"Sorrow is nothing but worn out joy..."

Nice review of one of my favourite films here:

"Old Joy is a movie where nothing and everything happens. It is perfectly paced, wonderfully acted and incredibly shot. The score by Yo La Tengo is also extraordinary and it helps the movie feel so sacred..."

Of Time and the City is a 2008 documentary collage film directed by Terence Davies. The film has Davies recalling his life growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 1960s, using newsreel and documentary footage supplemented by his own commentary voiceover and contemporaneous and classical music soundtracks. The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival where it received rave reviews... (wikipedia)

More about This World We Must Leave...

Just commissioned this for work (at Quercus) and am very proud of it – so thought I'd share here!

Maurice Blanchot from Ici et Ailleurs on Vimeo.

Via Pierre Joris. Happy New Year all!

Dennis Cooper, quoting from The Seventh Art, on Lithuanian auteur Šarunas Bartas:

Bartas’ work has so far been characterized by two impulses – a warm nostalgia and sympathy for his characters that betrays the director’s hope and love for them, as in Tarkovsky’s cinema, and an overpowering cynicism, clearly derived from the (post-neo-realist) films of Tarr, that keeps remarking how the characters are all doomed and done for. This (unbalanced) dialectic is evident in Bartas aesthetic itself, which employs copious amounts of extremely long shots and suffocating close-ups. In the former, characters are seen walking from near the camera and into the screen, gradually becoming point objects eaten up by the landscape while, in the latter, Bartas films every line and texture of their faces with utmost intensity in a way that obviously shows that he cares for them and the pain that they might be experiencing.

"Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), the great Irish avant-garde playwright who gave us Waiting for Godot, turned himself into a screenwriter once during his literary career. In 1963, Grove Press commissioned Beckett to write a screenplay for a film – called quite simply Film – and Beckett knocked out the first draft in four days. Another draft soon followed, and it went to the director Alan Schneider, who later recalled:

The script appeared in the spring of 1963 as a fairly baffling when not downright inscrutable six-page outline. Along with pages of addenda in Sam’s inimitable informal style: explanatory notes, a philosophical supplement, modest production suggestions, a series of hand-drawn diagrams...

[Then came] almost a year of preparation. Reading and rereading the “script,” which, of course, had no dialogue (with the exception of that one whispered “sssh!”); asking Sam a thousand questions, largely by mail and eventually in person at his Montparnasse apartment; trying to visualize graphically and specifically the varied demands of those six tantalizing pages. Gradually, the mysteries and enigmas, common denominators of all new Beckett works, came into focus with fascinatingly simple clarity...”

More via

From Open Culture (via wood s lot):

We have previously featured films by the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. So we’re overjoyed to report that the Moscow film company Mosfilm has just made 50 Russian classics (including Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Solaris, and Andrei Rublev) available on YouTube in high definition. According to Yahoo News, Mosfilm has pledged to release five more films each week, all in HD with English subtitles, eventually bringing the total for the year to 200.

You can look over the whole list of currently available classics at Mosfilm’s YouTube channel.

As an apocryphal critic pithily put it at the time of its release, Richard Lester’s post-apocalyptic film, The Bed Sitting Room, really is “like Samuel Beckett, but with better jokes.” Carrying on and muddling through after the unfortunate “nuclear misunderstanding that led to the Third World War,” the twenty or so survivors in Great Britain live a salvage-filled existence as they heed well the (constantly repeated) imperative to keep moving and obliviously confront the possibility that they will suddenly mutate into animals, bed sitting rooms, and God knows what else. Nominally based on the Spike Milligan and John Antrobus play from 1963, Lester's cinematic version is a staggering vision of waste and remnant, of frozen, necrotic social relations, and of what we keep doing to keep ourselves busy after the end of the world. It is very dark, it is very uncomfortable, it is very funny, and it is very, very British.

The Socialism and/or barbarism blog brings my attention to a British film it sounds like I need to watch very soon!

