perpetuation of ghettoization inherent in this project.

August 12, 2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I agree with acquarello's "ghetto-izing" comment (plus, as the scope of these blog-a-thons gets bigger and bigger, a part of me wonders if there will ever be a movement back to a single-film blog-a-thon like Showgirls; I suppose the answer is, as soon as someone proposes the right film to capture folks' imaginations).

But I would hardly be able to resist participating in a woman filmmaker blog-a-thon were it to happen. My first instinct is to say that I'd write on Lotte Reiniger. But I'm equally likely to pick someone who dovetails with a timely retrospective or other screening in my area. There's almost always a film by a woman screening somewhere in town, most often a recent documentary or avant-garde work.

August 12, 2006 9:04 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I agree with Girish's points above; and I think An Angel at My Table is definitely a movie with a female consciousness that couldn't have been made convincingly by a man. Fortunately I don't think it was made just convincingly, but also brilliantly.

August 12, 2006 9:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Brian.
I'd be lying if I said if I wasn't a wee bit nervous about the single-film blog-a-thon--it might have greater potential for unavoidable redundancies in insights. But then again, this was for some reason more true with Code Unknown than Showgirls (just my perception). So, as you say, all it would take is the right film to come along. Showgirls was, in its way, sui generis: you could run a hundred ways with it; you can't do that, I suspect, with any and every film...

August 12, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, I haven't seen the Campion in fifteen years but I remember liking it a lot. She's a director I'd like to investigate more; what little I've seen by her is prickly and problematic (and I mean that in a productive and positive way).

August 12, 2006 9:29 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Girish writes: "the cinema of Denis or Akerman, for example, could not have been made by a man"

But the films of Denis and Akerman could not have been made by anyone other than Denis and Akerman.

I love the way Akerman's short feature The Man with the Suitcase speaks to me deeply as a writer, not as a man watching a film made by a woman, despite its very real feminist sub-text and despite the way the writer's life aspect of the film dovetails with the woman's life aspect in profound ways. I ask myself, would a non-writer have made such a film? Let's hear it for the seldom-heard writers' perspective.

The comments about films being nominally "man-made" remind me of an story retold by Jonathan Rosenbaum (who was making an argument about auteurism):

"Let me illustrate with a favorite anecdote of mine, recounted by gossip columnist James Bacon about the shooting of CLASH BY NIGHT. Marilyn Monroe has a simple line at the end of a very complicated take involving other actors, camera movement, etc., and every time she blows it--maybe as many as a dozen times, until, she finally gets it right and Fritz Lang calls it a wrap. Then afterwards, in her dressing room, she confesses to Bacon, 'I was just waiting until I liked the way the rest of the shot was going.'

"Test question: Who was the auteur of that particular shot, Marilyn Monroe or Fritz Lang? Maybe both were, but at the very least, you have to admit she had final cut."

Anecdote number two: Jean Rouch, someone I'm endlessly fascinated by, was once reproached by none other than Ousmane Sembène who declared that Rouch shot Africans as if they were insects -- gracelessly throwing Rouch's own words back at him -- and declared that Africa should be documented by Africans. On that last point, Rouch, a white Frenchman, would have agreed, just not exclusively; although he worked to put cameras into the hands of Africans, he was loathe to give up his own. Rouch was such a thoughtful, careful, respectful filmmaker that I always bristle at Sembène's "insects" comment.

The only time I saw Sembène in person was at a chaotic Q&A in Toronto a couple of years ago when I very much wanted to ask him if his new drama about female genital mutilation should perhaps have been made by a woman, but this was some four decades after his comments to Rouch, and I wouldn't have been able to imply something like that with any conviction.

My point? Ah, I'm too lazy to have one of those. Besides, I don't think wallflowers like me get to vote on the next blog-o-thon. (But thank you all for writing the entries!)

August 13, 2006 6:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Rob. Always a pleasure to see you.

"Besides, I don't think wallflowers like me get to vote on the next blog-o-thon."

Rob, I consider you a close friend, not a wallflower; I've always valued what you think, and so anything you say is automatically important to me!

Let me respond thusly:

--I never said or implied that films about women should only be made by women.

--Instead, I'd like to think that films made by a woman are somehow (consciously or unconsciously) marked by the fact that the maker is a woman. I'm interested in these markings, even if I'm not at all sure I'll recognize them when I see them. (But surely, there is some reason why women are something Other than men? I'm interested in these differences.)

