Thursday, November 10, 2005

The first class: Insider Films

Below are some details on the first day’s class. I will do this whenever I am able to sit in.

Creative Non-Fiction with Katherine Hurbis-Cherrier
The first class of the workshop addressed a topic most students had on their minds to varying extents. The challenge of this class: How does one film a place where one is an outsider? The Moroccan students are from all over Morocco, so in some ways they are outsiders here too. But the city’s proximity to the desert, its focus on tourism, as well as its dense history, which are all ebullient and effusive at the famous Jema al Fnaa, are unique to this place in Morocco. To the Americans, this is all overwhelmingly foreign and there is a fear of exoticizing, or misrepresenting something that cannot be so simply and intuitively comprehended. And there is the language barrier.

The question Katherine poses while they watch scenes is: How does your perspective change the film, and how do you read a place or a film when you are not an insider? The first day they look at “Man with a Movie Camera” and then “insider” films: “Strip Mall,” “Blight” and “Ma Maison Perdue.”

Quick Notes: Structure tailored to content. Structure is in fact the content. The way you edit and put image next to image can carry as much meaning as the subject itself. Structure comes out of subject. Memory and history are fragmentary with huge holes, and should never be totalizing. Pointing to those holes is part of the process. Be associative, logic is not narrative. Idiosyncratic.

Dziga Vertov “Man with a Movie Camera”
The idea is that he is not insider or outsider. He is just a man with a movie camera. Points to how much the eye can read and take in from one position: the scene splicing slight eye movements with what the eye is able to see—up, down, slight pans over plazas, chaos, following birds flying and more. Vertov splices the mundane of cleaning, with the big occasions, birth and death, side by side. Just capturing life. Then chaos of modernity, and extreme logic of machinery, three trains on schedule barely missing each other, but never the fear they will meet: the clockwork of modernity. Sharp camera movements heighten suspense and climax. Speeding up of film of woman on assembly line is content affecting form and the result is the visceral understanding of the mechanization of the human being. This kind of film is visceral. The soundtrack, put on top of them film many years later, was really too bad. It seemed it wanted to be the star, and to override the powerful energy of the film, overemphasizing suspense and lasting too long when the camera movements were more agile. Th director did not feel that the movements needed to finish a phrase, because life does not always finish its phrases.

Contradiction and juxtaposition in the film “The Strip Mall Trilogy" by Roger Beebe

Montage in a quasi Vertov style of fast cuts, in this case of signs, signs and more signs. The montage, though it is very photographic, gains movement from the directions of the signs themselves.

Part Two (of trilogy): Vocabulary from the alphabet in signage, many fonts of brand names are familiar to an American, even when severed from their context, the individual letters are recognizable and the preconditioned brain fills in the message. Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Burger King, and many “smaller” chains like pet stores are easily recovered in the hard drive of the mind. With the important element of sound - a young girl reciting the alphabet at different paces, stumbling through it, gaining speed, barreling through and taking quick breaths - the filmmaker shows that these signs play a large part in forming us. This is how we learn language. These words become a large part of our vocabulary, brand names and once we learn how to read we cannot help but read them.
The question is, does this film translate?

Lively discussion of the film:
Katherine: Was this anything worth making a film about? His reality is that strip malls are destroying the landscape. He strips it away and is surprised by the beauty he finds. The way he frames them, and edits them (all fast cuts you can barely focus on anything) quality vs. function (what he’s used to thinking of them) he is in fact finding color, shape movement, pattern and music.

Comment: The film is both of discovery and of the process of revenge on this aspec of his world. He was not successful in taking revenge. The mania of commercialism, products, the aesthetic of the quotidian of consumerism is something he can’t escape. “It doesn’t matter how you cut it.”
Comment: The tyranny of language. Once you know how to read you can’t help but read everything around you, and advertising takes advantage of that. In New York on trains, the mayor sold all public space to advertising, on top of the subway stations. Everywhere.

Comment: Another sort of tyranny of language. We can recognize what store it is by the typography, even when just shown one letter. So our language is appropriated. Just as we speak in brand names.

Comment: Showed being in a car, always looking for a destination, the amount of visual information that is thrown at you, and that you search out. The evocation of place

Comment: To talk about a film beforehand is swaying. If I were to turn it on the TV what would I think? I think I would see the aesthetic of the film, but I wouldn’t see the negative commentary on the society. I would prefer no tot have any information before the film in order to come at it with pure judgement.

Q: Does it matter if Beebe is an insider or outsider, and what is he? A: He is both.

Blight by John Smith
Very much video-ballad (with accompanying, appropriate, heart-plucking music, poignant chords) with the rhythms including the paint peeling, the house hesitating, wavering and falling down. The dialogue is repetitious: “don’t really remember,” and “kill the spiders.” Audio has most drama and details fill in emotions. Series of “what they said” descriptions, then dates. The narrative comes with the house falling, then the director switches to filming abstraction, shadows, movement, sound disconnected from image, as we get into the piece we find the associated later.
Comment: Like a propaganda film. The spiders (that erode the house) are clearly the government, who tear down the houses.
Point: People say that, if you want to make a clear point, you cannot have structural ambiguity, challenge people etc. That is not true. Political impact is very clear by the end.

Comment: Even if you don’t understand a word (because it’s in a foreign language) it’s all there.


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