Worker, Wednesday March 7, 1928
*new chap by m-hi*
less new / newish chaps by d-hose and s-vate and stew-e and mars angle
‘The streets of the town are full of cars.’
– Georges Perec, ‘Species of Spaces’
I don’t know how to write about this film. My usual flippant tone doesn’t match. The subject, Troy, was someone, a name, I’d been hearing stories about for years, from a friend. There’s some description of it by the filmmakers here: http://www.pozible.com/project/197636. I kept thinking of people who I thought ‘should’ see it.
I dream I am walking around Gosnells at the age I am now. I enter a slow, still, winding river area which resembles a swamp near my house of that time. It had a kind of reconstructed land jetty that you could walk out onto, and which I liked very much and would walk out onto often, and which was also, I think, the reason Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, when I saw pictures of it years later, always felt oddly familar. This dream river area also resembles a river near Dimboola that I once drove along for a while with D. We’d had intentions to camp there but something soon felt ‘wrong’ about the place, ‘bad’ even. In what sense? ‘Like being watched’ would perhaps be the more obvious thing to say. More specifically, it was the experience of walking into a room and finding that the things in it appear somehow too neatly reconstructed, and the attendant sense that the room is concealing something of its recent past. An edge of the suburbs appeared (we’re back in the dream), a cul-de-sac perhaps that might perhaps lead me towards – what else is there in suburbs? – more houses, shops. It leads, however, only into a kind of ‘estate’, which, as I write, seems to derive from or shade into memories of houses sighted on hills, posted above winding roads in the Dandenongs, accessible only via long driveways. I go down the stairs quickly with a slight shame of trespass on me, as two school kids are walking up, into the estate; I walk right past without acknowledging them. Back on the river path now, and there is a slightly vertiginous, Lilliputian mismatch between my body and this place. It’s not as small as a miniature village, but slightly smaller than it was before. There are reputed to be crocs in the water, and I fall in (indeed, I feel as if the dream ‘pushes me in’) and I flail about for a while, scared in a detached way but moreso bored by the exhausted theatricality of it. As in, surely there aren’t really crocs in here, tell me, when was the last one actually seen? and so on. Back on the path, I am trying to leave the way that I came in, and pass a couple of high wooden gates (Janus), folded back as if they haven’t been closed for a long time, the kind that might mark the edge of an old European city or perhaps village (or gated community reconstruction of these). Seeing these, there is a small shock of realisation that I have been ‘inside’ all this time. I resolve that when I get back ‘home’ I will get the street directory out and find this area and photocopy and enlarge it and perhaps colour-in different sections of it with pencils – I see myself doing this – and thereby work something out about this strange local place, and there is a sense of excitement about this, that it is still possible to do, despite my age and ‘time passed’ and so on.
Walk outside into a graffiti-coated lane where several men are delicately painting, one with a miniature miner’s light strapped to his head, gleaming. He’s working in white paint, has sketched some lines, quick strokes, and now moves back, index finger tensed on the spraycan nozzle – an animal figure? – this on a freshly blackened, glossy section of wall: how many coats has that section received? It is the layeredness of walls around here that impressed me once, a prior century, and does so again. Several more people hold cameras before them, then we duck into the street behind Flinders (‘Little’ Something?) with small shops and either densely packed or very spare displays of luxury commodities, then cut back through the church building, stopping to stare for a while at the grottos with miniature figures in them, installed in brightly-lit window stalls. Well-worn bluestone steps, a hundred and fifty years of foot traffic create a bend in the stone, I turn around to stretch my achilles tendons on them, then turn back to see a figure that looks like a person dressed in a blanket, lying down, bad place to sleep I think, though where’s good?, and which turns into a person a few steps later, as I pass him or her, a freshly hatched four-wheel-drive sidles up beside me, two boys in private school blazers peer down from their palanquin at the sleeping human, raising to their mouths, perhaps, chips, I skip across six lanes of Flinders and ascend some more stairs while trying to find a sightline through the chips of sky between the angular buildings at Fed Square, to the station clock, to check time; three police stand around a citizen, sitting down, their bright yellow accoutrements, just chatting. Then more stairs, people gathering for other films, Ella arrives and we walk the other way past the cue snaking up the stairs, glad not to be in it. Follow the bike through 6:13pm streets, just gone dark, pedestrians collecting up at corners then flowing over them, a woman shaking a metal container at the corner, ‘for the homeless’, ‘I give her money sometimes’, ‘Is that her usual spot?’. Hardly notice the old Greater Union site now (now it is a ‘site’), consider the Japanese bar across the road with the glazed food displays: fish head, noodles being raised out of soup with chopsticks. ‘Funky Curry isn’t there any more’, ‘Some phở place’, ‘faux phở, geddit!?’ (‘fur phở?!); lock up bike on road island. Then the length of Cardigan Street, the length of Princes Park, different fields, faces under the sports oval Klieg lights, the ‘poured in’ green, the new years gatherings there, the solitary trips to the toilet block, happily drunk, passing the decorative lake, a train strike to look forward to, the parallel back lane, ‘goes quite a long way’, and more well-worn, toothy squares of bluestone.