The project was prompted by what I saw as a discrepancy between the attention accorded experience of mobility and displacement, on the one hand, and, on the other, a tendency to fall back on formulations of dwelling derived from a more settled, often agricultural past, notoriously by Heidegger. While the former was widespread, it often seemed to involve regret for the loss of something very like the latter, and I wondered if it was possible to avoid this. I also wondered if there was anything about the UK, with its preeminently permeable economy and culture, and its early production of capitalism and capitalist displacement, that might make it a good place to locate such an attempt. If so, this would probably involve thinking about the changes that enabled capitalism to develop from the 16th century onwards, many of which took place in the rural landscape.

Patrick Keiller, interviewed in Frieze Magazine by Kari Rittenbach, talking about his exceptional new film Robinson in Ruins.

The South London Gallery (in collaboration with the French Institute and Tate Modern) present Neighbours: Marguerite Duras in the World of Images, curated by Pascale Cassagnau:

Marguerite Duras's films are 'films of voices' in which one 'reads the film and sees the book'. Duras shares with contemporary artists this way of looking at cinematic writing as a 'kaleidoscope space'.

This series of screenings explores the links between Duras's work and contemporary film-making.

27 October, 7pm, £5/£3 conc
David Lamelas, Interview with Marguerite Duras, 1970, 5’13’’
Philippe Terrier-Hermann, La Dérive, 2009, 61’ (followed by a discussion with Philippe Terrier-Hermann)

3 November, 7pm, £5/£3 conc Florence Pezon, I Would Prefer Not To, 1998, 12’18’’
Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Granger, 1981, 85’

I should say, of course, that my paymasters at Quercus publish Duras's excellent Wartime Notebooks: "retrieved from the papers she left at her death... Wartime Notebooks consists of four notebooks written between 1943 and 1949 followed by ten previously unpublished short stories and autobiographical texts".

The nature of film is such that it is difficult to feel that one takes it in completely; no sooner is one frame mentally captured than it is succeeded – in a process that could be called ‘jaillissement’ – by another. Film moves too fast for even the cinematographer to be in full control of the things that it throws up (over and above the way in which any kind of text may be uncontrollable by its author). Directors and editors can choose to minimise these characteristics of the medium, manipulating both images and audience so as to create a final sense of semiotic order and unambiguous declaration: such, according to a somewhat sweeping and antagonistic Tarkovsky, was the practice of Eisenstein, who ‘makes thought into a despot’. But Tarkovsky himself does his best to accentuate the life of its own that film, with its density and speed, possesses. And often, as in The Sacrifice, it is the very profusion and inexhaustibility of the sequence of images and the possible implications and offshoots of narrative that give hope to an otherwise generally bleak set of representations of human existence.

Here, then, there is an obvious starting point for the uneasy project of comparing Levinas with Tarkovsky (or indeed with anyone): both make the most of the resources of their respective media to speak distinctively but with a kind of self-undermining. The saying of the philosophical essay of the moment, and the unrolling of time, both in simulacrum and in the real time of the audience, in film, are both held up as somehow redemptive and transcendent in their resistance to reduction and control.

Tarkovsky and Levinas: Cuts, Mirrors, Triangulations [PDF] by Dominic Michael Rainsford (via wood s lot).

The Ister is a film based on Heidegger's reading of Hölderlin's poem Der Ister. Part one is here. (Via This Space, originally via Enowning).

Don't miss Chris Petit's superb, Sebaldian new film Content whilst it is still on 4OD. Mark Fisher reviewed Petit's "informal coda" to his 1979 film Radio On in Sight & Sound recently, and wrote:

At one point in Chris Petit’s haunting new film Content, we drive through Felixstowe container port. It was an uncanny moment for me, since Felixstowe is only a couple of miles from where I live – what Petit filmed could have been shot from our car window. What made it all the more uncanny was the fact that Petit never mentions that he is in Felixstowe; the hangars and looming cranes are so generic that I began to wonder if this might not be a doppelgänger container port somewhere else in the world. All of this somehow underlined the way Petit’s text describes these “blind buildings” while his camera tracks along them: “non-places”, “prosaic sheds”, “the first buildings of a new age” which render “architecture redundant”.

