Notes and Scribbles on Cinema - Film Log January 2013


from The Story of Temple Drake (1933) 

End-of-the-year Hullabaloo

The last thing I did last year 2012 was perfecting the subtitles of a pre-code Hollywood film The Story of Temple Drake (1933). I was trying to be a good site member of this exclusive film forum which offers credits to members who can do subtitling for films especially those in language other than English. So that was it, just like that. I transcribed the audio, and with the help of my friend VisualSubSync, I produced the subtitle for just a day and a half. VSS is really wonderful. It is not as complex as Aegisub but it saves a lot of memory. Plus, you get to playback portions of the film in slow motion for hard-to-catch words. As with The Story of Temple Drake (1933), the film is a bomb! Well, it's not really the best film of all time, but I just love its humorous dialogues which made it fun to transcribe and Jack La Rue! Oh Jack La Rue, marry me, you sexy beast!

Now, with the project, I've thinking about doing a long film log (one blogpost can suffice for this one) where I can place some of the screenshots (maximum of three) of the films I will be watching for this year. Maybe I'll place short masturbatory reviews below each post. Nothing fancy or academic, nothing grand, just some blabber about the film. I successfully made a lighter one for 2012 --- just  a list, nothing more --- at So this is my second attempt, and an upgrade of the original plan I have in mind. I can't update this regularly, but I'll make sure I'll make it until the end of the year. 

January 2013

Jan 1:
Je T'aime, Je T'aime (Alain Resnais/ France / 1968) - 4/5 - This film is the closest film to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2000). Strangely,they have a similar structure. Both are nonlinear, cognitive-based, and follows a romantic story arc of a man  remembering his past love. In the film, Resnais explores the temporal element of memory: its vastness, its scope, its repetitive design, its density. Je T'aime, Je T'aime's shot-to-shot structure is like a hopscotch  game, going forward and backward, with time.  I had fun watching this maybe because it feels like an intermediate film between the Soviet Montage experiments of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov of the 1920s and Michel Gondry's film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of the 2000s. The stylistic tradition in editing, from its formation to its transformation(s), is clearly manifested along this line of movement: from its ideological  origins to its permeation in art cinema to its entry in conventional and Hollywood filmmaking. Clearly, the structure of Cloud Atlas (2012) is near to this stylistic tradition. 
Jan 2:

Massillon (William E. Jones / U.S. / 1991) - 5/5 - A completely forgotten film from the Queer New Wave, neglected and unknown, Massillon is William E. Jones'  experimental and autobiographical film. The first half recounts his childhood days in a very conservative city of Massillon, Ohio. The second half examines the institutional oppression of several dominant Judeo-Christian communities in different states in the U.S. to homosexuals. The film has no pictorial aggrandizement of the male body, or even convolutions of it, unlike other Queer New Wave films which gave the male body image a  sexopolitical layer. Its images are all external shots of spaces in rural and industrial  Ohio. The film's narrative unfolds through the careful and vivid audio narration of William E. Jones himself. There maybe times that his images (see above) can be associated to the phallic figure, in all its diminutive forms. But the film's pictorial value manifested simply as it is: a record of places, an illustration of terrains, a geography of the self. This adds to the sincerity and simplicity of the film. It's quite a unique and relaxing experience. 

Jan 6:

El Presidente (Mark Meily / Philippines / 2012) - 2/5 - A pseudo-historical farce, a parasitic revisionist film that tricks and misleads the audience, a propaganda disguised as a popular film. Those are some of the few descriptions that I can write about this film. And I can continue writing more and more. It was dull and aimless; full of artificiality and gimmicks; full of unnecessary digressions. It is devoid of emotional complexity with cardboard characters cut out from some alternate universe. The film has no sense of purpose except maybe to chronologically arrange the events surrounding Emilio Aguinaldo from Day 1. It appears like textbook lacking  a soul. It turns itself page-by-page, lining up events that do not even seem to paint a rational picture of Aguinaldo. What the film does to Aguinaldo is to paint his skeletal  system, a rotting portrait, a dead man. I can not even start talking about its sub-characters. It manages to demonize Antonio Luna, hell even Andres Bonifacio, to achieve a diametrical heroic image of Aguinaldo. This questionable subject positioning adds to the muddled historiography of El Presidente.

Jan 7:

Caravaggio (Derek Jarman / U.K. / 1986) - 4/5 - A film of textural depth, it approaches Caravaggio in dialectical terms: the object and its representation, the sacrilegious and the religious, the gaze and the eye, from past to present. Its figural images traverse between these binary poles creating an intertextual structure, a postmodern posturing. Jarman's use of poetic language in overtures completes the film's artistic vision. It deepens its taut exterior design, extends its dimensions, and  replenishes its rather trite narrative. When I was watching it, it felt as if I was watching a costume drama in theater. The frames are  immovable and pasted, as if  they continuously imitate Caravaggio's paintings. The score in the ending credits, which he also used in the last memorable lines of Blue (1993), hints the melancholy of Jarman who was suffering the symptoms of HIV at that time (he was diagnosed with HIV December 1986). 

