Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kelly Reichardt - 09/14/09

Kelly Reichardt has been called "one of the few masters now working in Independent American film" by Larry Gross at Film Comment. I believe this intense praise is deserved; Reichardt's four feature length films, River of Grass (1993), Ode (1999), Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), have been critically well received, and establish Reichardt as a powerful force in the minimalist film movement. Reichardt's work is often adapted from short stories; most notably, the work of Jon Raymond has proved to be a major inspiration. Reichardt teaches at Bard College in New York and is currently at work on her next film.

scene from Reichardt's most recent film, Wendy and Lucy

koozie fight scene - Old Joy

another scene from Old Joy - the start of the journey

an early work. Reichardt co-directed this video for the band Christmas.

Gus Van Sant interviewed Reichardt for BOMB Magazine. They discuss independent filmmaking and Oregon hotsprings, among other things...

Here is another interview published in BOMB Magazine, conducted by Todd Haynes, after the release of Reichardt's first film.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

6 Books - 09/16/09

Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard (fiction)

Motel Chronicles is a collection of short stories, poems, and recollections that work together to starkly outline Shepard's distinctly American worldview. This book is essentially a work of fiction, although it has a heavily autobiographical bent, as does much of Shepard's other work - particularly his plays. One of Shepard's strengths is his ability to bring a scene or memory to life with a sparing use of language and an aesthetic that is profoundly influenced by the landscape of the American West. I am very interested in this idea of how we relate to, perceive, are shaped by, and shape our landscape - both externally and internally. Shepard relates memories in distinctly visual language. I am interested in how this concept can be translated to film.

Shepard, Sam. Motel Chronicles. San Francisco: City Lights, 1982.

Wallace Stevens Collected Poetry and Prose (non-fiction)

Stevens' poems are layered studies in perception. Some important themes are how man and nature effect and define one another. How the imagination and reality are inextricably combined. It sometimes seems as though Stevens sets up dualities in his poems, but it is more useful and less narrow when reading his work to look for how he works with the relationships between many ideas. There is one epic poem in particular that I think may inform my next project: The Comedian as the Letter C. This poem can read as the story of the life of it's protagonist, Crispin, as he travels through various environments (internal and/or external) and is changed by them, while changing them. In this work Stevens invokes the phrase, mythology of self. I'm still parsing out exactly what this means but I am intrigued by this way of describing the phenomenon of creating self.

Stevens, Wallace. Collected Poetry and Prose. New York, Library of America, 1957.

Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs - Henri Cartier-Bresson (photographer)

While Cartier-Bresson is considered to be one of the first purveyors of the photo-journalistic style, I am interested in his work not so much as a representation of reality but an expression of the artists relationship to reality. First trained as a painter, Cartier-Bresson turned to photography after becoming enamored with the notion that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant. While this idea may have been somewhat naive, it led the artist on an inspired path of actively stalking and capturing his subjects. He did have an uncanny ability to witness remarkably candid moments, but he was not interested in capturing these events merely to convey the "truth". Inspired by the Surrealists, Cartier-Bresson sought the unusual and realized the potential for photography to create new meaning by taking moments out of context or juxtaposing unlikely subjects and objects together within the frame.

Vermare, Pauline, ed. Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs. Paris: Foundation Henri

Cartier-Bresson, 2004.

The Decision of the Eye - Alberto Giacometti (sculptor)

This book looks at the work of Alberto Giacometti in relationship with the life and work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Giacometti's most emblematic work are the spindly sculptures of figures in movement and the sharp, narrow busts that look as though they've been carved (or worn) away to almost nothing. Insubstantial as they are, they have a powerful effect and speak to me of Giacometti's considerable angst concerning himself and his relationship to others. He once said of his work, quite simply, "the heads, the figures are but continual movement... they constantly remake themselves." I think one reason that Giacometti's work speaks to me is precisely because of his fascination with the transient moment and the perpetual transformation of things. He often seems to succeed in conveying a sequence of movement with a stationary sculpture because was profoundly aware of the impossibility of the task, "to trap, to possess something that constantly slips away."

Bezzola, Tobia, ed. The Decision of the Eye. Zurich: Scalo Verlag AG, 2005.

Paris, Texas - Wim Wenders (filmmaker)

Inspired by Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles, the film Paris, Texas is perhaps one of Wender's best known works. It is essentially a road movie in that it uses travel as both a vehicle and metaphor for the transformation of the protagonist, Travis Henderson. The story describes a boomerang journey; Travis has travelled away from himself - by wandering through the desert in self-imposed exile - and must completely break down and submit to rescue in order to return. I am interested in this movie aesthetically for is abandoned and desolate landscapes, narratively for the way Sam Shepard's autobiographical abstractions have been arranged into a narrative arc that actually does them justice, and conceptually as a metaphor for transformation and revelation.