--Is creating a category called "Films By Women Filmmakers" any more ghettoizing than say creating a category called "African cinema" or "Iranian cinema," something we do all the time?

--And I'm too much of an auteurist to let that anecdote go sliding by without addressing it!:

It is a great misunderstanding about auteurism that the auteur is claimed to be the one and only instrument of creative control operating over a work.

Instead, auteurism is a choice, a taste, on the part of a viewer, to choose to follow marks or trails of a director through a body of work even if that work was created in a process of collaboration among many individuals. So, when I watch Clash By Night, I do not at all deny the influence that Marilyn (or many unnamed others) had on the way the film turned out; what I choose to do is say: I'm especially interested in all the different ways this film appears to be a Fritz Lang film.

This, in my understanding, is what auteurism is about.

Rob, I love it when you come by here. I know you have a thousand-fold-higher readership through Paste than you would if you were confined to the blogosphere (as most of us here are) but that doesn't stop me from wishing I'd see and hear more of you.

August 13, 2006 8:30 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

I say this with a lot of love . . . Maybe we could explore the feminine in cinema without such a literal blog-a-thon topic? I think that the women filmmakers identity thing is sooooooo 1978!

This is the blogosphere, let's do something new!


August 13, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger girish said...

J. ~ What can I say? I'm, as ever, 30 years behind everyone else!

That seals it. The public has spoken, and I will respectfully comply!




August 13, 2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Yeah, I guess I'm behind the times too.

August 13, 2006 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Considering how few American women are making films, I would say that Hollywood is behind the times. I would like to know more about what Jennifer has in mind. In any event, with a Robert Aldrich blog-a-thon announced as well, let's get some dates established.

August 13, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, some clicks:
--Yo check it out: several new posts at Matt Clayfield's.
--Proceeding from Matt, once removed: David Hudson on Bunny vs. Thalluri.
--The Pop View on the new Aaron Sorkin show. (I'm a Sorkin nut, esp. Sports Night.)
--Nick Rombes watches the new Superman movie with the iPod headphones blasting in his ears.
--Round-Headed Boy on Casualties of War.

At work (finally) on a new post; shall return with it sometime today (I'm hoping).

August 13, 2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter: (1) There are scores of potential blog-a-thon topics out there, and (2) I highly respect all these pals of mine who have been courageous and forthright to share their dissenting opinions on this; so, I'm backing off from the idea of this blog-a-thon.

But there are many other prospective blog-a-thon topics lying in wait for us to explore in the future, and I look forward to those.

Onward and upward.

August 13, 2006 12:45 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Hey Girish, just to clarify: I wasn't claiming you made bone-headed statements about who should make films about what. I was just stream-of-consciousnessing.

I think you and Rosenbaum are in agreement on auturism. (Me too.) It was his point -- which I pulled out of context -- that auturism is a way of viewing film more than a way of creating it; for example, you could slice the Lang film as a Monroe film if you chose.

For some reason it does feel reductive to seek out a woman filmmaker in hopes that it tells us what women are thinking. (Again, not that you said that. I hear it sometimes.) Mostly because that particular category is so large, its constituents scattered around the world. I mean they're practically everywhere you look. ;-)

Except the director's chair, the Monroe anecdote notwithstanding. It seems like a problem to me that so few films are directed by women, but not so much because we lack insight into that particular perspective as a result (as if there's one perspective) but instead because it leaves a hell of a lot of brains out of the equation for no good reason.

Again you'll notice I lack a point. Only a hazy, verbose ambivalence.

Thanks for wishing me back into the blogosphere. Soon, soon. (I figure that if I say that enough you'll stop believing it entirely, then I'll hit y'all from out of the blue.)

August 13, 2006 2:39 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Then again, if there's an excuse to talk about Sally Potter's Yes or Samira Makhmalbaf, why knock it.


August 13, 2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"it leaves a hell of a lot of brains out of the equation for no good reason.."

Exactly, Rob. This was my main reason/motivation, and point 1 in my response to Acquarello above.

"I figure that if I say that enough you'll stop believing it entirely, then I'll hit y'all from out of the blue."

(1) I'll never stop believing, and (2) The reason why I sound like a broken record when I talk about your writing is just that I'll never stop knowing and believing how damn good it is.

I look forward to cold beers and long movie-chats in exactly three-and-a-half weeks!

