District B13 Ultimatum, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (2009)
After a photographic and an historical interpretation of what I called for this series’ purposes, Fortress Paris, this third part introduces its cinematographic (literal) adaptation of this topic. The film Banlieue 13 (District B-13) and its sequel Banlieue 13 Ultimatum materializes to the extreme, the policies of exclusion of the Parisian proletarian suburbs. In these movies, the suburbs are surrounded by a high wall which leave the inside population to its own fate in a similar way than the film Escape from New York created by John Carpenter in 1981 in which Manhattan was walled, thus imprisoning its criminal inhabitants.
In this interpretation the suburbs incarnate a perfect example of Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (see previous article and the cinematographic series). It is the other space, delimited with access filters and which applies its specific rules different from the milieu that surrounds it. Similarly to many institutional heterotopias, the suburban one does not leave any choice to its inhabitants to leave it through the militarization of its border. Just like the psychiatric hospital or the prison (one might add the school and the factory to a certain extent), it thus constitutes an authoritarian heterotopia and acts as a mechanism of control for society.
In a less ‘spectacular’ aesthetics but with a more solid and touching scenario/directing/acting, I cannot not recommend Mathieu Kassovitz’s first film La Haine (1995) in which the walls are not as visible but evidently exist.
all images are screenshots from Romain Gravas’ fim: Jay Z & Kanye West “No church in the wild” (2012)
The new videoclip of Jay Z and Kanye West, No Church in the Wild, directed by Romain Gavras is problematic to many extents. During 5 very aesthetic minutes of film, a slowmotion of a scene involving a violent fight between an angry mob (composed strictly of men) and a less angry -yet much more methodical in its violence- group of suppressive geared policemen. The scene is recognizably occurring in Prague and Paris, thus offering us a modern version of the various European revolutions and insurrections of the 19th century. The ‘aesthetization’ of violence is optimal in order to directly to address our testosterone which then helps us to identify to this hyper-male insurrectional standard which correspond in nothing to the various 2011 Arab revolutions or civic movements in various countries in the world. The society of spectacle is not interested in long pacific democratic construction and, through its various media (including the most serious and so called ‘liberal’ of them like the perfidious New York Times), prefers to capitalize on the violent side of the revolt imaginary in order to both discredit and co-opt a movement that was originally anti-capitalist. In this regard, it is not innocent that the rioters, in this video, do not seem to seek anything else than a simple fight with the police force (almost like a sport). It is Capitalism’s great strength to be able to include within itself its own antagonism, and furthermore to be able to capitalize on the latter. Jay Z and Kanye West are the perfect example of such phenomena as they represent the nec plus ultra of the anti-pro system components of a hip-hop music that was originally invented as a pure form of resistance against this very same system.
However, this short film is still interesting to look at, as it might touch a line of risk that capitalism is taking against itself. Capitalist’s cinema has been aesthetizing violence for quite a long time now; nevertheless when doing so, it is always careful to subject this violence against a tangible and specific form of otherness, whether the latter is embodied by aliens, enemy armies, gangsters, cops (but always corrupted and individualized in one way or another) or any other instance characterized by its binary mode of existence -it is either alive or dead, victorious or defeated. What a film like No Church in the Wild participates to, is the construction of an imaginary in which an intangible yet ubiquitous system is being fought against. Of course, the society of spectacle is still strongly present and the policemen are contributing to the anthropomorphism of an antagonism; nevertheless, it is clear that something outside of this visible fight is engaged and is therefore developed in our imaginary.
