Sans Soleil

12/1/17. 5:00 P.M.

I don’t think a viewer could interpret Sans Soleil  as anything other than a stream of consciousness. The dialogue is breathless and strings thoughts together so fully that I could not absorb all that was being said in one viewing, and honestly I don’t think this piece was made to be watched once. To me it seemed to deserve multiple watches and much mulling over: the content that I did grasp from it seemed layered and poignant. And often, even when I did not comprehend what was just said, the background music of the documentary created such a sense of dread and tension that the imagery and its accompanying message seemed like it had to be negative.

A good part of the content intends to juxtapose 2 poles of survival: Japan and Guinea-Bissau. The culture, history, and traditions of these cultures are analyzed and presented with Western bias, but it is not clear always whose bias (that of the woman reading the letters or the cameraman?) Regardless, I interpreted the documentary as intentionally presenting pieces of information about each culture that both reinforced and countered perceptions of how capable or advanced each culture is. For instance, traditional celebrations of both countries are shown and Japan’s appears to be more controlled and is held in a cleaner environment, suggesting Guinea Bissau is less advanced. But viewers must also consider that the cameraman is in awe of how the natives of Guinea Bissau freed themselves from oppression and describes the African women he observes as “very capable”. It seemed the goal in presenting complimentary and not as complementary information about each culture was to give a more holistic and unbiased view, but of course it is far from perfect.

And then there was the recurring discussion about the impossibility of capturing the true essence of life. The cameraman is fascinated with the film Vertigo for its ability to capture time’s essence in an admirable manner. But it is implicitly and explicitly lamented that history adds its own biases to events, and even when we recall our own memories we are rewriting them in some way, further distorting their true essence. I felt that this was criticism of his own work as a documentarian, but I found it ironic that he would express such thoughts continually during the piece. This, compounded with the criticism from classmates on how it poorly portrayed the subject cultures, and sometimes did so with gross bias, led me to conclude that the creator never intended to aim for a perfectly objective illustration of his subjects. It seemed to me that he knew it would always be futile for a creative to try to do this, but even so he continued to document his subjects, which then suggests that the pursuit of capturing the essence of something is still worth it. Even if an artist’s work cannot ever truly capture a subject without distortion, attempting to document its essence can create a piece or discussion of value.

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This Is Not A Film

11/23/17. 1:22 P.M.

This Is Not A Film  was definitely emblematic of reflexive videography. Jafar Panahi makes references to the fact that he’s being filmed and even moves the camera throughout the piece.

In this self described “effort” (and not film), Panahi spends the earlier part of the video reading from a screenplay that was banned from being acted out by the Iranian government. Reading from it rather than acting it out was in Panahi’s eyes a way to get around the ban, and through his efforts we see how much he cares about his craft. He goes through great lengths to read out the lines of various characters and to create a set using masking tape, and you can actually hear him speak the lines almost breathlessly.  Not only can we observe his passion for filmmaking, but we see how determined he is to never let the government silence him. And although Panahi never explicitly says the video’s purpose is to get the global film community’s support in his arrest and ban, this piece–which includes content of him enthusiastically explaining his screenplays–definitely serves as persuasive material that would (and did) inspire the global community to try intervening.

Additionally in terms of content, we see various allusions to how the Iranian government challenges the freedom of its citizens. These of course further support how unjust Panahi’s situation is. For example, Panahi attempts to search the internet and complains about how the results are filtered by the government, while his pet iguana climbs the couch he is on. I found this particular image shocking from an American perspective, because despite the level of wealth he is attained where he can afford having stunning furniture and a pet iguana, he is limited in certain liberties that Americans who are much poorer than him can expect as standard. Later when he attempts to leave the building while filming, the young art student warns him to put away the camera in fear of repercussions for recording Fireworks Wednesday. I found it strange that there was such concern about documenting a celebration. And on a different note, when Panahi asks the student why doesn’t find a job related to art, the student remarks that that type of work is “never certain”, symbolically mirroring the legally frightening situation Panahi is in for his creative work.

But in totality, the content of  the work seems a bit disjointed as it jumps between intellectual musings about Panahi’s films to random conversations like the one he has in an elevator with the trash collector / art student. All in all I interpret this work’s content as secondary to its form and delivery. The simple fact that he documented his house arrest after being banned from creating more films and managed to deliver the footage to the world is highly impressive. I am confident that this reactionary piece reached exposure that his banned screenplay never would have, simply due to its rebellious nature of existing.

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Film 2 – Oyster Factory

11/18/17. 3:14 P.M.

