Friday, September 18, 2009

poetic truth - 09/21/09

Poetic truth is not a truly definable concept, but therein lies a great deal of its appeal. Things that are "verifiably" true - facts, statistics, history - are usually lacking in poetry and often based on insufficient veracity or relayed from a biased perspective. Poetic truth does not pretend to be true and it makes no claims to poetry; one person's poetic truth is not necessarily shared by many others...or any others. It is personal, powerful, and subject to time and place. Werner Herzog calls it "the deepest essential", many others don't even try to put it into words.


" that element, common to all art, which influences in the soul of the spectator an emotional ecstasy that resolves itself in a catharsis or purging of the emotions." - Lloyd R. Morris
from the New York Times Review of Books, January 31, 1915.

" the embodied vision, illumination, or enduring discovery which is the ideal of art."
- Louise Gluck in Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry

more on this unexplainable truth from Werner Herzog

10 artists who have achieved (in my opinion) moments of POETIC TRUTH

1. Errol Morris (filmmaker)
*** What is so intriguing to me about Errol Morris, and the film Vernon, Florida in particular, is his pursuit of the truth through the avenues of the particular. He turns on his camera and lets it linger on a subject far past the point of a comfortable, manageable soundbite and lets it roll until something sufficiently strange, revealing or "true" has been uttered.

clip from Vernon, Florida (1981)

clip #2 from Vernon, Florida (1981)

A sermon in Vernon, Fla.: the minister tells his flock that he began to wonder about the frequent use of ''therefore'' in the Bible. So, he reports, he looked in the dictionary, ''and I found the word to be a conjunction.'' ''Now I had long since forgotten what a conjunction was.'' He looked that up and found that a conjunction connects one thing to another. This led him, in trying to discover what connections Paul used ''therefore'' to make, to find 119 separate uses of the words in Paul's writings. He ends by telling the parish that they have lost peace, ''and you won't gain it back until you have another therefore experience.''

Errol Morris's short film, ''Vernon, Florida,'' is a therefore experience in its own right. Mr. Morris has a ssembled interviews with the foremost eccentrics in this very odd town. One man is obsessed with turkey hunting, telling endless stories to explain the turkey feet that adorn his wall and mourning for the birds that got away. Another fellow pronounces a huge, unsig htly turtle ''just a fine piece of meat for the dinin' table.'' A policeman sits in his patrol car, remarking on the way nothing ever happens in Vernon. Another explains how the Lord helped him buy a used van and a parcel of land. And one couple displays a jar of sand, two-thirds full. The sand is growing, they explain, and will fill the jar in about two years' time.*** What is so intriguing to me about Errol Morris, and the film Vernon, Florida in particular, is his pursuit of the truth through the avenues of the particular. He turns on his camera and lets it linger on a subject far past the point of a comfortable, manageable soundbite and let's it roll until something sufficiently strange, revealing or "true" has been uttered.

Maslin, Janice. "The Screen: 'Vernon, Florida" Looks at Town's Eccentrics." The New York
8 Oct. 1981.

2. Mike Leigh (filmmaker)
***Mike Leigh is known for his "gritty" and "realistic" narratives. What is most interesting to me about his work is actually less the final product than the process of making it. Leigh presents his actors with a premise and then allows them to flesh out their characters through improvisation. While it is also to the actors credit that Leigh's films are populated with such remarkably drawn characters, the director is necessarily possessed with the unique ability to coax forth true inspiration. I remember seeing Naked in the mid-nineties and feeling invigorated by the angry eloquence of the lead character Johnny; while I no longer identify so completely with his alienation, it still rings true to me when he says "I've got an infinite number of places to go, the problem is somewhere to stay."

clip #1 from Naked (1993)

clip #2 from Naked (1993)


“You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. And humanity is just a cracked egg. And the omelet stinks.” — Johnny, Naked