August 13, 2006 2:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Geez, haven't seen Yes yet (or anything by Sally Potter for that matter). I remember it was Candace's favorite film at the fest back when we were all there in '04.

August 13, 2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

New post including mp3's at Mubarak's.

August 13, 2006 4:11 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G, I hope that no one took my comment personally. All of you are pushing things forward! It's just that I see some really freaked out, complex, punk-ass, multi-layered feminist film/video art here. And furthermore, I live that! :)

I don't really have any blog-a-thon suggestions here. I'm sorry. I'm sure that with some brainstorming you can easily come up with a topic that gives it up for the ladies!

August 13, 2006 4:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh not at all, J.

And of course, I wanna give it up for the ladies. Let's keep workin' on it; I'm sure we can pool our ideas and come up with something eventually...

August 13, 2006 4:26 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Maryline anecdote : Why believe her? She was just justifying, afterward, why she blew so many times a simple line. Why assume Lang gave up on a shot? Maybe he was satisfied with it as well finally.

I understand Girish's point.
"Women filmmakers" does sound alienating, but the ghetto exists de-facto. The label designates a reality (not that women can only make "girly movies", but that they are a minority). This spotlight is only an attempt at balancing out the gender parity in usual film discussions, due to statistical scarcity.
I don't think the situation of women in film industry will get better by ignoring this ghetto. The more we point it out, the most likely the issue will be addressed and won't fall in a cliché of oblivion. In the meantime, the few active women get (unjustified?) "extra" attention, so what?

Like Girish says, if only because most film critics are also majoritarily males (coincidence?) it's interesting to look at women directors with "this is not made by another man" in mind, not necessarily because it would be much different from a masculine film, or representative of a feminine perspective, but because the profile is distinct from the majority. It's as valid as taking a look at films made by brothers duet or husband & wife or eldery or queer.

Actually if this blogathon is only to pick a film made by a woman and write the usual review it defeats the purpose to explore ways how women build films differently/similarily, what insight they bring that no man provided yet?
I know if we're talking about great women filmmaker, they are singular anyway.
But if women directors endorse a male-established convention and reproduce exactly what men do, something is wrong, as sad as when a director goes formulaic. I expect women to invent and make cinema their own (in a gender way as much as artistically).
Of course women are different, and can claim (or not) their own language. I'm interested in the instances when they do, and like a subset of auteurism, when we can spot the converging feminine trends of inspiration among very different individuals.

Now cinema is uniformized with an "international style", so it's worthwhile noting efforts toward singularization wherever it is.

Adding: the point of view of women writers on women directors would be very interesting to compare with the (outsider) male view too.

just my 2 euros, after the battle is lost.

August 13, 2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

August 13, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

The thing is, I really want to read Tuwa on Campion, Zach on Elaine May, Thom on Alice Guy, Girish on Denis and/or Akerman, Andy on ¬Reed, etc. If holding a "Women Filmmakers Blog-a-Thon" (as much as that title rubs me wrong) is the way to light a fire under the collective feet, I'm all for it. Though my previous comment was published before reading it, girish, I agree with your "positive outweighing negative" comment.

However, I also think any of the mentioned filmmakers could make a fascinating Blog-a-Thon topic in her own right. As would Agnes Varda, Shirley Clarke, Ann Hui, Lina Wertmuller, Yoko Ono, Dorothy Arzner, etc. etc. etc.

If a single filmmaker seems too limiting, how about at least another connection less broad like: a Meshkini/Makhmalbaf-a-Thon (3/5 of that film-directing family being female), or: a focus on the phenomenon of the actress-turned-director (Kinuyo Tanaka, Ida Lupino, Liv Ullman, Leni Riefenstahl, etc.)

Or, to continue with my single-film Blog-A-Thon fixation (which I feel weird keeping on about, as I'm on the brink of hosting a Blog-a-Thon on a man who directed more than 300 films), perhaps there's a film directed by a woman that could inspire a multitude of different perspectives and be worth tackling. Off the top of my head Ishtar, Boxing Helena and Olympia first spring to mind. I even think the film Rob mentioned, Sally Potter's Yes, has been under-discussed in relation to its divisiveness and its current relevance, and might merit a multi-party revisitation.


August 13, 2006 10:08 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

I just want to say that Kelly Reichardt's film Old Joy is really great.

Brian, nice ideas. I'd like to read all that stuff and discover all of those filmmakers, too.