También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) (2010) by Icíar Bollaín
I think that for many of us the choice of being a leftist versus a rightist does not cause many existential problems. It is inconceivable for us that a person can rationally be racist, xenophobic, chauvinist, homophobic, colonialist or more generally (many rightists are not any of those) that one’s way of life could be actively detrimental to another, and somehow, we think much of ourselves for such attitude. The problem comes when our comfort is challenged by our ethics. The film También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) by Icíar Bollaín invites us to question this challenge. The plot introduces Sebastian, a film director who comes to a pre-Morales Bolivia (2000) in order to shoot a movie illustrating the horror of the Spanish colonialism after Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘new world’ in the late 15th century. The beginning of the film (the real one) shows Sebastian’s generosity and passion to (re)write history through a strong anti-colonialist verve. Soon enough however, the Cochachamba water conflict occurs and oppose the governmental privatization of water distribution against the anger of the people. For several reasons developed in the movie, Sebastian is confronted to a series of choices between his film and his ethics which should push him to stop his project and join the protesters one way or another. Each time, nevertheless, he favors his film more than anything else and without actively helping the violent suppression, he makes compromises betraying the spirit in which he was making his film in the first place.
Sebastian is a film director but the problem remains the exact same for an architect. Designing shelters for the third world in Western architecture school is good and certainly takes essence in honorable feeling we have, us, their creators; but doesn’t it satisfy us a little bit too quickly without contributing to a practical help to the people it was supposed to be addressed to in the first place? And, before even starting such projects, which are never far from being patronizing, don’t we have everything to learn from the people it claims to be serving? No need to go too far from the place we live to be confronted with the same issues, only manifested in more subtle ways. Because we are passionate by architecture and that we are convinced that our design can make a stand, we think of it as an end in itself ignoring the means and compromises that it would have taken to be achieved. Of course, nothing happen without compromises but to who or what are they detrimental?
Hugo by Martin Scorsese (2011)
Today’s guest writer essay, written by Ryan Pierson explores the visual relationships between Georges Méliès‘ pioneer cinema in the beginning of the 20th century with its re-reading more than a century later by Martin Scorcese in his Hugo thanks to the new 3D technology. Cinema is indeed a not so young art anymore and encountered along the years, various technological inventions which expanded its means of production. Few months ago, I attended to a small Q&A with Wim Wenders after the visioning of his film Pina, during which he explained that he had to wait to discover the 3D technology to eventually dare to transcript Pina Bausch’s art in a film after thirty years of hesitation. Ryan compares this new tool, thanks to which the two-dimensional representation of space seems to unfold itself out of the screen, to the ‘train effect’ that scared so much the first spectators of Cinema history. Stereoscopic films share indeed something similar to the origins of cinema as they construct their pictoriality through the spatialization of two dimensional planes from foreground to background the same way than Méliès was physically building some of his settings which did not have much thickness either.
Méliès in Stereopsis
by Ryan Pierson
Still from the film Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut
I resume my short literary series of references texts whose object within the narrative (and therefore within the book) is precisely the book as an object. I will eventually articulate them together in a forthcoming article. After Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Sand (see previous post), today is the turn of Fahrenheit 451 written by Ray Bradbury in 1953 and then adapted for cinema by Francois Truffaut in 1966. I already dedicated an article about the latter within the context of the series of the heterotopias in cinema. It addressed the end of the narrative when Montag discovers the forest of the human books, each man and woman embodying one book of their choice.
The following text is oppositely the beginning of the story in which Montag is a fireman, i.e. a man who burns books. The latter have been indeed forbidden for their ability to describe another world, and therefore, their invitation to embrace subversive (dis)orders. When Bradbury writes his book in 1953, the Nazi ‘autodafés ‘ (book burning ceremonials) still belong to a close history. In our own very recent history (this last year), the Koran has been burnt twice in a disturbing media coverage (no media, no drama). In Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s new historical film, Les Chants de Mandrin (Smugglers’ Songs) set in 18th century France, the police forces burn the contraband manifesto that smugglers attempt to spread around and that was printed clandestinely – as an anecdote, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy plays the role of the pirate printer !
Books are very poetic objects. By being embodied by paper, they carry their own fragility and constitute their own combustible when a power decides to annihilate them. Books are the medium through which ideas acquires a virtual eternity and for this reason deserve to be passionately salvaged. But this eternity is indeed only virtual as a small sparkle can inflame them and destroy them forever.
