Blogs Crosscuts Context

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

Interview with Wim Wenders

Our two interim program managers got a chance to talk to Wim Wenders about his new documentary, Pina, which has its Minnesota premiere at the Walker this Wednesday. Read the interview or listen to it below. Wim Wenders was also at the Walker in 1991 for a Regis Dialogue and Retrospective. If the player isn’t […]

Our two interim program managers got a chance to talk to Wim Wenders about his new documentary, Pina, which has its Minnesota premiere at the Walker this Wednesday. Read the interview or listen to it below. Wim Wenders was also at the Walker in 1991 for a Regis Dialogue and Retrospective.

Wim Wenders on the set of Pina

If the player isn’t working, you can listen to the interview here.

Wim Wenders: I have glorious memories of the Walker Art Center.

Jeremy Meckler: I know that you and Werner Herzog have worked together a lot in the past, and I just thought it was interesting that you both came out with 3D films within the same year and a half.

Actually it was funny, because we didn’t know of each other—we didn’t know of each other’s 3D projects and shoots until we found ourselves programmed on the same day at the Berlin film festival early last year in February.  We realized that way that we both had a 3D film to show, because that was the only day that the festival had installed a 3D projector. That’s how we saw each other’s films and that’s how we found out.

Matt Levine: I think it’s really interesting that both Pina and [Herzog’s]Cave of Forgotten Dreamsplay with this notion of cinematic space. I was just wondering how you think the form of 3D transforms our notions of cinematic space.

Well, for about a good hundred and ten years, movies have invented all sorts of tricks and all sorts of fancy and sometimes very charming means to make us believe that films were concurring space indeed. The camera was put on tracks and on shoulders and on steadicams and on cranes and you can put it into automobiles and planes and god knows you could even throw it out of the window. But it always ended up on a two-dimensional screen, so space was really always fake. It was always a simulation. I only realized that there was something lacking when I tried to imagine how to film Pina’s dance, because the two of us had been trying to make a film together for twenty years. I was just  stalling for time and I found myself at a loss how to film her work, because my tools and my craft didn’t seem to have what it took to really do justice to Pina’s art and to the magic and to the contagious energy of it.

I only finally saw myself able to say “now I can do it” when I saw my first 3D film and realized that was the answer and that’s what we had been missing. Space, for the first time, was a tool for filmmakers. I think 3D is the greatest revolution ever since the talkies, only most people didn’t realize it because we thought it was just a gimmick for national blockbusters. Now some movies come out that show the true potential of 3D which is really a whole different way of seeing the world.

J.M.: Have you seen films from the 60’s 3D film revival? Hitchcock shot a film in 3D.

Frankly the Anaglyph system really sucked and the red and green glasses only caused headaches. It was a flawed system at the time and it disappeared rightfully. Now with digital technologies you can really synchronize two images to the pixel, not just vaguely and not just to the millisecond but to the pixel. that is necessary to really create smooth movement and to really create the depth of vision that physiologically looks like something that two eyes can really see.

ML: Can you talk a little bit about the similarities between the two art forms of cinema and dance.

Well, dance is something that you really need to see live in order to appreciate it. Dance in cinema was never . . . I felt cinema never got it right. Of course there are lots of great dance movies, and I saw them all, I saw Singing in the Rain and The Red Shoes, but they always were pulled through by their stories. The plot in them was really what made the dance fabulous. Cinema could never get dance right. I had a screening of Pina in Los Angeles when I showed it at the AIF. There was this lady coming up to me afterward this older lady, and she said ,“My husband would have really embraced this film and he would have really understood why you needed 3D to do this.” And I said “Oh that’s very nice,” and she said “My husband’s name was Gene Kelly,” and of course that really made my day.

I think it is very telling that actually the Brothers Lumière invented 3D already in the beginning. They actually made movies in three dimensions—they realized that with two cameras parallel they could do this—and then they stopped it because it was too complicated and too expensive. So in a strange way, cinemas were invented with that intention, to be a perception like two eyes see the world, and only now we can actually do it.

JM: How do you think Pina fits in? It’s been nominated for [the Academy Award for] Best Documentary but is it a documentary?

Well, it’s always a question of what is a pure documentary. I don’t think it really exists anymore. When I was making Buena Vista Social Club I thought I was doing a music documentary and I thought it was a really hardcore documentary. Then I was sitting in the editing room and it slowly dawned on me that I was editing a fairy tale. That’s what we had been following.  With Pina it was, by any means, the method and the approach of making it was strictly documentary but what we had in front of the camera, choreography, is by nature fiction.  So we were making a documentary film about fictitious events which still makes it a documentary. On the other hand you realize that invention and fiction and documentary really cannot be separated so clearly anymore.