The majority of us go through life dodging the essential questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Is there a God, and how is His presence (or lack thereof) important? And what possible significance could our tiny lives—in a tiny fraction of time on a tiny little island in the infinite space of the universe—have in the grand scheme of things? Johnny, the bedraggled misanthrope played by David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s 1994 masterpiece Naked, can’t bring himself to look away. While others shuffle mindlessly through the London fog, anesthetized by smoking, drinking, fucking, and watching TV, Johnny is a raw nerve, willfully exposing himself to the bleak realities of existence and proselytizing like a street-corner derelict to anyone who will listen—and those who don’t care to, for that matter. He’s poised on the brink of madness—indeed, a couple of his monologues are no more convincing than those of a garden-variety conspiracy theorist—yet he’s a seeker, too, scurrying to collect every scrap of knowledge he can gather on his way to oblivion.

Tobias, Scott. "The New Cult Canon: Naked." The Onion. 6 Aug. 2009.


3. Bela Tarr (filmmaker)
***Bela Tarr initially subscribed to the principles of documentary fiction, believing that using non-professional actors and improvised dialogue would lead to a "true" portrayal of reality. Eventually, Tarr became more interested in the formal concerns of his work. His most notable formal fixation was the extra long take. He made entire films in close-up in an attempt to explore and explain the subjectivity of his subject. He also subverted and circumvented traditional narrative form with experiments in sound and time. All of this was with the ultimate goal of truth-telling. Tarr says that it is not his objective to tell a story but to get closer to people—"to understand everyday life."

clip from Satantango (1994)

clip from Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Sátántangó opens with 10 minutes of cows emerging onto the muddy landscape of a farming community, which let you know you had to have a saint’s patience to endure the rest of the movie. Werckmeister Harmonies, on the other hand, has a more arresting and immediately engaging sequence. It helps that Tarr follows one central protagonist this time, one János Valuska (Lars Rudolph), whom many critics have referred to as a “Holy Fool.”
The character of János is fervent, articulate yet blessedly compassionate and strangely optimistic — the antithesis of the hate-spewing, equally working class intellectual played by David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s Naked. “We are a part of everything that has ever been or will ever be,” was Johnny’s creed, and it is echoed here, but it feels more blessed coming from János. There are forces in the solar system larger than us, but when he looks upon them it is with awe. “But no need for fear… it’s not over,” he says.

Kipp, Jeremiah. "Werckmeister Harmonies." 2006.

4. Wim Wenders (filmmaker)
*** While this film is powerful in it's entirety, these two clips from Paris, Texas are particularly resonant. Throughout the movie we are consumed by what Travis has lost; his family, his home, his sense of self-worth, and his sense of self (described at the start of the film through his lack of speech). We feel his alienation from people, and then his awkwardness as he tries to re-assimilate. Finally, in these two cabin scenes, where Travis confronts his estranged wife, we meet the impetus to his emotional exile and the other side of his sorrow.

clip #1 from Paris, Texas (1984)

clip #2 from Paris, Texas (1984)

review (excerpt)

Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas" (1984) is the story of loss upon loss. This man, whose name is Travis, was once married and had a little boy. Then that all went wrong, and he lost his wife and child, and for years he wandered. Now he will find his family and lose it again, this time not through madness but through sacrifice. He will give them up out of his love for them. The movie lacks any of the gimmicks used to pump up emotion and add story interest, because it doesn't need them: It is fascinated by the sadness of its own truth. Wenders uses the materials of realism but this is a fable, as much as his great "Wings of Desire." It's about archetypal longings, set in American myth.

Ebert, Roger. "Paris, Texas." 8 Dec. 2002.


5. Tom Waits (musician/songwriter)
*** Tom Waits has said of himself, "mostly I straddle reality and the imagination. My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane." I think what Tom Waits describes here is actually the human condition, it's just that most people believe they have the faculties to separate reality and the imagination and Waits realizes the futility and danger of this. Waits personifies his characters; in order to sing about them he embodies them and they become a part of him. Or the other way around...

video for the song "Hold On"

television performance of "Take Me Home"

When Tom Waits was a boy, he heard the world differently. Sometimes, it sounded so out-of-kilter, it scared him. The rustle of a piece of paper could make him wince, the sound of his mother tucking him in at night might cause him to curl up as if in pain.

