Category: Cinema

My Comprehensive Exam Results

Art, Books, Cinema, Philosophy, Poetry, Prose, Theory and Criticism, Translation September 14, 2015

Pass Pass Pass
Pass Pass Fail
Pass Fail Pass
Fail Pass Pass
Pass Fail Fail
Fail Fail Pass
Fail Pass Fail
Fail Fail Fail

are one of the above combinations.

Or they are what’s in this blog post.

*

What’s in this blog post is a list of books that I “discovered” this past summer, that shifted things for me in small or big ways, or that I simply enjoyed.

Comprehensive exams, where I go to school, involve picking three topics for which you create a list of at least thirty-five books each. Like most PhD amateurs I went overboard and had around two hundred books overall, then read about half of them.

You get the summer to read and make notes, then you get questions which you answer in five thousand words each and await results.

I don’t care much for waiting, so I’ve declared myself three wins.

Congratulations, me! You’ve done what millions before you have done.

*

The books I picked were of four main kinds:

books I’d read before that I knew would be core books for my essays
books I hadn’t read before that I knew would be important for me
books I hadn’t read before that were there because they were “supposed to be” there
books I picked by chance/that fell into my lap/that weren’t even on my precious lists but I read them

I don’t want to be a broken record about books I may have gushed about before, so I’m picking just a handful of books from the last three kinds.

Etel Adnan (major figure)

Etel Adnan. Journey to Mount Tamalpais. 1986.

All of Etel Adnan’s books, which I either read or re-read this summer, are wonderful—I pick Journey because it works beautifully as both memoir and manifesto for how Adnan looks at the world. As you may know, Adnan has painted Mount Tamalpais for decades of her life. I expected Journey to tell me how she came to that work and how it has sustained her. I didn’t expect it to let me re-enter her written work—The Arab Apocalypse, Seasons, and Sea and Fog particularly—with a more nuanced sense of what she does. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs from the book (context: Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire repeatedly in a similar manner, so obviously is an influence):

Let us return to Cezanne. He is a petrol lamp. His glance lightens the things it touches. A sense of the tragic in the quality of a painter’s glance, in the moment of choice, in the phenomenon called vision. Cezanne was in love with the mountain (or the gardener, or the apples) but with the moment when his glance settled on them differently than when he was promenading or was involved in a conversation. A painter’s glance is bitter, in the sense Rimbaud gave this word. That’s why this glance seems to erase the very object that creates its intensity, the cause of its intensity. (“To abolish . . .,” Mallarme used to say.) Cezanne turns light into an impersonal and cruel prism. And if we so much like his watercolors, it is because they escape our direct glance, they slide like mercury under our eyes, because there is between them and us an invisible obstacle which is both transparent and irreducible. It can lead you to insanity.

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari. What Is Philosophy? Tr. Hugh Tomlinson & Graham Burchell. 1991/1994.

I’m struggling to remember exactly why I put this book on my EA list . . . Read More

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Best Things 2014, Part II: Movies

Cinema January 19, 2015

The most devastating film I watched last year was Kirill Serebrennikov’s Yuri’s Day (Russia, 2008). To my knowledge it is not available on DVD, or via usual other means, so I’m extremely grateful to the kind people who screened this right before I left Bangalore for Denver.

Here are the other films, listed alphabetically by director, I watched last year that affected me equally, or almost as much, or somewhat:

Vadim Abdrashitov. Parade of Planets. 1984.

Vadim Abdrashitov. Parade of the Planets. USSR, 1984.

Michelangelo Antonioni. Blow-Up. UK, 1966.

Have you ever thought you’d seen a movie you hadn’t actually? For years I’ve gone around thinking I’d seen Blow-Up and then a few months ago I realized I was completely mistaken. Rectified.

Gabriel Axel. Babette’s Feast. Denmark, 1987.

Mainly for the crazy food.

Luis Buñuel. Viridiana. 1961.

Luis Buñuel. Viridiana. Spain/Mexico, 1961.

My new favorite Buñuel.

Peter Brooks. Marat/Sade. 1967.

Peter Brooks. Marat/Sade. UK, 1967. Read More

American Speech

Cinema, Illness, Language, Music, Sociology December 3, 2014

One of the great disappointments I experienced when I first moved to the US nearly five years ago was that regular American people sound nothing like the American people in movies.

I don’t mean that any country’s people ever sounds like its cinema, but that a certain type of film can capture, or re-invent, its linguistic community’s continuum of articulacy-inarticulacy in a way that allows you to be moved by its beauty—luxuriate in its pain.

My disappointment in American speech quickly turned into disappointment in American cinema because it’s the other way around. The cinema has failed the people.

Or: the cinema has failed part of the continuum while celebrating the other extreme.