Jan 8:

(nostalgia) (Hollis Frampton / U.S. / 1971) - 3.5/5 - Not all avant-garde films work for me. Some of them have hits and misses. I have an ingrained prejudice towards avant-garde films. I see them as the key style towards unlocking cinema's power of subverting the hegemonic presence of pictorial and narrative conventions. It is a classic theory---very Amos Vogel--- and I work always within that framework. However, just last night, I was struck by a numbing feeling. This film, (nostalgia) by famous avant-gardist Hollis Frampton, came out rather a miss than a hit, at least, based on my initial gut feeling. I haven't read his biography online before I watched it, but it came to me void of other filmic elements. The film was lacking something else to achieve a totality, a completeness in filmic experience, which I find in most films by Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas. Maybe it lacks some emotional chord, some sincerity, some truth, some grand connection to cinema or to life. (nostalgia)'s anachronistic style is very constricting for its simplicity: you have an audio narration and its pictorial equivalence. They are arranged in (nostalgia) in such a way that the audio narration precedes the picture it describes. There are twelve pictures (and twelve narrations) burnt using a hot pad. On each picture, Frampton builds its genealogy, its anecdotal founding, its significance or insignificance to his life. The film is a distillation of photographic memories without the sentimentality that usually goes with it. This is my first Hollis Frampton film. I do not know that, after reading a couple of write-ups about him, he's engaged in 'structural filmmaking', an avant-garde style that uses concepts from mathematics and science in making films. This is different from the cinema of Brakhage-Mekas-Hutton which derives subjects from concrete or automated experiential sources. The use of 'concept' in most of his write-ups interests me because this may have been the first time that a filmmaker was driven to do 'conceptual films'. Although some might say that Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov were the ones who pioneered 'conceptual filmmaking', this one has no ideological component. Frampton uses concepts from the constrictive halls of the scientific academia and fits it to filmmaking. That is perhaps the most interesting thing I've learned from him. I am interested in watching some of his other films: his most famouse Zorn's Lemma (1970), Maxwell's Demons (1968), and his longest film Hapax Legomena (1971 - 1872) which spans 3 hours and 22 minutes. 

Jan 9:

1. Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (ed. Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin) - P75.00 ~ $1.50
2. F.F. Script of Reservoir Dogs (1992) - P115.00 ~ $2.10
I just had a lucky day. I found these two darlings in Booksale near my place here in Manila. I just passed by to run through their re-stocked shelves and, to my surprise, a Rosenbaum-Martin just popped out on one of the corners of the shop. Nobody's looking at it so I grabbed it and dashed to the counter and head back home to catch an article or two. I bought the Reservoir Dogs script for the screening of my film club on Saturday. I will be giving it out for raffle. 

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2012 is out! Here's my entry [link]:

  1. Colossal (Whammy Alcazaren, 2012)  
  2. Jungle Love (Sherad Anthony Sanchez, 2012)
  3. Nang Gabing Maging Sinlaki ng Puso ang Bato (Darna: A Stone is a Heart You Can't Swallow, Jon Lazam, 2012) 
  4. Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012)
  5. Da-reun na-ra-e-suh (In Another Country, Hong Sang-soo, 2012) 
  6. Amour (Love, Michael Haneke, 2012)
  7. Mamay Umeng (Dwein Baltazar, 2012)
  8. Ang Prinsesa, Ang Prinsipe at si Marlborita (The Princess, the Prince and Marlborita, Carl Joseph Papa, 2012) 
  9. Kung Ano Ang Alam ng Manok (What the Chicken Knows (Or, The Eight Stages of Grief), Ramon Raquid, 2012) 
  10. Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (Lav Diaz, 2012)
  11. Diablo (Mes De Guzman, 2012)
  12. Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (A Star's Journey into the Dark Night, Arnel M Mardoquio, 2012)
  13. Anak Araw (Gym Lumbera, 2012)
  14. The Great Cinema Party (Raya Martin, 2012)
  15. Mater Dolorosa (Adolfo Alix Jr., 2012)
Hooray! I'll be writing about some of them soon --- in long form. A great year in Philippine cinema, I must say.

from An Inn at Osaka (1954)

Chris' "Year-End List: Best Films I've Seen This 2012" 
"I didn't see that many films, compared to last year. I've only seen a handful of 2012 films too. None made the list, and I have no year-end list of favorite films released this year either. The films are listed in a somewhat preferential order. In any other day, I'd probably consider a different order, but it's the first two films that really, really astonished me.' 

    1. Batang West Side (Lav Diaz, 2001) 
    2. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
    3. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-Soo, 2000)
    4. Where the Chimneys are Seen (Heinosuke Gosho, 1953)
    5. What Happened Was... (Tom Noonan, 1994)
    6. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
    7. The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-soo, 2011)
    8. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
    9. The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chris Marker, 2004)
    10. Intentions of Murder (Shōhei Imamura, 1964)
    11. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (Hong Sang-soo, 2002)
    12. An Inn at Osaka (Heinosuke Gosho, 1954)
    13. Route One/USA (Robert Kramer, 1989)
    14. Elsewhere (Nikolaus Geyrhalter, 2001)
    15. The Long Darkness (Kei Kumai, 1972)
    16. Ice (Robert Kramer, 1970)
    17. Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin, 2009)
    18. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
    19. Goodbye, South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1996)
    20. Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Jan 10:

from Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain (2007)

Currently Reading: Jean-Michel Fordon's Evenement: Abdel's Language and French Reality [Cahiers du Cinema, No. 629, Dec. 2012, link]
Jan 12:

La Vie Nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux / France / 2002) - 4.5/5 - Philippe Grandrieux's nightmarish film touches the linguistic soul of cinema, or particularly an age-old problem in appropriation. The film has several layers of linguistic interstices: the aural (or auditory), the figural, and the temporal. Each of these linguistic interstices vibrates within its own autonomous space, but also, with some emulsified force, these interstices transmits significations from its interiors to its exteriors and vice-versa in a dialectical flow. It was as though the inversions I initially have: the visible and the invisible, the point object and the non-point object, the audible and the inaudible, transmogrified into a multi-armed beast of sensations and psychical transformations. This is one of the films that resurrects the form and replenishes the figural void of contemporary cinema. 