'It wasn't a cool thing,' he says, shaking his head lest there be any doubt. 'It was a frightening thing. I mean, I thought I was mentally ill, that maybe I was retarded. I'd put my hand on a sheet like this [rubbing his shirt] and it'd sound like sandpaper. Or a plane going by.'

He is rocking back and forward on his seat as he recalls this and you can tell that traces of it still linger. 'I think I was having a spell,' he says, his creased, weather-beaten face crinkling even more. 'It would descend upon me at night when the house got quiet, and I'd say to myself, "Uh-oh, here they come again."' He rocks some more. They? I say, surprised. Did he think he was possessed?

'I really didn't know. Couldn't figure it out.'

Did he tell anyone? 'I think I told my mum. I'm not sure. See, I thought I'd outgrow it. Like acne. Or masturbation.' And he did eventually, though the thought of it still haunts him. 'I've read that other people, artistic people, have experienced it, too,' he says, still rocking. 'They've had periods where there was a distortion to the world that disturbed them.

Waits talks like he sings, in a rasping drawl and with an old-timer's wealth of received wisdom. It's as if, in late middle-age, he has grown into the person he always wanted to be. His tales are often tall, and his metaphors and similes tend towards the surreal. 'Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them,' he quips. 'Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers.'

O'Hagan, Sean. "Offbeat." The Observer. 29 Oct. 2006.

6. Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003) dir. Andrew Douglas
***This movie has been a point of contention among many viewers: is it a true depiction of the contemporary South? Is it really a documentary? Because it asks questions of people in churches, prisons, and bars some viewers express concern that people will think these marginalized people are representative of the entire population. There is also concern that the film is dominated by working class white people, almost entirely negating the true biracial nature of the region. While I do not deny the truth to these claims, I believe this film exists outside of the documentary genre. And it is one of the best examples I can think of that attempts to even approach the essence of a place. It seeks to illuminate the character of the South by drawing out the people that live there. It emphasizes storytelling as a sort of truth-telling - even when the facts are flawed.

clip #1 from the movie

clip #2 from the movie

Jim White, the wry, sorrowful singer, songwriter and hero of alt-country music who narrates the documentary "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus," has the gift of poetic gab. As he conducts a highly selective back-roads tour of the rural Deep South, salty epigrams fall from his lips like drippings from a plug of chewing tobacco. "I am looking for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile," he declares while piloting a battered 1970 Chevy on a rambling odyssey around the Bible Belt. "More than a state of mind, the South is an atmosphere," he muses. Its essence is to be found "on the edges where the have-nots bury their powerlessness in the ritual of sin."

The South is also a place where people define themselves and the world through storytelling, and the movie is filled with colorful anecdotes. In one of the best tales, the Southern writer Harry Crews recalls receiving the Sears, Roebuck catalog while growing up and marveling at the "perfect people" in its pages when everyone around him was mutilated in some way or other. At the Pentecostal churches where the parishioners talk in tongues, there is no middle ground between hellfire and salvation; everyone seems to share this dire either-or attitude.

Holden, Stephen. "A Southern Spirit in Have-Nots on Junkyard Roads." The New York

Times. 13 Jul.2005.

7. Abbas Kiarostami (filmmaker)
*** Kiarostami has stated, "We can never get close to the truth except through lying." His ten chapter film Ten seems to operate contrary to this notion as the director claims that by capturing real time conversations taking place in a car with no directorial influence is tantamount to 'letting the truth unfold before you.' However, I think this truth to which Kiarostami refers is one of a poetic rather than factual nature. The main character in the film is a woman going through a divorce. Her co-stars are the various passengers she transports. By eliminating his hand and eye from the construction of the film, Kiarostami allows for a poetic truth to come forth form the intimate space of a car and two people in unmediated (yet witnessed) conversation.

clip #1 from the film Ten (2002)

clip #2 from the film Ten (2002)