Content could be classified as an essay film, but it’s less essayistic than aphoristic. This isn’t to say that it’s disconnected or incoherent: Petit himself has called Content a “21st-century road movie, ambient”, and its reflections on ageing and parenthood, terrorism and new media are woven into a consistency that’s non-linear, but certainly not fragmentary (more...) "is a premium movie and TV site that allows you to stream or download the best programming on the web." They have "over 5,000 movies and TV shows to choose from" which you can purchase or rent, but, on top of that, they have lots of free movies. Normally, I wouldn't bother to mention such a website, but the free movies include Caravaggio, The Draughtsman's Contract, Death And The Compass and Patrick Keiller's superb London and its follow-up Robinson in Space.

Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People, and Avi Shlaim, author of Israel and Palestine, were in conversation about their new books at a packed Frontline Club yesterday. Jacqueline Rose, author of The Last Resistance, was chairing. A video of the event is now up on the Verso blog.

Thanks to Sukhdev Sandhu for bringing my attention to this:

You're Human Like The Rest Of Them is the name of a rather special event taking place this evening at London's National Film Theatre. Curated by Nigel Algar, it's a celebration of the film works of one of the most intriguing English writers of the last half century: B.S. Johnson. A dynamic and compelling figure, an advocate of experimental and avant-garde literature at a time (the 1960s and early 1970s) when naturalism and social realism dominated British fiction, he produced a number of novels that raged with passion and invention.

Whilst Bridget Riley's Op Art looks to be utterly abstract it was, for Riley, grounded in real life. Following John Lancaster, Wikipedia defines Optical Art as "a method of painting concerning the interaction between illusion and picture plane, between understanding and seeing", but for Riley the first "picture plane" was the eye and it was immediately offered illusions by the world itself. Bend close to -- and concentrate hard on -- grass bending in the wind and, to be honest to reality, to paint what you actually see, you'll have to create something that looks a bit like Orphean Elegy I. It would be merely an amusing taxonomical gesture to rebrand Op Art as Realism, but it would perhaps be a useful reminder that the concomitant gesture, that of refusing to see Realism merely as Ideology, is an absurd taxonomical rigidity we'd do best to overturn. To think Realism is real -- or even a particularly good representation of it -- is a very major category error.

All art, sometimes despite itself, is symbolic, but mistaking the real for Realism is madness. In Wallace Stevens' Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself a sound is heard, "a scrawny cry from outside / Seemed like a sound in his mind." There is a dialectic between inside and outside, a dialogue, a tension: art negotiates that, plays with it. What a piece of artwork is, or represents, always ends up representing something more than itself: a picture of lines is really a picture of grass is really about nature or the world or perhaps something more political like "women and nature" or "women and nature and the world" -- this is an almost inevitable critical drift, one that we should be aware of and very cautious about. Note the way the drift occurs: seamlessly, what a picture is, or could be, becomes what it is about; representation is always already symbolism (as they'd no doubt say in the University seminar room). The smallest part -- that blade of grass, Whitman's or Riley's -- can refer to, can stand for, the whole; but, in truth, the pressure is too much to bear: it can't be the whole, and the whole itself can never be represented, so the urge to create is the certainty of failure, but also the very reason to carry on creating.