Fahrenheit 451 (excerpts)
By Ray Bradbury
Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam by Carl Boese & Paul Wegener (1920)
A short article today, in order to link four narratives (coming from science fiction or not) which shares a common link in which they express the power of the word or/and the sound.
The first one is the myth of the Golem (which much later inspired Mary Shelley to write her Frankenstein), this creature who, from a model of clay became alive when his creator, Rabbi Loew inscribed the word Emet (reality in Hebrew) on his face. When later, the Golem went berserk, Loew simply erased the first letter of the word and thus killed him (Met means death). This episode is illustrative of the Kaballah, this branch of Judaism that dedicates all its efforts to the research of God through the esoteric holy scriptures and their mathematics.
Teaser poster for Michel Gondry’s upcoming adaptation of Ubik (Heath Killen)
In an obsessive sense of categorization, one might divide science fiction in few types. The machinist fascination would be tutored by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the epic interstellar narratives as well as the speculative robotic would be lead by Isaac Asimov, the descriptions of what could not be possibly described (!) would follow the work of Stanislaw Lem…etc. finally the co-existence of overlapping worlds and the entropy that those worlds are subjecting to would recognize the paternity of Philip K. Dick.
P.K. Dick’s novels and short stories have indeed this common link; they dramatizes the absolute uncertainty of the main characters for their identity as well as the tangibility of the world that surrounds them.
L’Origine by Marc-Antoine Mathieu (Delcourt, 1991)
This article is the first one of a short series I will do about the worlds dramatized by science fiction which gives me the opportunity to create a new category ‘science fiction‘ on the blog which already counts 42 articles.
To describe those worlds, we can use the notion of dystopia, thus following Liam Young’s example, but what is important to consider with these future situations that appear to us as horrible is that they only consist in the exacerbation of the present ones. In other words, the present as we experience it could probably be described in a narrative read in a ‘better world’ (following Philip K. Dick’s belief for the existence of other worlds) and appear as particularly horrible.
The first chapter of this series will explore four worlds dramatizing over-populated cities which offers a new look at the way we inhabit our urban environment. Those four worlds are depicted in the two short stories, The Concentration City and Billennium by James Graham Ballard, in the graphic novel L’Origine by Marc-Antoine Mathieu and in the film Soylent Green directed by Richard Felischer.
“audiocassette“ cover for i-phone 4
I am always happy to have non-architects participating to this guest writers series (see the essays by Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi and Raja Shehadeh) and that is the case again this week thanks to Linnéa Hussein and her essay Old Media’s Ressurection. She recently finished her Master in Film Studies at Columbia University and will soon start a PhD in the same discipline. She was also a teacher assistant at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Westchester (New York).
Her essay investigates the medium that the tape (audio and VHS) constitutes and its return in contemporary cinema. However, instead of only questioning the medium in its form, she explores two films, Omar Gatlato and La Bocca del Lupo in which the tape is both the main object of the narrative and the provider of the plot.
Old Media’s Ressurection
by Linnéa Hussein
In October 2011 The New York Times published an article on the revival of the VHS tape in the horror film genre. What makes these so-called neo-VHS tapes different from their outdated VHS companions is the fact that their role transformed from being technical to being esthetic. Whole magazines such as for example Lunchmeat or Fangoria are devoted to the subject of the VHS now. For these horror fans, the neo-VHS is not preferred for functional reasons, but because the grainy picture quality – i.e. the signs of usage that made the DVD and BluRay replace the VHS in the first place – became an indispensible trope of the bad horror film genre.
Factory Fifteen (see previous post) just released their new film that they shot during Liam Young and Kate Davies’ Unknown Fields 2011 in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and Baikonur (Kazakhstan). Gamma is a sort of short pseudo documentary depicting a future in which numerous zones of the earth needs to be deradiated after a decade of nuclear war. As always in a capitalist world, this kind of public health operations are achived by private actors, here a company called Gamma which developed a type of roots that would absorb radioactivity. The film introduces the testimony of a survivor who describes how, very quickly, this root became autonomous and out of control, invading little by little his city.