(Dir: Rakhshan Banietemad)
Eisenstein in Guanajuato
While walking towards the theatre I ran into a friend and we caught up for a few minutes beneath a number of neon signs affixed to the threshold of an underground parking station, intermittently placing a blue cast upon his face. I continued on my way, eating from a bag of salt and vinegar chips I had just purchased for the fictional price of $1.99, entered a builidng, walked up a set of stairs, bought a small bottle for the regrettable price of $8.50, which was immediately opened and poured into a ridiculous, translucent, slightly columnar, plastic recepticle, walked up another set of stairs and took a seat on the far side of the theatre. Having not seen one of his films before, I had a sense of what ‘Peter Greenaway’ stood for in cinema terms and this was partly confirmed and partly modulated. For example I had a sense that the mise en scène would be sort of luxurious and factitious, and some of it was. Related to this, I had the sense there would be serious and severe long takes that desired to be Renaissance paintings. It was not like this; the camera jumped and span around quite quickly the whole way through, and several times the screen split up into a triptych of the same shot but staggered with a slight delay: The Eisentsein character’s monologues were punctuated with photographs – as in, he mentions Maiakovski, the right third of the screen becomes a photograph of Maiakovski, looking impressive; he mentions Chaplin, the left third of the screen… and so on (these lists of friends were a treat). Remember ‘special effects’? Whatever happened to them? Or do I not see the right movies? There were some of these, I think. One effect consisted of a very wide camera angle and psychedelically enhanced colours, and spinning around. In fact, ‘spinning around’ and ‘splitting into three’ were probably the most frequent formal ‘things’ that were happening, which, as I write this, seem to collude with the virgin Eisenstein’s dizziness in exoticised Mexico, struck down by lust and love. In short, it was much more playful than I’d expected, and was less reliant on/interested in the idea of the screen as a window ‘onto’ than the other films I’ve seen this festival, even the more experimental ones. The screen seems more like a console or a field, into or onto which quite ‘other’ things might happen. It confirmed that the theme of my film choices this year has been the Soviet past and our mixed feelings about it. The actor playing the Eisenstein character was clearly a thesp, ‘treading the boards’ restlessly, around and around and around, in various scenes, often nude or half nude, and when not so wearing a white (seersucker?) suit. It contained the most honest portrayal of food poisoning I think I’ve seen in a film.
