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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.

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.

Headline Rewind: WikiLeaks and All the President’s Men

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Walker Staff will point you to other films pulled from a headline in the week’s news in a series called Headline Rewind. News Event: Pfc. Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks Appearing before a military judge yesterday for more than an hour, Pfc. Bradley Manning confessed to supplying a […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Walker Staff will point you to other films pulled from a headline in the week’s news in a series called Headline Rewind.

News Event: Pfc. Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks

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Appearing before a military judge yesterday for more than an hour, Pfc. Bradley Manning confessed to supplying a vast quantity of military and diplomatic files to the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks. The former intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq alleged that he provided this suppressed information in order to make the public aware of the volatile secrets its government was keeping, as well as to spark an open debate about American foreign policy. According to Manning, he came to the conclusion that none of the materials he uploaded to WikiLeaks — which included videos of airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, logs of military incident reports, information regarding detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and 250,000 cables sent by American diplomats internationally — could damage national security. Nonetheless, his ten guilty pleas could lead to 20 years in prison, and possibly more if military prosecutors decide to charge Manning with violating the United States’ Espionage Act.

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Private Manning’s testimony — especially his statement that “the world would be a better place if states would not make secret deals with each other” — has only added to his underground appeal among advocacy and whistleblower groups. The eternal debate regarding government secrets and its willful misleading of the American public (specifically the question of whether policymakers and politicians should suppress information in order to “protect” the country) has only intensified in the digital age, when anyone with Internet access can disseminate vital information to mass populations. This controversial question is manifested in the figure of Private Manning, who represents a courageous freedom fighter for some, and a potential threat to national security for others.

Film Recommendation: All the President’s Men

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The Orwellian tendency of governments to hide information from their constituents may be even more pertinent in an online age — a fact supported by the number of WikiLeaks documentaries in various states of distribution — but the question has been relevant (and insurmountable) practically since the days of Nero. One of the finest films to deal with the hegemonic suppression of information, as well as the enterprising quest by journalists and activists to uncover these secrets, is Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film All the President’s Men. Released less than a year after the fall of Saigon ended the Vietnam War — a time when the barbaric crimes committed by the U.S. government and military were beginning to come to light, and when American action-thrillers were at their bleakest and most outraged (see also Pakula’s 1974 The Parallax View and Sydney Pollack’s 1975 Three Days of the Condor) — All the President’s Men follows two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who wrote the book on which the film is based), as they uncover the Watergate scandal via their top-secret government contact, Deep Throat. Ultimately they discover that Watergate was not merely an attempt to conceal Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (a scheme intended to sabotage Nixon’s democratic opponent), but American covert operations as a whole.

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If Private Manning and Julian Assange, among others, act as modern-day Bernsteins and Woodwards, then All the President’s Men‘s brilliant, formally complex portrayal of the interpenetration (and active resistance) between the government and mass media might shed some light on how volatile information is both concealed and exposed in the 21st century. The dogged investigations and editorial marathons undergone by Woodward, Bernstein, their Post editor Ben Bradlee, and various colleagues have transformed over the last four decades, yet the nebulous infrastructures meant to keep political machinery chugging away have remained in place. All the President’s Men is one of the finest, most disturbing, yet ultimately inspiriting exposés of the dark pathways through which such combustible information travels. The film is available on DVD through Netflix, on instant viewing at Amazon.com, and on YouTube.

Walker Staff Picks for Film 2012

The water cooler always buzzes with talk of movies, and it can reach a fever pitch in the Film/Video Department, occasionally roping in people from other departments. The lists below reflect the camaraderie, belligerence, and free-form sharing of these conversations as we digest the year in film each in our own special way. Courtney Sheehan Film/Video Intern […]

The water cooler always buzzes with talk of movies, and it can reach a fever pitch in the Film/Video Department, occasionally roping in people from other departments. The lists below reflect the camaraderie, belligerence, and free-form sharing of these conversations as we digest the year in film each in our own special way.

Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan, 2012

Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan, 2012.

Courtney Sheehan
Film/Video Intern

I spent July 2011-July 2012 traveling to twenty film festivals in India, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia on a research grant called the Watson Fellowship. For the most part, I stuck to lesser-known festivals in small cities and towns, which means that some of these films have yet to (and may not ever) make it to the U.S.  Because shorts get the shaft all too often, more than half of these titles run less than an hour in length. The final flair: this list consists solely of documentaries and animated films.