Oyster Factory provided a new kind of viewer experience for me. Before playing the documentary, the professor presenting it explained that Oyster Factory is classified as “observational cinema”. The entire documentary was composed of raw footage without voiceovers, special transitions, or a script of any kind. Its  primary goal was to authentically relay life in Japanese oyster factories. In this way I believe the filmmaker was successful, because as a viewer I felt like a third person observer of the oyster factories, its workers, their conversations, etc. In this way I think the form of the moving imagery may have been more meaningful than the content, especially because most of the film captures lackluster, regular moments of daily life (something most films try to cut out). And along that train of thought, a lot of the documentary consisted plainly of imagery of collecting, shucking, cleaning, packing, shipping, and selling oysters. The workers are evidently skilled, but the work they do is lengthy and without many breaks–and so was the footage of it. These scenes truly reinforced the monotony of the labor.

But the most revealing parts of the content seemed to be the interactions between the cameraman / filmmaker and the workers in the oyster factories. A lot of the conversations concerned the fact that many immigrant Chinese workers moved to Japan to take on the low-pay, high-effort labor that oyster factories require. And many of the Japanese bosses in these factories were quick to remark that these immigrants were “lazy”, “lack common sense”, and are quick to “steal.” This exemplified not only how unedited and raw the footage is, but how comfortable these workers felt in expressing their racially insensitive thoughts to the Japanese filmmaker. But I found these comments ironic and in high contrast to remarks from other Japanese workers: one of the cooks tells the cameraman that the Chinese workers shuck very well, and another employee explains that the Chinese are more hard working than the Japanese and that no young Japanese man/woman wants to do this type of labor. This polarizing dialogue about immigrants coming to another country to do hard, low-paying labor sounded all too familiar to me as an American. Almost identical commentary surrounds Mexican immigrants that enter the U.S. and take on physically intensive jobs: there are factions that make racist remarks and describe all of the immigrants as stupid or criminal, and there are groups of people who admire their work ethic and recognize the importance of their role in the country. I at first was surprised to notice this parallel,  but I walked away from this film recognizing that this is not an American phenomena, xenophobia, especially in regards to laborers, is a global issue. Countries are quick to criticize immigrant laborer, even if they benefit from their presence. And even if the filmmaker only intended to capture raw footage of Japanese factories and their workers,  it ended up bringing needed awareness to the issue of xenophobia.

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Pan’s Labyrinth

11/17/17. 5:25 P.M.

Pan’s Labyrinth presents a fantasy world full of critique and mystery. I found many of its artistic choices in terms of color, foreshadowing, and symbolism meaningful as a viewer (and as a moving image blogger).

The majority of the film is composed of scenes cast in dark, bluish tones, creating an atmosphere of doubt and melancholy. This choice of coloring supplements countless moments of violence, despair, and tension and really makes the viewer feel the sadness or anger of the characters. And when Ofelia does achieve all 3 tasks to make it back to her kingdom and real home, this environment is shown entirely in golden, warm colors. This stark contrast is evident and reinforces the feelings of joy and triumph experienced by Ofelia.

I found foreshadowing to be a tool used heavily by the creators of this film. There were hints along the way that lead the viewer to make correct assumptions and then certain false hints (or red herrings) that seemed to mislead me and keep me guessing what was going to happen next. For instance, the doctor does tell the Captain that he should not have made his wife travel so far, and I correctly interpreted this as foreshadowing a serious illness or death that would befall either her or her baby. But there was also the red herring hints that characterized the faun. Mercedes tells Ofelia her mother would warn her about fauns as a kid, the faun himself keeps significant information secret from Ofelia that she wonders about, and even his appearance seems villainous. I interpreted all of this to be tell-tale signs that he was a true villain attempting to harm Ofelia, and at one point at the end it seems he is, but he ultimately turns out to be an actual servant of the kingdom. I appreciated these attempts to lead along a critical viewer one way just to shock him or her.

Symbolism is heavily prevalent too, of course, as this entire movie is an allegory for the treachery of war and the fascist government of Spain. The faun, when he plays his deceiving role, acts as a symbol for fascism. He orders Ofelia around in a gruff manner telling her that what he says is best for her and not to question or disobey him, similar to the murderous regime in Spain that mistreats and pushes its citizens around. And after the doctor defies the captain to help a tortured rebel, he says he is not like those in the fascist system who do what they are told without asking questions. This directly mirrors Ofelia’s choice to defy the faun’s orders to hand over her brother as a sacrifice and to question his rationale, and ultimately she achieves her dream because of it. Because this was really a test of character set by the faun before she can make it to the kingdom, the director sends the message that the real winners question and defy unjust governments.

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Film 1 – I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK

11/15/17. 8:30 P.M.