Due to too cursory consultation of movie timetable I missed Those Who Feel The Fire Burning (Dir. Morgan Knibbe) and thence followed forty-eight movieless hours and thence a Yakuza film entitled Battles Without Honour Or Humanity. Made in the 1960s, it follows a number of warring families, from immediately after World War Two to the late 1950s. I am reminded again that from the 1960s at least Japan looked about twenty years ahead of the rest of the world. Apparently The Godfather is heavily ‘under the influence’ of this film and it and this is apparent. There are many shlocky death scenes, blood appearing as a kind of fluoro puce pigment. I sit almost at the back of the Forum, a freedom afforded by a secondhand pair of opera glasses found at an opshop, and this in itself is a treat, the screen looming down there sharply among the black. The opening credits, red characters, are stamped on the screen. They look good, it’s a kind of red you don’t see anymore. There are so many characters and the terrain changes so quickly (who’s at war with who) that it’s hard to keep up. For a while we lose the main character (Hirono?), and one assumes that one missed some detail explaining this, or that he was just left in the wake of the plot, and one goes along with this, happily, but then he returns, is released from gaol and has some scores to settle. In the final scene he arrives at the funeral of a Yakuza colleague, whose death he knows to have been the work of their pusillanimous boss, who has already contrived to have not a few of his underlings kill each other unnecessarily. Hirono sublimates his desire to exact revenge upon his boss by instead shooting up the funeral shrine, much to the dismay of the mourners. What are you doing, you’re crazy etc, intones the boss, to which Hirono replies, I’ve still got some bullets left, and then walks away, towards/into the camera. Fin. This last shot was the most Clint Eastwood Western-ish that the film got, however in the American version Hirono surely would have killed the boss, and then perhaps gone off to start his own ‘family’ (the homoerotics of these clans was elaborately obvious, particularly in one scene when two decide to become brothers by cutting each other’s arms and exchanging fluids), no, more likely to become a sole trader of some variety. Instead he shows the shows the Yakuza boss ‘who’s boss’ while allowing the appearance of the former hierarchy to remain.
What to say? Three hours of watching athletes limbering, grimacing. All the strange things one does with one’s body before competing are telescopically revealed in beautiful 1960s film colours. One could go on for kilometres describing the surprise of each new sport exhibited, ones one had more or less forgotten existed, and perhaps one will at a later point. Was my favourite the judo? I think perhaps it was. I liked the way their suits would got all disarrayed during the throwing and pinning, the apparent gracelessness of it, and then the way they stepped back at the end to their different sides, kneeled, and then simultaneously began straightening their suits and re-tying their belts carefully and efficiently. The way ritual blurred into competition. The first competition shown was the mens one hundred metre race. The depiction of it was hugely enstranging (ostranenie), particularly when juxtaposed to the way these events are usually constructed by television. As the runners paced around before the race the narrator told us they appeared ‘almost sad’ and this had the ring of a true statement. In fact the film was more like three and a half hours as it had four false starts (itself seeming to fit the Olympic theme) before the projectionist could get the version with English subtitles to appear. When the lights came up I heard someone say, ‘I could rewind that and watch it again’….And then that night, in the same theatre, Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, director of the first film I saw at a film festival in 2003, a film (The Saddest Music in the World – who could resist?) which included a woman with glass legs filled with beer. This film was just as unusual. A frame tale with a bath-robed narrator who looked a little bit like John Ashbery – a resemblance I may have only noticed because Ashbery, so I read, had some involvement with the script. The story had something to do with a submarine crew, I remember. The visual aesthetic isn’t like anything else, a blend of old adventure comics and silent film. One knows one should not see a movie after drinking. One learned this in approximately the same period one saw The Saddest Music in the World – there is photographic evidence of this: three of us outside the Leichhardt Town Hall with a goon bag, not long before walking in to see the film Adaptation, from which we walked out two minutues later. And yet, not being a walker-outerer (I have not, I don’t think, since), one persists, and I persisted.