August 13, 2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, you're slowly bringing back to life an ember I thought had burned out for sure...

I have to say this: I'm not insensitive about the implications--I share the ambivalences expressed here. And yet feel there is value in the project...

Brian--one of the reasons why the a-g blog-a-thon was so successful (IMO) is that the topic was so broad and wide-open. It gave people lots of options. Sure, we could pick one woman filmmaker for the blog-a-thon but that would reduce the field of options and not make it quite as large as the event could be...although I guess the event doesn't HAVE to be large....Just thinking off the top of my head here.

If people have ideas for re-titling the event to something that might not rub people the wrong way as much, that could also be a huge help...

August 13, 2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Rob, I just netflixed her first, River Of Grass, and liked it a lot. Have been dying to see Old Joy; Kino is distributing it...

August 13, 2006 10:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Just seconding Rob: lotsa great ideas, Brian.

August 13, 2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Actually, I mentioned Denis and Akerman half in jest (don't get me wrong--I love their films).

My choice would be someone less known that I'd like to call others' attention to. Right now, I'm thinking of Los Angeles-based experimental filmmaker Sharon Lockhart. She's one of James Benning's favorite filmmakers; he even drove four or five hours to attend the last Lockhart screening I caught. I dig her stuff and wrote a Senses essay about it. I even have her email address somewhere; if I can dig it out and write to her to get my hands on her new film, Pine Flat (it played both Toronto and Walter Reade and I missed it), I'd love to write about it and her other films and even her photography work.

August 13, 2006 11:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A coupla crazy ideas but I'll throw them out there:

(1) "Cinema Feminin". (a sort of play on Godard's "Masculin Feminin").
One could interpret this anyway one wanted: focus on "feminine" aspects of cinema--women directors, actresses, other loosely defined "feminine" qualities of a film, etc...

I know, very loosey goosey (too much so..)

(2) A tribute to Varda called "Les Glaneuses": which could include her work but could also be stretched to include all women "glaneuses" of the cinema...(gleaners of images, the way she defines it in her doc)

I'll try to think of others; I encourage y'all to do the same...

August 13, 2006 11:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, one more and then I'm off to bed.

A gloss on the previous idea:
Cinema Feminin: A Celebration of Women In Cinema.
(interpreted in any way you want--director, actress, character, etc.)
And of course, some of us not-so-secret auteurists can then possibly seize the chance to write about...directors!

Let's keep thinking of more...

August 13, 2006 11:58 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Brian wrote:
The thing is, I really want to read Tuwa on Campion, Zach on Elaine May, Thom on Alice Guy, Girish on Denis and/or Akerman, Andy on ¬Reed, etc.

Y'know ... one of my secret (and perhaps a little sadistic) hopes is for there to once be a blog-a-thon, or a chain of blogs, where on blogger "assigns" a topic for another--you'd have a finite period of time to watch/research/write. E.g., Brian Darr wants to read Girish on Alexander Nevsky, Girish decides that Mubarak should write on the Thin Man movies, Mubarak assigns David L. a Bill Viola video, and so on and so forth.

I don't know that it'd actually work out well, I'm just saying it's an idea that has intrigued me ... 'blogging on your toes'

August 14, 2006 8:54 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

This is what I like to see! I think that my work is done here . . .


August 14, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hmm, that actually sounds pretty cool to me.
Zach, if you're serious, I'll be glad to volunteer my help.

Just musing implementationally now:

(1) Zach does an announcement for the chain blog-a-thon. He asks people to throw their hats in the ring without their knowing who else will be "playing" or what films will be part of the menu; he also specifies a deadline for people to sign up by, and also a date for the blog-a-thon itself.

I and others link to his post to spread the word.

(2) Once the "polls close", and we have our cabal, Zach randomly makes the assignments. Films would probably have to readily accessible (eg Netflix) for this to work. For our international participants (eg Mubarak, Harry), Zach helps with some co-ordination (which also could be decentralized actually--people could contact each other by email and determine film availability).

(3) Assigners might be suggested to comb thru their particular assignee's blog archives to identify "missing" areas or filmmakers, thus forcing us all to write about something we've probably never written about.

It'd be great...

August 14, 2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Hmm...that would entail a bit of trust and perhaps even some level of "intimacy" between the assigner and the assignee though. For instance, I don't have Roger Corman on my site...but there's a good reason for that, and I'd be pretty ticked off if I had to write about him, even as a kind of fun/joke post.

