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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Durational Cinema Map (from Schrader's)

For the 2018 re-publishing of his 1971 book Transcendental Style in Film, Paul Schrader composed to illustrate his new introduction a chart for Durational Cinema and today's Transcendental Style (see chart here).

He organised his chart according to the USA-centric theatrical exhibition of films, divided by a "Tarkovsky ring" separating commercial films (inside) from art installations (outside). But too many great CCC auteurs are relegated outside, to where he calls "dead ends" of durational cinema. This makes no sense on the international arthouse market. 

In France, for instance, the arthouse circuit is much more accomodating than in the USA. Films like Tarr's Satantango screened in arthouses in 2 parts. Wang Bing's Tiexi Qu : West of Tracks had its world premiere at the Reflet Médicis, an arthouse in Paris, in 4 screenings, not in an art gallery. All of Tsaï, Bartas, Costa, Weerasethakul, Andersson, Alonso, Jia Zhangke, Massadian had a theatrical release, albeit confidential, yet they are all outisde the "Tarkovsky ring".

That is why I decided to omit the Tarkovsky ring on my map, and dividing it in concentric colored rings representing the phases of evolution of the narrative mode in durational cinema through the historical periods of cinema history : since the classical narration (center, red), by Neorealismo (yellow), then Modern Cinema (green), to postmodern cinema (blue), and finally the most recent iteration, Contemplative Cinema (purple). 

This last ring comprises both the precursors and Contemporary Contemplative Cinema (CCC), regardless for any chronological order. The inner edge is the more "narrative" form of Contemplative Cinema storytelling, with auteurs like Tarkovsky, Kore-eda, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Wong KarWai, Epstein, Kaurismaki, Cavalier... The outer edge is the territory of the uttermost contemplative form of minimalist narration, while remaning part of the theatrical cinema (festival and arthouses, not art installations, except for the quadrant "Art Gallery"), with auteurs such as Tarr, Benning (later work), Tsai, Kiarostami (his contemplative experimentations), Wahrol, Loznitsa, Wang Bing, Bartas, Diaz, Serra...

Schrader selects only 3 directions toward which durational cinema tends to escape the attraction of the nucleus of Classical Narration. I contend that the extremities of these directions are "dead ends". Like I argued in 2010, What he calls bad "Transcendental Style" is in fact a good "CCC". Meaning that what they lack in narrative drive and popular appeal, is the raison d'être of CCC and what makes this minimalist narrative mode thrive aesthetically (even if the potential commercial audience is smaller than the one of what he calls Transcendental Style today). 

There is cinema outside of the classical Hollywood storytelling conventions and its only viable option is not the spiritual "slow film" that Schrader favors. Not merely slower and sparse, but minimalist and contemplative. There is a contemplative audience who seeks something else unspoken, unscripted, unedited, unscored, with contemplative needs, desires and prospects. And this is a concrete theatrical market where "festival films" can tap into, at least in France, but I know afficionados of CCC are all around the world.  

For my map, I tried to double these endpoints and make them 6 : I kept the "Surveillance Camera" (although pejorative it is descriptive) and the "Art Gallery", but I replaced the arcane "Mandala" by "Tableau" : a tendency of auteurs to shoot composed static frames, planimetric, long takes. The 3 new directions are "Documentary" (non-fiction tendency), "Amateur" (freestyle cinematography, handheld camera, home movie feeling, diaryesque) and "Surréalisme" (oneiric, symbolist, manerism not limited to the Surrealist mouvment).

I tried to place more names on the map, even though I omitted several ones proposed by Schrader that I was not familair with (Zhengfan Yang, Avishai Sivan, Brüggermann, Sara Driver, Ostrowski, Conrad, Stamper). If anybody could give me some information about these filmmakers or films, please leave a comment.

The most complex was to locate auteurs in relation to one another, and to kneet the territories between one quadrant of one endpoint to the next two to its side. There is a certain continuity from Amateur to Tableau, via Documentary and Surveillance Camera. But there is more of a qualitative jump between Amateur and Art Gallery, between Tableau and Surréalisme. Art Gallery being an independent region.

Astute readers will notice that some names appear twice on my map, unlike Wahrol which occupied 2 spots on Schrader's chart. To me Wahrol only represents one tendency between Surveillance Camera and Documentary. The others made films of various styles which don't fit just one tendency. I.e. Tarkovsky with Zerkalo and Solyaris toward Surréalisme on one hand, and on the other hand his other films between Tableau and Surveillance Camera. Kiarostami with his art installations toward the Art Gallery and the rest of his contemplative films close to Documentary. Same for Weerasethakul who does art installations. Benning and Wang Bing sometime do extra-long films that only show in museums.