Jai Bhim Comrade by Anand Patwardhan, India
Mobitel: A Cell Phone Movie by Nedžad Begović, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Abendland by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Austria
Mirage by Srđan Keča, UK/UAE
Sag Mir Wann… (Tell Me When…) by Steffen Köhn and Paola Calvo, Germany
Apour Ti Yapour. Na Jang Na Aman. Yeti Chu Talukpeth. (Between the Border and the Fence. On Edge of a Map.) by Ajay Raina, India
Empire of Dust by Bram van Paesschen, Belgium
Oedipus by Paul Driessen, the Netherlands/Canada
Villa Antropoff by Kaspar Jancis and Vladimir Leschiov, Estonia
Le Tazidermiste by Paulin Cointot, Dorianne Fibleuil, Antoine Robert, and Maud Sertour, France

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Behn Zeitlin, 2012. Courtesy Fox Searchlights Pictures.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Behn Zeitlin, 2012

Jeremy Meckler
Film/Video Intern

This year was a powerful one for movies, with a few surprisingly high-quality summer blockbusters (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Cabin in the Woods, Premium Rush) some excellent independent documentaries (This is Not a Film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Queen of Versailles) and some decent formulaic Oscar bait (Silver Linings Playbook, Argo). These are the movies, though, that were most impactful on me this year. While many other films may indeed have been more skillfully crafted, written, shot, and  performed, these are the ones I will remember. Full disclosure, I have yet to see Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Tabu, or Something in the Air, and I suspect that at least one of them might have made this list otherwise. Also, I hated Cosmopolis.

10) Moonrise Kingdom
9) Margaret
8) The Master
7) Wreck-it-Ralph
6) Skyfall
5) The Turin Horse
4) Holy Motors
3) The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
2) Django Unchained
1) Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Matt Levine
Film/Video Intern

My first choice is sort of an evasion: while it was actually made by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1953 and has long been one of my favorite movies, I saw it last year on 35mm for the first time at the Trylon, and it was like seeing it for the first time all over again. (I didn’t think it was possible for the ending to be any more devastating.) As for actual  2012 releases, a number of the most acclaimed films underwhelmed me a bit (Holy Motors, The Master, and the astonishingly bad Silver Linings Playbook especially), so here are the films that actually blew me away last year:

1. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953)
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Boznia and Herzegovina)
3. This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran)
4. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, USA/UK)
5. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy)
6. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/USA)
7. Looper (Rian Johnson, USA)
8. Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
9. The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, Indonesia/USA)
10. Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, Canada/Spain/Japan)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson, 2012.

Emily Davis
Film/Video Bentson Researcher

Top 10 movies adapted from a novel, in no particular order. The task of coming up with a top 10 list for people like me who are not hardcore movie goers can be a lot of pressure and a bit overwhelming. So, I came up with the theme Top 10 movies adapted from a novel to narrow the selection.

The Hobbit
Cosmopolis
Anna Karenina
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Wuthering Heights
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer
Life of Pi
Bless me Ultima
Lincoln
The Lorax

Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg, 2012.

Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg, 2012.

Kathie Smith
Film/Video Program Manager

Below are the top ten films I saw for the first time theatrically in 2012, regardless of release date or distribution status. In alphabetical order.

Cosmopolis (2012) David Cronenberg
Deep Blue Sea (2012) Terence Davies
Faust (2011) Aleksandr Sokurov
The Gang’s All Here (1943) Busby Berkeley
Leviathan (2012) Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
Margaret (2011) Kenneth Lonergan
Napoleon (1927) Abel Gance
Neighboring Sounds (2012) Kleber Mendonça Filho
Tabu (2012) Miguel Gomes
Three Sisters (2012) Wang Bing

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow, 2012.

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow, 2012.

Gary White
Human Resources Director

Top ten films of 2012, in random order.

Zero Dark Thirty
Lincoln
Argo
Django Unchained
Silver Linings Playbook
Moonrise Kingdom
The Sessions
Les Mis
Hitchcock
Arbitrage

 

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Alison Klayman, 2012.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Alison Klayman, 2012.