So I'd say, combing through sites is fine, as long as the suggestions have a good likelihood of being in line with the assignee's tastes (I also think that there should be more than one option in case the assignment is really off the mark). Eventually, I think the goal should be to introduce films that stand a decent chance of being embraced completely by the assignee, and not just "expand horizons" by being assigned a film that really isn't in line with a person's taste: one's passion, one's homework.

My two cents.

August 14, 2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Yeah, I think the "more than one option" idea might definitely help there. And I think assigners might need to take some care to avoid being, um, totally perverse in making assignments, and somehow keep the assignee in mind a bit. (I myself have never written on Corman, for example, but wouldn't mind doing so if I had to...)

Also, there is a slight potential tinge of "sadism" to the enterprise, as Zach pointed out, and so not everyone might be as eager to sign up for this blog-a-thon (it entails a bit of a "risk" for the blogger) but that's okay; it doesn't necessarily have to be a large blog-a-thon like the a-g either. I do like the idea, in part because of the risks involved...

August 14, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Acquarello is 100% right--except that part of the appeal for me is precisely this potentiality of conflict. (Hence, as Girish has already noted, a touch of "sadism." Signers-up would have to be a touch masochistic to boot.) Like I said, I don't know if it'd be a good idea, I'm not trying to push it. (If this new sort of blog-a-thon did happen, and if I'm involved, I wouldn't want it to be for a few more months...)

The challenge of 'assinging' a film, filmmaker, or topic would be to find something both offbeat and "fitting" for the blogger being given the assignment. The ultimate goal wouldn't really be to throw someone off, make them waste time & energy on something they don't like, don't have any feeling for. Off the top of my head: let's say, that since we know Girish loves film and jazz, he might be assigned & write about Charles Walters' High Society (or Bing Crosby and his anti-jazz asides in Going My Way). Intimacy & knowledge required, as Acquarello says, though I personally would value also some undertone of dissonance in a project like this.

Of course, we could always just have a post somewhere were bloggers suggested topics they'd like some other blogger write on. Suggestions could be taken up or deferred politely. No sadism, no challenge even, just a way of "taking requests." I'm just also intrigued by the 'pressure cooker' of having to write on assignment, where the challenge is to deal with this non-choice or this odd fit in a constructive, creative, illuminating way.

August 14, 2006 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Thom said...

These ideas are great! What we really need is a random blog topic generator! You click a button and it randomly picks a topic from a database of the main blog topic (Dali under a-g, for example) Then it posts your topic for all to see (so you can't squirm out of the assignment). Ok, who is the programmer in the collective? Anybody?

Hey, stop giving those evil looks! It's just an idea. :P

August 14, 2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nice ideas, Zach and Thom.

Zach, let us know in a few months if you're interested in moving us forward on this. (And I'd be glad to help in any way I can.)

(A post on Charles Walters' High Society would have to involve a double-mp3 post of "Well Did You Evah?", both the original movie version by Frank & Bing and the great cover by Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry..!)

August 14, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I really like Zach's idea. It's like an extension of David Hudson's summertime questions ;)
I believe we evoked at the origin of the blogathon this idea of participation even for subjects that aren't familiar to us for the sake of adding a new point of view.

I don't know if it's what Zach meant, but the cascading effect is more interesting than the simultaneous blogathon. First the assigner negociates (not impose) an essay with the assignee, who in turn will pick another assignee and topic after the first assignment was published, and so on.
The random pick is the point of writing on something we wouldn't normally do (and that's another thing I like in a collective form of criticism, like on Girish's blog, where people could engage on somebody else's concern, as opposed to being the ruler of our own blog without editor constraint), but I think pure randomness is more fun than productive ultimately.
The "negociation" (maybe multiple choices, maybe a private discussion between assigner and assignee) where one as a commissioner role (with an critical agenda, not just sadism) and the other a freelance investigator role (with curiosity and adaptation to unfamiliar environment).

There are many variations of a "blogathon" we could develop collectively. And it would shift the drive of writing on films we like only, to engaging with cinema as a global entity. This self-regulation of the community is what could replace profitably the role of an editor for bloggers, IMHO. The spirit of an informal editorial board, where everyone is somebody else's "editor", and the editorial line comes out of collegial discussions.