Writing in the Guardian, Damon Wise called Charlie Kaufman's new film, Synecdoche, New York, "an epic, wilfully obscure, splurge of surrealism." Central to the film is its meditation on art. After winning a MacArthur 'Genius' Grant, playwright Caden Cotard hires a huge, empty warehouse and begins to recreate in the minutest detail his own life (fans of Tom McCarthy's Remainder will, of course, be struck by how close Kaufmann's film is to that novel). What we are shown is that, taken too literally, mimetic realism slides fairly quickly into the surrealism that Wise bemoans. Indeed, what is noteworthy is that Cotard's re-creative drive, by being so devoted to Realism, loses all realism and cannot ever satisfy him of its truth. His attempt to get at the raw truth of things (too much Kant, not enough Nietzsche; arguably the opposite of the film's director!) by staging as event what happens to him in his life as accident makes his art -- and this film -- peculiarly preoccupied with death. Cotard's Realism produces non-realistic art that ruins his increasing unreal life. In the film, Samantha Morton's plays Hazel, the most important woman in his life. She lives in a house which is perpetually on fire. The symbolism is heavy-handed, but ambiguous -- like the film itself.

Coincidentally, Morton's directorial debut, The Unloved (a "film that gives a child's eye view of the U.K.'s government-run care system for orphans and children in danger") was on the television last night. It is a wonderfully moving drama (and great to see the gorgeous music of Colleen used to such brilliant effect) set, mostly, in the realist mode. Indeed, at times it was filmed to look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. What made the film far more affecting than the usual "bleak, powerful, truthful, brave" (insert adjective of choice) drama of this type, and such programmes have a history going back forty years to the landmark screening of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, was its willingness regularly to slow the pace of the narrative right down and focus on a face, a tacky statuette of the virgin Mary, dust motes shining in a shaft of sunlight. (Morton is surely taking a directorial lead here from Lynne Ramsay in whose film of Morvern Callar she appeared in 2002.) The narrative of The Unloved was itself wilfully told only from the central character Lucy's perspective, so that much of what happened -- as it would have been to 11-year-old Lucy herself -- was ambiguous, odd, inexplicable. The film, then, was at its strongest when its realism was at its weakest and thus when the Real, in all its strangeness, was allowed room to show itself for what it was.

Before I rest up for the weekend, a coupla things to draw your attention to:

  • Steve provides us with "a selection that might be called The Best of This Space"
  • The Armies by Colombian writer Evelio Rosero, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (as you know, I was judge, and I'm still scratching my head as to how come Dag Solstad's Novel 11, Book 18 wasn't even shortlisted!)
  • interviews over on The Book Depository site with historian Andy Beckett ("The British 70s are full of political surprisess if you make yourself look at them with fresh eyes... the Labour vote in the 1979 election actually went up, especially among wealthier voters -- the idea that the behaviour of the unions sent the electorate running screaming away from Labour is a myth...") and Thomas Traherne expert Denise Inge ("Readers with imagination fall for Traherne. He takes you on unexpected interior journeys into desire and lack, infinity, time and eternity. Reading him isn't always easy since the language of his day is so different from ours and his world view sometimes challenges the assumptions of our time, but he will thrill, surprise and exhaust you...")
  • a brief interview with Béla Tarr
  • trailer for new Godard film Socialisme

Stewart Home on the films of Jeff Keen:

The BFI have just done us proud with a box set of Jeff Keen films entitled Gazwrx, not to mention various screenings of his works - and all from brand spanking new prints! Keen was one of the earliest and best British underground film-makers. He was largely self-taught and is blessed with a beatnik sensibility that converges with the hippie scene of the later sixties but remains a distinctive strand within it. As a starting point for all this, imagine a surrealist remake of Robert Frank’s Pull My Daisy (1959) set in Brighton and you’re not a million miles away from Like The Time Is Now (1961); except, of course, the comparison glosses over Jeff Keen’s singularity. Wail (1960) is probably more typical of Keen’s cinematic sensibility; a crazy mix of animation and live action footage featuring Hollywood werewolves, high art and gang violence. Using 8mm film, Keen created scratch video 20 years before anyone else had thought of it. The resultant mix and match of high art and lowbrow popular culture runs through forty years of his film work (more...)