Wenders, Wim, dir. Paris, Texas. Perf. Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nasstassja Kinski. 1984.

The Poetry of Solitude: a Tribute to Edward Hopper (painter)

These paintings deal with the divisions between interior and exterior space. One one level this is literal, dealing with physical space where divisions are created by windows and doorways. On another level, Hopper's work could be read as a figurative exploration of the interior and exterior as it relates to the human body and mind. I am interested in Hopper's work in relationship to the cinema as it has informed many filmmakers (notably Wim Wenders) and it has also been theorized that Hopper himself was affected by the visual language of cinema. Wenders once said of Hopper's work, it "deal(s) with America not only on the surface, but dig(s) deep into the American dream, radically examining this profoundly American dilemma of appearances and reality.”

Levin, Gail, ed. The Poetry of Solitude: a Tribute to Edward Hopper. New York: Universe, 1995.

The Decisive Moment - 09/10/09

I bring this up as a reminder to myself that it is the decisive moment that most powerfully orders our perceptions and the subsequent interpretation of those perceptions. This is especially important to remember and consider in the age of digital media where it is possible to work an idea or filmic moment beyond the point of its vitality. Particularly in the conception stage (and particularly in graduate school!) when we are motivated to try to understand an image or contextualize an idea before it is made, it is important not to forget that the intuition is a powerful (and often the initial) driving force behind the artistic impulse.

"The (film) editor's job now is to choose the right images and make those images follow one another at the right rate to express something like what is captured in the photograph.... In choosing a representative frame, what you are looking for is an image that distills the essence of the thousands of frames that make up the shot in question."
- Walter Murch

"There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment."
"Il n'y a rein dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif."
Jean Francois Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz

"Life is once, forever."
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Auster, Paul. "The Decisive Moment." The Art of Hunger and Other Essays. Menard Press:

London, 1982.

In this essay Auster considers the poetry of Charles Reznikoff and its visual implications. Auster writes: "To cross the threshold of his work is to... find oneself exposed to a world in which language has not yet been invented. Seeing, in his poetry, always comes before speech... the act of writing... is not so much an ordering of the real as a discovery of it." What interests me most about this piece is Auster's interpretation and transference of Cartier-Bresson's notion of the decisive moment as something relevant to written poetic imagery in addition to actual images. We make the world by our decisions of where, what, and how long to look at something and then (as is the domain of artist - poet, filmmaker, and photographer alike) we make the world again in how we describe it.

Murch, Walter. "The Decisive Moment." In the Blink of an Eye: a Perspective on Film Editing,

2nd ed. Sillman-James Press: Beverly Hills, CA, 1995. 32-42.

As a film editor, Walter Murch has more direct reason to relate Cartier-Bresson's notion of the decisive moment to his work with the juxtaposition of moving images. In this essay, Murch outlines one of his editing technique in which he extracts a defining still image from each filmic shot, and places them sequentially on the wall in text like order (left to right). Murch theorizes that this technique can generate "sparks" which lead to "editorial leaps". Again, there are layers of decisive moments implicit to this technique and the editing process as a whole. Choosing the first frame is a decisive moment as is each successive shot selection and cut and splice (or click and drag). Through the juxtaposition of shots and sequences, meaning is made.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Decisive Moment

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is Visual Metaphor Possible? - Kiyokazu Nishimura 09/09/09

Can a visual metaphor function diegetically (as part of a narrative)?

"...filmic metaphor requires 'a motif completely alien to the rest of the film' which invades the fabric of the text without the pretext of any natural linking only because of its resemblance to another element. It is therefore 'a more disruptive operation' for the diegetic world."
- Nishimura quoting Christian Metz

Can visual metaphor work as a universal language?

" is not impossible for us to infer and inquire into the intention of the author, and to read a metaphor into the image. It is, however, just a linguistic behavior of our own motivated by the experience of seeing a film."
- Nishimura

Nishimura, Kiyokazu. "Is Visual Metaphor Possible." JTLA (Journal of the Faculty of Letters,

The University of Tokyo, Aesthetics) Vol. 29/30 (2004/05): 61-71.

This article was far heavier on the semiotics than I had hoped and really only delved into its central question in the last few pages. I found the article while searching for some work by Noel Carroll, an art philosopher that has more poetically considered the use of metaphor in the cinema. While this article was a rigorous read, I did find some use in considering the differences between analogy, metonymy, synecdoche, etc. but ultimately, I think I am not overly concerned with the exact definition of the metaphor or whether a particular image is technically a metaphor or actually an analogy. I am far more interested in the flavors, textures and uses of visual metaphor (comparison of any sort, to seriously broaden the boundaries of definition) in the medium of film and video.