Examples of assignment :
- Double feature to compare
- Looking into the auteurism of Monroe in Clash by Night ;)
- The model of Lars Von Trier's 5 Obstructions is quite interesting applied to criticism : "rewrite your review of that film but from this angle instead"...

just some random thoughts. I sign up of course.

August 14, 2006 5:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I agree, Harry. The real value in this for me personally is being forced to write about something utterly unfamiliar about which I have little or no feel or affinity going in. (Of course, it'd have to be a film or topic that at least some cinephiles find worthy, and not some completely disposable multiplex junk, although a sociological case can be made there too, but I'm not sure I'm that interested in doing that...)

August 14, 2006 5:18 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

Lol! What a great idea!

I've restrained myself from participating in blog-a-thons until now, because, well, I don't know...Bit scared, I guess. And intimidated by the vastness and consistence of the knowledge presented here. But, well, everything has its first time. I really look forward to seeing this idea unfolding, because it's very challenging and innovatory. If you let me, I'd gladly participate too. Though you wouldn't know me as 'intimately' as the others who come around and fire the discussions, I'd just as gladly take the risk of being given an assignment, I ain't so happy with.

August 14, 2006 5:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Marina, of course you can join us. The more, the merrier...

Zach's inadvertently got a little blogosphere movement on his hands!

August 14, 2006 6:09 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

As much as I can be allergic to assignments, it sounds kinda thrilling to be given a film to write on by someone from this community. I'll echo the plea for some sort of consideration of the assignee's tastes (the 'suggestions post' sounds ideal), but a reasonable level of disharmony would certainly be refreshing. I'm in, I guess!

August 15, 2006 4:07 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I'd be interested in that too, but I don't have a Netflix/Greencine account and in a smallish college town some films are just not available (still hoping to find a rental store that picks up The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp or Come and See, for instance).

Trying to tailor the request to the other person's tastes sound sensible enough.

August 15, 2006 6:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great! Acquarello and Zach's idea for tailoring toward and being considerate of the assignee's tastes is definitely a consistent theme that's emerging here...!

Now, I can see this blog-a-thon as being implementationally trickier than your average issue-a-call-and-set-a-date model. If people have suggestions about process details, they'd also be most welcome...

August 15, 2006 7:23 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Zach, what a great idea. I'm totally in. Harry's modification of a "cascade" is intriguing; I can't figure out if it would increase the organizational workload or decrease it. At least it might decentralize it.

August 15, 2006 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

For what it's worth, I left my .02c on the brouhaha over the suggested female filmmakers blogathon over at The Cinetrix's site.

I'm mighty angry. . .

August 15, 2006 3:42 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

Well, as Harry, Zach and Thom said, a chain-reaction blog-a-thon would probably best fit this idea. Since it very much rests on the notion of risk, it would be in the same spirit to hazard with turns/who would be the "Agnus Dei" - who would take the lead and risk being the first, from whom everyone else would be 'learning'.
Zach described it very well, but he'd had that thought for some time, so he must have considered it more thoroughly.

August 15, 2006 3:42 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Yeah, it's maddening, Filmbrain. I'm a filmmaker, for whatever it's worth--or, more properly, I've made one film which sucks mightily and which I will probably never show to another person. By the rationale over there, I'm more qualified to write about women filmmakers than Girish is, even though Girish knows infinitely more about film history, directors, and theory than I do. And, according to this same notion, my sister (who favors Hollywood pablum) is more qualified to write about, say, Agnes Varda than Girish, simply by virtue of being a woman. Maybe it's true and maybe it's not, but I think declaring it categorically so discourages coverage of certain topics even by thoughtful knowledgeable people. I think maybe that argument is based on the notion that no coverage at all is better than any potentially sub-par coverage.

I can't decide if this is beside the point, but I have four sisters and I like to think that when they talk I listen, leading to some idea of the differences between being a man and a woman and (by extension) some idea of how those experiences might show themselves thematically in film. That's not to say I have the same sensitivity to gender differences as a woman--absolutely not--and it's quite possible I'm just deluding myself that I have any sensitivity to it at all.

But even as a queer I don't hold much sympathy with the point of view that only people in group X can write about group X. I think it can be very risky, and it's easy to make a fool of yourself doing it, but I don't see the point in telling people they shouldn't. A simple word of warning is probably sufficient. As far as I'm concerned, straight people can write about gay people if they want to; frequently the depictions are embarrassing, trite, and ridiculous, but I tend to think that puts the author to shame and not the subjects. In any case, it doesn't stop me (or anyone else) from arguing that the depiction is false or unimaginative or shows certain explicit or implicit biases; and I think that sort of conversation is much more fruitful than saying "no, you, get out of my sandbox."