Notes: Looking Further into La Vie Nouvelle 

"[...]Grandrieux’s reflection belongs to the body’s modernity – the modernity of Sigmund Freud, Antonin Artaud, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, to name only a few – and thus returns the anthropological need for representation to a state of immanence. The image is no longer given as a reflection, discourse, or the currency of whatever absolute value; it works to invest immanence, using every type of sensation, drive and affect. To make a film means descending, via the intermittent pathways of neuronal connection, down into the most shadowy depths of our sensory experiences, to the point of confronting the sheer terror of the death drive (Sombre), or the still more immense and bottomless terror of the unconscious, of total opacity (La Vie nouvelle)[...]"
 ---- The Body's Night: An Interview with Philippe Grandrieux by Nicole Breneze.   

---- o o o ----

Tabu (Miguel Gomes / Portugal / 2012) - 4/5 - Tabu is simply likable because it rehashes the age-old theme of forbidden love in the most idiosyncratic way. A paradise and a paradise lost: Tabu's two-part description invokes Milton's works and the temporal binary of the founding and the fall of worlds. Tabu retraces character histories, relationships, and memories within this temporal binary in a new form with elements traversing between poles. Gomes' reinvention of the prosaic connection between the image and the sound, especially the pseudo-silent half of the film, presents to us the stylistic game (Gomes likes games apparently) he wants his audiences to play. He controls two layers of sound: non-diegetic and diegetic, often silencing the diegetic sound of the characters and allows the plasticity of the image to follow through. Gomes asks his audience to "fill-in-the-blanks", to invent, to suffice the void in diegesis. This is a good example of the application of constructive reification in cinema. In some ways La Vie Nouvelle (2002) involves also a process of reification, a matter of forming a complete picture with the help of other details. But what makes La Vie Nouvelle's reification different from Tabu is that in Tabu the reification completes easily. In La Vie Nouvelle, the reification renders somewhat incomplete, or even lost. This makes Tabu a more graspable film in terms of establishing narrative connections in a perceptual sense.

Jan 13:

CURRENTLY READING THIS: Reading the Figural, Or, Philosophy After the New Media by D.N. Rodowick. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. A book review by Warwick Mules. 


from Once Upon a Time (Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica / Poland / 1957) - 3/5

 from Broken Down Film (Osamu Tezuka / Japan / 1985) - 4/5 - [link]

I have seen two animated films today over my stay at a friend's house: Once Upon a Time by Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica and Broken Down Film Osamu Tezuka. These two films have different types of animation and came from two different eras. Once Upon a Time is a cut-out animation and a fusion of the genius of Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica, two Polish animators from the Easter European animation scene. Borowczyk and Marker's animated film, Les Astronautes (1959), also a cut-out gem, is one of my favorite animated films ever. It's bizarre but humorous, a slapstick film but only animated. I have not seen any animation by Jan Lenica which makes this film a first time.  In Once Upon a Time, Brorowczyk and Lenica achieves a different type cut-out animation: minimalist but self-conscious. We see a dark colored object (possibly as black potato) with arms and legs of the same shape and size detached from its body: an object of reification. The film follows this figure in its adventure to find its true form. The self-consciousness of the object as an abstraction is itself the comical subject of the film. It isn't only aware of its form, but also conscious of the immediate space in the animation canvass. The film felt like a parody of non-representational art during the 1950s fashioned as a game of figures. 
On the other spectrum of animation, the plastic representational one, Broken Down Film remains to me one of the funniest ones I've seen. It also works as a paradoy of silent cinema. The film is created by Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese animator who created the famous animated film Astro Boy (1966). Tezuka's genius and mastery of the animated frames can be seen in Broken Down Film. The film is a series orchestrated gags on the limits of the cinematic frame. It consciously plays with the spatial limit of the frame and it comes from the traditional slapstick animated films of early Walt Disneys like Steamboat Willie (1928). Tezuka invents a new world within the interstices of cinematic frame. He fulfills the possibility of situating the body between  borders. This play with abstraction of the frame is a bold and unique take of animation, an eye opener for me as to what type of construction principles Japanese animators have. During the era it was made, Studio Ghibli and other animation studios in Japan were producing essential animated films by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. 