Great filmmakers create their own cosmologies. Screen worlds invested with privileged objects, motifs, figures and landscapes that repeat and return from film to film. At the heart of the Kiarostamian cosmology is the automobile. Cars are prevalent enough in cinema, especially road movies, yet unlike others Kiarostami doesn't fetishise the object, doesn't load it with symbolism – freedom, existential mobility, alienation, social escape – as in many of the great car cult movies, like, say, Week-end, Two Lane Black-top, Vanishing Point, or, Eat My Dust. In and of itself it is never anything special, just a vehicle, mostly non-descript and prototypical in design. It stalls, overheats, breaks down. The wind may carry us yet it is the car that does the hauling of characters from place to place. There is a fascination in watching from film to film the trajectory of these vehicles as they journey along a myriad of straight, curvilinear, inclining, zigzagging paths. The cars, together with the paths and landscapes they traverse, accrue specific iconographic value. Often, Kiarostami will trace an initial movement of a car and retain it as a recurring spatial motif. As in the opening circular movement of the driver in A Taste of Cherry (1997), like the film itself as it circles round and round the idea of suicide. Or the image of a steep incline in the road in And Life Goes On…(1992) that finally results in one of the most sublime concluding shots in film history as the car slowly yet persistently inches its way up that seemingly impossible incline in its attempt to get to the hill top. A perfect visual correlative to the title and spirit of the film…and life goes on. What seems of importance to Kiarostami is not the journey's destination but rather how a character traverses the space between two points. The road taken, whether it is linear or circuitous, up or down, zigzagging or straight, seems of metaphysical significance. 10 is the first of Kiarostami's films that doesn't allow for any external shots of the car as it makes its journey. Here, the car is purely a container of the characters and their dramas, important though they be. Thus, 10 denies us – at least for this spectator, though in return it does provide us with other rewards – one of the great pleasures of his cinema.

Caputo, Roland. "Five to Ten:Five Reflections on Abba's Kiarostami's 10." Senses of Cinema.
Nov. 2003.

8. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
***Nuri Bilge Ceylan is another filmmaker who uses static shots and long takes to great emotional effect. He also typically uses his friends and family members as characters in his films, but the truth he tells is not autobiographical. Thematically he deals with isolation, estrangement and existential angst.

clip from the film Kasaba (eng. title: Small Town) (1998)

trailer for the film Uzak (eng. title: Distant) (2002)

He's not interested in politician politics because he believes neither things nor people change. He rejects the label of "political films" because the audience would focus on the wrong elements, on conjunctural positioning, on superficial labels. In fact, he doesn't make activist propaganda to make political statements, or comment political issues. He wants the audience to concentrate on more essential issues, like human relationships. Political issues (like unemployment of young students, machismo, the shame of the female adultery opposed to the valorous and encouraged male adultery) are only implicit and neutral, not to alienate the audience on a specific topic.
What is important is how people live through these problems, and to observe how they react and evolve.
Ceylan says he tries to understand life, it helps him to understand how to live better.

"I hate to explain, to insist, to convince : the audience shall guess. (...) I think the point of view of a film should be close to life. As if you observe a couple of strangers in a cafe, trying to figure their relationship, their problems." interview in Libération (01-17-2007)

"Robert Bresson is one of my mentors. To tell certain things, image is useless, sound is enough." interview in Positif #575, January 2009.

9. Katie Ford - poet
the poet reads from her book Colosseum (2008)

No matter what the poet has seen or lived, those experiences alone cannot merely be placed onto the page in order to create a compelling poem. The stuff of what happened, what happens, and what is happening serve only to prompt the poet into conversation, and in order to enter the realm of the true—the mysterious, the imperceptible, the refined, the insightful, the vision embodied, the discovery—those narrative particulars must undergo a crucial transformation from fact into art. Based on Glück’s compelling analysis, I wonder, too, if a successful poem in fact operates on three levels. Lurking behind it is the trigger (what Glück refers to as the “generating impulse”); on the page lives that impulse molded and crafted into verse; and within that crafted verse lies the insight.

