Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Un Chien Andalou (1929): Spectatorship

Un Chien Andalou was the calling card of two desperate, unknown Spanish artists. It “came from an encounter between two dreams.”  The script was an easy and joyful joint collaboration between Buñuel and Dali (Buñuel would continue to write scripts in collaboration for the rest of his life), and Buñuel shot the film quickly over two weeks on a small budget supplied by his mother. Dali later claimed to have had a greater involvement in the filming, but by all contemporaneous accounts this does not seem to have been the case.

The film illustrates Buñuel’s awesome ability as a fledgling filmmaker and served as a calling card for Buñuel and Dali into the elite club of the surrealists. After just over seventy years, the remarkable opening sequence still retains its power: “Once upon a time.” the introductory title proclaims. A proletarian Buñuel, feverishly puffing a cigarette, sharpens the blade of a razor. He cuts his fingernail to prove it is sharp. He exits the room for a balcony and looks at the full moon. A slither of a cloud is about to bisect the moon. Buñuel forces open wide the eye of a woman who has appeared from nowhere. The cloud cuts across the surface of the moon and the razor slices the eye apart. There is a second title, “Eight years later,” which like all of the titles in the film is paradoxical and seemingly irrelevant.
This sequence still shocks and it is purported that Buñuel, although the originator of the idea and the images, was nauseated the first few times he viewed the scene. This is the most famous sequence but it is also the key to the rest of the film. As Jean Vigo so profoundly stated: “Can there be any spectacle more terrible than the sight of a cloud obscuring the moon at its full? The prologue can hardly have one indifferent. It tells us that in this film we must see with a different eye.” 

It is with this different perspective that the film must be viewed. One sequence leads seductively to the succeeding one, objects from one shot reappear in the next, a process of free association occurs; the illusion of a narrative of sorts develops. Dali stated in 1928, of the film’s theme: “the pure and correct line of ‘conduct’ of a human who pursues love through wretched humanitarian, patriotic ideals and the other miserable workings of reality.” This seems to be the general perspective of most writers discussing the film. Nevertheless, Buñuel offered an alternative explanation: “Our only rule was very simple: No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.” 

FM4 - Spectatorship - Kenneth Anger: Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

'Rabbit's Moon' is a short avant-garde film directed by Kenneth Anger in the style of both mime, commedia dell'arte (a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century) and Kabuki theatre. The title refers to the Japanese myth about a rabbit on the moon. The story focuses on Pierrot trying to obtain the unattainable moon. Harlequin appears and entertains Pierrot with sword play, juggling, and dance. Pierrot remains distraught, so Harlequin summons Columbina to help uplift Pierrot.

Although the film was originally made in 1950, two further cuts were created, one in 1972 and another in 1979, both with different soundtracks. This is the 1979 edit.

'Scorpio Rising' is a 1964 experimental film by Kenneth Anger. Themes central to the film include the occult, biker subculture, Catholicism and Nazism; the film also explores the worship of rebel icons of the era, namely James Dean and Marlon Brando. As with many of Anger's films, 'Scorpio Rising' contains no dialogue - it instead features a prominent soundtrack consisting of 50s and 60s pop, including songs by Ricky Nelson, The Angels, The Crystals, Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley & Ray Charles.

Anger has been cited as an important influence on later film directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and John Waters. He has also been described as having "a profound impact on the work of many other filmmakers and artists, as well as on music video as an emergent art form using dream sequence, dance, fantasy, and narrative."

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Spectatorship - Approaches to Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

When studying approaches to Spectatorship and Experimental and Expanded Film/Video it is essential to consider your own experiences of film viewing and what you expect from film viewing itself. Mainstream expectations always interfere with contrasting approaches to film construction and can lead to negative viewpoints. Experimental films, by their very nature, seek to subvert conventional expectations of film form and narrative. They tend to explore experiences and observations that can't be visualised by the more formal structures of  mainstream cinema. 

Whenever discussing experimental films an analysis must therefore include the content of the film itself (the techniques employed) and the expectations involved in the experience of viewing each work. The conditions of viewing must also be taken into consideration as every viewing can be defined as different and can have notably varying experiences due to its circumstances (a classroom environment being one). When you respond in a group you may adopt the views of 'others' which may influence your own personal response.

A good response will:
  • Take into account the technical elements of cinema construction
  • Be aware of the themes of the film (an ability to construct meaning)
  • Acknowledge that the film will challenge the spectator
  • Discuss the techniques that the film employs
  • Respond on a personal level
  • Discuss an understanding or a lack of understanding
  • Understand that confusion or boredom/lack of interest may be a response 
  • Be able to recognise experimental approaches and debate the use of film techniques opposed to pre-determined ideas of more formal mainstream cinema


FM4 - Spectatorship - Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

Definition of the ‘avant-garde’:

Rupture with Tradition: Characterised by an impulse to "make it new" and by an anti-traditionalism. A total rupture with tradition and attack on the institutions of Art and Literature within bourgeois society. A rejection of all absolute aesthetic conventions and considerations of taste. Characterised by intellectual playfulness and mystification.

