The forty-sixth Funambulist Paper, written by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, closes this series of nine texts that invoke the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon (three of which were written by guest writers). Entitled “Ghost in the Shell- Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence,” the following text proposes a reading of two films, Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 Inosensu (Ghost in the Shell 2) and Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Inception, through an anthropomorphized-but-never-humanized approach to machinic consciousness in the first case, and a machinic approach to human consciousness in the second one. Nandita therefore illustrates the blurriness of the limits that are usually set in between these two entities, when in fact neither the human nor the machine can be seen as essences. She goes as far as connecting the concepts mètis (which means crafty manipulation) and métissage (which describes the craft of intermingling and/or fabricating) to talk about the mode of existence of the technical object in relation to the mode of existence of the human being. The mètic, morever, is also the resident alien in ancient Greece, a similar situation for the technical object per Simondon which it convenes us to understand in order to construct new relational modes with/in it.
The Funambulist Papers 46:
Ghost in the Shell-Game:
On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence
by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy
I begin, then, properly, in and with the proper voice (that of Pierre Ménard). To begin, then, anew: The purpose of this study is to create an awareness of the significance of technical objects. Culture has become a system of defense against technics; now, this defense appears as a defense of man based on the assumption that technical objects contain no human reality. We should like to show that culture fails to take into account that there is a human reality in technical reality and that, if it is to fully play its role, culture must come to incorporate technical entities into its body of knowledge and its sense of values. Recognition of the modes of existence of technical objects should be the result of philosophical thought, which in this respect has to achieve what is analogous to the role it played in the abolition of slavery and in the affirmation of the value of the human person. The opposition established between culture and technology, between man and machine, is false and is not well-founded; what underlies it is mere ignorance or resentment. Behind the mask of a facile humanism it hides a reality that is rich in human efforts and natural forces, a reality that constitutes the world of technical objects, mediators between nature and man.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read any further, please know that if you have not watch Alfonso Cuarón‘s new film, Gravity, and that you intend to watch it, you probably should not read any further. Despite the illustrative quality to my point that some images were providing, I also preferred not to include an evocative one here, so not to spoil the effects that this film will trigger in you. I will assume that whoever read what follows is either someone who already saw the film or someone who do not mind to read an interpretation of this film before actually watching it.
The question of weight and gravity in films has been an interest to me for quite a while, and this following text will take its part in the sequel of five articles written in the past:
- The Weight of the Body Falling (sept 2011)
- Spinozist Collision (sept 2011)
- Gravity Dances (dec 2011)
- The Weight of the Body Dancing by Pina Bausch as filmed by Wim Wenders (jan 2012)
- Applied Spinozism: The Body in Kurosawa’s Cinema (mar 2013)
In these articles, I was insisting on the importance given to material encounters in films and photographs revealing the true weight of things, and thus the weight of the material assemblages that bodies (living and non-living) constitute. I was often making this reading through Spinoza’s philosophy that insists on the relation that these encounters compose.
Funambulism, Utopias, Backyards, Open Stacks, Architectures of In/security, Sonic Landscapes, Apian Semantics, Meta-Virtual Solipsism, Transcendent Delusions, Fibrous Assemblages, Circuses, Old Media, Pet Architecture, Persian Folds, DIY Biopolitics, and MORE (Eileen Joy describing The Funambulist Papers)
The Funambulist Papers Volume 1 that gathers thirty four essays of the first series of guest writer essays (plus an essay by Bryan Finoki) is now published, like for the Funambulist Pamphlets, by Punctum Books in association with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School for Design. I would like to insist on the variety of approaches and background of these authors whether we speak about their disciplines (architecture, law, cinema theory, art, history etc.) or their origins (23 nationalities) in order for this series to bring a fresh discourse in the middle of my articles that can be sometimes (often ?!) redundant. As for the Pamphlets, Punctum Books and I are keen to think of our work as part of an open access strategy and the book can be therefore downloaded for free as pdf. It is also available in its printed version on Punctum Book’s website for $15 (€13.00/£11.00). The book is also part of the “perks” of the crowdfunding campaign for Archipelago!
