Blogs Crosscuts Adam Loomis

adamofearth.tumblr.com 大地の Greetings, my name is Adam. I work in Visitor Services and the Film/Video department at the Walker Art Center.

Smuggling Perspectives, Morocco’s Mule Ladies

On Monday’s front page of The New York Times is a still from video journalist Almudena Toral’s Morocco’s Mule Ladies. The film, just shy of six minutes long (which you can watch on the Times website), documents the way women in Morocco make their living smuggling Spanish goods from Melilla. This comes only four days […]

Still from Yto Barrada’s The Smuggler (2006)

On Monday’s front page of The New York Times is a still from video journalist Almudena Toral’s Morocco’s Mule Ladies. The film, just shy of six minutes long (which you can watch on the Times website), documents the way women in Morocco make their living smuggling Spanish goods from Melilla. This comes only four days after Yto Barrada’s visit to the Walker, during which she screened her short silent film called The Smuggler (2006) as part of the Expanding the Frame series. The film shows one of these “mule ladies” demonstrating how she belts on blankets and fabrics to her person. Under the circumstances, The Smuggler becomes a peculiar case study for Morocco’s Mule Ladies.

In Barrada’s film, the woman speaks casually to the camera standing before a black backdrop – shot inside the Cinema Rif during its renovation. Layered on a chair beside her are blankets which she comically fastens to her body. Her granddaughter appears on screen twice to help, smiling at the camera as her grandmother bounces up and down, trying to jostle the load into place. In eleven minutes she dons and removes the blankets.

Striking a deep contrast to Barrada’s film is Toral’s Mule Ladies, which not only documents what it’s like to be at the border crossing between Morocco and Melilla, but how the atmosphere there has become violent in recent months. There are people running, screaming, and even bleeding on camera.

Eight years separate the making of these films, and it’s obvious that the conditions of smuggling jobs have worsened in that time, but the disparity between these two elucidations is still baffling. Seeing these films side by side leads one to question the polar reactions they incite. Despite their differences though, the films do share in common — notwithstanding degrees of manipulation — a desire to show truth.

At first glance, Barrada’s film seems to have been intended as an objective observation of a woman and her life, but by dodging every shred of environment from the image, Barrada makes a comedy of her protagonist’s story. Meanwhile, with precise editing, an emotional score and journalistic shots from the hip, Toral manages to make a compellingly sympathetic case for women whose smuggling has become a primary means of survival. In the end, it’s their means of manipulation that subvert their meaning.

Yet, there is some beauty in how, rather than contradicting each other, these two films can suppose emotionally-opposite examples of a total experience — of a lifestyle and its people.

Super-Rare 35mm Film Print Comes to the Walker Shortly After Director’s Death

“I am never driven. Every film I’ve made has been an assignment.” —Alain Resnais In the 1950s, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker ran in the same circles as the French New Wave — Godard, Truffaut, Varda — but as part of the Left Bank Cinema Movement they made more politically charged films, decidedly alienating their […]

Alain Resnais, 1922-2014

“I am never driven. Every film I’ve made has been an assignment.” —Alain Resnais

In the 1950s, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker ran in the same circles as the French New Wave — Godard, Truffaut, Varda — but as part of the Left Bank Cinema Movement they made more politically charged films, decidedly alienating their work from the entertainment industry. Their short film, Statues Also Die (1953), later to be described by the famed film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as “a combination of speculative art history, precise journalism, and a grim meditation on the various places and functions Africa and its separate cultures have assumed within white civilization,” was originally censored for 15 years because of its firm anticolonial stance.

Nowadays, though Statues Also Die is no longer censored or banned, public screenings are perhaps just as rare due to their antiquity. Rosenbaum wrote an article specifically about Statues Also Die amidst an extensive 2009 Resnais retrospective that screenings are “so rare that if you come across it in any venue […] you should drop everything to go and see it.” Not only has the preservation of this film been a delicate process, but we must also remember that theaters everywhere are throwing out their 35mm projectors for new DCP (Digital Cinema Package) formats. (I’m reminded of the Indiana Jones Trilogy VHS set I have at home, but without a VCR… or a TV.)