The other extreme being that sort of determined, stylized, sometimes reverential, sometimes parodic-pastiched dialogue that’s completely well done in the hands of say Quentin Tarantino or 80s/90s David Lynch. A kind of over-articulate language that’s on the skin of personhood—think Don Corleone scratching his chin.

Actually, to take it a notch down, this—from Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988)—is completely genius:

I’ve always been enamored with the way American TV and movie characters Read More

Best Things I Watched in 2013

Cinema, Dance June 24, 2014

I seem to check up on my website/blog about once a month. This month I discovered a draft post listing all the best movies I watched in 2013. I guess it’s all right to post it now, six months after the fact.

I’m fairly certain these are all movies I watched for the first time last year—nothing I re-watched, which, as it turns out, I do a lot these days.

For a brief moment I attempted to categorize these by genre but that didn’t work out. Also, it occurs to me to mention: I watch enormous quantities of television not accounted for in this list, partly because I don’t keep track, partly because the list of truly excellent television is pretty limited.

OK, some random comments may be found below, if I feel like it.

Robert Altman. The Company. USA, 2003.

Robert Altman. The Long Goodbye. USA, 1973.

Robert Altman. Thieves Like Us. USA, 1974.

Altman = my favorite American director. But I always assumed he sort of lost it during the ’80s and after. So The Company quite surprised me—and the video above is stunningly realized. It’s very much in the Altman scheme of things: the way you see and hear everything as it were. It is also unlike most recordings of dance I’ve seen, given that we experience the external conditions of the dance itself—the dispersed energy of the audience, the weather, the anxieties off stage—in this horizontal, cinematic way.

Aleksey Balabanov. Me Too. 2012.

Aleksey Balabanov. Me Too. Russia, 2012.

Balabanov’s last film, eerily prophetic. Read More

Liquid Paper and Other News

Books, Cinema, Journals, Poetry, Prose, Translation December 2, 2013

Wanda Coleman. African Sleeping Sickness: Stories & Poems. 1990.

Wanda Coleman died on the twenty-second of November. I’d been introduced to her work roughly a year ago and hadn’t been able to let go of her long poem, “African Sleeping Sickness.” Some months ago I found her email address and contacted her. She gave me this stunning poem, which Asymptote published in its annual English Poetry Feature.

I knew Ms. Coleman had been ill, and you can find many instances of her thinking on her mortality in this poem:

My urine keeps getting darker, I must be passing.

But that very brief, personal admission is followed by a response—the poem is structured as a dialog—written in an entirely different register: a less inward-looking voice, a voice that opens out to a world of small, happy objects: a voice seeking, offering a sad pleasure, one could say.

Twenty-two cents, and a pack of mints
a rubber band and a paper clip.
Pass the bourbon and give it a kiss.

The title of the poem is “Tremors & Tempests: A Poetic Dialog.” The shaking, the sign of future destruction or pleasure, the barely perceptible movement, and the storm—that’s how I read it. And it’s a useful way to characterize the various natures of speech as well, or what are privately known quantities and what is gathered from public witnessing. Then, how these speak to each other.

I’ve also been thinking, via this poem, on the tension between the local and the international. Read More

10 Netflix Instant Movies

Cinema July 27, 2013

Off late I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how the act of watching movies has changed for me.

The movies I watched as a child were usually on TV (HBO or Star Movies), awkwardly censored by awkward people, interrupted by commercials and by my dad taking the remote away to check cricket scores. We hardly went out to the theatre. If I did, it was with friends. Once I remember the entire family going to the army movie theatre because they were playing a Bollywood movie called Border. My dad’s entire interest in the film lay in the fact that the protagonists were army officers; my father was at the time colonel of his own regiment. He wouldn’t be caught dead watching a Bollywood movie for any other reason, and after we watched Border I think we all wanted to die.

In college I started taking cinema more seriously, in part because film-making was a significant aspect of my vocational media studies cluster but mainly because a friend of mine and I got invited to a film club that met every Saturday. I still go to these club screenings when I’m in Bangalore. The person who curates the films has been a huge influence on the way I watch and think about cinema. Also, I love that there is a place (to which I belong) in which people yell at each other for bad taste and general lack of intelligence. Hey, I’ve had words with people . . . about movies.

The point is, I went from point A (TV and the occasional big screen) to point B (a biggish screen and my computer screen at home—there was no way I’d find the movies I wanted on TV anymore).

Point C is now simply my laptop. I’ve watched a total of four movies in a movie theatre since I moved to the States and three of them were rubbish. That’s little over a movie a year. Now I just torrent things (if I’m lucky I’ll find a DVD in a library) or watch what I can find on Netflix.

Something serious needs to be written about this shift in movie-watching, which I am sure I am not the only one to have experienced. More likely, something already has.

From a somewhat older time than our current Netflix-era is an essay that Susan Sontag wrote for the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of cinema in which she elegizes what once was “the art of the twentieth century” and which is now merely “decadent.” It’s a fascinating piece and one with which I agree on many points. Read More