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Peter Hudson, Petal Samuel, Liduam Pong, Mina Rafiee, and to Seher Shah for accepting that I use her painting “City Unknown” for the cover. Thank you very much to all the contributors as well for accepting to write pieces specifically for The Funambulist. This series will continue in the future and there should be a second volume at some point.
The book is organized in two parts, “The Power of the Line,” and “Architectural Narratives” as follows:
Posted in Architectural Theories, Books, Cinema, Essays, Fine Arts, History, Law, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, The Funambulist Papers
Still from The Law in these Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (2012)
I recently watched Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts (merci Philippe) that unfolds the legal mechanisms of the occupation of the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since their take over by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967. Alexandrowicz alternates archival footage and interviews with six members of the Israeli military legal corps who had a significant action on the legal colonial framework. I have written a lot about how architecture was used as a colonial weapon in the Palestinian territories; it is important to observe also how this architecture is the embodiment of a series of legal strategies that were implemented in order to organize Palestinian daily life according to military occupation logic, to allow the civilian colonization of these territories, as well as to registers each actions in regard to the international legislation to determine a position that never reaches a ‘breaking point.’
This colonial law is a well-thought strategy, not a set of quickly decided tactics. In this regard, the first thing that the film tells us, is that the brochures informing the Palestinians that they were now under the Israeli military legislation — a necessary measure in the international law — were designed and printed by dozens of thousands long before 1967 and the actual occupation of the Palestinian territories by the I.D.F.. The content of this colonial legislation was then regularly updated as issues were raised, involving groups of military law-makers to continue constructing the legal means by which the Palestinian population’s life would be organized by the Israeli army. Alexandrowicz asks the question about whether it would have not been more simple to enforce the Israeli legislation on the Palestinians. He is answered that such logic had to be avoided absolutely as it would have been considering the occupied population as citizens of Israel de facto. The films also points out the ambiguous legal obligation on the Israeli civil population — there are currently 500,000 Israeli civil settlers in the West Bank — who live in the occupied territories. Unsurprisingly this population’s criminal activity is not judged by military courts as for the occupied population, but rather by the civil Israeli courts that has been consistently lenient with their action.
Still from the film Coriolanus by Ralph Fiennes (2011)
Before being a historical figure, Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a legendary one. He, as an actual person was a Roman general who lived in the fifth century before Christ. What belongs to history and what belongs to the myth about him remains unclear today. The following text will therefore address his (hi)story without the doubts and precautions that a historian would need to systematically indicate when addressing this same story.
Coriolanus’s story is brought to us by the 1608 play written by William Shakespeare. General Caius Marcius earn his name of Coriolanus by his glorious victory against the Volscian city of Corioli. Strengthen by this success, he is encouraged to run for Consul of Rome. Despite an apparent support from both the Senate and the Plebe, he has to face riots from the latter. He finally publicly expresses his despise of democratic processes and exiled himself when he is condemned as a traitor. Later, he joins his former Volscian enemies and marches towards Rome. He remains insensitive to every request of his formers friends (including his own wife), but finally accepts a peace treatise after being won over by his manipulative mother. Peace is signed between the Romans and the Volscians but Coriolanus is assassinated by the latter for his treason.
It took me about a month to digest watching Joshua Oppenheimer‘s documentary The Act of Killing that was recently released in the United States and that constitutes as much a film about Indonesian history as a historical film about Indonesia as I will illustrate in this article. It took me all that time to write about it and I still feel a pain in my stomach as I am writing, because this film explores the dark depth of humanity and of a human system in ways that have been rarely examined.