Via signandsight -- Kluge's monumental News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx – Eisenstein – Das Kapital (does this have English subtitles, I wonder?) is "a 570-minute film available only on DVD which is based on the work of two other montage artists, James Joyce and Sergei Eisenstein":

Most of the film consists of involved discussions between Alexander Kluge and other Marx-savvy writers and artists. Poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger compares the soul of man with the soul of money, author Dietmar Dath explains the meaning of the hammer and sickle on the Soviet flag and, from the standpoint of the Stoics, leaps (rather than marches at an orderly pace) into industrialisation, the actress Sophie Rois makes an impassioned appeal for Medea, differentiating between additive and subtractive love, filmmaker Werner Schroeter stages a Wagner opera featuring the "rebirth of Tristan in the spirit of battleship Potemkin", philosopher Peter Sloterdijk talks about Ovid and the metamorphosis of added value, a man at the piano analyses the score of a strike song while workers and factory owners face off in an opera by Luigi Nono, the poet Dürs Grünbein interprets Bert Brecht's aesthetisation of the Communist manifesto in swinging oceanic hexameter, cultural scientist Rainer Stollmann emphasises the myriad meanings of Marx's writings as science, art, story telling, philosophy, poetry. And social theorist and philosopher Oskar Negt looks sceptical when asked whether it's possible to find the right images for all this stuff when you're less interested in pedagogical content than the encompassing theory.

Last Saturday saw a great post from infinite thøught about films that reveal philosophical issues – and no, she doesn't mean the Matrix! We get a fantastic alternative must see film list where infinite mentions what sounds like an incredible Argentinian film called Mobius about a disappearing subway train. There then follows a great post about flimsiness. Flimsy is a word to be used more!

The Auteurs' Glenn Kenny reports on Un Homme Qui Dort, Perec and Queysanne's 1974 film of Perec's book of the same name (thanks Robin):

In the early '70s Perec and his friend Bernard Queysanne, a filmmaker whose experience had heretofore been as an assistant director, teamed up to make a film of the book Un Homme Qui Dort. While much of the film's narration — which comprises the entirety of the film's verbal content; there is no dialogue — is taken directly from the novel, Perec jettisoned the book's linear structure in favor of, Bellos explains, "a mathematical construction. After the prologue (part 0, so to speak) there are six sections. The six sections are interchangeable in the sense that the same objects, places, and movements are shown in each, but they are all filmed from different angles and edited into different order, in line with the permutations of the sestina. The text and the music are similarly organized in six-part permutations, and then edited and mixed so that the words are out of phase with the image except at apparently random moments, the last of which — the closing sequence — is not random at all but endowed with an overwhelming sense of necessity." (More...)

The film of José Saramago Blindness was released in the States last week. Wikipedia has more:

Blindness is a 2008 dramatic thriller film that is an adaptation of the 1995 novel of the same name by José Saramago about a society suffering an epidemic of blindness. The film is written by Don McKellar and directed by Fernando Meirelles with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as the stars. The novel's author originally refused to sell rights for a film adaptation, not wanting it to fall into the wrong hands. Meirelles was able to acquire rights with the condition that the film would be set in an unrecognizable city. Blindness premiered as the opening film at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2008, and the film was released in the United States on October 3, 2008 (more...)

Film by Samuel Beckett is up on YouTube (via the essential wood s lot).

I’m a bit slow on this but The Impostume’s demolition of Mike Leigh is superb, particularly on the role of gender. I love a thoroughly vicious polemic, me!

Check out also the responses from K-punk and Infinite Thought.

The Arena documentary The Strange Luck of V.S. Naipaul is available now via BBC iPlayer.

Wood S Lot had lots of Chris Marker links yesterday. Nice.

And it also had a link to the first issue of Salt's international literary magazine.

Hella busy here!

Two from Lee Rourke: Lee's top 10 books on boredom (see his top ten books on London too); and a nice piece about Chris Marker's "photo-roman" La Jetée -- The film that thinks it's a novel.

"French film maker Philippe Ramos has recently released a film titled Capitaine Achab (Captain Ahab). It's the story of Herman Melville's obsessed sea captain, from the time he was a young boy until his last, fatal meeting with Moby Dick" (more via Literary Kicks).

