Sunday, November 18, 2007

Art cinema: ignorant!

In general, I'm not into Maya Deren; I think if I'd met her I would have hated her, and there's something too-too about most of her films. Her last one, The Very Eye of Night which you can watch here, blows my mind, though. It is SO IGNORANT. In the Deren documentary, J. Mekas talks about how, at the time of its release, people pointed out how easily you can perceive the stars to be spangles on a scrim being pulled along.
How beautiful is it, though? It's like the dream you'd imagine a kid having after she'd gotten dragged to the ballet. If it were any more adept, it would lose its janky-atavistic power.

In other news, it's weird that I've had this blog for over a year, and now I've started walking around in my red coat and listening to my Neil Young mixtape again and remembering how the winter was passed. It is again the season for a new job and pulling out records from the 1990s (Moss Icon, for sers, and Unwound and Rodan) and buying whiskey for hot toddies and socks without holes. At the beginning of this month, I started writing down what I do every day, just short bullet points. I recommend it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

long ignorant post bout seeing some movies

One twilight this past summer, distraught after a petty fight, I pedaled unthinkingly up an unfamiliar route that led me beneath the alien residential high-rises on 1st Ave. in the 30s and 40s. At stoplights, I'd look up into lit windows set inside heavy concrete casings and see the TV news up on the 10th floor, or a person putting something into a microwave. I had been reading some books about architecture, about glass and its mystical or maybe democratizing properties, and in this moment it made sense: the contiguity of my isolated experience of the city, by myself on my bicycle, with that of these lone figures exposed in their miniature domestic scenes.

I was reminded of this moment by an opinion piece in the Times a few weeks ago, and then again when I went to see Chelsea Girls at the Museum of the Moving Image. Warhol once analogized the movie's spaces to "cubicles in hell," but it just as well mirrors the way you would watch people stuck in a glass highrise across the way: the two simultaneous situations established by the side-to-side projections, the limitations of the film's audio tracks, which either overlap and confuse or leave one scene silent. After we left, I said to Ned that I spent much of the movie with a visceral desire to throw open a window. It's an airless film, with tight shots of characters who stagnate in rooms. They refrain idle threats and slip druggedly from sense to abject incoherence. No one seems depressed, even; more terrifyingly, the repetitive, drawn-out scenes they act have a practiced normality.
The film's beautiful moments do not redeem the characters: these segments or instance come as aberrations and thus, ultimately seem all the more pathetic. I mean like when Brigid Berlin winks bawdily at the camera, or like when Ondine shoots up and raves about god, self-anointing himself the pope of Greenwich Village, while on the opposite projection Nico brushes her bangs out of her eyes and unnatural colors drift across her face and a keening VU instrumental plays. These bits would be intense in any context, but in a movie that maintains such a dull level of intensity for 3.5 hours, they really smart.

You would kind of be an idiot to watch this on DVD, unconfined to a dark space, not subject to the projectionist's decisions about how to show the two reels and synch the audio. Despite the movie's length, you experience it in spatial rather than temporal terms. At its most boring you think not "how fucking long have I been sitting here?" but "how the shit can I get out of this room and away from these people?"

That's really deeply cinematic, I think. Here is a picture of Andy Warhol in the "invisible cinema," a theater designed by Peter Kubelka in the late 1960s at the height of the dogmatic New American Cinema scene.

He demanded the whole theater be painted black, and installed blinders between the seats so you could touch, but not see, the person sitting next to you. It has a house-of-worship vibe, right? So cool. BTW, if anyone has a copy of Jonas Mekas' Movie Journal she's looking to deaccession, get in touch. His film writing is my new favorite thing, all ecstatic and full of pronouncements vague and specific on the nature of cinema and the beauty of some corner in the west 20s and 8th Ave. and how cool his friends are, explicating movies' aboutness by saying "it's about diagonals. it's about girls. it's about love. it's about good camera angles." HERO.

Anyway, today I saw No Country For Old Men, which is the real virtuoso shit that ought to be seen a.s.a.p., because the dreadful expanse of Texas sky and the sound of a pneumatic cattle-butchering gun just demands a real theater. A.O. Scott self-consciously nerds out in his review in the paper, describing it as a moviemaker's movie with near-perfect editing, stunning cinematography, and generally a barrage of smart decisions by the Coen Bros. And yeah, early on, there's a scene that foregrounds a corpse's bullet-strafed boot and you can see the sky through a bullet hole in the boot sole and you just kind of think, holy shit, who thought of this and then executed it? Even at its most portentous--it's about, Mekas-style, God and masculinity and America and evil--the film stays uncheesy. It is also probably in my top 3 "most violent movies ever seen," after aforementioned Eastern Promises but well below The Proposition, which is really the next level.