The film is a 2-hour long editing from more than a thousand of hours of footage that Oppenheimer filmed for the last nine years in Indonesia. What the film shows is the testimony of several Indonesian “gangsters,” re-enacting dramatically the mass killings that they have been perpetuating in 1965 during the dictatorship-backed purge of several hundreds of thousands of people that were accurately or not suspected to be communists. Along the film, the re-enactment goes from a ‘simple’ reconstitution of the killings on the site where they were committed, to the greatly dramatic reconstitution in various forms of Hollywood and local cinema orchestrated directly by the perpetrators themselves (Oppenheimer let them free to choose the form they wanted). The surreal result of such scenes oscillates between the surrealism of Bunuel, the aesthetics of Thomas De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts (1827) and the insupportable procedural precision of the Marquis de Sade.
Promotional image for the film World War Z (2013)
Here are two disclaimers before starting this article about the figure of the zombie, particularly in the recent film World War Z by Marc Forster (2013). The first one is that the text that follows — as well as the very will to go see World War Z in a theater — is strongly inspired by the excellent article “World Revolution Z” (December 5th 2005) by Gastón Gordillo on Space and Politics. The second disclaimer is that, although there won’t be any major spoiler in this text — watching the trailer is a spoiler itself — I will need to refer the end of the film at some point, and despite its expected nature, people who are wanting to see this film without having heard too much about it should probably stop their reading here.
Movies that dramatize an pandemic of zombies are well-known for involving a high level of symbolical elements as the fictional figure of the zombie refers to a human body reduced to its animal (cannibalistic) function. It is understood that if we want to see these narratives for the way they influence our imaginary, we have to consider that the figure of the zombie exists only through the subjectivity of a non-zombie human, and that these hordes of bodies, which are something that this non-zombie is not, chasing him or her are the reflection of a strong paranoia towards a specific group of people. In the text mentioned above, Gastón Gordillo emits the legitimate hypothesis that in the case of World War Z, the zombies represent the insurrectional proletariat engaged in a worldwide revolution. Such an interpretation becomes extremely tangible when we see the strongest image of the film: a mass of bodies climbing on each other to get over a tall concrete wall in Jerusalem. The team crew was careful to explicitly describe that the wall had been built specifically against the zombie attack — in other words, this is not the separation barrier built in the West Bank by the Israeli — and to include a scene in which Arabs and Jewish seem to be in communion to face the universal danger upon them — in other words, these zombies are not the Palestinians who are trying to liberate themselves from this wall that separate them from their family, their fields, their roots. I will not mention the sum of details that do bring us back to a pro-zionist perspective — the very fact that the whole city of Jerusalem is said to be in Israel is the most obvious one — in order to focus on the fact that the symbolic of this image cannot liberate itself from the way we see it, with our experience and cultural references: this wall is the separation barrier and these bodies are the Palestinians fighting against their restriction of movement.
Nine screenshots from the film The Diary of an Unknown Soldier by P. Watkins
The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959) and The Forgotten Faces (1961) are the two first films of Peter Watkins. These two short films might appear as less ambitious as The War Game (1965), Punishment Park (1970) and La Commune (1999); however, they already carry the essence of Watkins’ cinema both in their form and in their content.
The Diary of an Unknown Soldier is an internal monologue of a first world war British soldier deployed on the front in Eastern France. The spectator is a witness of his thoughts and fears before combat. Image and sound are not synchronized and the successive and fast series of shots participate to express the anguished wait of the soldier. The way the body is filmed and described in the script is remarkable as it heavily insists on the fact that war for soldiers — in opposition to high rank officers — is essentially a matter of bodies: their movement, their combination with the bullets and bombs trajectories and their relationship to the ground — in that case, the mud. The body is what the soldier is asked to supply to his or her army to accomplish the strategies thought about “from above.” In that matter, Watkins makes his soldier think the following while filming close-ups of parts of his body along with other soldiers’ (see the series of screenshots above):
That’s how I will probably die, left like a poor old rag on the battlefield. When you know this is going to happen to you, your body suddenly becomes something terribly precious to you. This flesh, soft and warm is yours; a personal belonging not to be discarded like an awful piece of meat. You find yourself thinking about this, realizing what a wonderful thing your body is, and what an awful and wrong thing it is to maltreat it.