It should be noted as well that on March 1, 2014, just after his 50th film Life of Riley (2014) won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for “opening new perspectives in cinematic art,” Alain Resnais died at the age of 91. His death came a year and a half after Statues’ co-director Chris Marker’s in July 2012. Together, they contributed more than 1oo films to movie history including Night and Fog (Resnais 1955), Hiroshima mon amour (Resnais 1959), Le Jetée (Marker 1962), and Sans Soleil (1983).

As part of A Riff on the Rif: In the Spirit of the Cinematheque Tangier, the Walker Cinema will be screening a short film series on Saturday March 29 called Censorship in Colonial France: Returning the Gaze. The program starts with the aforementioned super rare 35mm print of Statues Also Die, followed directly by a digital screening of René Vautier’s Afrique 50 — another French anticolonialism film which suffered a 40-year ban and for which the director was sentenced to a year in prison.

Additionally, the films will be followed by a short documentary/interview with the director René Vautier called Sand and Blood, and Associate Professor Joёlle Vitiello of Macalester College will be introducing the films. The Walker Cinema is one of the last places in the Twin Cities with both 35mm and DCP technology. Come join us for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

What the GIF?!

GIFs — Graphics Interchange Format images (pronounced ” jifs”) — have been slowly taking over the internet since the early 2000s. Though they were invented in 1987 for purely utilitarian purposes (for example, the infamous “Under Construction” GIF), their resurgence in popularity is due to their daily use by common bloggers to express opinions, ideas, […]

A Phenakistoscope disc titled Politeness.

GIFs — Graphics Interchange Format images (pronounced ” jifs”) — have been slowly taking over the internet since the early 2000s. Though they were invented in 1987 for purely utilitarian purposes (for example, the infamous “Under Construction” GIF), their resurgence in popularity is due to their daily use by common bloggers to express opinions, ideas, and emotion (check out the popular Tumblr blog What Should We Call Me).

For those of you who don’t know what GIFs are, they’re short, silent animations that play automatically when they appear on an Internet page. Anyone can make a GIF with a simple photo-editing program, but with the build-up of GIFs spreading around the web right now, most users are simply re-appropriating them from open-source websites like Giphy.

George Méliès, the first filmmaker to use special effects in film.

GIFs have become so popular that a pair of Italian filmmakers, Marco Calabrese and Alessandro Scali of Okkult Motion Pictures, invented the Giphoscope, a hand-powered machine resembling a Rolodex (yeah, look that up too!) that animates GIFs printed on paper. The Giphoscope appears to be a pretty simple decorative piece, but upon closer inspection, the image arrangement is quite complex. The device itself is not something that just anyone could manufacture, or even purchase at Okkult’s steep price of €300. Its invention however shows that there is some desire out there for tangible GIFs. Fortunately, the Giphoscope isn’t the first of its kind.

In fact, the origin of film and movies comes from devices of animation. The first of these was the Zoetrope, which was invented in China sometime around 180AD. It was later re-conceptualized in the 1800s right after the invention of the Phenakistoscope. Then there was the Praxinoscope, and of course the infamous flip book. These inventions led to the first animated projections and the first perforated film reels. Almost twenty years later, the Lumière brothers would screen La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière a Lyon, the first public film screening ever.

Edward Muybridge’s Horse In Motion proved in a Stanford study that there was a moment in a horse’s trot at which all hooves were off the ground.

Now, there’s the GIF: this strange little flickering image that seems more like magic than the internet itself. Why? Maybe because GIFs bring us back to the very beginning of the moving image. Or maybe it’s because the average attention span of a human is decreasing by 0.2 seconds every day (I made that statistic up. Who has time for — hey look, a GIF!). Perhaps it’s just because they keep us laughing when most million-dollar television shows and Hollywood movies don’t… For whatever reason, GIFs have found their place in the hearts of web-surfers across the worldwide net. I guess what we’re all wondering is: When did technology start getting accidentally nostalgic?