ML: A lot of the dancers’ performances in Pina sort of reminded of silent acting, just in how incredible expressive they were without the use of dialogue. Was that something you thought about at all?

It was more obvious sometimes than in others, and maybe sometimes the effect is also from the music, because some of the music Pina that used and that was used is from the twenties, so sometimes the effect is a little more due to the music than to anything else. But of course dancers don’t need words, and it is silent language so to speak, and you can call it the only universal language because everyone can speak it and everyone can understand it. It shares that with music actually. On the other hand, some of the pieces and some of what you see in the film is utterly modern and doesn’t owe anything to the silent age. But I understand why that association happens. Sometimes all we have is the image and the music and of course, that is what you get in the silents.

JM: Could you talk a little about the eternal return of that line of dancers doing the seasons throughout Pina?

That was one of the few structural ideas I had. I love that quote from a piece of Pina when they dancers sort of go through this endless repetition of the seasons. I thought that would be a good element to be repeated so much starting in the theater, and have the actors leave the theater and in the end be out in nature and actually walk off into the sunset. It seemed to me that, for a film that was showing such a huge span of Pina’s career and her work, it would be great to have this time element in it.

You guys, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m being given big signals by our press people that I have to go on and have to let you go, I’m very sorry.  Take good care and all my very best to Minneapolis and the Walker Art Center. I can’t wait to be there again.

Related: Matt Levine and Jeremy Meckler’s essay, “Beyond Real: Wim Wenders and 3-D Film’s New Day

Reality, realism, and Richard Linklater

Earlier this week, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody posted an article online entitled “Camus, Car Crashes, Cinema.” A piece as multivalent and stimulating as its title suggests, Brody uses the recent hypothesis that Albert Camus’ 1960 death was not an accident but a meticulously staged assassination by the KGB as a springboard to ponder the […]

Albert Camus

Earlier this week, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody posted an article online entitled “Camus, Car Crashes, Cinema.” A piece as multivalent and stimulating as its title suggests, Brody uses the recent hypothesis that Albert Camus’ 1960 death was not an accident but a meticulously staged assassination by the KGB as a springboard to ponder the intersection of Camus’ life with the legacy of French cinema (and, tangentially, the prevalence of auto accidents among a lengthy roster of famous French actors and directors, and as a significant motif in landmark French films like Godard’s Weekend). Characteristically, Brody’s writing is light and intuitive, almost stream-of-consciousness, as he jumps (logically, yet unpredictably) from one concept to another.

Especially interesting in Brody’s article, I think, is a lengthy excerpt that he cites from Camus’ 1957 lecture at the University of Uppsala, which Camus delivered shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. Camus was not exactly a devout supporter of the cinema; in fact, Brody makes the point that, when the film magazine La Revue de Cinéma was losing money in 1948, Camus (who was editor at Gallimard, the publishing company responsible for the magazine) shut it down. (Film lovers shouldn’t feel too spurned by Camus’ disinterest, though: out of the ashes of La Revue de Cinéma arose the publication that would soon become Cahiers du Cinéma.) Nonetheless, in Camus’ Uppsala lecture (entitled “The Artist and His Times”), issues of cinema and its ability to convey reality (or, as Camus words it, the life of a man in its totality) were central. Brody cites the following passage from Camus:

 

What is more real … in our universe than the life of a man, and how could one hope to revive it better than in a realistic film? But under what conditions would such a film be possible? Purely imaginary ones. One would actually have to posit an ideal camera that is fixed, night and day, on this man and ceaselessly records his slightest movement. The result would be a film, the screening of which would last a lifetime and that could be seen only by viewers resigned to losing their life in the exclusive interest of the details of someone else’s. Even then, this unimaginable film wouldn’t be realistic—for the simple reason that the reality of a man’s life isn’t found only where he is. It’s also found in the other lives that shape his—first of all, the lives of those he loves, who would, in turn, have to be filmed; but also the lives of unknown others—powerful or downtrodden—fellow citizens, policemen, professors, invisible companions in mines and factories, diplomats and dictators, religious reformers, artists who create myths that govern our behavior—all told, humble representatives of the sovereign accidents that reign over even the most orderly existence. Thus there’s only one realistic film possible, the one that is endlessly projected for us by an invisible apparatus on the screen of the world. The only realistic artist would be God, if he exists. Other artists are, of necessity, unfaithful to the real.

 

Of course the cinephiliac debate over what is film’s true “vocation”—portraying reality as doggedly as possible, or embracing the film camera’s transformative, non-realistic capabilities—has persisted basically since the dawn of cinema in the late nineteenth century. And of course, the debate can never be settled because cinema has no true single vocation; as most audiences have recognized (wittingly or not) over the last 120 years, film is necessarily, inherently a blend of the two artistic modes, at once convincing in its realism and markedly expressive in its deviations from reality.