Last Wednesday, I watched the Korean film “I’m  A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” in White Lecture Hall on East. Before the viewing, the professor presenting the film gave some background information about the director. Director Park Chan-wook apparently sees his movies as having an imperfect spirit, or as creations that can undermine mainstream cinema and social dynamics. I think even if I had not heard this prior, I would have walked away from this film with that notion.

“I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” is a humorous romantic story between 2 patients in a mental institution: a girl named Young-goon who believes she is a cyborg and a boy named Il-Soon whose goal is to make Young-goon happy (and  to get her to eat). Their romance blossoms despite the fact that by societal standards the 2 lack regular social and mental capabilities. (As an example, Young-goon refuses to eat any food for days and tries to sustain by licking batteries since she is convinced she’s a cyborg.) But in spite of such characteristics, the 2 grow affectionate for each other and spend intimate moments (albeit in unorthodox ways –like spending the night together in a tent together during a thunderstorm). To me Park Chan-wook is saying that love can unfurl anywhere. Human affections pay no mind to societal standards or mental limitations.

In some ways, I also think the film criticizes parental neglect and just bad parenting in general. In Il-Soon’s case, he has an irrational fear that he will shrink into nothingness and this causes him general anxiety, but he attributes the source of his issues and fears to a mother who was never present in his childhood. In Young-goon’s case, her mother is present but she has no patience or compassion when confronted with indications of Young-goon’s mental illness. She tells her daughter to hide any hints of her belief that she’s a cyborg instead of talking about it –which is a humorous sounding but sad situation since forcing down her issues would only worsen the problem. So between the 2 characters, it became clear to me that bad parenting can result with or without a parent present. Either way mental issues can result.

And of course since Young-goon thinks she’s a cyborg, she believes that she is in need of an instruction manual, like all other machines. She laments her issue of being without instructions to the vending machine and lamp she views as friends, and spends the entire movie wondering what it is she was engineered to do. And I of course saw this as a direct parallel to classic human existential questions: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? This comparison to machines then made me think that we humans are more or less just machines without instruction manuals. Spending our lives searching for a prewritten one may just lead to radical behavior or despair (kind of like Young-goon). Perhaps we should each write our own manuals.

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StarTrek “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” & Black Mirror “Nosedive”

11/9/17. 6:00 P.M.

These 2 episodes that we viewed were rich in satire. Both were critical of societal shortcomings, but Star Trek definitely felt more lighthearted than Black Mirror.

There were 2 main messages I seemed to grasp from the Star Trek episode. The most apparent one was the criticism of systems of slavery or racist oppression. The aliens who fight over their home planet’s system of slavery represent the oppressor and the oppressed, and the  only difference between the 2 that causes this conflict is the comical fact that one is black and on the left side and white on the right, and the other is the opposite. The criticism is clear: like human beings of different races, they are virtually the same despite physical characteristics that are barely different, and yet it is this distinction that causes all consuming hatred. And this hate destroys both of them: even after seeing that their home planet was destroyed by the fight between their 2 groups, they cannot put aside their differences and return to the empty planet to likely duel. A system of hate clearly breeds hate.

Secondly, the main crew in Star Trek seemed to represent the United States. They are composed of individuals of many races, attempt to fix issues throughout the universe and not just in their home, and invite the aliens to come live a better way of life within their federation. The episode seemed to criticize that the U.S. attempts to fix global issues but barely spends time on their missions: it takes the crew a casual 2 minutes to supposedly cure an entire planet. It seemed to be arguing that the U.S. poorly attempts to act as the world police.

I have actually seen this Black Mirror episode before, but the first time I tried to watch I did not finish because I found it so unsettling. And I think that is telling of how scarily relatable this episode’s message is. The criticism of social media and humanity’s psychological obsession with virtual reputations in the episode directly mirror those of today’s, concerning apps like Instagram or Facebook. I found it telling that these critiques within the episode came from the people who were viewed as low class or undesirable. That reminded me how those who preach about these dangers in our society have equally important critiques, but just like in the episode, they fall on deaf ears and on a society not changing for the better. More than a social criticism, this episode seems like a warning of a future we could enter if we are not proactive. I also believe it was arguing that virtual reputations will destroy the authenticity of real human interactions. Many of the conversations between the characters were falsely friendly, just so the other characters would virtually rate them higher. It doesn’t seem too strange to suggest that a virtual reputation could one day define your social reputation, but it did seem like a stretch to tie it directly to socioeconomic class and opportunities.

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A Hard Day’s Night, Thriller, Street Spirit, Nightswimming, Around the World, Fell in Love with A Girl, Are you gonna go my way, Got ‘til It’s Gone, & Lemonade

11/3/17. 4:28 PM.

