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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Re-dramatization of the un-dramatic

I've been trying to explain the meaning of the adjective "contemplative" in the phrase "contemplative cinema" on this blog for the past 5 years... That the key to CCC, unlike any other form of cinema, is that there is NO action drive, NO overdramatization, NO rewarding denouement, NO proper conclusion per say. The point of CONTEMPLATION is that there is no incentive to stay there gazing at the screen for whatever time it takes. You stay because you want to watch, not because the film makes you stay by any manipulative trick of the mind. Or else it's not called "contemplation". If you're looking for other excuses to watch such films (contemplative films), then you're not interested in their contemplative mode and it's fine. Just don't bring it up if it's not the aspect you want to highlight in these films.
Adrian Martin : "More usually, minimalist/contemplative films end with murders by shooting or knifing: sometimes a veritable orgy of death, as in the bleak Ukranian film with the ironic title of my joy, which ends with a character whom we haven't spotted for about 30 minutes suddenly bursting into a police station and killing everybody in sight. But remember, we're not talking here about Peckinpah or Tarantino movies here. This is a very attenuated and refined form of art cinema which, after a very 'slow burn', suddenly appears to splice in a genre or exploitation code. Maybe Bruno Dumont's 29 palms (2003) set the template in recent years. [..]
Heretical thought: I wonder if there's some kind of pure delight in ending two or more hours of contemplative, minimalist cinema in an explosion of violent death. It's easy to think of it as a kind of orgasm, a climax that has been prepared for very slowly, very exquisitely. The impulses behind contemporary contemplative cinema come from many places and are conditioned by many factors, but this, it seems to me, is one inescapably erotic factor. And I know it's one source of my own immense pleasure in these films: a slow release, with a big bang at the end."
Filmkrant (March 2011) 
Of all the things you could write about what today is called 'contemplative cinema' ... why pick the least "contemplative" aspect???
I would argue that the word "climax" belongs with the vocabulary of the traditional dramatic escalation, which is the antinomy of anything CCC strives to achieve, but Adrian Martin doesn't believe in "common sense", rational thinking or the conventional dictionary definition of words... So I better let him argue with himself : Adrian Martin 2008 (back when he remembered the url of this blog) :
These (often hilarious) quotes helpfully compiled so far tell the truth that I discovered when I was a journalist: when serious critics recommend contemplative films, they instinctively APOLOGISE for them, even if (maybe especially if) they love them!! I made a big, conscious effort over 15 years to NEVER use phrases like 'It may not be to everyone's taste, but ...' or 'Just stay in your seat and give this film a chance, because it gets better' ... which is how sympathetic, sincere journalists almost always recommend Hou, Tsai, etc, to their 'general' readers. (The UK convention is worse: terms like 'painfully slow' seem to imply: 'You will suffer, just as I suffered, but it will finally be good for you to watch this film'!) All of this tone/address arises from incredible defensiveness about writing for the general audience/reader - everything has to 'softened' (so the assumption goes) for this 'normalised' flimgoer, everything has to be related to conventional narrative entertainment ... it takes a strong, committed and very conscious critic (like Jonathan Rosenbaum) to avoid or eschew such a posture.
Blogathon 2 (2008), Roundtable 1 : CCC synopsis (January 10, 2008)  
He can't say he didn't know, or that he didn't read it. He does today exactly the contrary to what he agreed with 3 years ago. He tries hard to make CCC films worth watching because of a spectacle artifice! Although maybe it wasn't the "real" adrian (who signs with a link to rouge.com.au), because afterall using a "firstname" (or a full name for that matter) on the internet doesn't guarantee the identity of the person hiding behind it (lol).
Read the whole roundtable to understand why I wanted to drag attention to "negative wording in CCC synospis". No need to repeat myself.

This was exactly the problem raised by the anti-slow movement last year. They thought that "non-fast films" were "boring", precisely because there was no pay-off. If you're not prepared to get into a film that will not reward you (according to entertainment expectations) by the end of the screening, then you're not interested in what makes the distinctive nature of a CONTEMPLATIVE films. Are you able to contemplate the scenery offered by the Mount Fuji any stretch of time without the hope in the back of your mind that it might eventually erupt with a bang? There really is a way to thumb up "slow films" for the wrong reasons... I don't think you  understand the point of creating films OUTSIDE of the framework of classic dramaturgy. 

CCC films "ending with a bang" :
  • Jeanne Dielman
  • Japon
  • 29 Palms
  • Last Days 
  • Los Bastardos 
  • Delta 
  • My Joy
  • Año bisiesto
  • The Hunter

some CCC films NOT "ending with a bang" :
  • La Libertad 
  • Millennium Mambo 
  • What time is it over there? 
  • Blissfully Yours 
  • Hukkle
  • Five Dedicated to Ozu 
  • Nobody Knows 
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring
  • Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks
  • 13 Lakes
  • La Blessure
  • Los Muertos 
  • Ten Skies
  • Tropical Malady 
  • Drawing Restraint 9 
  • Our Daily Bread 
  • The Sun 
  • Colossal Youth 
  • Fantasma
  • Hamaca Paraguaya
  • I don't want to sleep alone 
  • Into Great Silence 
  • Still Life 
  • Syndrome and a Century 
  • Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle 
  • Alexandra 
  • At Sea
  • Death in the Land of Encantos 
  • The Man from London 
  • Milky Way
  • Mogari's Forest 
  • RR 
  • Yumurta 
  • El Cant dels ocells
  • Liverpool 
  • Süt
  • Un Lac 
  • Visage
  • Lola
  • Himalaya, where the wind dwells 
  • Bal 
  • Winter Vacation
  • Le Quattro Volte
  • Uncle Boonmee
  • Alamar
  • Flying Fish
  • The Turin Horse

