Monday, March 24, 2014

File This Under: Cinema

Some Sunday (Monday) reads (looks) for you...

Here's a good breakdown of a Jackie Chan fight where he schools some dolorous motherfucker with a goddam folding fan.

Martial Arts movies and dance films have special place in my heart. Jackie Chan was not only a brilliant choreographer, he also knew where cuts and the camera belonged when covering an action scene. If you have some room for open tabs at the top of your browser and would like to go down the rabbit hole with David Bordwell for awhile, check out this article of Chan vs. Bond.

While we're talking about playing with the art of shooting for continuity, here's a really great breakdown of a scene in Peter Bogdonavich's They All Laughed where Bogdonavich builds a room out of nothing but actor's glances.

File these under: I wish it were real.


What did Siegfried Kracauer say in response to an American critic who celebrated Lubitsch's cinema that could "tilt a camera to the sky or turn it toward an arabesque mosaic on the floor?"
His statement mistakenly suggests that the Lubitsch films were the first to develop this camera initiative, but it was [WWI] that had aroused the camera's curiosity by making it focus upon subjects of military importance. Photographs of a shell crater with a few pairs of legs at the upper margin or an agglomeration of rifles, truck wheels and torsos were then quite common. While traditional aesthetic would have condemned such photographs as incoherent, the war generation which had become accustomed to them began enjoying their singular power of expression. This change of visual habits emboldened the camera to emphasize parts of bodies, to capture objects from unusual angles.
Cinema, as any regular readers of this blog will get tired of hearing, begins its life as trauma. The first crowd that saw The Great Train Robbery didn't scream because a gun was being trained on them and fired from the screen, they screamed because they realized in a shocked instant that the world was about to change forever, that a piece of their experience no longer belonged to them.

Montage, as Kracauer points out, kept pace with this need to develop an artform/industry from the trauma of first film images. The sophistication of film keeps pace with sophistication of this trauma as we moves from black and white photographs of trains suddenly jumping to life and bearing down on an audience to images of Edison electrifying elephants to footage of war. The desire to see sucks us into this trap and it transforms us and our world, it creates a creature whose life is as much eating, shitting, and sleeping as it is mass media. "Death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh!" is a joke, but with a German sense of humor.

Here's Kracauer again, this time on the early frustrations of German screenwriter who tried their hand at comedy at a time when French and American silent, physical comedy reigned:
Germans liked that kind of visual fun. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that they were themselves incapable of producing a popular film comedian...That such comedy founded on chance and a naive desire for happiness should prove inaccessible to the Germans arises from their traditional ideology, which tends to discredit the notion of luck in favor of that of fate. The Germans have developed a native humor that holds wit and irony in contempt and has no place for happy-go-lucky figures. Theirs is an emotional humor which tries to reconcile mankind to its tragic plight and to make one not only laugh at the oddities of life but also realize how fateful it is. Such dispositions were of course incompatible with the attitudes underlying the performances of a Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd.
The trauma of cinema continues, sometimes it's enough of a trauma just observing how far the will to see has gone. I provide the above links to the youtube videos above as a softcore example of where we can go if we keep pace of where cinema itself is going. You can, far too easily and far too quickly, go too far. Made for TV executions are no longer a phenomenon restricted to Latin American television; Syrian rebel commanders are producing swashbuckling images of themselves in battle to gain funding from online forums; murders and rapes are being committed Man Bite Dog style, with one accomplice holding the camera phone. Google gives up these images in an instant, you won't have to turn over too many rocks to find them. It was harder to find free porn in the early 00's. Now, you have to make a conscious choice not to watch, not to see these things. This drama began with my generation, but it will only intensify for subsequent ones. These images have, in the past, transformed cinema, but the point isn't to become a better human race by always seeing more, or sight with no limits, no frame. At the same time, if you want to write for the world of images, when or why would you ever look away? This is the drama of contemporary cinema, how to negotiate art in a world making itself delirious with the trauma that fires both its fantasy and its anxiety, the trauma it applies to itself to gain power both for authors and the owners of the mass media.


And we enter this world with eyes wide open. Death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh.

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