Chakraborty, Sumita. "Beyond the World of the Event." Gently Read Literature. 1 Oct. 2008.

10. Larry Kagan - sculptor

*** I am interested in how Larry Kagan uses the sculptural object to evoke something beyond itself that you would never expect by looking at the item itself. There is a metaphor here for how I view people as the subjects of films. I think there is the potential to realize something true about a person by looking at the shadow they cast in their own life and on their own environment. By this I do not mean the literal shadow, but the imprint they leave, the shadow they perceive of themselves, and that the outside person sees - always different from the actual object.

interview with the artist

Objects/Shadows from Larry Kagan on Vimeo.

Disbelief goes on hold at the sight of these images that look like objects drawn on a wall, among them a bicycle, a box, a pipe, a banana and a coffee cup. They are actually shadows cast by ingeniously maneuvered structures of steel that seem nothing but intricate tangles of loopy curves, bends and angles.

''Ceci n'est pas une pipe,'' for instance, a perfect copy of Marcel Duchamp's famous curved briar, is evoked from a totally abstract projecting scribble of steel lines and curves that gives no hint of the object it creates. Such is also the case with the tangles of steel lines that create an intricate Thonet chair, a book and a light bulb.

Shadow is supposedly illusion, but Mr. Kagan's skills make it eerily substantive.

Glueck, Grace. "Art in Review: Larry Kagan 'Substance and Shadow'." The New York Times.

4 Feb. 2000.

Bela Tarr - 09/21/09

Bela Tarr
Began his film career as a documentary filmmaker who worked in the popular style of his time and place (Hungary in the 1970's) and as dictated by the Budapest School, which sought to depict absolute social realism through the medium of film. By the mid-1980's Tarr's style and focus began to shift from documenting gritty realism to exploring metaphysical questions. His shots became longer, the camera pulled back, and he began playing with spatial and temporal planes to great poetic effect. Plot was not entirely abandoned but it was treated as a frame upon which to drape images and sequences. He began collaborating with Hungarian novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai, working with adaptations of his novels but expanding them beyond the confines of their stories. Jonathan Rosenbaum described the film as "black and white images which seem to float out of an endless drunken dream... desperate people ready to betray each other and themselves as the rain never ends."
clip #1 from Damnation (1988)

clip #2 from Damnation (1988)

clip # 3 from Damnation (1988)

clip #4 from Damnation (1988)

interview with Bela Tarr

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bildungsroman - 09/17/09

bildungsroman - n. a novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character.

A Bildungsroman - or "novel of education", loosely translated from the German - was a style of storytelling that came about during the German Enlightenment. The typical Bildungsroman tells the tale of the protagonists transition from childhood to adulthood by way of a journey, typically inspired by some kind of loss (innocence), unsettling, or traumatic event. The journey is often arduous, full of tension and transformation as the protagonist makes his way through events and discovers his place in and relationship to society. One frequently read bildungsroman in American literature is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. A sub-genre of the bildungsroman is the künstlerroman, or "artist's novel", which relates the same ideas to the specific situation of the maturation of the artist. Examples of this type of work include, W. Somerset Maugham's, Of Human Bondage and Virginia Woolf's, To the Lighthouse.

"I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they are going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all." Holden Caulfield

Beebe, Maurice. Ivory Towers and Sacred Founts: the Artist as Hero in Fiction from Goethe

to Joyce. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

Beebe approachs this topic from a strictly literary perspective, tracing the artists journey through exile (from society and self) and the ultimate return. Considering the work of Proust, Joyce, Goethe, and Rousseau, the author discusses the notions of artist as archetype and artist as hero.

I am interested in how this concept of the kunstleroman can transcend it's literary origins and be adapted to the film form. Some of Bergman's work approaches this (particularly Cries and Whispers) - I am interested in exploring this theme in a contemporary context. I will begin filming a new project in October that will describe the transformation of an artist from the inside; considering how information from the past and current circumstance are working together to shape the artist's physical and creative future.

a scene from the classic coming-of-age tale, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee