Archive for the 'Film' Category

A Quiet Place

We watched Wings of Desire (1987) by Wim Wenders yesterday. I had never seen it before, and frankly did not care for it too much, but the trapeze artist Marion (played by Solveig Dommartin) got me thinking about the time when I read a lot of French literature: Camus, Cioran, Blanchot and continental philosophy. I also read authors like Beckett, a lot of Wittgenstein and sometimes went back to Kafka. In the film, Marion goes through a crisis. The way she speaks about her condition reminded me of an old fantasy I’ve had since childhood.

The fantasy goes more or less like this. I find a small door in the wall, open it and find myself in a blank space. I explore the space and find it completely silent, empty and vast. When I return through the door, I find that time has stood still. I quickly figure out I am able to enter or exit the space as I wish and do whatever I want for as long as I want while I’m there. The emptiness and silence of the space is mine to use as I please. Because I was a bookish child, I thought of this fantasy space as a place where I could read and think in peace.

I have a similar feeling when I read the authors I just mentioned. The volume of the world is turned down and there is room for thought. Because I have studied literature a lot, I should probably know whether there is a term for this feeling or not. There might be, but none comes to mind right now. “The void” may be one, but it sounds much too melodramatic. I’ve tried to write about silence before: silence in films, silence and language, the unsayable and about many other things around the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to say what I want to say.

Recently, I’ve thought about social media and the noisiness of modern media in general. It seems to lock the door to that quiet place or fill its silence with unnecessary babbling. We are supposed to respond to the babbling and try to form informed reactions to all this noise. I’d like to say that most of it is meaningless, but that wouldn’t be accurate. It’s too meaningful. There’s no room for thought when you are force-fed meaningful content from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. We are supposed to be creative as well and generate content for modern media ourselves, but it seems like all you can do are collages made of that very noise. Is this being creative? Or is it just more noise?

There are other kinds of creativity that do not thrive in this cacophony. They begin with isolating yourself from the world as best you can and then creating the world anew. You will be channelling what you see around you in some sense, of course, but in a way that is not detached from the way you see the world yourself. It’s a Romantic notion of creativity, but I like it. Unapologetically and unironically. Many of the existential, modernist and minimalist authors I so enjoy we’re actually lamenting the death of this type of creativity. In the Wenders film, Nick Cave becomes the symbol of what I’m talking about. When he showed up last night, I knew everything was going to be alright, left the room, took a shower and went to bed. I never finished watching the film.

An Attempt at a Film Review: Possession (1981)

The obvious comparison most will draw from watching Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) is to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009). The difference between the two for me was that I did not feel compelled to write anything about Antichrist as much as I, to use an awkward word here, enjoyed it. Possession is labeled a horror film and it is more terrifying than any genre horror flick. True to the genre, it has a monster, but it is a footnote to the terror of its exploration of madness. Sleep doesn’t come easy after Possession, because it feels like I’ve just woken up from a two-hour dream of reassuring and strangely comforting insanity.

The plot revolves around a crumbling marriage (and other vague elements which are mostly left unexplained), but all in all it appears to be about schizophrenia. The madness is Anna’s, played by the lovely Isabelle Adjani, and partly her husband’s, played by the equally lovely Sam Neill. The fragmented narrative delivers the impact of their insanity to the viewer and creates a disturbing projection of mental illness for us to embrace. The aim is to erase, for a moment, the fine line between everyday rationality and the threat of incomprehensibility.

The enjoyment to be had from the sublime mental disturbance that should perturb the viewer comes from the contrast between one’s immersion into the film and the sane and easygoing world of reason one has to return to, where bills have to be paid and small talk prevails. While I was coming out of it, my mind wandered to a brief conversation with an acquaintance in the office corridor. What did I say to him? Did I make sense? Or did he perhaps catch a candid remark and saw that I was so far gone as to not care about making sense anymore? Did I Charlie Sheen him? For a moment I was sure I was to be committed on the basis of that brief exchange.

Watching Adjani thrash about in the famous subway scene was not nearly as disturbing as seeing her abusing one of her pupils in ballet class, or listening to her monologue about fate and chance. The small slips that betray madness are always more interesting and shocking to watch — it’s a cliche, but things sold by the gram are always more exciting than things sold by the pound. Schizophrenic language has some qualities of poetry, although it is rarely as disciplined of course, and it is easier for these slips to be transferred to the viewer in art because similar linguistic exploration is licenced by the artistic medium. One seldom voiced rule of poetry says that it is on the same plane as madness, but nevertheless distanced from the register of actual lunacy.

Michaux was mentioned in Possession by Anna’s kooky lover Heinrich. In Michaux’s book on mescaline, the author at one point discards language and begins to draw nonsensical pictures. Language breaks down and is replaced by images. His simulated madness realizes language is mute at its core. Schizophrenic language — which should be distinguished from the language of the schizophrenic — doesn’t say anything and yet says too much by underscoring the impotence of language through free association and repetition, and this was very clearly conveyed by Adjani’s relentless performance. It’s a scary thought, if there really are such things as thoughts.