Music videos are naturally dichotomous, and I viewed each this week in terms of either its artistic or its promotional intentions, or both.

A Hard Day’s Night  follows the days in the lives of the Beatles, and its quick cuts between witty dialogue and up close and personal style of shooting makes the viewer feel like they’re really getting to know them. And as we follow their lives, it’s clear that the Beatles are goofy (one of them pretends to drown in a bubble bath) and fun loving (they leave their hotel to party). And whether or not these scenes were authentic, the viewer buys into this branding of the Beatles and is sold on their young, wild, and free nature.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is self-described as a “film” rather than a music video, fittingly so, as it has its own plot. Watching it, I could not imagine how this song could have existed without its own film, it’s iconic because of this zombie filled video and it plays almost like a script to it. But even so, one never really knows what’s about to happen in the film -is MJ actually a monster?

Radiohead’s Street Spirit is a haunting song with mysterious black and white visuals. It seemed that for some parts the form matched the content: as he sings “fade out” there are images of his face fading into one another.

Nightswimming struck me as eye-opening. It was clear to me that R.E.M. was trying to get the point across that stripping down and swimming in the night with/without others is not a wild or sensual experience. It’s a meaningful one that “deserves a quiet night.” And as evidenced by the old man that does it, its significance can stick with you.

Around the World was another example of form matching content – the characters in the video literally walk in circles as the camera pans around too. In Love With A Girl  to me had sounds that were just as hard  to grasp as its fast Lego block visuals. And Are you gonna go my way was flashy and had a very evidently diverse crowd dancing to Lenny Kravitz, seeming to target a range of demographics.

Janet Jackson’s Got til  It’s Gone  had many messages. Its lyrics about not knowing what you have till it’s gone matched images of men who were bruised or had empty pockets. But more apparent to me was the juxtaposition of images of a diverse, joyous group of black South Africans, and images of “Europeans only” signs or a European woman being astonished at the sight of an African woman’s hair. The images of freedom dominated those of oppression and really reinforce imperialism’s evil nature.

And Beyoncé’s Lemonade had imagery that directly paralleled her lyrics and emotions. She sings about emotional denial as she appears to drown, and declares that her love is better than that of her husband’s mistress as she destroys cars in the street.

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The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, Four Performances, Odile and Odette, Cremaster 3: The Order, & various interviews

10/26/17. 6:00 P.M.

Performance art is an avenue of expression that I feel I previously was not that familiar with. Seeing each of the moving images that we did and the accompanying interviews gave me insight to it, but given that it is performance art, I wish I could have seen some of the pieces in person.

In Joan Jonas’ interview, she mentions how part of the thrill of creating her pieces is that they “come out different each time.” To me that seems part of the appeal of the craft: you never know how exactly it will turn out, so the experience is always authentic and fresh. When watching her piece The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things and snippets of others, it seemed that she used performance art to respond to other thoughtful creations. The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things  is a response to an art historian’s essay, and she mentioned how old texts often inspire her. To me she seems to embody the belief that art inspires other art (considering writing as a form of art).

Marina Abramović fittingly made her entire interview performance art, speaking to her devotion to the craft, or as she calls it, “a tool”. As her voice narrates an image of her standing still, she even mentions how she would like to have 3 festive, simultaneous funerals when she dies, solidifying that even when she passes away she wants to create some type of performance. In Four Performances, we watched as she violently brushed her hair repeating that an “artist must be beautiful” and it was clear that attaining beauty is a painful process. And the way she repeats it throughout the video made me feel that this message is programmed into us by media like we’re robots.

Yinka Shonibare seemed fascinated with race, class, and global interactions. A lot of his pieces acted as commentary on these topics, and it struck me as significant that he has Nigerian roots. He mentions that he found American notions of race and class as peculiar, and I immediately thought that his non-American perspective could prove to be insightful. Even his simple statement that he found American ideas on race as strange lead me to further consider that America’s dealing with race may perhaps be more toxic than other comparable societies. And his piece that we briefly viewed seemed to be about race. Two dancers, one black and one white, mirrored each other’s every move gracefully, and were indistinguishable. Neither was more superior in skill or different in motion than the other, seeming to convey the message that race is a superficial difference.

In Matthew Barney’s interview, we were able to see how he directed and acted in his pieces, that ironically for being considered “performance” art, were all taped. And from what we viewed I took away that he likes to have fantastical images and figures, often of themes of death and biological creation, interact with more regular figures, like industrial workers or musicians.