Jan 14:

Arena (João Salaviza / Portugal / 2009) - 3.5/5 - Arena is a film about the space perceived through the eyes Mauro played by Carloto Cotta, the Gian Luca of Tabu (2012). His body is withheld physically within the confines of his apartment: arrested in its interstices. He is under house arrest, apparently. He wears this alarm-triggering device around his ankle. The film has no grand conflict other than a bunch of kids bullying him and stealing his money. He then faced the leader of the kids at the latter part of the film claiming for retribution. Instead of plummeting into a fit of rage, Mauro laid down his body under the sun on the roof-deck of the building. But why? It seemed to me that the film has some political agenda. The spatial design hints that this is a portrait of a lower class urban neighborhood in Portugal. A societal space restricted by class conflicts. But it doesn't explicitly address that issue. It doesn't provide a clear-cut political message. It lingers in the elaborate moment of a body moving in deep space, in a field of reality. It may have been contemplative in a sense that the sparse dialogue and the ambiguous motivation of the character imbibe a sense of existential ennui. Or even perhaps the body being free, or its movement from its captured state to its free state: a Sartrian sense of freedom. There can be multitudes of significations that a reviewer or scholar might look into. I initially took it as a gay film to my mistake. The film won the Short Palme d'Or at Cannes 2009.
João Salaviza winning the Golden Bear for Short Film last 62nd Berlin International Film Festival

Jan 15:

R.I.P. Nagisa Ôshima (1932 - 2013)

Jan 16:

Where Chimneys Are Seen (Heinosuke Gosho / Japan / 1953) - 5/5 - The film is, by narrative structure, a mapping of post-war Japan's economic milieu. It is a film about the working class. The film is so conscious of its sociopolitical dimension it creates a  nested commercial environment touching different booming industries in Japan during the 1950s. The four chimneys of Tokyo, a gravitating element in the film, draws the attention of each character.  It is the image that opens the film and closes the film, serving as a Foucauldian panopticon tower that observes its  surrounding landscape. It seems to overpower each character's motivations, suggesting perhaps that their action must always be re-evaluated according to what they do, what they own, what they value,   and what they remember. They are social figures moving within the most desolate working class neighborhood in Tokyo. The main conflict in the film, which  came out gradually in the middle, is how two couples living in one roof (maybe a duplex) will deal with an abandoned baby. This subject positioning, of two couples subjected with societal problem of rearing a child that is not theirs, is fairly a different take on Japanese culture compared to what Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi conjured. Ozu's vision is ascetic and sparse  with characters coming from the middle class; while Mizoguchi's vision is compassionate and refined with characters' psychology well-explored.  Of the three, Gosho is the most lighthearted, most humorous. His characters have fairly simple and basic desires and street-smart philosophies. But they embody typical working class values: strong-willed, impenetrable, and self-sufficient.   The three directors paint the spirit of postwar Japan with Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi), Tokyo Story (Ozu), and Where Chimneys are Seen (Gosho) mirroring a spirit of a nation rebuilding itself. 
Life of Pi (Ang Lee / U.S. / 2012) - 3/5 - If there is one thing that I have learned from Life of Pi, it is that there are other better, more convincing films whose main agenda is to re-insinuates the presence of God or any higher power. The film's premise, its guiding principle, is to prove the idea of God to this Caucasian writer by listening to Pi's idiosyncratic story of survival. The members of the audience are  immediately positioned in his place functioning as the listener and the doubter. There is no dialectical resonance developed between me and the film. Everything, like most Hollywood films --- except maybe for the one film that I admire, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg, 2001) ----is one way. Its significations are direct. Perhaps its artificiality, which has something to do with its visual design,  hinders it to form connections with me.  Its images seem to appear picture-perfect, wondrous, and expansive; but all of it felt machine-invented: less organic and less personal, that at one point it seemed manipulative, generating a less sincere spiritual message. 

Jan 17:

Jan 18:
CURRENTLY READING: T.w. Adorno: Cinema in Spite of Itself --- but Cinema All the Same by Nicole Brenez. [here] 
(suggested by Paul Grant, USC M.A. Film Studies Head, in addition to Rodowick's book on Figural Analysis I mentioned above)

I was part of the judging committee (jury) for U.P. Cinemas' Piling Obrang Video (POV) 9 in the Documentary and Experimental Category together with hardworking Human Rights worker, Kristine Kintana, and independent filmmaker and director of Ex Press (2011), Jet Leyco. I also guested in DZUP CineChichiriya hosted Joni Gutierrez and Cenon Palomares. The topic was about CINEPHILES!.  Thank you so much everyone! Hooray for a day filled with cinema! 

Jan 20:

from Beau Travail (Claire Denis / France / 1999)