Nonetheless, this old argument is usually worthy of reconsideration, especially when voiced as eloquently as Camus does here. The argument is familiar: no single film can encompass the totality of a life, if only because a movie has to begin and end at some point, and because certain elisions and ellipses are (usually) necessary. What’s more, if one assumes that the cornerstone of a realistic film is a fixed, observational camera that never strays from its human subject, such a rigid perspective would necessarily avoid the numerous other agents and institutions that affect that person’s life.

Just as claims to the cinema’s true vocation are never successful, so, too, are arguments against film’s essence or nature always faulty in some way. (Again, there’s always that middle ground.) What Camus seems to be talking about here is not conveying reality onscreen but the aesthetic and thematic movement of realism as it has developed in film. When he speaks, for example, of a fixed, ideal camera trained on a subject night and day, he seems to be thinking ahead towards the minimalist style of observational realism that would be practiced by European arthouse modernists from the 1960s onward. We may think, for example, of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973) or Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), two films that seek primarily to observe their main characters through piercing, unwavering stares. Camus was speaking in 1957, around the time when this aesthetic tradition was first coming into play, as it was practiced especially by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1955’s Ordet and, to a lesser extent, 1943’s Day of Wrath. (Dreyer would carry this unflinching observational style to its fullest expression yet with 1964’s Gertrud). A few years after Camus’ speech, in 1962, Agnès Varda would further develop this style of observational realism with Cleo from 5 to 7.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 bruxelles

But is this brand of minimalism really the fullest embodiment of reality onscreen? This train of thought, it seems, has persisted to this day, as modern examples of “realism” onscreen might bring to mind the films of the Dardenne brothers (Rosetta, L’Enfant) or the visceral immediacy of Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff). At the time of Camus’ lecture in 1957, though, critics such as Andre Bazin and James Agee were espousing a different kind of realism (or, maybe more precisely, reality) onscreen: one that operated via the linear editing and narrative style of more traditional films but that adopted new aesthetic techniques in order to suggest the individuals and institutions that heavily affected the lives of characters. For both Bazin and Agee, Jean Renoir and William Wyler were among the most accomplished practitioners of this form of cinematic reality: films like Rules of the Game (1939) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) adopted deep-focus cinematography, on-location shooting, and ensemble casts of characters emblematic of different strata of society in order to encompass the turbulent changes then influencing French and American society, respectively. Maybe the high point of this brand of cinematic reality was Italian postwar neo-realism, embodied by Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1945) and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), which began casting nonprofessional actors—real people selected from the streets of Italian cities—in order to lend these films a greater semblance of gritty reality. If we adopt these films’ strategies (and Bazin’s and Agee’s theories), the most convincing and thorough form of cinematic reality is not unwavering minimalism but a polyphonic and visually complex style that would, as Camus might say, point towards the “humble representatives of the sovereign accidents that reign over even the most orderly existence.”

Bicycle Thieves

Again, this style is in marked contrast to the fixed, observational camera of, say, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, a film that doesn’t seem like it’s trying to be realistic (or at least, not in the literal stylistic way that we might assume that to mean). Some have called Akerman’s film hyperrealistic: its strict aesthetic conceit forces us to go beyond observation, to dig beneath the surface. The long takes and constrained perspective of the film force us to analyze what we’re seeing, to process the deceptively simple information; the style of the film aims for psychological complexity, not an observable reality. The same might be said of Bela Tarr’s Sátántangó, a seven-and-a-half hour behemoth that offers such gruelingly long takes and narrative circumvention that its minimalism becomes a form of abstract self-commentary, forcing us to question the very nature of cinematic looking (and, perhaps, to ponder the misery undergone by the characters onscreen). Even though a rigid observational style is often seen as the embodiment of cinematic realism, these telling examples aren’t necessarily trying to portray reality onscreen—they’re trying to go beyond it.

All of this is a way of saying that the “best” (most convincing, most powerful) portrayals of reality onscreen have nothing to do with their aesthetic strictures. Realism is an aesthetic category; reality, or an impression of reality, may be conveyed through a wide variety of stylistic choices. Camus may be right that the most realistic “film” possible is the one “endlessly projected for us by an invisible apparatus on the screen of the world” (an appraisal which succinctly conveys the power of cinematic looking and spectatorial identification), but he’s wrong when he claims that artists (other than God) are, “of necessity, unfaithful to the real.” The real is something to be experienced, not portrayed absolutely.