The witness’ testimony talks about war machines to describe the vessels sent by Gamma, thus assimilating their action on the city as a sort of military invasion. In 1985, Ronald Reagan was claiming that the nine most terrifying words of the English language were ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help‘, we might want to paraphrase his claim against him saying that the most terrifying words are ‘I’m from a company and I’m here to help‘. The Fukushima experience clearly showed how private interests mixed with political corruption were leading to this kind of catastrophes.
GAMMA from Factory Fifteen on Vimeo.
You can watch the making-of video by following this link.
I recently posted a note about the Béla Tarr retrospective that the Lincoln Center organized in New York. This occasion gave me the opportunity to add to Damnation and the Harmonies Werckmeister, a third movie from him that fascinated me both for its content and its technicality: The Turin Horse.
The Turin Horse refers to the horse that Nietzsche one day saw being beaten to death by its master and that he hugged before sinking in prostration for few days. This event is said to have been the trigger to Nietzsche’s madness from which he will never recover. This film is suggesting the life of this horse ‘s life as well as his master and his master’s daughter’s life before this event. The setting never changes: a small stone house in the middle of a Beckettian landscape in which the father and the daughter repeat the same routine every day that Béla Tarr shows in his beautiful long sequence shots that has been creating his style since Damnation.
The films starts with the beginning of a storm that will never stops to increase. Leaves, trees, clothes, fabrics are all subject to this heavy wind; even the light itself changes drastically from quasi-monochromatic whites to the darkness of the end of the movie. Everything seems submitted to a sort of entropy in which all means of subsistence got affected. The Horse refuses to move, then to eat and drink, the water of the well disappear, the words of the book the daughter reads resounds as pure meaningless sound and eventually the light itself dies. Nietzsche is never evoked (although the prophet who visits them at some point does recall Zarathustra to some extent), but one might want to see this entropy of matter as a parallel of the entropy of the mind he experiences. I would even be keen to propose an interpretation in which this whole film consists in the vision that Nietzsche had when he saw this horse being beaten to death. The long sequences of Béla Tarr would therefore contrast with the sudden and punctual event Nietzsche experiences in a paradoxical parallelism of time scale that I remain fascinating by. (see my similar interpretations of The Trial and Enter the Void)
The Turin Horse (2011)
The Lincoln Center Film Society in New York starts today a retrospective of the films created and directed by Béla Tarr (see previous article about Werckmeister Harmonies) several months after the Hungarian filmmaker announced that he will now stop making movies. The Turin Horse is his last movie and introduces the life of the horse that drove Nietzsche to his madness after he saw it being beaten to death by its owner.
Jacques Rancière recently published a book about his work: Béla Tarr, le temps d’après (Capricci editions) and gave the following lecture at the Pompidou Center in December:
SIWARD: What wood is this before us?
MENTEITH: The wood of Birnam.
MALCOLM: Let every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear’t before him: thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host and make discovery
Err in report of us.
SOLDIERS: It shall be done.
Shakespeare William, The Tragedy of MacBeth, 1611
This very short text which opens the scene IV of the Act V of The Tragedy of MacBeth by William Shakespeare profoundly inspired Akira Kurosawa when he directed his cinematographic adaptation in 1957, Throne of Blood (蜘蛛巣城). This film takes place in a medieval Japan in which the generalized warfare matches well with Shakespeare’s narrative of Great Britain. In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa re-interprets MacBeth’s three witches’ prophecy by announcing via a spirit to Washizu/MacBeth that he shall not be defeated until the trees attack his castle. Washizu’s arrogance is soon to end as he sees – in an incredibly beautiful cinematographic shot – indeed the forest marching towards his castle. Of course, the walking forest is nothing else than his enemies’ soldiers camouflaged under the trees in order to hide their number and their weapons, but for a moment, the spectator – who first looks at it with Washizu’s point of view – effectively sees an autonomous forest moving forward, and nothing seems to be able to resists to this materialization of an awaken entity of Shintoism.