On the Notion of Failure ///
(originally published on Failed Architecture. Thank you to Mark Minkjan for asking me to write this article)
First scene: A bureaucrat is sitting in a closed room surveying the machine that continuously supplies miles of administrative registries in a sort of choreography that seems to have neither start nor end. In the background, the television reiterates its continuous flow of verbal matter. Everything is functioning as it is supposed to be, the system and its cogs are operative. Yet, in this first scene, i.e. when the film really starts, the bureaucrat in charge, bothered by a fly, resolutely kills the latter that then fall into the machine. From there, the corpse of the fly is transformed into a typo on a paper that, we will soon learn it, is a warrant of arrest. The person whose name was accidentally registered by the machine will see his apartment raided through its own walls by some sort of military police, his neighbor will undertake to prove his innocence, she will meet the main character who will ultimately rebel against the administrative system from which he was part of.
Many of you will have recognized Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil that will help me illustrate my argument in this text. This argument is that failure is an essential (it might actually be the only one) generator of narrative. But, first of all, what is failing in narrative? What is this object that is described to us as the subject of an entropy that will make it completely different from the beginning of the story to the end of it? This object is nothing else than the physical, social, emotional or cultural context in which the narrative is embedded into. Whether we are talking about the totalitarian bureaucracy of Brazil, the mental state of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining or the lives of the inhabitants of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the narrative is always triggered by a form of disaggregation of the conditions in which it is set.
Above: Tout va bien (Everything’s Going Fine) by J.L. Godard (1972)
Below: La nuit américaine (Day for Night) by F. Truffaut (1973)
That is the second time that I associate Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut in a same article. The first one was somehow addressing the revolution of cinema that directors like them — but also Chabrol, Varda, Rohmer, Rivette etc. — triggered with the New Wave. This revolution consisted in an embrace of cinema for what it really was, breaking all conventions including the one that consists in making the viewer forget that (s)he is looking at a screen. From the mid 1950′s to 1968, this cinema was produced in collegiality between this group of friends who worked together and produce each others’ films. In the case of Godard and Truffaut, it resulted in movies that each strongly contributed in changing cinema forever (The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Jules and Jim (1962) for Truffaut, Breathless (1960), A Woman is a Woman (1961), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966) for Godard).
This side of the (hi)story is not the one that I would like to write about here. In 1968 the Cannes Festival is occupied (by Godard and Truffaut among many other people) and finally cancelled as part of the political movement of May 68. From here, nothing will be the same in the relationship between Godard and Truffaut as the documentary Two in the Wave (2010) by Emmanuel Laurent illustrates. While Truffaut remains convinced that an artist, although (s)he can be a political activist, cannot make his or her art with a political agenda, Godard, on the contrary, think that it is the only thing an artist can do (see past article). In 1972, Godard directs with Jean-Pierre Gorin the film Everything’s Going Fine that clearly marks such a manifesto for art as a political manifesto. A year later, Truffaut releases the film Day for Night that will finish to separates the two directors. In it, Truffaut who more or less plays himself tell Jean-Pierre Léaud — who also more or less plays his own role – that “movies go along like trains in the night.” Godard, furious after having seen the movie writes a letter to his old friend:
In 1956, Alain Resnais created a 20-minute long film entitled Toute la Mémoire du Monde (All the World’s Memory) that beautifully mixes documentary information with a fictitious style of filming and editing. What I just wrote is however symptomatic of a prejudice according to which documentary should tend towards objectivity in an attempt to capture the “truth” of what they are filming. We know that choosing such an ambition for a film is doomed to failure. On the contrary, when one voluntarily embraces the subjectivity of the documentarian, the chances are that the resulting movie would be much more powerful in communicating the piece of reality it is describing (we will see that soon in Peter Watkins’ movies). Toute la Mémoire du Monde is part of these movies. Through the dramatic journey of a book traveling through the registration and archival process of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (France National Library), Resnais reaches the essence of what is a library – in particular one that aims at the holistic collection of knowledge.