Slacker

The Walker Art Center’s upcoming retrospective of Richard Linklater films may shed some unexpected light on this debate. Few would think to label Linklater a “realist” director; he does not typically employ the stylistic or thematic traits we usually associate with realism. But look at his body of work again, and it seems, in a way, that almost all of his movies try to convey reality in their own way. Slacker jumps between an eclectic assortment of realistically flighty Austinites; Before Sunrise and Before Sunset use long takes and a gracefully observational camera to bear witness to endearingly awkward conversation (and, by being released about a decade apart, also bear witness to the passing of time and how aging changes us in small but significant ways); Tape uses raw digital video to give expression to its characters’ hostilities and desperation; subUrbia, with its heavily-scripted pronouncements of suburban ennui, tries to give urgent voice to a specific time and place; Dazed and Confused, maybe Linklater’s most pleasurable and sheerest comedy, nails the singular joys, alienations, friendships, and bright sense of expectation of the high school (and immediate post-high school existence) in 1976; and Waking Life, seemingly the most unrealistic selection in our retrospective, hyperbolically illustrates the most nagging, unanswerable questions we face as individuals going through everyday lives. (Linklater’s other films display an even further interest in tackling the mysteries and difficulties of human life—not least of them Boyhood, which Linklater has been filming periodically since 2001, and which is set to be completed in 2015. By filming certain intervals of the first fourteen years of a young boy’s life, Boyhood offers maybe the clearest example yet of Linklater’s striving for an impressionistic portrayal of the fullness and unpredictability of human life.) These Linklater films employ a wide array of aesthetic, narrative, and conceptual tricks in order to reflect, intuitively and vibrantly, the astounding richness of the human experience. (No wonder Linklater is sometimes labeled as the most humane director currently working in American movies.) As films as widely varied as Jeanne Dielman and Waking Life suggest, reality (as opposed to realism) onscreen takes on a vast number of forms—something which, considering the hugeness and extraordinary polyvalence of human life, only seems appropriate.

(Almost) 20 questions with Miranda July

Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), who last visited the Walker in 2000 to show video and performance work from her Big Miss Moviola project, returns on July 8 to present her second feature, The Future, which premiered at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Deftly balancing bathos and pathos, July’s film […]

Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), who last visited the Walker in 2000 to show video and performance work from her Big Miss Moviola project, returns on July 8 to present her second feature, The Future, which premiered at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Deftly balancing bathos and pathos, July’s film is a funny and unsettling tale about impending maturity and the responsibility that comes with it. In advance of July’s arrival, we posed a few questions to her.

  1. What have you been obsessing about lately?
    My poison oak. It’s going away more now, but there were a bunch of nights where I’d have fantasies that I could shoot my legs or cut them off and throw them out the window.
  2. What’s your guilty pleasure?
    I have pretty horrible taste in movies. If there’s an ad for a phenomenally bad-looking movie, usually a romantic comedy, I’m like ‘I definitely want to see that.’ I’m disappointed at the end but I have high hopes for them. The marketing completely works on me. I saw 50 First Dates on opening weekend. And a lot a Drew Barrymore movies. And 27 Dresses
  3. What was your worst job?
    I worked as a car door unlocker when people’d lock their keys in their car. It was a company called Pop-a-Lock and I was on call 24 hours so I’d get called out at like 3 am. Plus I wasn’t really that good at it, and that made it very stressful.
  4. What’s your favorite passage of poetry?
    That William Carlos Williams poem, the one with “sorry I ate all the plums.” My husband says that to me at random, so I associate it with him.
  5. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?
    The Velvet Underground, and all their related spheres—Warhol, even Patti Smith, just reading about that whole era. And then the Pixies, because they were modern, so it was very different.
  6. What’s your favorite comfort food?
    French toast.
  7. What’s the most overrated virtue?
    Just being good in general. But I’m always trying to be good, so I’m hoping it’s overrated.
  8. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
    When I was 16, right when I did my first play, which I put on in a punk club in my town. I remember thinking very consciously, “Ok this is it, this is what I’ll do.”
  9. What three items can always be found in your refrigerator?
    My husband has some pickled vegetables made by his mom, who passed away many years ago. He’s not ready to let go of those and they’re definitely not edible. I’m just being with them until it’s time to let them go.
  10. Which living person do you most admire?
    I admire my husband but I know him. People I don’t know? Michael Pollan seems very admirable to me. Usually I admire educators of some sort—Alice Waters is another.
  11. What artists are you most interested in at the moment?
    I brought with me on this trip a Lydia Davis book I’d read a milllion times before, just to remember that life can be good. So Lydia Davis. I’d haven’t seen Attenberg by Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, but its trailer is influencing me, and I’m excited that it exists. And the visual artist Marie Lund. I met her briefly at the Venice Biennale and later looked her up and realized I love her work. Also the website Intelligent Clashing.
  12. If you could ask one question to every person on Earth, what would it be?
    How do you get through the day?
  13. What have you been listening to lately?
    Deer Hunter, Beach House, Lightning Dust.
  14. What is your least favorite sound?
    A mosquito.
  15. What is your favorite euphemism?
    This is not a favorite, but that word reminds me of how my parents would say they were going to go take a nap, and my brother and I always took that to be a euphemism for sex, but looking back, I don’t think they had sex that much, and not in the middle of the day while we were right there. But I remember trying to play dumb, or going outside or whatever. I think they really were taking a nap.
  16. What’s your favorite mode of transport?
    Walking.
  17. Which artistic trend annoys you the most?
    I’ve done this before myself, but when people refer to their “practice” – I can’t help but smile a little bit.
  18. Do you own a status symbol, and if so, what is it?
    Is a 2003 Prius a status symbol?