“Accidentally?”

From Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Home & Misrepresentation: Polar Vortexes and Palm Trees

As natives of the Upper Midwest, we find ourselves frequently subject to stereotypes in media. Actors portray us in film, theater, radio, and television by exaggerating our accent and donning outfits that almost exclusively consist of fur hats, flannel shirts, and knee-high winter boots. Fortunately we’ve learned to laugh along and occasionally accept that these […]

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As natives of the Upper Midwest, we find ourselves frequently subject to stereotypes in media. Actors portray us in film, theater, radio, and television by exaggerating our accent and donning outfits that almost exclusively consist of fur hats, flannel shirts, and knee-high winter boots. Fortunately we’ve learned to laugh along and occasionally accept that these depictions aren’t actually that far from the truth. But, there is a recurring misrepresentation of the Midwest itself in mainstream movies that we seem to continually overlook. This is apparent in films like the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996), Donald Petrie’s Grumpy Old Men (1993), and Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl (2007).

For instance, in the opening credits of Fargo (1996) we open up to a blank white landscape. A car appears from nowhere over a long period of time. It tows another car equal in size behind it as if to say, in winter, one must carry the weight of two.

Incidentally, we soon learn that one of the main characters, Marge Gunderson (played by Academy Award winner Frances McDormand), is pregnant. When we first encounter her, she is investigating a crime scene on the side of what may or may not be the same road from before. This time she and her partner meet and casually discuss the details of a triple homicide. At one point Marge asks her partner, “Where is everybody?” He responds, “Well, it’s cold Margie.”

Petrie’s  Grumpy Old Men is much goofier, featuring comical slapstick behavior with music to match. All in all, however, this film reflects the same damp and idle lifestyle as Fargo. In this scene, two grown men get in a fight out on a frozen lake and are egged on by fellow ice-fishermen. The fight only ends when an even older man, a former teacher, scolds them for their quarreling. They are children — malformed men.

Finally, in this clip from Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) viciously throws a rose off screen when faced with the opportunity to give it to a cute new girl in town. Notice that while winter hasn’t quite set in, the trees in the background are bare. All that remains of nature are the people within the scene, their heads down, bodies hidden under layers of polyester. Even when Lars finds himself holding a freshly cut rose, he tosses it off screen, as if protesting life.

All these films take place in desolate landscapes, bereft of life, within which characters either flounder emotionally or, in the peculiar case of Fargo’s Marge Gunderson, they are unmoved, free of emotion, almost un-human. Rather than showing how the Upper Midwest is misrepresented in film, these scenes reveal how our home has been under-represented. Viewers of these films are only given a small fraction of our story.

The benefit of this under-representation is that the appeal of our home remains, at large, a secret. We remain a flyover region, the precious space over which coastal commuters can indulge in airborne libations and precious siestas. However, there is an artist at the Walker whose creative and curatorial work is deeply concerned with the misrepresentation of her home, an under-representation with much at stake, that is built upon romantic visions belonging more to Western colonization than simply dramatic entertainment.

Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada, is a film and visual art exhibition that will be on display in the Burnet Gallery until May 18. Visitors who explore the gallery and Barrada’s other works will find that the artist is very much concerned with the misrepresentation of Tangier. For example, her photograph Briques (2003/2011) —  which is not featured in the show — reveals a blunt and honest look at the haphazard beauty of scattered housing projects in Tangier. It is a photograph that wishes to tell the whole truth, a truth that escapes alluring and romantic vacation photos. It encompasses a bleak existence, while holding a childlike curiosity for the hills that roll off far into the distance. In contrast, her sculpture Palm Sign (2010), with its multicolored marquee light bulbs on an aluminum and steel palm-shaped sculpture, satires the exciting and exotic dream that palm trees have come to symbolize in advertisements and popular discourse around the world. Simultaneously, it addresses the palm tree as non-indigenous to North Africa, inherently a symbol of colonization. While these works are both beautiful and striking, they seem to begrudge the artist’s relationship to the place they represent.