||| Of Bodies and the Fuzzy Figural Analysis
On page 6 of Rodowick's book, Reading the Figural, I felt a sense of security. It's one of the feelings when one encounters a difficult text that gives a great sense of trajectory that one will reach a great conclusion at the end of one's reading. Rodowick's confidence in writing is enlivening enough that it made me refill my coffee cup twice yesterday. So there I was on page 6, and I suddenly encountered the word indexicality, which Rodowick describes to as: "Every discourse is haunted by perspective in that in order to mean, it must refer." Rodowick continues through the bloody paragraph refining the term: 
"Indexicality means that discourse is shot through the visible: the énoncé [def] must point beyond its borders to objects positioned in space with respect to it. It is plunged into a gestural space that surrounds it, and it is riddles from within by deictic [def] holes whose functions is to indicated positionality in space (here/there) and in time (now/then)."   
Now, this set of sentences builds upon many concepts that play with each other. We have indexicality redefined by Rodowick, which, according to him, is different from the indexicality of Charles Sanders Peirce, a semiotic idea coming from different functionality. Rodowick gives indexicality a sense of space by proclaiming that it must be "shot through the visible". To my mind, upon re-reading online definitions of it, it came to me a very basic concept. Examples of indexicality are 'I' which refers to the speaker now, 'here' which refers to a certain space, 'now' which refers to a certain time. It seems reasonable enough that Rodowick associates it with the visible as some sort of a 'pointing' process to space. Rodowick identifies this space as 'gestural' which lead me to Catherine Grant's list of articles about figural analysis. I am particularly interested in Benjamin Noys' article Gestural Cinema?: Giorgio Agamben on Film [link]. But instead of reading Noys article, I venture first into other articles. I read first William Routt's take on figural analysis, a two-part article For Criticism [part 1 and part 2] published in the journal Screening the Past. Reading through it, I encounter a surprising observation that shattered me. This one concerns about Brenez' omission of Rodowick's book Reading the Figural. Routt observes (and sorry for quoting a humongous paragraph):  
"It may be that D. N. Rodowick's "Reading the figural" (1991) has also been omitted in Brenez's bibliography because, like Andrew's "Figuration", it is less interested in the manifold possibilities of the idea of the figural (in this case derived from certain writings of Foucault and Deleuze) than in its strategic deployment (in this case, as a tool for good, old-fashioned ideological analysis). By contrast, the absence of Jean-François Lyotard's Discours, figure (1971) may perhaps be accounted for by the crazy things perpetrated in its wake, difficult for any responsible person to condone. If Andrew's and Rodowick's varying applications of ideas of figuration prove a bit retro in practice, those who are sometimes nominated as Lyotard's disciples (Claudia Eizykman, Tom Conley, Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumeir in a late incarnation) are the tropprovo close ups of these mean streets. They have found an impossible Situation for figural analysis at the crossroads of Desire Avenue and Délire Street, next to Heartbreak Hotel." [link]
I began to wonder late last night that maybe there are two or more paths to Figural analysis. Perhaps that of Nicole Brenez and Adrian Martin, a pathway of ideas seamlessly narrated in Martin's new book Last Day Every Day: Figural Thinking from Auerbach and Kracauer to Agamben and Brenez [link]; and that of Lyotard and Rodowick which seems to  me a way of making philosophy adapt to the new media. So with this in mind, I was suddenly ripped apart, thinking maybe I should focus more on Brenez and follow Martin's pathway in his new book. Is this the right decision? To abandon Rodowick and focus on Brenez? I was almost suddenly put to a stop after reading another article in Catherine Grant's list by Karl Hansson, Screening the Figural and the New Art Media [link], which attempts to trace the two strands of figural analysis together in one text. It conjures Lyotard's book, Discours, figure, and also Brenez notion of the figural. It's a funny  experience reading through it and encountering this line of thought: 
"Nicole Brenez starts her discussion of the figural by saying that there is no method for figural analysis. In a strict sense she is of course right, these aspects are perhaps too vague and too ambiguous to be called a method, but that I would say, is a methodical standpoint, and I think she in her text, by establishing some principles of thinking for analysis is creating a method for figural analysis. Maybe it's more appropriate to call it simply a figural approach." [link]
The word 'approach' reminded me of my early affair with Kristin Thompson's Neoformalism, which also denies itself as a method, but considers itself as an approach.  Neoformalism is of course very far from figural analysis because its origins and style of analysis do not follow the interpretative route most film theorists use today. Figural analysis, though still vague to me, has something to do with 'interpretation' or specifically the relationship of the text to the image beyond the current linguistic theories that we have. Hansson assimilates his thoughts on the figural as: 
"The figural  is perhaps something you primarily describe in terms of a process (not an object). It has to do with something that happens to the image as the image. This is linked to the focus on the image as presence, and not a form of representation, and as I see it this presence is nothing else that the presence of the material and different effects due to the plasticity and materiality of moving images." [link]
But waking up today, the whole idea of the figural suddenly erupted in a different way. I woke up remembering the set of links Ira Lastrilla sent me over Facebook about Brenez' idea of the body. I was also reading last night Adrian Martin's article/analysis on Claire Denis, which was also about bodies. 
Lining up the set of texts here, I felt new surge of coming back, of re-orientation towards this difficult but promising idea of the figural. I will start with Benjamin Noys' article Gestural Cinema?: Giorgio Agamben on Film [link] to maybe flesh out the link I had yesterday with indexicality and gestural space. Then move towards Brenez' two articles: Incomparable Bodies [Screening the Past, 2011, link] and For an Insubordinate (or Rebellious) History of Cinema [Framework, Issue 502, link]. I'll be finishing off this textual adventure with Martin's article Ticket to Ride: Claire Denis and the Cinema of the Body [Screening the Past, Issue 20: 2000, link]. And after that, maybe arrive at some conclusion about figural analysis and how it is done. Of course, on the side, I'll be reading Rodowick's book as supplementary to these texts. Wish me luck guys!

Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien / U.S.A. / 1988) - 4/5 - Isaac Julien's film is a cinema of the libidinal body, a figural manifestation that morphs across many disciplines from the gender psychology to the socio-political issue of the racial discrimination. In the film,  this libidinal body has a repetitive and omnipresent nature.  It has a string of temporal functions that traverses through the manifold of history. It often  encounters visual entities from the past and from an imagined present. The film moves around this body conjuring up approaches, re-imaginations, and associations to other visual elements without really appropriating a direct signification to it. There was never a moment in the film that the characters developed their own narrative functions. They were instead multitudes of significations embedded in small situations with incomplete consequences, intertwined with poetic overtures of James Baldwin. There was this sequence that looked like a reference from Jean Cocteau's Orpheus (1950) adding perhaps to its sculptural quality. The film is sculptural in a sense that it rebuilds the visual foundations of gay films: from Genet's Un Chant d'Amour (1950) to Frank Ripploh's Taxi Zum Klo (1980), and  figurally mold a nonlinear effigy for the black American identity. 
Jan 21:

The Troll Hunter (André Øvredal / Norway / 2010) - 3.5/5 - I would say I had fun. It was a different experience to the way a Hollywood film would feel. But I don't want to talk about Troll Hunter in terms of Hollywood versus non-Hollywood films. It would diminish its disposition as part of a burgeoning group of cult films in Scandinavian Cinema --- with a recent addition Thale (Aleksander Nordaas, 2012). I want to talk about the types of bodies  developed within the temporal and visual design of the film. The bodies in The Troll Hunter have both morphological and plastic obscurities. They seemingly are on the verge of disappearance. The film functions as some proof of their existence. They are figural bodies exhumed from the void, from nothingness --- a basic premise of every found footage film in recent cinema history. Of course, without the textual disclosure in the beginning of the film about the found-footage, the mode of viewing might assume a neorealist take that might lead to a political subtext. But it is the textual introduction that establishes and emphasizes its 'founding'. This 'founding' is after all a for-cinema-only phenomenon, a similar feel perhaps to an archivist finding a lost film. But in Troll Hunter, the visual contours of the found-footage are a product of modern digital cameras and not an archival footage from the 1920s or 30s. Not only that this found-footage is a videography of a mundane world, it is also a found-footage of three students and their encounter with trolls in Norwegian wilderness. Their existence in the virtual world assumes some sort of realism; a 'virtual realism' created by a regime of figurations from both from the source of the image and the one the edits it. Hence, this 'virtual realism' is both the product of textual and image construction.  The bodies formed in the visual membrane of film mutates as it progresses. They undergo either morphological transformation (as with the troll) or intensive transformation (as with the group of students). Interestingly, the figures of the students do not resemble as what Brenez would call a 'critical body': a figural element of documentary films which has ethnographic qualities, a reminder of our human complexity. They instead resemble the Other. Their realism is incomplete, a textual illusion, since they appeared in the film without an origin, without an ethnographic standpoint. They were instead mobilized in gestural space without key information of who they are. They are encrypted figures with unknown pasts (except perhaps of what we know about them: students of a certain university in Norway). This is also true to the troll hunter himself, whose figure is most elusive, most encrypted. As with the troll, it has a vegetal body, a morphological transformation of their human counterparts, and they were extinguished the fastest. Their appearances are only brief and they are the source of fear elicited by their gigantism and unpredictability. They are also the most plastic: they would zap into another form at a virtual instant. Their final morphological transformation is to become a stone or a pile of rubble, from vegetal to rigid material by breaking the bonds that form it: a figural process of death in the film. 

Finished (William E. Jones / U.S.A. / 1997)  - 5/5 - The most powerful aspect of the film is its immense distance to its subject that it provided no resignation in the end. It closes abruptly, leaving an empty bowl, devoid of continuity. Like Massillon (see above), Jones' perpetuation of the body is jagged and detached. He cannibalizes the figures and removes any signification from it. There were, in the process, two interweaving figural spaces: the one located in the regime of auditory space (narration of Jones), and the one in the regime of the visual field (pictorial arrangement). The auditory space pervades the whole film. It gives the film a structuring body. It is a body itself: only invisible, nonvisual, existing in the interstice of nonrepresentational and representational cinema. It follows a narrative of information and other expressible elements about a gay pornography actor, Adam Lambert. Adam Lambert's figural body is dismembered,  transformed into an object of reification: we see his eyes, his hand, his head, his torso, his biceps, his legs, his half-body but never a whole. His image is  incomplete: a mechanical body, Brenez would say. His body will appear and disappear, but often in stills, moving slowly. During its disappeared state another body will permeate the visual design. It is an absent-body: a spatial continuum with a pictorial grace. It can be shots of the highway in L.A., the valley, Montreal resembling the shots he did with Massillon. The two films are stylistically linked. But in Finished, Jones does not only narrate and criticize, he also exercise his mastery in detaching from the subject, in elucidating a subject by chopping its body thereby achieving a perfect tragic  reified image of a young prolific male model who destroyed himself. 