This is a tale told almost entirely without words and when there were words they are in an extremely beautiful sounding language called Abkhazian. So, haptic images: a gumboot landing on a shore; a stump hammered; a hand digging earth and the earth brought to the mouth and tasted; an oar lowered into water. It’s a story of a man building a house on a tiny island on a river, then planting a corn field, then the island being washed away. First the man is alone, then he is with his granddaughter, and a brief coming of age narrative is veered towards, when a wounded Georgian soldier appears on the island, and then veered away from again. The soldier is nursed back to health by the grandfather. They are on opposing sides, the grandfather protects him; the island, we know by now, lies on a border zone, on the edge of a disputed territory. This phrase takes on a resonance, we begin to wonder how ‘earth’ could be disputed, being so tangible and tasteable in itself. The loving shots of turned-earth recalled another MIFF film from several years ago, a doco in which a soil-scientist argued that ploughing is the worst thing to do to earth because it turns it into concrete, where good soil ought to be loose like couscous. So, it confronted these ideas of settlement and belonging to earth and fighting over it at some particulate level of sensation and experience. The border dispute only signified by the occasional Georgian, Abkhazian and Russian soldiers skimming by in dinghies with outboard motors and rifles over shoulders, slowly nodding to the island inhabitants. The island and everything on it is washed away in a rainstorm. The final scene loops back to the beginning, showing a different man arrive on what’s left of the island and digging up a remnant (the granddaughter’s doll) of its previous iteration, and we now realise-remember that the first man had done the same thing at the beginning of the film, exhuming a small plastic pipe, which he kept with him throughout the film and took out at anxious moments. And so a greater truth, and a number of very European/Western themes, the resilience and persistence of earth and the contingency of the human pursuits that take place upon it, earth as agriculture and earth as territoire fought over, as memory, and earth in its biblical and ongoing disputation with water.
The Postman’s White Nights
Well maybe the film’s quality is determined by the clarity of the street when you walk out. This time Melbourne appears more antique, like it used to when I would visit. I am writing this in ‘Aero Bar’, which appears to be a suit bar, one I’ve walked past many times but never visited, perhaps somewhat second-tier compared to the flashy redeveloped bars de jour – more from the era of Pancake Parlour. Another Russian film but this time it is summer not winter and the country not the city; a lacustrine village, serviced by the postman of the title, who gets around in a speedy motorboat. A velvetty shot of about two minutes length from the perspective of this boat, cutting across a huge lake, completely silent. Men appear to high-five each other in this bar, or as if they are about to. Before and after the film I talk with the guy sitting next to me who as it turns out was a taxi driver in the seventies. He tells me he chooses the festival films that look like they’ll be ‘a slow burn’, and I say I do the same. There is a postcard quality to this film, I see, writing this almost a week later; it begins with a closely-cropped shot of two hands sorting through old photographs of different sizes, mementos, domestic scenes. Captioning one photograph, a voice relates ‘I could be singing or arguing’; this past life explained by one word: ‘votka’. Later we will see kettles boiled, sugar cubes dropped into cups of tea and stirred mellifluously, cigarettes ignited. The quiet dignity of life maintained amid thieving neighbours and sexual frustration.
When the Dogs Talked & Windjarramerru, The Stealing C*nts
An unexpected seat, planted in the centre of the theatre and the film wraps around. It opens with an image of an egg being fried and ends with one of the sun going down over a beach somewhere near Darwin. Two films of about half an hour each. The second pits the avarice and humbug of a mining company against a bunch of kids wagging school or suspended; the latter, walking through the bush, happen upon two cartons of VB, which, we later learn, is a trap that has been set for them, and into which they happily fall. Soon enough there is a chase scene through the bush, during which the kids escape their pursuers by hiding in radioactive territory that the cops are too scared to enter. It ends with a sort of atmospheric slo-mo scene, which suggests ghosts and the morbid death cult of uranium mining. The first centres around a dog dreaming story, and the way this is related this to a younger generation amid the day-to-day of housing commission life, the needs of extended family, broken down cars and elusive mobile reception. A woman is telling it to a young child as the film begins, and we return to it at the end. One of the best scenes shows some of the kids discussing different things that might have caused a particular land formation (how certain rocks were moved), a dreaming story or more recent machinery, casually plaiting mythic and historical time. The question and answer session at the end was conducted through a smart phone to Darwin (the main actors were meant to be there but had had their flight ‘flipped’, this a term I hadn’t heard before) and had a delightful ‘delay’ to it, making everyone listen closely, and provided a back-story to the film-makers, but malheureusement I had to rush off before the end to make an appearance at a birthday drinks in a well-lit back lane bar, where I chatted for an hour and downed two quick pints before skimming back across town for Kommunisten which, well, I asked for modernism, and modernism responded. It was very hard to figure out the formal unity of this film. It was made up of around forty or so shots, so, quite a few very long takes. The long takes I ‘understood’, but the actors reading from scripts, texts that sounded like confessions and fragments of narratives, less so. I believe the film was in dialogue with Jean-Marie Straub’s earlier work, and no doubt it would have helped to have been familiar with this. My response, however, was clearly not aided by the two pints – in a different state I may have been more receptive. If seeing it I again would prescribe myself strong black tea and a poultice made of soda water and tuscan cigars.
