Tuesday, December 08, 2009

about waysofseeing.org

I've added an About page to waysofseeing.org.

It talks briefly about who I am, about this website, and about the name "ways of seeing".

I was strongly influenced by John Berger's famous book Ways of Seeing when I was a kid but when I was naming this website I didn't want to specifically refer to Berger's book. The phrase at the time meant, and still means something closer to the way Fred Camper uses it in his writings.

Here are some examples from Fred's website:

Permutations 4: The Tower, All Views 13 (2008), by Fred Camper

About his own art:
"I am trying to use multiple images to suggest a traveler's journey of discovery. Cinema is one of several influences, in the many ways that a cut between two different angles of the same scene can open up, or close down, the space, or that camera movement can reshape an entire locale. In film or on paper, images can construct a visual architecture, new ways of seeing space and objects. Presenting an object or locale through multiple images is also a way of undercutting any single view, creating, for the viewer, a voyage through different levels of awareness. Multiple views can also suggest, by extrapolation, an infinitely large number of different ways of seeing an object."

About Gerhard Richter:
"If we learn only one lesson from the last century, it's that artists are constantly redefining what art is, and that each redefinition requires new criteria, new ways of seeing — indeed, that's often the point of the redefinitions."

About Stan Brakhage:
"Part of Brakhage's goal is to enrich viewers' seeing of things in the ordinary world, to help each viewer uncover unique and imaginative ways of seeing."

About Roberto Rossellini:
"There are some zooms in pre-1967 Rossellinis -- there's even one or two in "Generale Della Rovere" -- but starting with "La Prise du Pouvoir par Louis XIV," Rossellini used the zoom pretty continuously. At one point he even had a remote control device built so that he could zoom without looking through the camera, during shooting. The zoom is constantly reframing, going to wider or closer views, and his use of it I think is crucial to the style and ideas of the films: it places every moment of them, every image, at a potential transition point between two or more perspectives, suggesting that at any instant there are other, and in a sense always "wider," possible ways of seeing the situation. Rossellini's late films tend to center around "pivot points" in history, such as the beginning of the Renaissance in "The Age of the Medici," which is consistent with his way of seeing, in which whatever is happening is always on the brink of some momentous change."

My definition of the phrase changes with every new artwork I encounter, which is exactly the point...

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Roberto Rossellini's "Blaise Pascal" (1971)

"The vacuum, the void, is the face of the infinite. If I seek the void in nature, it's to discover its mirror in the heart of man" declares Rossellini's Blaise Pascal... He also talks about "la mesure infinie du vide", "the infinite measure of the void"...

This is possibly Rossellini's darkest film. Let's hear what Tag Gallagher says:
"Thus Blaise Pascal is a horror movie, like Dreyer's Dies irae (Day of Wrath) (1943). Everything is drenched in suffering, torture, fear, superstition, blood and penance, masses of black, white and scarlet; everyone is writhing in desperate faith, self-mortification and pain. "

The void Pascal Blaise is looking for in nature, is consistently with him, and with others. Everybody seems to have their souls vacuumed out. People talk about joy, but we never see any of it. I think this sense of the void is the key to the film. But there are also many other levels at work...

It's a film where everything is a ritual (even waking up, even death). The trial scenes summarizes all the injustices in the world (and how there are always people who rationalize other people's sufferings). The cause-consequence in the universe is one of the main subjects.

Using Tag Gallagher's words, Blaise Pascal is "a direct experience."

In his wonderful blog post, Dennis Grunes writes that
Blaise Pascal "begins matter-of-factly, in the middle of a conversation in the street, and ends on the threshold of eternity." And he describes Pascal’s death scene as "a sober, stunning, luminous passage."

Tag on Rossellini's late period (which is, for me, the greatest period of the greatest filmmaker):
"To say, as many have, that these movies lack acting, psychoanalysis, Murnau-like expressionism, overwhelming emotions and the richest possible cinematic art is like closing one's eyes at high noon and claiming the sun no longer exists."

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Roberto Rossellini's "Viva L'Italia" (1961)

In 1964, Rossellini exclaimed: "Of all my films, I'm proudest of Viva L'Italia."

About one and a half hours into the film, a singer meets Garibaldi and expresses his joy as follows, describing perfectly Rossellini's own cinema (French translation of the Italian original):
"Devant toutes ces beautés rares, je suis venu ici, et ce soir je veux chanter quantité des chansons. Des chants sans apprêts, écrits comme ils venaient, sans style, ni prétention, qui font parler le coeur."

My English translation:
"Before all these rare beauties, I came here, and tonight I want to sing many songs. Songs without preparations, written as they came, without style, or pretension... Songs which make the heart speak."

In his book, Tag Gallagher writes the following about the war scenes in Viva L'Italia, where the camera constantly zooms in and out, pans around, telling the story of the battle with extraordinary precision, and beauty: "... a new era in cinema: never before has a camera done anything like this, never before have we seen anything so vast." And later in the book: "... Viva L'Italia erupts into a crescendo of liberation across an ever-expending space."

Zach Campbell also wrote beautifully about the war scenes in his own blog.

Talking about Viva L'Italia, Andrew Sarris mentions Rossellini's camera that "keeps its cosmic distance." And later in the same paragraph, he states: "Where Buñuel's ideas sometimes transcend his images, and where Chaplin's images sometimes transcend his ideas, there is in Rossellini little or no separation between style and substance. If there be such a thing as a cinematographic language, and I firmly believe there is, Rossellini requires the least translation..."