Israeli Delegation Tries to Block “Miral” Screening at United Nations

  Miral is the final film in the Julian Schnabel: Artist Director Retrospective.  This Friday, director Julian Schnabel will introduce Miral for its Minneapolis premiere and engage in an audience Q & A immediately following the screening. Saturday, Julian will sit down with Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander for a Regis Dialogue. Following its world […]

 

Julian Schnabel directs actors on the set of Miral in Jerusalem

Miral is the final film in the Julian Schnabel: Artist Director Retrospective This Friday, director Julian Schnabel will introduce Miral for its Minneapolis premiere and engage in an audience Q & A immediately following the screening. Saturday, Julian will sit down with Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander for a Regis Dialogue.

Following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Miral has toured festivals, and is scheduled to screen tonight at the United Nations General Assembly. But this film is dealing with material so controversial that the Israeli delegation has stepped in to try to stop the screening. Upset by its portrayal of Israel, deputy chief of Israel’s delegation to the UN Haim Waxman called it “a clearly political and one-sided film, which advances the Palestinian agenda…it is difficult to understand the intolerable ease with which the decision was made to screen a commercial film in the General Assembly hall–something which in itself is unusual and unacceptable.” Waxman continued, insisting that this film brings the “central stage, again, to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which already receives too much attention at the UN.”

Despite their complaints, the General Assembly president, Swiss diplomat Joseph Deiss, has denied requests to cancel the screening saying that the film tells a story about peace. Rula Jebrael (the film’s screenwriter and author of the book that the film is based on) responded, saying “Miral is a story about human beings, Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and it is a film about love, education, understanding and peace. ” Schnabel, said of the film, “Obviously it’s a Palestinian story, but it’s very important that an American Jewish person tell a Palestinian story.”

Harvey Weinstein, a producer and distributer of Miral has been defending this project since he signed on to distribute it, appearing on CNN with Piers Morgan and elsewhere. In response to criticism, Weinstein said “The simple answer is if you don’t tell the story from both sides, you will never understand…I know you’re not supposed to be political, but you can’t exist in this world if you aren’t.” He continued in a later interview, saying “As a Jewish American, I can categorically state that I would not be releasing a film that was flagrantly biased towards Israel or Judaism. Miral tells a story about a young Palestinian woman, but that does not make it a polemic. By stifling discussion or pre-judging a work of art, we only perpetuate the prejudice that does so much harm.”

The UN Israeli delegation is not the only group trying to stop this film, either, with involvement from such groups as the American Jewish Committee, who wrote a letter urging Deiss to cancel tonight’s screening of the film.

As a staff member in the Walker Film/Video department and a Jewish American myself, I can’t help but feel entangled in this debate. With renewed Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, and increasing condemnation from the UN and the world, a film bringing attention to the issue is not the problem. The problem is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be cured by censoring discussion.

This controversy is reminiscent of another notoriously controversial film showing at the Walker next month. Negatives were almost burned and screenings were almost canceled because of the political content of this other film, but the director had this to say:

And, then, the mistake that Schafer made was not to believe me when I made the best showmanship suggestion I’ve ever made, which was that Citizen Kane should be run in tents all over America, advertised as “This is the film that we can’t run in your local movie house.” If we’d done that, we would have made $5 million with it.