Jared Maire
Mailroom Specialist

2012 was a year for tears. It only makes sense that I list all the movies I cried at in 2012. Feel free to give me a hug or pat me on the back if you see me in the corridors of the Walker.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry @ Walker
The Avengers @ Southdale
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye @ Walker
How to Survive a Plague @ Lagoon
Keep the Lights on @ Lagoon
Beasts of the Southern Wild @ Walker
Moonrise Kingdom @ Lagoon
Irwin Swirnoff’s short films @ Madame of the Arts

There were movies I didn’t actually cry at and really enjoyed, such as:
Beyond the Black Rainbow @ Trylon
Holy Motors @ the Edina

“Her Life Was In Your Hands, Dude:” Jenny Jones’ New Book on The Big Lebowski

Much ado has been made about Joel and Ethan Coen’s legendary Twin Cities roots. From the cheesy Minnesota colloquialism in William H. Macy’s accent in Fargo to their magnum Minneapolis opus, the St. Louis Park epic A Serious Man, these two natives have never left their home far behind. But now, springing up in the […]

Much ado has been made about Joel and Ethan Coen’s legendary Twin Cities roots. From the cheesy Minnesota colloquialism in William H. Macy’s accent in Fargo to their magnum Minneapolis opus, the St. Louis Park epic A Serious Man, these two natives have never left their home far behind. But now, springing up in the twin cities, is a book about one of their least Minnesotan films, the quintessentially Los Angelic The Big Lebowski The Big Lebowski: An Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of all Time. Jenny Jones, author of The Annotated Godfather and formerly of the Oak St. Cinema and the Walker Art Center, traces her connection to the Coens back to before their first film hit the screens; Jones and Ethan both served a stint working at St. Paul’s legendary Embers Restaurant, but her own explorations into Lebowski are only the beginning. Through two hundred plus pages, Jones’ book delves into the personal stories behind the film, from interviews with actors and crew members to the links between Lebowski and films as disparate as The Good the Bad and the Ugly and The Wizard of Oz.

The cover of Jones’ book even features a spinning bowling ball which reveals various Lebowski-esque objects when spun.

As a brief introduction to the intellectual project of the book, Jones agreed to talk a little about The Big Lebowski’s Minnesota roots and its connection to the Coens’ larger project. Jones began this point by talking about the film’s production and release, particularly its connection to Fargo. The script for Lebowski was finished before Fargo’s, yet the peculiarities of shooting schedules meant that Fargo was shot earlier and released a full two years before Lebowski. Their link however is undeniable, built not only on their temporal overlap, but also on the ways the films mirror each other.

Fargo is a fictitious film masquerading as a documentary, due mostly to one screen claiming that:

“THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

Meanwhile The Big Lebowski,  one of the most stylized, and least realist films in the Coen’s filmography, is actually based on real events that took place in Hollywood. While there was no money buried in northern Minnesota (though according to legend many would-be treasure hunters have gone up there looking) there is a man in Los Angeles who had a ratty old rug that “tied the room together” and who once went after a high schooler who left a piece of homework in his stolen car.

Joel and Ethan Coen on the set, visualizing their version of a real Hollywood story.

Lebowski is also a very Minnesotan film, despite its Los Angeles exterior. The Coens have never truly felt comfortable in the stifling Los Angeles climate, and so Lebowski–their film most explicitly about that culture–cannot avoid its own perspective. Lebowski is a film about the view of L. A. from Minneapolis. Whether it’s the Dude’s (or Walter’s or the Stranger’s) seemingly out of place personality traits, or the deliberate name-dropping that Bunny Lebowski is a runaway from Moorhead Minnesota, this film is full of people who don’t fit into Los Angeles, just like the Coens themselves. The Dude even takes his name from a Minnesotan; the Coens had a friend growing up named Jeffrey Lebowski. Fargo, on the other hand, is a very Hollywood story, despite its Minnesotan exterior. The completely fabricated story, partially based on the very Californian idea that “there’s gold in them there hills,” is more linked to the history of gritty films noir and west coast detective novels that inspired the Coens as early as Blood Simple (whose title is taken from a Dashiell Hammett line). While the Coens saw the Dude as the anti-Phillip Marlowe, a sort of bumbling non-detective who stumbled into a world of thugs and intrigue, Marge Gunderson of Fargo is really more of a mid-westernized hardboiled detective. Would Marge have done a better job in the Dude’s position? Probably, buy that is only speculation. What is apparent through their split personalities is that both Fargo and Lebowski have carved themselves a space halfway between Minneapolis and Hollywood.