Before going any further in this direction, let us stop for a moment by talking about this France National Library as an architecture. It was designed by Henri Labrouste between 1859 and 1875 and its reading room, filmed by Resnais at the end of the short movie, constitutes one of the most remarkable cast-iron structure buildings in the world. One has to realize that a building like Paris’ Opéra Garnier was built at the same time than the National Library and despite its use for cast iron structure as well, it was conscientiously concealed under the classical architectural pomp of the past centuries. Labrouste’s deliberate choice to affirm the iron structure in its poetical potential (see below) constitutes the true innovation in the history of architecture. In this regard, New York’s Museum of Modern Art currently exhibits Labrouste’s work and its legacy to 19th century architecture.
Screenshot from 悪い奴ほどよく眠る (The Bad Sleep Well) by A. Kurosawa (1960)
To be honest, I am not fully sure where I am going with this first of two articles on potential Applied Spinozism; the possibility to read the bodies depicted in the cinema of Akira Kurosawa through the philosophy of Spinoza is not necessarily obvious (he is usually more associated with authors like Dostoevsky or Shakespeare) and my interpretation of it might be somehow shallow and incomplete. I suppose however that good ideas are based on intuitions and, for this reason, the latter should be explored!
Having watched an important amount of films made by Kurosawa these last four years, I noticed that we often see in them one or two characters who are struggling to climb up an earth slope. That is the case in The Bad Sleep Well (see above), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Rashomon (1950), High and Low (1963) and probably in more that I forgot or did not watch. The almost obsessive care that Kurosawa takes to film those scenes that vary in their length, lead us to think that there might be something important to be observed in them. These scenes do not bring anything to the plot in terms of additional information and an inattentive reading of them could let us think that a flat land would pretty much depict the same action but again the slope seems to be a crucial element in Kurosawa’s cinematographic (and therefore conceptual) toolbox.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to have access to the short film “…Would Have Been My Last Complaint” created by Camille Lacadée (see her guest writer essay as an inventory for this project) and François Roche for their [eIf/bʌt/c] (Institute for Contingent Scenarios) with the collaboration of Ezio Blasetti, Stephan Heinrich and a small team of people from all over the world (see the credits at the end)
The film is now visible online (see also at the end of this article) which will allow many viewers to consider a work in which neither architecture nor cinema is “enslaved” to the other, but rather they collaborate at their best. The architecture itself has been thought and built by the film’s team, but could not really unfold its essence without the narrative and expressive means developed by the film.
Photograph of the exhibition The Crystal World by Cyprien Gaillard at PS1
The Crystal World is the first-solo exhibition in New York of French artist Cyprien Gaillard. It is currently displayed at MoMA PS1 and gathers a very interesting collection of films, photographs and artifacts, all of which deserve to spend an important amount of time on. I wanted however to focus on one specific film that occupies the largest room of the exhibit. Entitled Artefacts (2011), this short movie was shot on a phone then transferred to a 35mm film. The cinematographic projector and its mythical sound, placed in the middle of the room, already participate to the composition of a landscape of artifacts both inside and outside the screen. The film itself is a document filmed in occupied Iraq on the tracks of the ancient and the new Babylon. The difference of scale between the gigantic ziggurats and the American soldiers discovering the architectural treasures of the old Babylon is striking. Iraq is somehow anthropomorphizes through its heritage and the occupation soldiers cannot help but to be humbled by its grandeur.
In Artefacts, the ancient ziggurats also dialog with the monumental symbols of Saddam Hussein’s reign. Baghdad looks like the new Babylon and again, brings a scale that is unknown to the spectator of the American militarized spectacle of rockets in the city’s night sky. Similarly C.Gaillard develops a visual correspondance between old Babylonian museum artifacts with a multitude of bulldozers and aggregated broken cars. The repetitive score reinforces the quasi-hypnotic characteristics of the film and adds an ambiguous dimension as the sound is part of the song Babylon by David Gray that U.S. soldiers were using on some Abu Ghraib prisoners as a form of torture.