Jan 23:

Landed on this book via Brenez to Mubarak Ali

And oh:

Serge Daney (Editor-in-Chief of Cahiers du Cinema) in English

|||| 42nd International Film Festival Rotterdam (2013)

Filipino Films to Catch at the Festival

  1. How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from the Age of Zero to Five (Khavn de la Cruz / Philippines / 2013) - 5' [link]
  2. Lukas the Strange (John Torres / Philippines / 2013) - 83' [link] [support]
  3. Misericordia: The Last Mystery of Kristo Vampiro  (Khavn de la Cruz / Philippines / 2013) - 70' [link]
  4. Big Boy (Shireen Seno / Philippines / 2012/2013) - 89' [link][site]
  5. Mater Dolorosa (Adolf Alix Jr. / Philippines / 2012) - 86' [link]
  6. Kalayaan (Adolf Alix Jr. / Philippines / 2012) - 115' [link]
  7. Not a Soul (Jet Leyco / Philippines / 2013) - 13' [link]
  8. Steel is the Earth (Mes de Guzman / Philippines / 2013) - 114' [link]
Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul / Thailand / 2012)
Other Highly Recommended Films
  1. 11.25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate (Koji Wakamatsu / Japan / 2012) - 119' [link]
  2. 36 (Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit / Thailand / 2012) - 68' [link]
  3. Karaoke Girl (Visra Vichit Vadakan / Thailand / 2013) - 77' [link][site]
  4. Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul / Thailand / 2012) - 57' [link]
  5. Overseas (Wichanon Somumjarn and Anocha Suwichakornpong / Thailand / 2012) - 16' [link]
  6. When Night Falls (Ying Liang / China / 2012) - 70' [link]
  7. Acrophobia 0.1. (Anahita Hekmat / Iran / 2013) - 9' [link]
  8. Alone (Wang Bing / France-H.K. / 2012) - 89' [link]
  9. The Complex (Hideo Nakata / Japan / 2013) - 106' [link]
  10. Disappearing Landscape (Vladimir Todorovic / Serbia-Singapore / 2013) - 70' [link]
  11. Going Home (Part 1-5) (Hirokazu Kore-eda / Japan / 2012) - 225' [link]
  12. Going Home (Part 6-11) (Hirokazu Kore-eda / Japan / 2012) - 270' [link]
  13. Inori (Pedro González-Rubio / Belgium-Japan / 2012) - 72' [link]

The Sky Turns (Mercedes Álvarez / Spain / 2004) - 5/5 - Álvarez' film is a contemplation on natural forms: a sky, a hill, a rock, a tree, a line of sight. It is also a contemplation of time: the past, the present, the future. In the film, each of these figural forms is all in process of decaying, disappearing, and undergoing metamorphosis. The images seemed to flow out from a regime of the natural order of things. They stately move in the ebb of real time. The bodies are wedged between realism and fiction, real and virtual.  They embody a certain plasticity in the way Álvarez arranged them in the temporal design of the film. The absence of the auteur gave each character a fictional vibe. Their  dialogues seemed to be created by some cinematic process.  Nonetheless, this film is not about the characters in the village. It is about their impending disappearance in this world. They are almost ghost-like figures, critical bodies that carry some truth in them --- some truth like what Kiarostami conjured in Close-Up (1991) or The Wind will Carry Us (1999). It is in essence a personal map of  Álvarez' birthplace, a documentary of a disappearing village in the face of modernity, of globalization. 

Jan 24:
I attended this talk on Comedy given by film historian Nick Deocampo as UP Cinema's Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE). ACLE is a once-in-a-semester event at University of the Philippines-Diliman when classes are suspended and students are encouraged to join   fun sessions hosted by organizations as an alternative to the usual classroom set-up. During my undergraduate days (yes, I just graduated two years ago), I rarely attended some of these ACLE sessions, but I remember, maybe during my first year in college, I attended one session where I splurged over chocolates and pastries. It was hosted by a certain organization from College of Home Economics. Such fun days at the university! 
Nick Deocampo's talk is one of the funniest ACLE I've ever attended; and probably one of the most unforgettable lecture sessions I've attended all my life since  my experience with Melania Abad's intense and transformative PI 100 class. Nick Deocampo is, in every way, a fabulous and flamboyant character. He wore this violet-colored pair of shoes that popped out to my eyes as soon as he entered the room. I bet he wore those shoes for the occasion. His spoken vocabulary is a mix of sward speak and sophisticated terms like 'historicity' and 'codify'. He's a natural comedian and a very effective teacher too. He showed us the richness of the Filipino Comedy genre: its origins from theater (vaudeville) and  from Hollywood; its embedding in Philippine cinema after the WWII; its visual codes like sight gags. It is refreshing to re-learn these conventions again; most of these you can get from David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Film Art book. Kristin Thompson also discussed comedy in her essay on Jacques Tati's Playtime (1967) from her book Breaking the Glass Armour. Some good old poetics. The talk ended well with Nick Deocampo problematizing the depiction of gay characters in Filipino comedy films. He admired Lino Brocka's take on the gay identity in Ang Tatay kong Nanay (1978) and proclaimed it as a meeting of two geniuses: Dolphy and Lino. He disliked the depiction in Jade Castro's Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011) and Wenn Deramas' Praybeyt Benjamin (2011) mainly for its subject positioning of the gay identity. But that is of course another serious topic to dig through.
Jan 26:

||||| The Fuzzy Figural - Part 2

from Ivan Zulueta's Rapture (Spain / 1980)