Marge Gunderson, the Coens’ hardboiled Minnesota detective, is portrayed by Joel’s wife, Frances McDormand.

Jones’ intimate knowledge of the Coens was also bolstered by her time helping to organize the Regis Dialogue and Retrospective held at the Walker in 2009. In person, and in her book, she is full of the kind of quips only accessible to a serious aficionado. “The Coens love playing with people of different heights. The nihilists span from 6’7” to 5’4”, which actually caused a lot of trouble for them to all be framed in the same shot,” or “the Coens love putting big guys into small cars.” With a blend of intimate knowledge, research, history, and interviews, The Big Lebowski: An Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of all Time puts forward a variety of understandings of one of the Coens’ biggest hits. How do I know so much about this book? In the spirit of full disclosure, I was involved in much of the background for this book, working as a research assistant for Jones and earning an acknowledgement that is one of the kindest compliments I’ve ever received.

The bleak Fawn Knutsen farm in Moorhead, Minnesota, childhood home of Bunny Lebowski.

To promote her new book, Jones will be attending a few events around town where you can ask her your own questions about this film. On October first and second, she will introduce a screening of The Big Lebowski (on 35mm film even!) at the Trylon microcinema, and sign books after the screening at the Trylon’s new neighbor, Moon Palace Books. On October tenth you’ll have your own opportunity to be a part of the movie, when Jones judges a Lebowski-themed costume contest at Subtext Books. The book is on shelves at book stores and Urban Outfitters near you, and will even make it to the Walker Shop. The book even received a brief write-up in this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Curator Sheryl Mousley’s Films of 2011

When we asked our Film/Video Curator Sheryl Mousley for a list of her Top 10 Films of 2011, she said she never makes top ten lists. So we asked her to give us a list of which films she watched in 2011.  So, in addition to our Top 10′s blogpost, she provided us with the […]

When we asked our Film/Video Curator Sheryl Mousley for a list of her Top 10 Films of 2011, she said she never makes top ten lists. So we asked her to give us a list of which films she watched in 2011.  So, in addition to our Top 10′s blogpost, she provided us with the massive list of all of the films she watched in 2011.

These are films seen in cinemas, movie theaters or at festivals.

This list does not include short works, artists’ cinema or installations, or films shown as a video projection in galleries/museums; nor does it include any feature films watched on DVD or streamed. Listed in chronological order.

Films Sheryl Saw in 2011:

Nine Muses

The Black Power Mix Tapes 1967

On The Ice

Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Ticket to Paradise

Here

Page One: A Year Inside the NY Times

These Amazing Shadows

Happy Happy

The Convincer

Terri

!War

Red State

The Fighter

True Grit

Blue Valentine

Triumph 67

Curling

Nostalgia For The Light

Cameraman: The Life of Jack Cardiff

Kinshasa Symphony

Hitler in Hollywood

The Light Thief

How to Start our Own Country

The Green Wave

Bill Cunningham New York

Bobby Fischer Against the World

Home For Christmas

El Velador

Lover Boy

August 31, Oslo

Chatrak (Mushrooms)

Sauna on the Moon

The Kid with a Bike

The Day He Arrived

Goodnight, Nobody

We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Artist

This is not a Film

Take Shelter

Melancholia

The Tree of Life

Le Havre

This is the Place

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

The Help

Bridesmaids

The Turin Horse

The Story of Film

Passerby

The Descendents

The Island President

Pina

Living in the Material World

Footnote

A Separation

A Dangerous Method

In Darkness

Shame

Habibi

Goodbye First Love

Dark Horse

Almayer’s Folly

Whore’s Glory

Trishna

360

The Deep Blue Sea

Arirang

Crazy Horse

The Woman in the Fifth

I Wish

Warriors of the Rainbow

Hysteria

A Monster in Paris

The Invader

The First Man

Headhunters

The Education of Auma Obama

ALPS

Twixt

My Week with Marilyn

Marcy Martha May Marlene

Young Adult

Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy

Drive

The Skin I Live In

Hugo

Urbanized

The Adventures of Tintin

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

 

Feature Films Watched at the Walker in 2011:

Utopia in Four Movements

Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives

Syndromes and a Century

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then

Basquiat

Before Night Falls

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Berlin

Miral

Wuthering Heights

Citzen Kane

Meek’s Cutoff

Self Made

The First Grader

Badlands

Days of Heaven

The Thin Red Line

The New World

Purple Rain

Trauma

Factotum

A Simple Plan

Purple Haze

Northern Lights

Fargo

Snow

Mallrats

Sweet Land

Slacker

subUrbia

Dazed and Confused

Tape

Before Sunrise

After Sunset

Waking Life

Thin Ice

Daisies

Riddles of the Sphinx

Variety

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Empty Suitcases

Surname Viet, Given Name Nam

One Way or Another

The Descendants

U of M Student Responds to “Shulie”

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents several viewpoints and responses to Shulie which […]

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents several viewpoints and responses to Shulie which screened in the Lecture Room during November.
 
 
Written by U of M Student Rashid Ali

Of all the films I have seen throughout this “And Yet She Moves” series the documentary, Shulie was the most unique one for me. The first aspect of my unique experience of the film was the way in which it was produced. The discussion prior to the film made me believe that Shulie was an unintentional masterpiece. The mundaneness of the subject that is being filmed fascinated me because this must have been differently refreshing in the mid 1990’s. The subject, however, isn’t so mundane. She’s an artist that is going through her daily routine of being in the studio, on the go, and dealing the people around her. I didn’t know that this was apparently a re-shoot of a similar production in the 1960’s. The original is quite different as it follows Shulamith Firestone doing things that aren’t necessarily related to her art. It was more like being in the subway, working in the post office. I love this contrast between the contemporary version and the original. I also founded interested how the film played tricks on the audience. We were led to believe that the contemporary Shulie follows the same real Firestone as we might have in the original. The opening quote of “No matter how many levels of consciousness one reaches, the problem always goes deeper–from The Dialectic of Sex, 1970″ made me think about Variety in a weird way. The main character of Variety seems to be disconnected from her conscious in that she does whatever she wants and follows whomever she pleases. Although I wasn’t around in the 1970’s I can presume that there might be a little tension between the way in which the audience from that time perceives the film to our contemporary audience. I just wonder what that discussion would’ve entailed. As for the feminist movement, it would be interesting to see Subrin’s take on the evolution of this political movement throughout the last four decades. There is one mistake that we should avoid in my opinion. And that is assuming that the remake is a clone of the original and that aside from the time period in which we live in there isn’t much of difference.  Quite the contrary, there are important differences between the two films that should not be lost. For example, the way the second film uses concepts is different than the first and even better from my perspective. Another example is the camera shots, costumes, props and backgrounds. It’s much easier for me to aesthetically appreciate the contemporary version than the original.  One question what I thought should’ve been addressed in the discussion that followed the film was how the contemporary remake utilized ideas from the original. Overall, I was really impressed with this portrait of an artist in the making. It was different than all of the films that we have watched. I felt that I didn’t necessarily have to think but observe more. I didn’t have to think about concepts or ideas. I honestly enjoyed watching Shulie as much as the camera enjoyed film it.

Film is Dead…Again

Numerous critics and writers have recently been responding to the proclamation that film is dead. Bleak is that prognosis may be, though, the truth—as always—is a little more shaded (and perhaps even hopeful) than it seems.

Wherever the diagnosis came from, numerous critics and writers have recently been responding to the proclamation that film is dead. As of late, A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, The Onion‘s Scott Tobias, Salon.com‘s Matt Zoller Seitz, IFC’s Matt Singer, Jean-Luc Godard (about 40 years after his initial apocalyptic prophecy), director Peter Greenaway, cinematographer Roger Deakins, British artist Tacita Dean, neurologically-inclined critics in Psychology Today, and many others have dealt with the possibility that the medium of celluloid, after only about 125 years of flickering existence (long enough to reshape the way we viewed mediation and reality; positively newborn, though, in comparison to most other visual arts), is giving way to digital technologies. The responses above have ranged from panicked destitution to enamored zeal to melancholy resignation, but most of them agree on the facts: as digital cameras and projectors are becoming more technologically-advanced, elevating their pictorial qualities to something near the level of newly-struck film prints (or above and beyond, according to Deakins in the article posted above), moviemakers, distributors, exhibitors, and manufacturers are gradually pushing cinema towards the digital realm.