—Orson Welles, This is Orson Welles, Harper Collins, 1992

 

For more information, see:

Interview with Julian Schnabel, BBC Article, Haaretz Article, LATimes Article, Guardian Article, Deadline Article, Jewish Telegraphic Agency Article, YNetNews Article, Jerusalem Post Article

 

Beyond “Before Night Falls”

Deborah Meyer is a photographer based in Minneapolis and Mérida who holds a long-standing background as photo stylist, producer, and co-designer for both local and national advertising projects. In addition to her freelance work, she maintains a part time position at Walker Art Center. Deborah has been an instructor at IFP Media Arts for the […]

Deborah Meyer is a photographer based in Minneapolis and Mérida who holds a long-standing background as photo stylist, producer, and co-designer for both local and national advertising projects. In addition to her freelance work, she maintains a part time position at Walker Art Center. Deborah has been an instructor at IFP Media Arts for the past twelve years. Her fine art photography has been exhibited locally and purchased for publication. 

Iglesia de Santa Ana, Centro, Mérida, Yucatán ©Deborah Meyer

Headed south of Cancun for a self imposed research trip, I detoured across the jungle for a quick weekend to explore Mérida before embarking on my work. Charming, intimate, and beautiful, Mérida invited the resulting project to happen within her city walls instead. Return trips, a house purchase, neighbors from Cuba, Manolo Rivera (1941-2006), Manolo’s adopted son Mark Swain and stays at their hotel-museum have all became part of my relationship with Mérida. Manolo, I would eventually learn, was known worldwide for his extensive Latin American and international art collections, and that in the 1980’s and 90’s supported many desperate-to-leave Cuban artists. In the presence of this inspiring figure, I knew his hotel was the place for me to teach a photographic workshop, which Manolo fully supported. I learned a little more about him during a recent drive around Mérida with Mark Swain.

While heading to Manolo’s mansion, I was told that Manolo had been introduced to and became friends with Julian Schnabel, that much of the filming of Before Night Falls happened in Mérida, including the interior of Manolo’s mansion and a neighboring residence. Manolo’s is the mansion where Julian, Dennis Hopper (he was along for the fun) and Javier Bardem temporarily resided with Manolo while the project was going on. While Mark had little interest in being an extra in the film, he instead found himself hanging out with with Dennis. Manolo on the other hand, made an appearance in the film. To myself I wondered, why Mérida for the location? My neighbor Diosmel chose Mérida to live because of its resemblance to Cuba. He said, “The colonial and French inspired architecture here reminded me of the inner pueblos or provinces in Cuba . . . Weather patterns here are very similar to the ones back home.” I suspect the light is similar as well. And all those pretty pastel and white buildings in Mérida are certainly not unlike colors applied to buildings in Cuba. Manolo’s mansion, according to Mark, is one of the buildings in Mérida whose architectural style resembles styles in Cuba, which is why that site was chosen to operate from. And the friendship with Manolo of course.

As Mark and I arrived at the mansion, his stories unfolded about Julian’s seemingly inexhaustible energy, about how, despite being there to work on a film, “he also found time to get out and find objects anywhere and everywhere from the area, which he took back to the residence and turned into art. The dining room is dedicated to Julian’s art, and the main piece in the dining room is a large wooden piece entitled El Rey (The King), dedicated to Reinaldo Arenas, the main character.”

—Deborah Meyer, 2011

 

Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls screens next Friday, March 11th as a part of the Julian Schnabel: Artist Director Film Retrospective and Regis Dialogue. Julian Schnabel will be here to discuss his films and his career with Walker chief curator, Darsie Alexander on Saturday, March 19th.

Four Ways You Can Get to Know Allen Ginsberg

This month, the Walker Art Center presents four films from the life of notorious beat poet Allen Ginsberg. As a part of 1964 Ginsburg appears in Stockhausen’s Originale: Doubletakes. Screening through October 24th in the Friedman Gallery, Ginsberg appears alongside Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and others in a performance filmed during Moorman’s […]

This month, the Walker Art Center presents four films from the life of notorious beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

As a part of 1964 Ginsburg appears in Stockhausen’s Originale: Doubletakes. Screening through October 24th in the Friedman Gallery, Ginsberg appears alongside Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and others in a performance filmed during Moorman’s Second Annual New York Avant-Garde Festival. Directed by Peter Moore. 1964/1996, 16mm transferred to video, 33 minutes.

As a part of Event Horizon Ginsberg appears in Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy screening in the Gallery 2 active zone through October 3rd. Cited as one of the most influential works of independent film and as the beginning of the New American Cinema movement, Pull My Daisy was based on Jack Kerouac’s writings and features his voice-over narration. Poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso as well as painters Larry Rivers and Alice Neel all make appearances in this seminal Beat film about the relationship between art and everyday life. 1959, 16mm transferred to video, 28 minutes

Also screening this month, Jerry Aronson’s The Life and Time of Allen Ginsberg is screening in the Lecture Room through October 10th. Winner of the International Documentary Award’s top prize, this film goes beyond Ginsberg’s poetry to uncover an American cultural icon who championed human right, challenged political and social thought, and influenced culture for more than 60 years. This moving portrait includes interviews with Joan Baez, Beck, Thurston Moore, Yoko Ono, Stan Brakhage, and others 1994, video, 82 minutes.