I'd like to think the point is moot since this blogathon idea got scuttled, but I don't. Really I think that the principle remains even after the specifics pass, and I find the exclusionary nature of it short-sighted and disheartening.

August 15, 2006 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Excellent points Tuwa.

I've always been turned off by "only X can (or should) write about Y" mentality.

Plus, any or all of us could easily be hiding our true gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, etc.

Remember, in the blogosphere nobody can see what's between your legs.

August 15, 2006 5:41 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I don't understand what happened there... is there a taboo so big that we cannot even contemplate the idea without passion?
The point was just to narrow down film choice with an arbitrary theme for private use, it wasn't even a public political platform. Why the veto???

August 15, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, I wouldn't pronounce it dead just yet. I think we can salvage it, but in a reconfigured form that might be less "literal" sounding, less objectionable. Brian (as ever) has given us lots of cool ideas to begin with, in his comment above.

August 15, 2006 7:25 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

This is my very last post on this subject!

First of all, I'm really amazed at the passion you guys feel for writing about women filmmakers. I really encouarge all of you to write about whatever topic you want! Start today.

One thing that really surprised me about this really intense, in some ways awful, conversation was that I thought that if I (a filmmaker, woman, and all around good person) said, "hey, I don't like this idea of a woman filmmaker blog-a-thon" that you would all just automatically defer to me - the inside person on the subject!

Maybe I should have just said when the idea was first proposed by Peter. (And I think that it is great that he proposed the idea.) That my personal opinion, which I am entitled to, is that I just find this theme to be horrible. So that's kind of the unsaid sentiment that has been underlying my messages. Sometimes I guess it is better to be direct!

There are lots of women's film fests and magazines and media events! The difference between those events and your proposed blog-a-thon is that they are run by women. Now don't get mad at me, here. Because I'm going to lay this down gently, but this blog circle that I love so much is mostly guys. And it's just not the same to have a woman's blog-a-thon run by a bunch of guys. I've been told that sentiments like that are offensive. So I'm sorry. Just from the women's pov, this is really really surprising!

You know, especially since I'm like the only woman filmmaker on this discussion, I think it would have been helpful if you could have been more inclusive, asked more questions of me, had a dialogue with me, and refrained from a lot of really awful judgements. I'm like you, I'm writing what I write not to tell you what to do, but so I can look myself in the mirror. And if you want this women's filmmakers blog-a-thon so badly, then wouldn't you want for me to be writing with you?

Maybe not, after my email to G. this morning. I'm sorry about that. No excuse for lashing out online to someone who is for the most part super supportive.

I'm going to appeal to the generosity of your spirit right now to go with the flow of the following sentiment. This is not going to be a direct reference to what we have been talking about but it is the closest thing I can come up with to describe my pov.

Who gets to define identity? Who gets to re-appropriate? What happens when white people re-appropriate things from black people, for example? The meaning changes, right? This is not simple terrain . . . Maybe this interpretation won't make sense to you. But I think that we all should ask these questions when we start writing about one specific sex or nationality or skin color or sexual orientation, etc. etc. It can't hurt to question things more!

Peace and go ahead with your blog-a-thon with all of this in mind. At the very least, I think that we've learned a lot from each other today.

August 15, 2006 9:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for taking the time to post that, Jen.

August 15, 2006 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I've been told that sentiments like that are offensive.

Yes, they are. Tremendously. As are several other comments in your post.

More than that, they are downright disheartening as well.

August 16, 2006 12:39 AM  
Anonymous davis said...

Interesting comments, Tuwa. My late night segue into Rouch and Sembène was borne of sleep deprivation, but I was trying to say something similar (for a different reason, but still). It's often fascinating to find out how someone else sees you, or how someone sees herself, even if some of those viewpoints are deemed inaccurate by ... someone. (There's always someone.)

I'll second Girish; Brian's onto something with his suggestions above.

August 16, 2006 2:06 AM  
Blogger Marina said...