One of the things I like the most about the film is its courage to emphatize with history, and its characters (notwithstanding the "cosmic distance" that Sarris talks about). The chants and hymns on the soundtrack or the ideological exclamations might feel naive to many but Rossellini only makes movies about the things he feels, and by feeling Garibaldi's followers, he makes us understand a very important point in recent history: the formation of nation-states. As Tag Gallagher says, what interests Rossellini "is always the moment when one cycle of history is dying, another is born." At the very beginning of Viva L'Italia there's an important emphasis on telegrams, and later, on mass printing of newspapers. Without the changes in mass communication, history would have happened very differently. Rossellini allows determinism, understands the forces that drive history, but also embraces the human beings who drove it, Rosa being a great and heroic example.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 50 Greatest Films

Iain Stott of The One-Line Review kindly asked me to participate in a poll for The 50 Greatest Films of all times. After giving it some thought, and working on the list for a while, this is what I came up with, together with my introductory note:

This is an arbitrary selection of my fifty favorite movies... As a result of not limiting myself to one film per filmmaker, other great artists such as Harry Smith, Jonas Mekas, King Vidor, Vincente Minnelli, Robert Aldrich, Carl Dreyer, Jacques Rivette, Chris Marker, Bruce Baillie, Ernie Gehr, Christopher Maclaine, Louis Lumière, Buster Keaton, Jean Epstein, Raoul Walsh, Josef von Sternberg, Jack Chambers, etc. were left out. This is more or less where things stand for me as of June 30th 2009:

  1. Il messia (1975) - Roberto Rossellini
  2. India: Matri Bhumi (1959) - Roberto Rossellini
  3. What goes up (2003) - Robert Breer
  4. Socrate (1971) - Roberto Rossellini
  5. Cartesius (1974) - Roberto Rossellini
  6. Viva l'Italia! (1961) - Roberto Rossellini
  7. Bang! (1986) - Robert Breer
  8. LMNO (1979) - Robert Breer
  9. Viaggio in Italia (1954) - Roberto Rossellini
  10. Faust (1926) - F.W. Murnau
  11. Ugetsu monogatari (1953) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  12. Au hasard Balthazar (1966) - Robert Bresson
  13. La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (1966) - Roberto Rossellini
  14. Intolerance (1916) - D.W. Griffith
  15. Sophie's Place (1986) - Larry Jordan
  16. The Art of Vision (1965) - Stan Brakhage
  17. Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons (1980) - Robert Breer
  18. El Dorado (1966) - Howard Hawks
  19. Life of Oharu (1952) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  20. L'argent (1983) - Robert Bresson
  21. Rio Bravo (1959) - Howard Hawks
  22. Donovan's Reef (1963) - John Ford
  23. Beaubourg, centre d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou (1977) - Roberto Rossellini
  24. Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950) - Roberto Rossellini
  25. I... (1995) - Stan Brakhage
  26. Visions in Meditation #2: Mesa Verde (1989) - Stan Brakhage
  27. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) - John Ford
  28. Agostino d'Ippona (1972) - Roberto Rossellini
  29. The Tarnished Angels (1958) - Douglas Sirk
  30. Miss Oyu (1951) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  31. Gulls and Buoys (1972) - Robert Breer
  32. Three Times (2005) - Hou Hsiao Hsien
  33. Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur (1949) - Sidney Peterson
  34. Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Orson Welles
  35. The Petrified Dog (1948) - Sidney Peterson
  36. Our Lady of the Sphere (1969) - Larry Jordan
  37. 69 (1968) - Robert Breer
  38. ...Reel Three (1998) - Stan Brakhage
  39. Blow Job (1963) - Andy Warhol
  40. In Harm's Way (1965) - Otto Preminger
  41. The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (2000) - Stan Brakhage
  42. The Lion and the Zebra Make God's Raw Jewels (1999) - Stan Brakhage
  43. The Loom (1986) - Stan Brakhage
  44. Arnulf Rainer (1960) - Peter Kubelka
  45. Millennium Mambo (2001) - Hou Hsiao Hsien
  46. Fantômas (1913) - Louis Feuillade
  47. The Last Laugh (1924) - F.W. Murnau
  48. The Potted Psalm (1946) - Sidney Peterson
  49. The Horse Soldiers (1959) - John Ford
  50. Zorns Lemma (1970) - Hollis Frampton

There are four lists I find inspiring: Edo Choi, Jack Angstreich, Mike Grost, Dan Sallitt

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Roberto Rossellini's "India: Matri Bhumi" (1959)

A rhythmic voyage of our psyche like no other...

A film about the individual, the civilisation, and the "communal multitude" with the animals, the plants, and cosmos, "the big mother".

It's a mirror of our primitive nature, our internal, biologic fears, and the rituals imposed on us by the society.

An ode to work, to symbiosis... The film viewer has never been so close to death, to the horrors of life...

India: Matri Bhumi is a celebration of human consciousness, of nature, the unpredictable, the unwritten future, the perpetual now, the moment...

We need artists such as Rossellini to remind us that creation is still in process...

Fred Camper cites India: Matri Bhumi among his three favorite films of all time, calling it "mystical" and "expansive".

I find his description of the earlier prints of the film very valuable since, unfortunately, all the existing prints have deteriorated (slightly or immensely, depending on where you draw your lines):
'About "India" prints: was the one that those who saw it found "serviceable" harsh and high contrast, sort of like Kodachrome printed onto Kodachrome? Because the film in 1970 had very gentle, very sensuous, very supple colors, which seemed crucial to its nature as a kind of inventory of the sensual pleasures of what virtual all tourists call an extremely colorful country. The prints I saw might seem OK to someone who hadn't seen the earlier print, in that the color at least wasn't tinted one way or the other. But the colors and surfaces lacked detail and texture.'

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