As president of the Cinematheque de Tanger, a nonprofit organization based out of the Cinema Rif in Tangier, Barrada has also hosted thousands of screenings and promoted North African cinema worldwide. As part of the Walker exhibition, the upcoming film series A Riff on the Rif: In the Spirit of the Cinematheque Tangier is comprised of several films curated by Barrada. These stories are told in places like Tangier, Casablanca, and Algiers — cities that we in the United States only encounter on very rare, often brief cinematic occasions that are emblazoned with wildly exotic themes and Western obscurity. While audience members may expect to be immersed in unfamiliar territory, they will find instead that stories of the Rif are intimately threaded to somewhere deeper than setting or place. They are, in fact, irrevocably invested in what it means to belong to North Africa.

This is undoubtedly something Barrada hoped to achieve in this program. The Rif series is an important opportunity for viewers to experience a part of the world in ways they never have before, ways that are far more intimate and native. Characters of The Rif are genuinely of the worlds they live in, and many of their stories were born out of real experiences of the filmmakers. If you are the least bit concerned with misrepresentation, or would like to see North African cinema curated by a North African, this is your chance.

The Stuart Hall Project, Chronicle of Spirit

“When I ask anybody where they’re from, I expect nowadays to be told an extremely long story,” once said the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, who died February 10 at the age of 82. Hall was an English writer and theorist who co-founded the leftist cultural and political journal, New Left Review. He did this alongside […]

Stuart Hall at a rally, courtesy of BFI Film Forever

“When I ask anybody where they’re from, I expect nowadays to be told an extremely long story,” once said the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, who died February 10 at the age of 82.

Hall was an English writer and theorist who co-founded the leftist cultural and political journal, New Left Review. He did this alongside such famed intellectuals as Richard Hoggart and Edward Thompson, but came from a much different background than his colleagues. Born to an aspiring family in Kingston, Jamaica, he arrived in Oxford in the 1950s among fellow members of the West Indian diaspora. He achieved an excellent education and felt respected by peers, but was also faced with racism due to the color of his skin. He began to see how matters of identity extended into all facets of life. In a community that was ever expanding due to mass media, he therefore felt it was necessary to address issues of culture and politics beyond an audience of students, professors, and intellectuals. He started appearing on television in the ’60s and became one of the first figures to pose complex questions about racism and identity to wide popular audiences. He asked questions that led to more questions, and therefore pushed viewers, families in their homes, to continuously wonder about how things become the way they are, and how common perspectives are reinforced in daily life. Additionally, Hall published his thoughts and questions in essays, lectures, and short films, thus becoming one of the most frequently cited cultural theorists to date.

In 2013, acclaimed English artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah made a documentary film about Stuart Hall called The Stuart Hall Project, which will screen in the Walker Cinema on February 21. It is a beautifully crafted chronological exploration of Hall’s life through archival footage and the sounds of Miles Davis, with which Hall resonated deeply. But despite its adherence to a logical linear progression, the film overwhelms its viewers with the impression of infinity. Cuts disappear as we hear the sound of ocean tides, and a lonely record keeps spinning on and on in an empty room. Akomfrah’s film is masterful in that it highlights a man’s unique devotion to truth — a way for which we yearn, but which seems forever out of reach. This is a quandary with which Hall’s life was so intimately tied that it seems he himself, in spite of his death, has become endless — a spirit of heated curiosity and investigation.

This film is the most direct and succinct way of learning about who Stuart Hall was as a person, how he achieved such notoriety as a man of thought, and what ideas flooded his life. Despite his immense complexity and the complexity of life which he embraced so fully, audiences will leave the theater feeling as if they had met the man himself. But Hall was a man who devoted his life to questions beyond himself. To honor him, simply keep on being curious.