Those facts are incontrovertible. Kodak is phasing out production of celluloid film; Aaton, AARI, and Panavision will no longer make film cameras. Theaters that turn to digital projection are usually required to get rid of their celluloid projectors (for reasons that are unquestionably more economic than technological). Many film-processing companies have closed down, and new 35mm film projectors are no longer being manufactured.

How you respond to this news depends, of course, on your willingness to embrace change, to accept the fact that technologies evolve and displace what came beforehand; or on your nostalgia-steeped affection for an art form that has unified audiences for the better part of the last century, and which is becoming something of a romanticized antiquity. Like most movie-lovers, we here in the Walker film and video department greet the emergence of digital technologies with ambivalent melancholy. Like most moviegoers of certain generations, we all have euphoric memories of a projector’s lightbulb flickering through a physically-present strip of chemically-imbued film (my personal favorite: an astonishing 35mm restoration of Max Ophüls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman); none of us want to see this shimmering art form vanish from theaters. Luckily, for screenings at the Walker, it doesn’t have to: a recent grant furnished to our film and video department has allowed us to upgrade our projection equipment, facilitating not only a new digital projection system (with 3D capabilities) but also a celluloid projection system for both 16mm and 35mm (with variable frame rates for, perhaps, the occasional 18fps silent-film screening). All of these advancements will be sure to get a workout in the winter and early spring of 2012.

While it doesn’t seem like there’s much to add to the plethora of articles posted above, it bears repeating that celluloid is not dead; bleak as the prognosis may be, film has a long way to go before it approaches its deathbed (if that ever happens). Digital may be taking over, but there will always be museums, college campuses, cinematheques, and specialty houses that preserve and champion the projection of celluloid. (And there will always be film buffs who crave, at least occasionally, the glorious imperfections of celluloid—the scratches, the flickering grain, even the muffled hums and clicks of the projector in the nearby booth.) Furthermore, the communal experience of watching movies with an audience in a darkened theater will not die; whether projected on film or digitally, cinema’s value as a social gathering cannot be vanquished by developing technology. (This was the same fear that arose with the popularity of television in the 1950s; if TV couldn’t kill movie theaters, neither will Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, or cell-phone downloads.)

A last bit of irony I’d like to mention: the year 2011 saw what was probably the highest number of cinematic death knells in the history of movies, as die-hard celluloid purists could not ignore the fluctuations of the industry any longer; but 2011 also may have been the strongest cinematic year at least since the new millennium, with good-to-masterful new movies by the likes of Terrence Malick, Raúl Ruiz, Jean-Luc Godard, Aki Kaurismäki, Abbas Kiarostami, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Werner Herzog, Elia Suleiman, Steve McQueen, Kelly Reichardt, Errol Morris, Cristi Puiu, Lars von Trier, and Lee Chang-dong, and upcoming releases from Béla Tarr, Jafar Panahi, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Lynne Ramsay, Takeshi Kitano, and Wim Wenders—not to mention re-releases of films by Godard, Truffaut, Fassbinder, and Roeg, among others. For an art form that’s supposedly dying, it’s incredible how much it seems to be thriving at the same time.

U of M Students Respond to “!Women Art Revolution”

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents viewpoints and responses to !Women Art Revolution […]

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents viewpoints and responses to !Women Art Revolution which screened on November 18th and 19th.

Lynn Hershman Leeson's "!Women Art Revolution"

Written by U of M Student Martin Cech

Last night, at the local premiere of Women Art Revolution, the general feeling in the Walker Theater was not one of blissful nostalgia but rather one of an uncontrollable desire to move forward. Lynn Hershman Leeson noted in the post-screening question-and-answer period that the assembled footage was but a small fraction of what she had shot over a long period of time. Given the interest in form that we approached the other movies of And Yet She Moves with, it is interesting that the last movie was a fairly straight-forward documentary in terms of form, but the content and degree of artistic merit fit well in the constellation of the other films.

Hershman Leeson, in her decisions with the camera and in the editing room, starts to dismantle the patriarchal structure that so often associated with historical documentary. She subverts the generic conventions of documentary by claiming no expertise beyond her own experience. Instead of a handsome and vaguely familiar maleactor’s voice guiding use through some topic we may or may not have any knowledge of, we get a story that has never been told through a community of voices with first-hand experience. It does not rely on a Hollywood star or well-known producers for credibility and in this, it feels more real.