The magnificent movie Der Himmel Uber Berlin (strangely translated into Wings of Desire) released by Wim Wenders in 1987 is an ode to our humanity via the testimony of the weight of the bodies, but also the weight of life and history (in the individual and collective sense) that facilitates the enclosing of the self and the defiance of the other. As a taxi driver thinks in the film:
Are there still borders? More than ever! Every street has its borderline. Between each plot, there’s a strip of no-man’s-land disguised as a hedge or a ditch. Whoever dares, will fall into booby traps or be hit by laser rays. The trout are really torpedoes. Every home owner, or even every tenant nails his name plate on the door, like a coat of arms and studies the morning paper as if he were a world leader. Germany has crumbled into as many small states as there are individuals. And these small states are mobile. Everyone carries his own state with him, and demands a toll when another wants to enter. A fly caught in amber, or a leather bottle. So much for the border. But one can only enter each state with a password. The German soul of today can only be conquered and governed by one who arrives at each small state with the password. Fortunately, no one is currently in a position to do this. So… everyone migrates, and waves his one-man-state flag in all earthly directions. Their children already shake their rattles and drag their filth around them in circles.
It has been said many times that the most beautiful ballets are the ones that makes us forget the weight of the dancers’ bodies. With Pina Bausch, on the contrary, dance becomes a vehicle of celebration of this weight in its interaction with itself, the others’ and the environment. The film Pina by Wim Wenders (2011) is remarkable in this regard. It offers to the spectator another point of view on four of the German choreographer’s main pieces (The Rite of Spring, Cafe Muller, Kontakthoh and Vollmond) as well as introducing her dancers in various open landscapes thus perpetuating the emphasis on the relationship dance creates with a terrain.
This new point of view is highly interesting as it focuses on details that are almost imperceptible from the audience’s traditional situation. However, all those details are what composes the atmosphere of P.Bausch’s ballet and are beautifully emphasized by W.Wenders. The sound of the bodies, in particular is fascinating whether they inhale, breathe, run, fall on the floor or hit itself. Bodies are celebrated both in their superb as well as in their fragility. There is a violence in Pina Bauch’s work that is fascinating and frightening in its crudeness. One more time, the film recounts well this dimension of dance, whether it is by those two female bodies which repeatedly encounter the power of a wall in Cafe Muller, or the group of women ritually hitting their bodies in Le Sacre du Printemps, or else the rope that retains this young girl from escaping of the room, or again, this couple, in Cafe Muller, who can’t stop repeating the same action over and over between embrace and fall. Each time, the sound produced by those bodies reminds us of their weight i.e. their factor of attraction for gravity and shocks us in its coldness.
Depending of the matter it is composed of, the environment reacts more or less visually to those encounters. Earth, sand and water are found regularly in the movie as good examples of such visible interactions. Indeed, these materials embody expressively the effect that the environment has on the body and vice versa.
This article registers itself in a series of short posts questioning this notion of weight of the body:
- 01/ The Weight of the Body Falling (Sept 11)
- 02/ Spinozist Collision (Sept 11)
- 03/ Gravity Dances (Dec 11)
Still from Jarhead by Sam Mendes (2005)
Oil is a fascinating geological product that contains in itself thousands of years old fossils and sediments and which drives explicitly or implicitly the majority of the world geopolitical behaviors. In his book Cyclonopedia (see the numerous previous articles about it), Reza Negarestani claims that the Middle East is a sentient entity whose shit is oil. Building-up on Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus and their War Machines, he indicates that such a machine requires fuel and grease that cannot be possible without oil. The film Jarhead recounts the encounter of the American army with this geological sentient entity during the first Gulf War. The film almost never introduce any Middle Eastern human being but the sand, dust and oil praised by Negarestani are the true vernacular elements that surround the heavy army.