Under Electric Clouds
The best thing about this film were the fringes of light on either side, first Swanston and Flinders in the middle of the day busy with tourists and school groups but not the messy, angry busy of a few hours later; then the dim, clear, intricate light and colour, coming out onto the street again, forming into locked-up bikes, poles, cars and people and so on (this an aesthetic experience I associate with being a child or younger teenager when going to see a movie invariably meant ‘going into town’ for a middle of the day session, say 12:45 or 1:15 start, and coming out mid-afternoon to wander around the city for a bit longer). Mostly this is because of the interminableness of the film but also because of the gloominess, winteriness, and the episodic structure of it, the latter having the effect of repeatedly dashing one’s hopes that this end might be the real end. I can’t have been the only one experiencing the film in this way as let’s say 1/5 of the audience had left by the credits. A recurring theme appears to be unfinished constructions. We see people standing under desolate Flemington Bridge-like expressways, the camera once gazing meaningfully at the mushroomy underbelly of one; inside doss-houses, buildings left to ruin with sheets of plastic flapping (meaningfully) over the windows. The central image or symbol is a spiral-shaped, beautifully-useless, white tower, that we only ever see a gauzy emanation of in the distance through fog, and which alludes fairly clearly to Vladimir Tatlin’s also-unfinished-(in-fact-never-started) Constructivist ‘Monument to the Third International’, and hence, the unrealised potential and utopian spirit of the Soviet past now presented on a platter to organised crime and foreign capital (the terms seem to blend: double vision). The conflation of the latter with ‘Japanese’ seemed to me near racist as well as anachronistic, wasn’t the Japanese boom over by then/now? So: seven episodes (why not six? why not five?) constitute the film. These were separated with inter-titles, ‘First Chapter’, etc. This came across as pretentious. Maybe I’m being too picky, but they weren’t really chapters: each was a separate short film, even if there was a common theme, and some of the ‘threads’ vaguely came together at the end. I guess the formal influence here is Altman but there was nothing delightful about this film. There were a number of quite gorey and unexplained deaths that just seemed to happen. I guess that was the point. Signifying ‘Contemporary Russia’. This vaguely alluding to things, reliance on atmosphere, the stagey wasteland-like backdrops (Sculpture by the Sea?) did make me think ‘HSC Art Exhibition’ more than once. This sounds unfair I know, how could I say such a thing? Well, ok, to take one example the first section features a Kyrgyz man wandering around a snowy wasteland, later a city, holding a large outmoded boom-box, asking people where he could find an ‘electronics repair shop’. No one understands him; then, eventually, a kind stranger teaches him how to ask his one question in Russian. The Kyrgyz man smiles, repeating the question to himself like a talisman, goes off on his way. Plot aside, men walking around waste-lands carrying ‘a thing’ has, emphatically, been done (‘Falling Down’, was it called, Michael Douglas?). So, this was somewhat embarrassing, despite what was supposed to be the harsh beauty of the scenery, and so on. I guess my problem with films like this (and I’m always drawn to them, every film fest!) is that they so rarely go far enough, suggesting or referencing modernism without actually being modernist. One of the things I liked about it was that when people would walk by, during a scene, as they frequently did, speaking a language other than Russian, a subtitle would inform us ‘people speaking foreign language’ (or something to that effect) – there was some kind of truth to this. At one point I thought: this film is bad in the way that a bad Australian film is bad. It still seems true even if I’m not sure I could explain why.
no forms of art
outside of art
u nt it le dc i ty
life tumbles along
from the ground of lowered expectations
these desires appear to mask
come toothsome experiences dealcoholised
in solar flows of trust or pleasure
grassy plights, nostalgic dam levels
the printed day seen fall on it heels
sing the commodious husked hot-desk!
bundled failure and pulse of water
presently officeworks blinks krill
and sparkling tablet ground to foam, disappear