While not purporting to be complete history of feminist art, it allows the viewer a sense of familiarity and intimacy with the remembered history from someone who was at the beginning of the revolution. The value of hearing marginalized stories by marginalized voices allows us to connect the struggle with a face. A metaphor for this subtle subversion occurred in the film when the Guerilla Girls discussed the impact of naming names and publishing statistics about the lack of representation in museums.

It is important in this film to not rely simply on our beliefs. Especially for the viewers in the audience who may have never considered their own ignorance of women artists. HershmanLeeson appropriately deals with the potential for internal bias by making a rhetorical argument through the form. In this way, it is part documentary and part film essay. Her arguments in Women Art Revolution are told through the history of feminist art and artists and the stories that they relate to the camera. This medium is fitting for this argument as it allows the interface of both visual art and the voices of the artists telling the story.

Hershman Leeson noted in the post-screening discussion, however, that this film and the feminist artists’ stories art not enough. The title for the series And Still She Moves is very fitting given her outlook for feminist art. And the overt comparison between Galileo and the feminists is one I think she would agree with. She described the need for constant forward motion and brings this theory to practice with her RawWAR concept; allowing artists to share their work without the prescriptions and constraints of a gallery. In many ways, this is the ultimate enactment of the argument she makes in Women Art Revolution because she is able to find the ending she was searching for in the close of the film. An ending that isn’t really an ending at all, just another medium to make the argument.

Written by U of M Student Emily Rohrabaugh

The question of how to historicize and archive early feminist film was a recurring theme throughout the And Yet She Moves film series.  The project of archiving feminist art is, for Lynn Hershman Leeson, of the highest priority.  For her, the lack of representation of the womens’ art movement within the history of contemporary art constitutes an erasure of these womens’ stories and struggles.  In !Women, Art, Revolution, Hershman Leeson presented snippets of an overwhelmingly rich selection of women’s art. The film and her accompanying online archiving project attempts to provide a venue for this history.

While I felt inspired and energized by Hershman Leeson’s film, I also thought about some of the other films that were screened during the And Yet She Moves series that took a very different view on the role of the archive.  In particular, I was thinking about Chick Strand’s four short films and the debate around preserving early experimental films.  Because Strand never allowed her work to be shown at anything other than 16mm and 16mm is becoming an increasingly rarified screening format, this was a precious opportunity to see the films.  Additionally, the film Surname Viet, Given Name Nam problematized the idea that the material artifact is a sufficient or accurate marker of history.  The film’s investigation of the documentary film format draws the viewer’s attention to the assumptions that film is an inherently trustworthy repository, instead drawing our attention to the role that the documentary format has played in creating dominant narratives in history while erasing others.

U of M Student Responds to “Semiotics of the Kitchen”

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents several viewpoints and responses to Semiotics of […]

And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema is a series co-organized by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota. As a part of the collaboration, we will be using this blog as a venue for students to respond to and discuss the films. This post presents several viewpoints and responses to Semiotics of the Kitchen which screens in the Best Buy Video Bay through February 26th.
 

Martha Rosler's "Semiotics of the Kitchen"

 
Written by U of M Student Heidi Zimmerman

Martha Rosler’s 6-minute 1975 video Semiotics of the Kitchen, opens with a medium shot in which Rosler is mostly hidden behind a title chalkboard, her expressionless eyes visible just above the board.  She blinks several times.  The camera backs up until we see that she stands in a kitchen behind a small table, which is laden with various kitchen instruments.  A stove and refrigerator are visible in the background.  After what seems like ages, she puts down the board.  From off to the right of the frame, she picks up an apron.  Slowly and deliberately, she struggles into it (first one arm, then the other, moving her hair to button it behind her neck—only a contortionist could execute this button gracefully).  Her movements demonstrate that this is a laborious process.  Once buttoned, she returns her gaze to the camera.  “Apron” she states.  She reaches down and slowly picks up another item, which, with equally little emotion, she shows to the camera. “Bowl,” she intones.  She mimes stirring.  Rosler continues through the alphabet, naming a “chopper,” which she bangs several times against the bottom of the bowl, a “hamburger press,” which she opens and closes with a loud crack, a cast iron “pan,” which she thrusts toward the camera, then, with equal force, withdraws back toward herself, an “ice pick,” with which she forcefully stabs her work surface several times. Although one might expect the “ladle” and “spoon” to be fit for more peaceful purposes, Rosler demonstrates that they might, too, be put to violent use: after she uses them to gently scoop, stir and smooth the air, she abruptly flings their invisible contents out over her shoulder.