3d reconstitution of Israeli intelligence data from The Gatekeepers (2012)
I recently watched the documentary The Gatekeepers by Dror Moreh (2012), which gathers six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic secret service agency in a sort of reconstitution of Israel’s military operations in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Remarkably enough, the six of them are extremely critical of the policies they had to implement as they evidently constitute punctual tactics rather than long term strategies. The interesting twisting moment in this regard since to be Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 when it became clear that an important part of Israelis were not open to any form of compromise vis a vis the Zionist colonialist dream.
However satisfactory and probably helpful it is to listen to those six gentlemen who embodied one of the most powerful position in the realms of Israeli military operations from 1980 to 2011 (only one director is missing in the film within this period), it is actually tragic to observe that such opinions from them come after their retirement or worse, that they do not have any impact on the government’s policy when they were in office. From here, what seems to be a hopeful message of mind evolution can be interpreted, in the contrary, as a tragic perpetuation of an unacceptable situation regardless of the protagonists’ opinion on it.
Interpreting the problem based on opinions, polls, compromises, efforts etc. as it is usually considered (especially in Europe where people keeps considering this conflict in a very strict symmetry) might therefore be the wrong way to look at things. Similarly, getting indignation from videos or news of IDF soldiers punching a Western activist or a Palestinian kid being beaten up by some Israeli bullies in East Jerusalem and other various unjust punctual events is simply not enough as this same indignation did not nothing to change the status quo of the last forty-five years. What we need to understand and act upon is the system that makes those events possible if not encouraged.
El ángel exterminador (1962) is a film by Luis Buñuel in which the group of main characters are stuck for weeks in a living room after a urbane dinner. Nothing visually seems to prevent them from actually exiting the living room but for a mysterious reason none of them seems to try to actually get out despite the fact that they are close from dying from hunger.
This narrative is a good subject of investigation for the theory often attempted here (thank you Nick for pointing that out) according to which architecture has a fundamental power on the bodies. Of course, in that case the living room does not appear as a prison as the large double door at its entrance remains open all along the film but we can, once again, interrogate ourselves about the power that the line drawn by the architect carries in itself.
What is a door after all? Isn’t it simply an apparatus that organize architecture’s porosity or, in other words, a device that control the carceral characteristics of a room. After all, a prison always have a door. A locked door is nothing else than a wall for which (most of the time) the human body cannot develop a sufficient effort to modify or destroy it. Each interior space (aka room), traced by the architect as a continuous closed line is a prison en puissance (“in power”, “potentially”). On a side note, I recently learned that the word “prisoner” has the interesting characteristic to be written 囚 in Chinese and Japanese. Whoever has been learning the very basics of Chinese characters will recognize 人 i.e. a person, surrounded by a continuous and closed line. As often, those characters are fascinating by their minimal representation of their meaning.
Leos Carax in his own film, Holy Motors (2012)
An intuition I (too) briefly explored in May 2011 though an article entitled The Paradigm of Modern Cinema: The Cinematographic Introspection (Godard, Fellini, Truffaut, Assayas & Hansen-Love) was attributing (again this is just an intuition) the key element of modernity in art to the ability it had to introspect itself thought its very existence. The examples I then gave were quite literal as they were films that were dramatizing the very act of film making. A more recent movie motivates me to attempt to explore this topic a bit more: Holy Motors by Leos Carax (2012). Because this film approaches the introspection in a more indirect way than the previously quoted others, it might give us a clue about what makes this modern method interesting and expressive.