Finally, James Franco portrays Allen Ginsberg in the Minnesota premiere of the new feature film, Howl, on Thursday, September 30th at 7:30pm.  This new vision, which premiered at Sundance, is not strictly a documentary or a feature film, but a film that intersperses a range of styles and techniques, including animation and archival footage, to tell various elements of the story.  Lauded as echoing “the startling originality of the poem itself…a genre-bending hybrid that brilliantly captures a pivotal moment—the birth of a counterculture,”  Howl reimagines the memorable 1955 reading as well as various interviews with the writer as a way to portray him defending his position with respect to the obscenity case. The film will be introduced by directors Rob Epstein and Jerry Friedman 2010, 35mm, 90 minutes.

Oscilloscope Laboratories will release the film in Minneapolis on October 15th at the Landmark Lagoon.

Howl Trailer:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba9yazkl0UE&feature=related[/youtube]

Re-envisioning a Community Treasure

Many of you are aware that Summer Music & Movies will be on hiatus this year. We understand and appreciate how beloved the series is by the Twin Cities community. Over the more than three decades we have offered this free series to the public, Summer Music & Movies has become part of the cultural […]

Many of you are aware that Summer Music & Movies will be on hiatus this year. We understand and appreciate how beloved the series is by the Twin Cities community. Over the more than three decades we have offered this free series to the public, Summer Music & Movies has become part of the cultural fabric of the city. We are aware of the special significance of the program to the civic life of the metro area and are extremely grateful to the community for embracing it all these years.
 
As a contemporary art center committed to bringing art, artists, and audiences together in innovative ways, we think it is critical to re-evaluate all of our programming from time to time and experiment with new ideas that inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities. This summer the Walker plans a number of free events from June through August including Target Free Thursday Nights, Free First Saturdays, our new, summer-long outdoor initiative called Open Field, and, of course, our largest free attraction, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Throughout these programs you’ll find activities and amenities for all ages including an array of local bands, artist projects, and our new outdoor bar and grill.
 
Summer Music & Movies and other Walker programs—Rock the Garden, Momentum, and Choreographers’ Evening—have taken hiatuses in the past only to return reinvigorated and better than ever. We hope you’ll take part in the many free activities planned at the Walker all summer long as we re-envision how a popular program like Summer Music & Movies can be even better in the future.

Persistence of Vision: A Journey

In looking forward to the upcoming events of “Expanding the Frame: Journeys,” a parallel revealed itself to me, whether intentional or not. Besides the theme of journeys, another common thread that binds the films and artists together is the persistence of vision. This diligence spans beyond the artistry and transcends to a humanistic plane.  This […]

Zhao_Liang-Petition_PPIn looking forward to the upcoming events of “Expanding the Frame: Journeys,” a parallel revealed itself to me, whether intentional or not. Besides the theme of journeys, another common thread that binds the films and artists together is the persistence of vision. This diligence spans beyond the artistry and transcends to a humanistic plane.  This vision is what takes the artist on the aforementioned journey.

Ellen Kuras, for instance, worked for over two decades documenting the story of The Betrayal. The film was shot in multiple locations and allowed for the characters to grow in age and experience over the course of production.

Similarly, for the film Liverpool , Lisandro Alonso took his time in order for the film to organically reveal itself. Different in approach from The Betrayal, Alonso set out to the location, invested time in understanding the aesthetic and life of the people and place, and then began production nearly a year after his initial visit.  In his process, he was able not only to understand a different way of life but also capture it on film because of his meticulous process.

This persistence of vision, this dedication to the people and craft of documenting, is also beautifully apparent in the work of visiting artist Zhao Liang. In his most recent documentary film, he explores and displays what petitioners in China go through in order to potentially be heard. 

Since 1996, Zhao has filmed the “petitioners” who come to Beijing from all over China to file complaints about abuses and injustices committed by the authorities. He follows the sagas of peasants thrown off their land, workers from liquidated factories, and homeowners who have seen their dwellings demolished but received no compensation. Often living in makeshift shelters around the southern railway station, the complainants wait months or even years for justice and face brutal intimidation.

This to me is the ultimate journey, the epitome of the title, the theme, the reason they are filmmakers. I feel that it is the relation of the human first, the instinctual element that drives them to document the subject in the first place. The artistry either coincides or comes as an afterthought—second nature. Zhao Liang is definitely no exception to this.