For the longest time, it has been fashionable to talk of language as being mere surface. Truth and meaning have been reduced to ciphers in communication and content (thoughts, ideas, call them what you will) has been deemed a mirage of the linguistic webs we weave to fool ourselves into thinking that there is something behind the veil of words we dress ourselves in. For the first time I find myself appalled by the thought; whether it is because I find myself using the word thought in an unqualified sense of the word or because I know I do so out of despair, I don’t know.

Perhaps the terror comes from precisely this catch-22: the only way to find faith in truth, or find faith in general, is to act in despair and deny the obvious, but a faith in denial is no faith at all and what in fact remains is a recognition of the hopelessness of faith. Something has been gained from this hopelessness, faith itself, but it is sullied by the very means of its birth. There is a word for this in religion: sin. Why accepting faith as an option in this situation is the solution religion offers is still a mystery to me.

If this is what Possession tries to hint at, it means to say the human mind is an aberration, a freakish accident of nature that never should have happened. The fall from grace, forbidden knowledge, consciousness, they all point to a rationalization of rationality by reason to justify its own sordid existence. It’s a rather bleak conclusion to draw from a fine film, but I hope it makes sense. God, I really do.

French Psychoanalysts Are Ridiculous People: Sophie Robert’s Le Mur Banned in France

Not too long ago I watched the Norwegian documentary series Hjernevask and enjoyed the way the host of the series mocked close-minded academic blowhards. There seems to be a trend for these kinds of documentaries, because yet another one popped up on a mailing list. However, whereas it is usually enjoyable to watch the likes of Hjernevask, this particular documentary called Le Mur: La psychanalyse à l’épreuve de l’autisme really got my goat. The main reason for that was that the victims of the psychoanalysts presented in the documentary are autistic children. The analysts appear as absurd fiction peddlers who not only deserve to be mocked but must be mocked as much as possible and as soon as possible. The whole documentary is on YouTube and a bit of googling gets more hits.

Awful people. Anyway, the second disturbing thing about the film is that my sources tell me that the film has been banned in France because the psychoanalysts’ feelings were hurt. The filmmaker, Sophie Robert, is now in a bit of trouble, although the ban should bring more publicity to the film and the child abuse committed by the psychoanalysts. Usually theoretical bullshit is fine when it does no real harm, but someone has to draw the line. Sophie Robert did just that and now the analysts are protecting their pride with lawyers. They seem like despicable creatures who preach Lacan and Lévi-Strauss like I sing in the shower: off key and laying waste to civilization. I actually couldn’t watch the documentary in one go, but it’s important I did finally manage it. Anyone reading this should try the same. I must warn you, though, that you have to withstand a pretty hefty dose of French psychobabble before the documentariste tells us that the point of the film is to advocate therapies that were adopted in the US thirty years ago. In case you need a palate cleanser afterwards, check out the Temple Grandin movie to see how that worked out.

Twilight — A Review of a Review

My film criticism site of choice is Ruthless Reviews and they don’t disappoint with their review of the new Twilight movie. Modern popular cinema is mostly rubbish, so it’s pleasant to read nihilistic and hateful reviews of its cynical attempts to tap the lowest common denominator. Sometimes these reviews are informative as well, like this one which equates the Twilight franchise with porn. It’s a meditation on the differences between men and women in the worst stand up comic tradition, but it brings out the way in which both porn and Twilight feed the vanity of the spectator.

If Twilight is considered cinema, then Busty Nurses 9 is too. Sure both happen on screen, but the screen is secondary. It’s your own reaction you crave. Everybody knows what will happen already: Bella and Edward get married and start a family, Nina Hartley does reverse cowgirl to the guy with the brain injury and cures his amnesia. We put ourselves inside these visceral simulations via cinema to harvest our deepest desires: Women want to be eternally worshipped by supernatural forces that fight over them while overdosing on praise from this world and the next. Men just want to get boned by sluts. And love has absolutely nothing to do with either of these things.

There is very little to add to this but to say that I believe Dan Brown’s junk seemed to work in the same way. Take one regular young lady with whom all the women in the audience can identify and make her Jesus Christ. The association is automatic and a woman will find herself Jesus Christ for a while, which apparently gives her great pleasure. As with Twilight and love, it has nothing to do with religion nor is it supposed to. It’s designed to make one think one is a god among men, worshiped and revered as divine.

I don’t get this reaction in any palpable way and the review is as close as I will get to watching Twilight, but thinking about it made me realize I do get Charles Bronsonesque revenge fantasies. It’s great fun to see Clint Eastwood or Arnie lose it and murder everything in sight. That’s fiction, by the way, and it should stay fiction, as Frank Miller’s crazy comments have recently shown. Ruthless Reviews reviews these action fantasies as well in their 80s Action section. I get porn, of course, but can’t experience Twilightesque porn in the same way, perhaps for lack of estrogen. Fantasies about being worshiped as a god or by demonic forces for whatever reason sound like nightmares to me, but it’s great to finally see a sensible explanation of the phenomenon that takes into account how some get off on Twilight like others get off on Busty Nurses 1-9. It has made me look at Twilight in a new way and, I hate to say it, even appreciate what the series is trying to do.