In Holy Motors, the main character embodied by Denis Lavant is followed during one (evidently typical) day of his life in which he goes from “appointment” to “appointment”. The latter constitutes as many roles he incarnates like an actor would in front of the camera. However, there is no other camera here than the one that we find in each film, invisible, and which allow us, the spectator to watch the movie. That is how L.Carax progressively blurs the limits between reality (in the film) and fiction (again, in the film) in a clear manifesto for this ambiguity. In doing so, we are not only wandering/wondering in the realms of representation but, more importantly, we are being questioned about our very human condition. This is not to say, of course, that we all play a role thus perpetually hiding of our “true self”. Rather, it questions the fact that what we really are might be the sum of the point of views that the otherness develops on us.
La Commune (de Paris, 1871)
by Peter Watkins
(see also an old article
about Punishment Park) filmed in 1999 is the absolute reference for the NY Commune project as it addresses the question of the Paris Commune through a cinematographic work being itself a democratic construction. This film is basing its plot on a historical event and its reconstitution in order to question the contemporaneity of the class struggle. In order to do so, it limits its setting to a warehouse in the North of Paris, films the action through an anachronistic documentary crew and construct itself in very long shots during which the (mostly non-professional) actors express themselves in a contemporary language while improvising for most of it. Using this method, the film, in its totality, almost reaches 6 hours long (see the full version on youtube below).
P. Watkins pushed the democratic process of making a film to the point of hiring actors opposed to the Paris Commune to play the Parisians who flew the capital city or remained hidden during the three months of its existence. It does not forget either the important faults of the Commune, the execution of the clerical hostages, the cowardice of some members of the Central Committee (elected group of decision in all districts of Paris and from every professions), the strong lack of organizations in front of the Versailles Army, the crowd syndromes etc. This antagonism of facts reflects the antagonism in the numerous debates showed on the screen with actors who reach a very high level of passion as they have no problem identifying with their character who has a lot of similitude with their own person. In this regard, the pseudo-documentary crew go as far as asking those same actors if they would also risk their lives today if confronted to the same situation while they act the fight on the barricade (see the 31st chapter on the video).
The film was badly received when it was released on TV, even by its own producer, Arte (probably the only channel that is worth watching in France) as P.Watkins himself explains on his website
. The reasons for that are probably numerous and the first one is of course the institutional form of censorship that never gave to the 1871 Commune the place in history that it deserves. However, another interesting reason for it can be seen in the very means of this film. We could think of an alternate film from a liberal filmmaker who would have the favors of the industry to gather an important budget in order to create a glorious aesthetic film that would narrate an individual (love) story within the history of the Commune (a grotesque example of this form an aesthetics can be seen in the videoclip No Church in the Wild as I wrote about
earlier) . The liberal media would applause this work and through it, self-congratulate for their open-mind.
Following the narrative I created around the question of the New York Commune as an interesting scenario to investigate what would be a contemporary equivalent of the 1871 Paris Commune, I am now starting to prepare a medium length film on this very same story. I will therefore regularly publish articles about useful references on that matter.
The two first ones that has been already published here could be found through the metaphorical map I drew during the last siege on Gaza as well as the short reportage done in post-Sandy powerless Brooklyn. Of course, I am definitely interested in any additional reference my readers would find useful in this exploration.
When I first watched Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer about four years ago, I wrote an article about it that would have deserved a deeper analysis. That is why I decided to re-watch it today and write a bit more about it.
This film introduces a near future in which a young Mexican farmer facing the militarized privatization of water resources on a daily basis and who see his house destroyed by a drone piloted from the United States. He then moves to Tijuana where he earns in life by working in a sleep dealer, a factory in which the mind and energy of Mexican labor workers are being used through body-plug connections linked to various working machines in the US.
The views of the factory are the most striking images of the film as they fully reconstruct the imagery of the assembly line factory as we currently know it while having the object of production disappeared from this same imagery. The workers’ bodies still endure the physical labor and its repetition, yet the product of their work is situated on the other side of the border. The connection cables are the only link from the laborer to this product and the violence with which they penetrate his body expresses the power of the exploitation. It is probably not innocent that those cables make the workers appear as puppets in a literal illustration of the dispossession of their body.