Camera Austria recently did a piece on Liang in which he talks about his audience and his subject—a dynamic that when put together completes the cycle of the artist and the persistence of vision.  Below is an excerpt from the interview:

A conversation with Zhao Liang

In summer 2009, following the film festivals in Cannes and Locarno, Zhao Liang also presented his video documentary film “Petition” (2009) during his course at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg. He had been shooting this film for more than ten years, editing 500 hours of footage for one year. The photographer, video artist and documentary film-maker observed and accompanied people from all over China travelling to Beijing, living there in a slum, the “Petitioners’ Village”, to present their case to the Petitions Office, to complain about wrongs done to them at work or in private, and to demand justice, an undertaking that would often last several years. The interview conducted by Hildegund Amanshauser together with Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann focuses on the methodology and historical, social and art historical background of the various productions of the artist, who was born in Dandong in Liaoning province in 1971 and lives in Beijing.

Hildegund Amanshauser: With the aid of the different formats, you reach different audiences, the Chinese and the international public, the film public and the art public. What role do these different audiences play for you?

Zhao Liang: First and foremost, I address the Chinese audience. My work focuses on social reality in China and I would like it to improve something in this society, that’s the crucial thing for me. I hope that the Western public get an idea of circumstances in which people are living at the same time in a different place. I want to make people think. When my work Petition was showing in Songzhuang, the audience was upset, many of them didn’t even know that people lived in such poor conditions in China. But what happened to these people could happen to anyone, everyone has to realise that. The problems I portrayed in Petition are big problems facing Chinese society, problems that will have to be solved in the near future. The important thing for me is that as many people as possible see my film so that they learn the truth. Also, it would be important for “higher levels” to see the film too, maybe it would help them get to know our society better and implement reforms. I even considered sending the film to the chairman or the minister, but I didn’t. I cannot imagine them really watching the film, perhaps they know about the situation and don’t want to change it, or perhaps they can’t. When ordinary people see my film, they find it very exciting, and perhaps that can ultimately sway the government.

 —Hildegund Amanshauser, Camera Austria 108/2009

The full interview can be found in Camera Austria 108/2009.

It is this empathy of the human that makes films real, allows for them to permanently reside in our subconscious and consequently become more aware of the world around us.

Zhao Liang will be at the Walker Friday, January 29 at 7:30pm to introduce Petition, and Saturday January 30 for a gallery talk at 3pm followed later that evening by his film Crime and Punishment. For more details, visit walkerart.org

Reoccurring Images

Recently, seemingly obscure and/or random movies have been infiltrating my life. You see, I have no real problem with this, however, after having a film pop-up over three times within a period of one week, it begins to feel not-so-coincidental and instead just weird. Two weeks ago, I embarked on a cross-country trip to California […]

6a00e54ff1492b883401053702d4a4970c-800wiRecently, seemingly obscure and/or random movies have been infiltrating my life. You see, I have no real problem with this, however, after having a film pop-up over three times within a period of one week, it begins to feel not-so-coincidental and instead just weird.

Two weeks ago, I embarked on a cross-country trip to California via a ’99 red Chevy Cavalier. On day one, my copilot mentioned that she put Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on her laptop to watch. I laughed, found the movie fitting for our excursion, and recalled a random moment in history—when I was a freshman in college; a friend wrote a bogus grant that allowed access to the HUGE soccer dome on campus. There we projected Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on the inside of the dome and encouraged students to bring sleeping bags and lay on the Astroturf to watch the movie.

On day five of our trip (the first four were scenic-scapes of driving), we arrive in California. We take the BART to San Francisco and walk up one million hills. On the descent of the last hill, we land upon an old repertory theatre, whose marquee reads, “Tonight’s Movie: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Day six, I walk into a kitsch/vintage store and a wind-up Pee Wee doll hangs in the window.

Day Seven, the last day in California. Somewhere in Chinatown, a dusty bobble-head-sized Pee Wee guards the cash register in a tourist market.

I get home and forget about Pee Wee’s strange inclusion in our journey; how this movie and others have found a way of infusing themselves into my life. When I thought all was safe, Pee Wee turned up again, almost an entire week after arriving home. Upon making an alteration appointment for a bridesmaids dress, I asked the man at the shop where exactly they were located. He gave me the precise location, and added that there is a different tailor next door and to make sure I go to the one with Pee Wee Herman in the window.

Now it had surpassed coincidence and chance.

What this made me realize is that the movies, as much as we may deny, are inescapable. Past and present films hold a prominent place in the collective conscious and unconscious, and have a tendancy to reveal themselves when the relevant time indicates. It seems that not a single day is able to go by without some mere mention or film reference. What will be next? Cool Hand Luke or reoccurring images of Paul Newman?

So my curiosity lingers, and wonders what the new film/image will be and how it will work itself into my life.

Next