Jen, I know you said that was your last post on the subject, but I hope you're reading this.
Isn't it a bit harsh to have prejudice against prejudice...? You don't like the separation male-female and you're right in a sense but why further this separation by denying guys the right to discuss this separation. Mind you, discuss and respect. Because this isn't a place where groundless points are made just for the sake of the...well, separation, in our case. No, you can be sure (and you can very well, asure yourself from previous posts, blog-a-thons) that whatever they (the group that has formed here, I mean) take up, they'll treat it with respect. Of course, there'd be negative thoughts too, but they'll definetely not be related to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc, but the quality of those women's work, even - attitude, artistry, etc.

I just want to give you an example. There's the official Bulgarian site dedicated to female homosexuality - lesbianism. It also has a discussion forum and you'd be surprised how many men join (register and all) in order to get to know lesbians. And they participate in discussions and they treat everyone in the forum with respect and in return they're treated the same. In fact, a lot of interesting discussions have sprung up there and most of their participants are both male and female. Thus, both parts have the chance to learn something - men about the 'secret/mystery' of lesbianism (as well as feminity in general) and women - about men's attitude, prejudice or opinion of them. It's a dual process.

No matter how much we want to, we can never eliminate this separation (not discrimination!) because it originates from us - male and female. We're different in nature and that is undeniable. Why not embrace every chance of discussion when it would certainly be respectful? Why not try to see how men see women filmmakers (first as artists and then, more interestingly, as the opposite sex)? What fascinates them about the 'feminine cinema'? Then we can switch and have an all-male blog-a-thon!

Why not starting the chain blog-a-thon with the preliminary stipulation to include as much feminity as possible...?

August 16, 2006 3:13 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks Marina, I wouldn't have said it with as much diplomacy...

I'm grateful to jmac for opening my mind. I'll refrain from watching movies that are not made by white straight French males of my generation, because... I couldn't understand them.
What about a jmac blog-a-thon? We'll all sit down around her and listen to what it's like to be from Venus. ;) (just joking, no hard feelings)

On an unrelated note, I thought the idea to give a larger topic to blogathon was meant to open it to personal interpretations for more people to fit in. A one woman blogathon will definitely be less popular if it's not a classic name everyone knows.

August 16, 2006 12:55 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Speaking of Rouch, Trinh T. Minh-ha made an interesting comment in response to a question about why she made a couple of films about Africa (Reassemblage and Naked Spaces: Living is Round) and not about her native Vietnam (she hadn't yet at the time), and how that was any different from Rouch and van der Keuken making films about Africa. Her answer was along the lines of the fact that as a woman, a person of color, and having a shared culture of colonized history, she could film more intimately than either white male, European filmmaker, but on the other hand, as a (then) French resident and non-African, she also was acutely aware of her position of privilege, so the idea of being both paradoxically "inside" and "outside" was what interested her. It wasn't a question of which is better or which is a more appropriate representation, but rather, another perspective that hasn't been explored.

I think Sembène is alluding to this in his "insect" comment. But it's a two-way street. I'm sure Rouch did look upon African culture with a certain outsider's curiosity, but on the other hand, he also knows that there are also certain bounds that he cannot cross because of his gender and nationality without coming across as an intrusive, imposing colonialist. He has to remain somewhat distanced and observational, rather than intimately familiar, and his work reflected that intranscendable separation.

August 16, 2006 3:34 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Just wanted to chime in and say that the idea of a chain-blog-a-thon appeals to me -- I've rather started doing something like that for myself by soliciting my readers for requests... which is how I'm gonna end up seeing my first Tarkovsky. In other words: Yeah, I'm always open for suggestions. :-)

Also, I'm bummed that I missed the avant-gardeathon (my notes went missing for a week), but it is heartening that the three films I was debating over covering (Maclaine's The End, Connor's Report and Barney's Drawing Restraint 9) did eventually get covered in some form.

Hanging around here makes me want to become a better film writer. I think that's a good thing, no?

August 22, 2006 7:32 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

related news :
Off Screen July 31, 2006 : Iranian Cinema and Women's Issues

Women Make Movies fun facts:
"Women accounted for only 7% of directors in 2005, representing a decline of 4 percentage points as compared with 11% in 2000."

Interview with Trinh T. Minh-ha about feminism in cinema

August 28, 2006 2:57 PM  
Anonymous R. Dolens said...

In case any of you happen to live in the Boston area, Rose Hobart is playing at the Harvard Film Archive this autumn as part of a series of surrealist films, from Buñuel to...Buñuel. The website is down at the moment, so I can't find the exact date, but for when it is working again:

September 14, 2006 7:01 PM  
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