The violence and abruptness of her movements are almost always accompanied by an utterly affectless facial expression.  Her expression momentarily changes when she demonstrates the can “opener”: she grimaces as she turns its handle, however, this is an expression conveying effort, not affect.  She manages to match kitchen items to every letter of the alphabet until she gets to “T” for “tenderizer” (with which she hammers the table).  For the letters U through V, Rosler takes a carving fork in her right hand, a carving knife in her left, and forms the shapes of U through Y with her arms. She puts down the fork and finally uses the knife to slashes a zigzag shape in the air. “Z.”  Having gotten thus through the alphabet, Rosler again stands motionless, arms crossed loosely across her front.  In a rare display of affect, she suddenly shrugs and raises her eyebrows, tossing her head slightly to the side.  Her mouth remains impassive.  Finally, she returns to her affectless pose.

The framing of this video references cooking shows, like Julia Child’s The French Chef (1962-1970), and other domestic advice shows, which tended to assume the naturalness of women’s role as competent domestic laborers.  The setting of the kitchen and Rosler’s direct address to the camera suggest she might similarly be giving us domestic advice.  Yet while Rosler remains within the private space of the kitchen, she departs discordantly from these other media forms.  Here, Rosler takes these kitchen items out of their taken-for-granted context as tools for the maintenance of the heteronormative family.  Instead of putting them to use in normative reproductive labor, Rosler imagines how things might be different by placing them instead in alphabetical order, gesturing with them wildly and unproductively.  Although her “uses” of these items are absurd vis-à-vis normative expectations about “women’s work,” she also demonstrates the effort required if one is to put these items into practice.  We watch her struggle with the apron, lift the cast iron pan, and crank the handle of the can opener with all her might.

In watching this video, I was especially struck by Rosler’s gaze and performance of affect.  Rosler maintains a steady gaze and affectless visage, looking directly and impassively into the camera for much of the film.  She breaks eye contact only when the task at hand requires her full attention.  She always immediately looks back at the camera.  Her direct gaze is especially striking when coupled with violent gesture.  For example, when she demonstrates “fork,” she sharply stabs the air in several places, never once breaking her gaze with the camera, and never once altering her facial expression.  The seeming contradictions within this performance make it both funny and alarming.  She undermines the naturalness of women’s competence and grace in the kitchen through her effortful and awkward (decidedly ungraceful) gestures.  She undermines the naturalness of the kinds of caring affect assumed to accompany women’s caring work (in the kitchen, for example).  Yet these things are not undermined incidentally or accidentally.  Rather, Rosler’s steely, emotionless eye contact conveys an active and deliberate refusal (through her command of the gaze), a refusal to be located by dominant, patriarchal assumptions and imperatives.  If this is so, however, how do we make sense of her final “shrug”?  Is this a gesture of resignation?  Is it one of dismissal? Does it aim to emphasize meaninglessness?  Or obviousness?  Perhaps it is a gesture that indicates a kind of inside joke among those who are called upon to negotiate these objects, these technologies of normative femininity and labor.

Charlotte Brusdon has remarked that Rosler produced this video during an “era when one of the most important debates was over whether a woman could be the subject of her own story or whether she was always “spoken” in stories told by others” (Brunsdon 112).  Rosler enters into this debate through her refusal to be determined by these objects, wrenching them from their normative context, and taking hold of her own representation.  Yet I would be very interested to hear how this video speaks today in the context of the incredibly broad and prolific circulation of cooking shows and domestic advice media that offer themselves as the means to a kind of self-empowerment.  I am very skeptical of these forms of so-called “empowerment,” but I also take seriously popularity of such media and the pleasure that individuals find in them.  Have kitchen gadgets—gadgets that have long functioned as technologies for maintaining a particular division of household labor and a certain division between public and private space—come to be viewed as technologies for living a pleasurable life?  Perhaps Rosler’s piece has something to offer present-day analyses of such phenomena.

Works Cited

Brunsdon, Charlotte. “Feminism, Postfeminism, Marth, Martha, and Nigella.” Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005): 110-116.

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