The fact that few of them end in a violent act, doesn't define the entire contemplative mode after this exceptional occurrence. And when it does happen, it's hardly built up like the climax in a classic narration. The largely undramatic murder at the end of Jeanne Dielman is NOT what makes this film contemplative, it's the rest of the film. It doesn't undo the contemplative atmosphere of the entire film either!
Violence is not an averted subject in CCC. Violence can be contemplated too. It's just not treated in the manipulative way classic narration does for suspense. 
Have you ever seen a comedy with a few sprinkled teary moments? Do you watch a tragedy for it's few comedic scenes? Don't watch 3D spectacles for the 3rd dimension, watch them for their political insight! Only pay attention to the interior design in vintage porn movies. Enjoy Ed Wood for it's unintentional humour. Watch B-movies, the surrealist way, for it's subconscious alternate reading...  Well, this justification a posteriori might work for you, but your subjective experience/appreciation of these films/genres doesn't change the purpose they were created for. You just artificially perverted their meaning and intentions.

"[..] The Turin Horse, contrary to everything you may have read up until now, can be a pretty funny film, especially when seen more than once"
 Robert Koehler (22 Feb 2011)

Adrian Martin (Rotterdam 2011) : "Always for me the saddest moment is when somebody, whether a critic or filmmaker or a festival director, or whatever, says this thing :
'When you get right down to it, films must be about real people, the lives of real people who go on a human journey, and the audience must go on a human journey with these people, and there must be a good story.'
Now this is the common sense view of what cinema is. And it's total crap. You know. It's only one part of what cinema is. Film is a whole offering, a whole gesture of itself, of its images and sounds, which includes people and stories and all of that. But that's only part of it. It only explains a fraction of the greatness of the most interesting films, it's just to talk about the human people in them and all of that."
That's why he destroys everything CCC attempts to do to lead spectators away from the conditioning of classic dramaturgy, by telling his readers that even if CCC are "boring" films, you can still find excitement in them, with ending pay-off, violence and explosive rewards, that make the "tedious" screening (make sure to remind them that it lasts longer than a commercial movie everywhere you can) worthwhile. If you promise a pay-off, you do apologize for the (false) preconception of the absence of (entertainement-driven) pay-off in this type of films... Cause obviously, you wouldn't watch them if it didn't offer erotic release at some point...
I know it doesn't make sense with what he just said, but why always try to stick to common sense when you can contradict yourself???

Reminder :


HarryTuttle said...

Adrian Martin: "Think, for example, of the importance of covers of film magazines, how striking they can be as a statement: an immortal example for me was the British publication Monogram in the early '70s, which brazenly presented on its cover a glossy image of Gloria Grahame reclining provocatively on a sofa, with the interrogative headline underneath: 'Why Hollywood?' You had to open it up and read it straight away, there was no room for indifference!"
(cinemascope.it; 2006)

Sex sells... film reflection. WTF?

HarryTuttle said...

David Bordwell: "Narrative is our ultimate top-down strategy in watching a movie, specifically, I think, classical narrative principles.
[..] when nothing is happening, or when the shot is distant or prolonged — we can’t so easily apply our narrative schemas. If you don’t have other schemas in your mental kit, your perception is just lost. As you suggest, the viewer has to retune her perception.
Once you do, if the filmmaker is skillful, all kinds of stuff open up. To me Bela Tarr movies have tremendous suspense! It’s like learning to enjoy brushwork in an abstract painting."

cited by Manohla Dargis, What You See Is What You Get (NYT, 8 July 2011)

HarryTuttle said...

"This thesis theorises an approach to cinematic suspense derived from a set of films that challenge the teleological and redemptive principles of traditional narrative. It is argued that such a challenge is drawn from the need to account for conditions of violence and suffering without recourse to the traditional grounds of redemption. They set out to question the symbols that underpin a faith in its possibilities. Such films counter these grounds with a form of perpetuated suspense that continually withholds resolution, stressing and destabilising both the terms of redemption and the affect of its aesthetic representations.

Significantly, this thesis examines films from the years following 1989 that confront this central theme within conditions of historical hiatus and the disintegration of ideological certainties occurring in the wake of European communism. These films, by Kira Muratova, Béla Tarr, Artur Aristakisyan, Alexander Sokurov, Bruno Dumont, Roy Andersson, Ulrich Seidl and Gus Van Sant, present a world in which human beings are always already turned against themselves, placing them in the context of contemporary philosophical aporias that identify the human condition as enigmatic and resisting of itself. They suspend the symbolic structures associated with redemption in order to reconfigure contemporary film as a „realist‟ cinema at the threshold of the interpretative and reconciliatory economies implicit in the soteriological mythology of Western thought.

Tracing Paul Ricoeur‟s schematic account of the symbols and myths of a „fallen‟ world, the thesis turns on Jean-Luc Nancy‟s subsequent critique of the insufficiency of myths to properly account for existence. In place of an hermeneutic recovery of the real and its meaning, Nancy‟s „realist‟ philosophy of „sense‟ and its application to the cinema offer an account that speaks less of conflicting narratives of redemption than a radical stripping away of its terms, suggesting that it is redemption from the normative terms of redemption that ultimately constitutes the proper question at the heart of these films."

A 'Post-Historical' Cinema of Suspense Jean-Luc Nancy and the Limits of Redemption. Thesis (J. Callow; 2010)