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Still Life, Screen Test: Helmut, Fog Line, Smoking, Empire, Zen for Film, & Blue

10/19/17. 6:00 P.M.

Even if I respect that motionless pictures are rebelling against conventional art forms, they take a lot of concentration and persistence to engage with. This is almost ironic given that the images are largely motionless. But I wanted to pay attention throughout the duration of each film so I could notice subtle transitions and follow the narration if any.

Still Life was interesting because at first I thought it had the perfect title: it begins with an image of fruit on a table, a stereotypical still life subject. But over time as the fruits mold without any noticeable motion, the image transforms to one of decay, and I couldn’t help but think Still Death would’ve been a better name. Screen Test Helmut ‘s subject (a man staring at the camera) didn’t age over time, but seemed to be stuck on a loop. His neutral facial expression that didn’t give away much about his feelings made it seem that he was both motionless and emotionless.

Fog Line  was definitely a piece that made you feel as if time was passing by. The foggy, ambiguous picture slowly shifts into a more clear environment with trees and hills. The changes weren’t dramatic, but I paid close attention looking for anything unexpected. Smoking also masterfully lets the viewer feel time pass very slowly. The reason why I think this piece is well done is because through the artist’s slow motion images the viewer undergoes a realization at a slower rate too. Or at least I did. I watched the smoke taper and thought I could see an image of a face in the smoke. Eventually the smoke clears and there is a face behind it. If I had viewed this in real time I would’ve mentally recognized the images quickly, but here I slowly digested them.

The excerpt for Empire wasn’t enough for me to form a full opinion on it, but I thought it was significant that throughout the white flashes on the screen the Empire building was still visible: static, powerful, and never fading. Zen for Film lacked in content given that its just a white canvas, but I think it intentionally led me to reflect on a variety of things. I had nothing to focus on the screen so I started reflecting on my life and the things I had to do, and I don’t think that was unique to my viewing experience. Reflection is key for zen after all.

Blue with context is more meaningful. The creator of the film Derek Jarman suffered from AIDS and had vision that deteriorated to have a blue tint. The entire film is motionless blue and gives us a sense of what it felt like to be him. And the narration concedes that blue is “love” and “blood of sensibility” and so on. In essence, blue is everything. For Jarman blue became everything he could perceive, in a visual sense, and if the narration is autobiographical, in a strangely beautiful, figurative sense too.

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Parallel I, Poemfield No. 2, UFO’s, Video Ravingz, Every Filter in Final Cut Pro, & The Lanthanide Series

10/5/17. 5:45 P.M.

This week’s videos centered around computers and electronic devices. And for whatever reason, videos on that topic offer viewers a chance for a lot of reflection. Or at least it did for me.

Parallel I presented images all the way from early in video game history till now. I thought it was shocking the amount of growth computer graphics has come in only 30 years. Trees in games used to be simple lines or pixels, and now they have realistic dimension. If the same level of growth, or even a slightly less one, continues, I can’t imagine how real trees will appear in the virtual or augmented reality to come.

The next 3 films felt all of a similar category to me: old style video games and graphics. Poemfield No. 2 had visually overstimulating text that was difficult to decipher. That may have been done to reinforce how unclear pixel graphics seem now even though it was at one time the standard. UFO’s flashing color patterns were intense, and looked peculiarly similar to Pacman circles at some points. I would guess that was intentional. And Video Ravingz too had its share of flashing shapes. But a common thread for these films for me was the intense nostalgia I felt while viewing them. Seeing such images, and especially hearing the style of music used in video games back then, take me back to my childhood and memories of my favorite games growing up. I would not be surprised if a lot of other people my age feel similarly when watching such films.

I thought the title for Every Filter in Final Cut Pro  could not be more appropriate. While watching I noticed how it begins with the title on screen, and as more filters stack, the text disappears. This fact combined with the use of mostly black and white colors, really makes the focus specifically on the filters and nothing else.

And then there was The Lanthanide Series. The whole time I watched this piece, I felt like I was not fully absorbing what the artist was saying. At one point the film says “lanthanide” comes fromGreek and means “to escape notice”, and I felt like something was definitely escaping my notice. After watching, Professor McCarty said the black mirror / lanthanide panel that was used to record the entire film was an iPad, and I felt like that was one of the major things that escaped my notice. I never once thought that an iPad could be the recording device, even if at moments corners of the device may have been reflected. I thought this fact was incredibly ironic, since the film seemed like a critical commentary on the negative environmental activity that is caused by creating popular technology. And an iPad is one of the most popular technology products! And at one point the narrator says “memory leaves shards of history.” And that made me conclude, even if the process isn’t perfect, that is why we make technology to record history.

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