In Najaf and Ninevah, contacts speak of a notorious female oil smuggler named Jay who has assembled a militant religious cult named Naphtanese in the mountains of Kurdistan in Iran. They believe that the Unlife of War feeds on oil or (as they put it) the ‘black corpse of the Sun’. Negarestani Reza, Cyclonopedia. Melbourne: Re-Press, 2010. P130
I re-watched Gaspard Noé’s Enter the Void yesterday and thought that I should try to write about it as this film has been intriguing and fascinating many people including myself. The subjective point of view of the camera is forcing the viewer to become the main character and thus creating a continuous single shot from the beginning of the movie to the end. However, this unique cinematographic aesthetics should not make us forget the essence of the movie which is a wander in a certain interpretation of death.
Few minutes before dying, the main character, Oscar, hear indeed from his friend the way Buddists conceive death as a soul wandering as well as a look at this previous life, preceding reincarnation itself. The film constitutes Oscar’s death following such a process without any possibility for the viewer to perceive if this “soul wandering” is real or dreamed by him at the very moment of his death. As Marchel Duchamp put it, “it is always other people who die” (thanks Hiroko) i.e. time might exponentially decreases its speed when one is dying without ever reaching the limit for which life would have ceased completely. Of course, for external viewers, one actually dies and time continues but the perception of an infinite time does not presuppose the cessation of time in another scale of its perception – the one we experience “normally” when we are fully alive.
A while ago, I claimed that Kafka/Welles’ Trial was following the exact same wandering than the one introduced in Enter the Void. In fact, Franz Kafka’s friend Max Brod was the person who reassembled the disseminated and incomplete chapters of The Trial before its publication. He rationally thought that K.’s death was the final episode of the narrative when I claim that it was in fact the first one. In this interpretation, the endless wandering of K. in the administrative labyrinth that we know was actually his infinite “dream” experienced while dying during his exponential decrease of speed of his time curve. This wander of thoughts leaves us with one questions that Enter the Void asks: Does death really exists ?
This article is the second sequel of the one called “The Weight of the Body Falling” that was followed by another entitled Spinozist collision. When those two articles were insisting on the weight of bodies, in particular when they fall and hit a surface, this one is dedicated, on the contrary, to work that celebrate the lightness of those who manage to play with gravity to a certain extent of transgression. Three beautiful examples come to mind in this regard:
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee (2000) is a film in which some warriors have learned secret fighting skills among which they are able to defy gravity by becoming lighter:
The Criterion Collection‘s website recently release a beautiful series of stills extracted from four movies by Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert (1964), L’Eclisse (1962), Identification of a Woman (1982) and L’Avventura (1960). Those stolen cinematic moments reveals Antonioni’s construction of a very dexterous mix between material and atmospheric environments all along his films. Red Desert, as I had the occasion to write before, can probably be said to embody the paroxysm of such dialogue. Nevertheless, his materialism finds its essence in the presence of the human female body who, by its posture contrasts and challenges this environment. One of the introductory scenes of Red Desert in which Monica Vitti’s elegant character walk through a toxic mud field in an industrial context is exemplary in this regard.
I recently “ran into” (via Manifest Decay) the very short film Magnetic Void (see below) by James Miller which shows a reconstruction of the British United Shoe Machinery Company building in Leicester by running its actual destruction backwards. The result is very aesthetic and we could stop the description here and let the images talk for themselves (like they often do!).
However, watching this short film forcing myself to forget that this is just the result of a “trick” which consisted in going backwards rather than forwards, and rather accepting (somehow naively) what I was looking at for what it was. It got me to think of this film as a representation of an architecture that is constructed in a counter-hylomorphism. Hylomorphism (in ancient Greek, Matter + Form) is an Aristotle’s concept that was re-defined centuries later by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari (see the quote below) in a materialist and political reading. To keep it simple, hylomorphism is the process for which a body/object has a form that is constraint by the means of its production. The example of the brick is helpful, especially here as the concerned building is built in bricks: a brick is a body of matter whose shape has been transcendentally determined by its mold.
A whole building is almost always submitted to this same process of hylomorphism, its form reveals the constraints it was submitted to during its production, both physically during its actual construction and conceptually during its phase of design.