I really, really should say more about film here on t'blog! In the meantime, here is k-punk on Children of Men:

British cinema, for the last thirty years as chronically sterile as the issueless popluation in Children of Men, has not produced a version of the apocalypse that is even remotely as well realised as this. You would have to turn to television - to the last Quatermass serial or to Threads, almost certainly the most harrowing television programme ever broadcast on British TV - for a vision of British society in collapse that is as compelling. Yet the comparison between Children of Men and these two predecessors points to what is unique about the film; the final Quatermass serial and Threads still belonged to Nuttall's bomb culture, but the anxieties with which Children of Men deals have nothing to do with nuclear war.

Ooh, a Negri film (via

The two directors of the film, Alexandra Weltz and Andreas Pichler, explore the background of Antonio Negri. They research for biographical, theoretical and historical points of decision makings and portray an unusual life between philosophy and revolt. In meetings with Negri and its political fellows and friends the film shows continuities and breaks from the 60's to today.

From Saturday's Guardian, David Mitchell on Kobo Abe's superb novel The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics):

Sand permeates the novel like a third major character. Sand gets in the food, the house, in clothes, into clocks. It is while brushing sand off each other's bodies that the man and the woman are ushered into sex. The sand of these dunes, laden with dampness, does not preserve but rots everything it touches: wood, leather, fabric, "morality". Like time itself, "Sand not only flows, but this very flow is the sand". To combat its voracity is what requires hapless men to be held captive in the first place. Sand is the prison: literally, symbolically; and not just for the man. We, too, are down in this burning sandpit. We, too, must spend a lifetime doing a job as meaningless (to the universe at large, if not to ourselves) as shovelling never-ending deposits of sand into buckets, getting nothing for our pains but the barest essentials. As we read about the man's predicament, existentially speaking, we are reading about our own ... Maybe, maybe, maybe ... While working on this novel Abe was expelled from the Japanese Communist party for "Trotskyite deviation", and it is possible that in this novel the writer wished to eschew moral absolutes and certainties in order to suggest that no dogma, interpretation and no authorial intention is immune to the transforming effects of the future, as it inches towards us like a sea of dunes.

And once you've read the book (which you absolutely must: this is a wonderful, creepy, unsettling read: existentialist; intelligent; surreal) make sure you get hold of Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 film of the book, Suna no onna, which, memorably painted in expressionist shadows, is erotic and disturbing.

Via ads without products, k-punk on Paul Virilio

The bringing to bear of what, following Veblen, we might call conspicuous force presupposes a second stupidity: the verminization of the Enemy. Before Gulf War 1 had even happened, Virilio saw the logic of verminization rehearsed in James Cameron's Aliens wherein the 'machinic actors do battle in a Manichean combat in which the enemy is no longer an adversary, a fellow creature one must respect in spite of everything; rather, it is an unnameable being that it is more appropriate to exerminate than to examine or analyse.' In Aliens, Virilio ominously notes, attacks on the 'family [form] the basis of ... necolonial intervention.' The teeming, Lovecraftian abominations which can breed much faster than we can are to be dealt with by machines whose 'awesome appearance is part of [their] military effectiveness.' Shock and awe.

Culture Space discusses Luis Buñuel's 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) (as part of the Avant-Garde Film Blog-a-Thon.)

The friends' attempts to sit down and enjoy a meal are continually interrupted by one absurdist occurrence after another, by the arrival of troops, by the realization that they sitting on a theater stage in front of a live audience, by the intervention of armed gunmen. These all might be the material of individual dreams, which themselves might be parts of a larger dream, but Buñuel deliberately confuses us by interrupting these sequences with scenes that clearly are dreams ... Yet it is the film's rupturing of the symbol of the meal that is most powerful. For the meal, the tea ceremony, the weekend lunch are the central, accepted social rituals of the bourgeoisie, and with their rituals distended, the characters are cast adrift with little sense of purpose or duty. This is why, despite its humorous moments and its status as a comedy, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, ultimately, is as disturbing as it is hilarious.