In 2012, I made up an Aesthetic Matrix trying to map out the evolution of styles in cinema history around the center of Academic narration. This "Editing Matrix" or "matrice des montages" in French, is close to what Schrader wanted to figure on his chart, with a tame academic nucleus and extreme electrons at the periphery. But this matrix was not only for Durational Cinema. I tried to base my new map on these stylistic directions.

In 2007, I made a Genealogy Chart for Contemplative Cinema, delineating 7 trends in the precursors of CCC and 7 lose families of CCC today. Which would make a more accurate map of Durational Cinema if I used these endpoints instead.

Feel free to criticize my choices for this alternative chart based on Schrader's, and compare it to his.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas | Manoush Zomorodi

How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas | Manoush Zomorodi (TED Talk; April 2017; Vancouver BC) 16'
Do you sometimes have your most creative ideas while folding laundry, washing dishes or doing nothing in particular? It's because when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems. Learn to love being bored as Manoush Zomorodi explains the connection between spacing out and creativity.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Slow Cinema video essay & Kaili Blues

What Is Duration? Understanding Slow Cinema Through KAILI BLUES
A video bricolage-essay by Ryan Swen (YouTube 29 May 2018) 9'15"
A mix between a straightforward video essay and a more abstract collage, this video briefly delves into the loose movement known as slow cinema, using the 2015 Chinese film KAILI BLUES, directed by Bi Gan, as a focusing lens. Equal emphasis is given to analysis and creation of a mood befitting the subject matter.
Source :

'Kaili Blues' Q&A | Bi Gan | New Directors/New Films 2016 (YouTube 33')

Director Bi Gan discussed his film 'Kaili Blues' after its screening at New Directors/New Films 2016, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. A multiple prizewinner at the Locarno Film Festival and one of the most audacious and innovative debuts of recent years, Bi Gan’s endlessly surprising shape-shifter comes to assume the uncanny quality of a waking dream as it poetically and mysteriously interweaves the past, present, and future. Chen Sheng, a country doctor in the Guizhou province who has served time in prison, is concerned for the well-being of his nephew, Weiwei, whom he believes his thug brother Crazy Face intends to sell. Weiwei soon vanishes, and Chen sets out to find him, embarking on a mystical quest that takes him to the riverside city of Kaili and the town of Dang Mai. Through a remarkable arsenal of stylistic techniques, the film develops into a one-of-a-kind road movie, at once magical and materialist, traversing both space and time. A Grasshopper Film release.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Miksang and Contemplative Photography

Quiet Mind - Introduction to Miksang and Contemplative Photography
Co-production Canada-Singapore. 2003. (11')

"Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning "good eye." It represents a form of contemplative photography based on the Dharma Art teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, in which the eye is in synchronisation with the contemplative mind. The result of this particular perception of the world, combined with photography, produces a peculiar and open way of seeing the world. Miksang pictures tend to bring the observer back into the original contemplation state of the author of the picture. The pictures can bring one back to a purer perception of reality that is often neglected. Miksang involves nothing fancy, no special setup; only a visual capture, in the proper state of mind, of everyday's reality" (Wikipedia)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Miksang"
(Photo by  Julie DuBose)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Miksang"
(PAJ Photography)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Miksang photography"
(Photo by  Julie DuBose)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Miksang photography"
(photo by April Siegfried)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Rethinking Transcendental Style in Film | Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader : "Tarkovsky's films mark a deviding point in the history of Durational Cinema. Before Tarkovsky, the use of withholding and distancing devices which Deleuze calls "Time Image", took place in the context of commercial theatrical cinema. Transcendental Style falls into this category.
After Tarkovsky the use of these devices became increasingly exagerated, and their films fell into the domain of film festivals and art museums. The 3 sec Bresson's shot of a door became a 10 min static view of traffic. Transcendental Style had morphed into the hydra-headed monster we call "Slow Cinema". Without going into length, I'd just say that Slow Cinema refers to films of considerable length where very little happens. [...] This is why I say it's outside the perview of commercial cinema. Cinema in my opinion is inherantly narrative."

Paul Schrader : "To me when movies move away from their narrative nucleus, they vector in one of three directions. And all three are dead endpoints. One is the Surveillance Camera, another is the Art Gallery and the third is the Mandala."

N.B. Thanks to Nadin Mai for posting Schrader's chart on Twitter.

Check out my Durational Cinema Map (from Schrader's)

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