I had a headache reading some of the pages from Rodowick's book Reading the Figural, specifically the section Lyotard's Leap into the Void: The Aesthetic before the New Media where he discusses Lyotard's ideas in his book Discours, figure (1974). I was floating in numerous philosophical terms and relationships. ARodowick progresses from what I discussed last Jan 20, 2013, the concepts like  indexicality, which is an easy concept; I encountered more bizarre concepts like the term 'discourse' itself. Lyotard redefines discourse as:

'Discourse has this space along its edges,  a space that gives its object an image; it also has this space at its heart, which governs its form. But do not be mistaken: the 'interiority' of figural space to discourse is not dialectical.' (Discours 52)

It is a bizarre definition. Or maybe the definition I have in mind of discourse is pretty much the false one: discourse being a 'verbal or textual interchange of ideas' or 'a formal and orderly and usually an extended expression of thought on a subject.' [def]. I don't know but maybe what Rodowick did was to locate it in the aesthetic field, to spatialize by looking at it in terms of its visuality and form. Lyotard continues:

'[...] visuality invades discourse as "a  distance to be crossed that indicates the location where what I say is place as a horizon that opens ahead of words and pulls them to, the negativity that is the foundation of our spatial existence" (Discours 56)' (Reading the Figural 8)

Rodowick is in a way fleshing out the figural and its relationship with the discourse. Rodowick describes this relationship as such:

'The figural is the avatar of another order whose relation to space, no less than discourse, is vexed. The figural is unrepresentable, beneath or behind representation, because it operates in another space "that does not give itself to be seen or thought; it indicated in a lateral fashion, fugitive at the heart of discourse and perception, as that which troubles them. It is the proper space of desire, the stakes in the struggle that painters and poets have ceaselessly launched against the return of the Ego and the text." (135) ... The scandal of the figure is that it is both inside and outside discourse' (Reading the Figural 8-9)

This is a pretty hard text to digest. Figural is an 'avatar','unrepresentable', 'operates in another space', 'inside and outside discourse', 'a proper space of desire'. These terms are hard to take in. It comes from a highly theoretical space. There is no grounding in the text except maybe for the last part 'the stakes in the struggle that painters and poets have ceaseless launched against the return of the Ego and the text.' The text goes on and on wrestling with Lyotard's Discours, figurs. You'll start getting dizzy when you reached a certain topic called death drive.

Though I pretty much love how Rodowick differentiates "sense" and signification. He wrote:
"Every 'discourse,' whether linguistic or plastic, has both textual and figurative aspects that operates as two dimensions of meaning: signification and 'sense'... Where meaning is reduced in signification to a grid of differences systematically articulated as binary pairs, sense opens meaning to both spatiality and affect: direction, sensation, intuition."

Reading this passage from Rodowick's book made me to rethink the nature of avant-garde or experimental films where the image is the only thing that perpetuates the form like the works of Peter Hutton and Stan Brakhage. Pictorial films are rich in 'sense' than in 'significations', whereas narrative films achieve a strong regime of 'signification' more than 'sense'. Some films  too are so masterly that they combine both 'sense' and signification like Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Yasujiro Ozu's films to form a visually and textually rich art object. Finally, and here is where I stopped reading the section, Rodowick expands the relation by quoting from Lyotard's book:
"[...]'sense is always presence as the absence of signification... Here is the death drive, which is always scheming with Eros-Logos. Constructing sense is nothing other than deconstructing signification. There is no model for this evasive figuration.' (19)" (Reading the Figural 11)

The section is indeed a wrestle with Lyotard's ideas. Reading the section felt as if I have to do preliminary readings of Freud and Deleuze, to go back to their battles with the idea of language. The section runs from page 4 to page 30. I skipped most part of it and focused more on a section grounded in history: Paradoxes of the Visual, or Philosophy after the New Media which focuses on the 'necessity of figural in the recent history of philosophy'. Browsing through it, I saw numerous references to film and several known theorists like Foucault and Derrida. It feels at home. I am now reading through page 32 of the section.
|||| Recent Readings

  1. I finished reading Brenez' two articles: Incomparable Bodies [Screening the Past, 2011, link] and For an Insubordinate (or Rebellious) History of Cinema [Framework, Issue 502, link]. The former is a gem. I helped me rethink cinema in terms of bodies. But I have to reread it in paper to clarify other concepts. The latter is a defence of the current critical output of critics and filmmakers in the internet era. It lauded Alexis Tioseco's Critcine as a notable corpus of the new cinema from the Southeast Asia. She then listed a crop of filmmakers, most of them French and unknown to me, the best represent the subversive front of current history of cinema. 
  2. I recently acquired this film criticism book by Alex Clayton and Andrew Clevan with a title "Language and Style of Film Criticism" published last 2011. Reading through the introduction, it surely is an easy read --- not as difficult as Rodowick. I love how it encourages readers to think of the best film criticism as the one which 'deepens our interest in individual films, reveals new meanings and perspectives, expands our sense of the medium, confronts our assumptions about value, and sharpens our capacity to discriminate.' (Language 1). It advocates creative approaches to film criticisms mentioning examples like George Toles, Manny Farber, and Raymond Durgnat as film critics who explore film art leisurely without diminishing one's writing into journalistic means. I suggest you give this book a look. 
Jan 27:

  The Fluffer (Richard Glatzer and Wash West / U.S./ 2001) - 3/5 

[more to come...]