Formal Subversion: Culture and its norms were viewed as an artificial arrangement to be subverted, parodied and transgressed. Shock tactics and anti-art gestures were used to shake the public out of its apathetic acceptance of outmoded values. 'Avant-garde' art decomposed old frames of reference; it values fragments, curious collections and unexpected juxtapositions - erotic, exotic, and unconscious. Spontaneous, the primitive and the irrational were prized. Breaks down barriers between conscious and unconscious and liberates the imagination bringing about new perceptions and new social relations.

Thematic Nihilism: A general loss of faith in absolutes: God, Man, Reason, Truth, Beauty, Honour, Authority, Reason, logic, language and accepted social values were all rejected. They defined themselves in opposition to the dominant conservative forces within society often seeing themselves as aesthetic terrorists antagonistic to accepted social ideals and values.

Andy Warhol
‘Sleep’ (1963) - Avant-garde/Static camera/Edited/Silent/Non-narrative
‘Empire’ (1964) - Avant-garde/Static camera/Silent/Non-narrative
Kenneth Anger
‘Fireworks’ (1947) - Avant-garde/Homosexual Drama/Music
‘Rabbit’s Moon’ (1950) - Avant-garde/Commedia Del’arte/Music
‘Scorpio Rising’ (1964)
Maya Deren
‘Meshes Of The Afternoon’ (1943)
Stan Brakhage
‘Mothlight’ (1963)
‘Stellar’ (1993)
Godfrey Reggio
‘Koyaanisqatsi’(1982)- Narrative inferred by images/Music/Environmental
The Quay Brothers
‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ (1984)
Simon Pummell
‘Bodysong’ (2003) – Stock footage/Narrative inferred by images/Music
Chris Marker
‘La Jettee’ (1962) – B&W Stills/Photo narrative/Voice over narrative

Surrealist examples
Luis Bunuel
‘Un Chien Andalou’ (1929) – Surreal/No narrative logic/Aesthetic
Jan Svankmajer
‘Darkness Light Darkness’ (1990) – Surreal/Narrative/Stop-motion animation
David Lynch
‘Eraserhead’ (1977)

Music Videos
Music videos frequently draw upon techniques from experimental filmmaking. Experimental films differ from regular fiction filmmaking. They use narrative form, but they also have other distinctive tactics. Experimental films often draw upon two other types of form: "abstract" and "associational”. Abstract, and associational form are intended as ways of describing how different types of form have profound effects on the way spectators perceive films.

‘Super Massive Blackhole’ – Floria Sigismondi
‘Human Behaviour’ – Michel Gondry

FM4 - Spectatorship - Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

Patrick Phillips is Chief Examiner for A Level Film Studies, his understanding in the area of meaning and response, the relationship between film text and spectator, as well as counter cinema may prove useful in developing your critical responses to this topic.

Experimental film handles time in quite bizarre ways, unlike mainstream cinema logic. Often there is the sense of being outside of time, or perhaps, being in a sort of dream time.

Space is often problematic in experimental film, location is often vague and can have the sense of a theatrical set or, as above, a sense of being in a dream landscape. Some films, often those dealing in abstract shapes, are more about the interaction of light and space.

Causality is often nowhere to be found, there is an incoherence and illogicality that appears to defy the normal rules of cause and effect. This defiance or refusal of logic is one of the major generic signifiers of experimental film as is its insistence that the only logic is the logic of dreams.

It is perfectly possible in the more abstract forms of experimental or expanded Cinema for there to be no characters at all. They are often people free zones. Characters, if they appear, will often seem trapped in a range of behaviours that may seem to us spectators without either motivation, coherence or any definable logic. They can appear rather like the puppet creatures of an unknown and indecipherable puppet master.

In experimental cinema an obvious narrative is generally dispensed with in favour of something far more problematic and challenging. It is often as if the jigsaw of narrative has been scattered to the four winds. In some people free films there is no narrative to be discovered at all except perhaps to speculate where the joins come in a looped film.

Making meaning is the kernel of the problem for the spectator at a showing of experimental or expanded Cinema. The spectator is bereft of the usual genre signifiers which in mainstream cinema help him or her with responses. Basically the spectator is unsure as to what mode of reception he should settle into.
  • Should she attempt to make sense of what she’s viewing or should she abandon logics and attempt to make aesthetic sense of what is before her?
  • Should she read the gallery catalogue and count the number of artwords she does not understand?
  • She probably often exists in a continual state of interpretive confusion or uncertainty.

While there can be suspense and emotion generated by experimental cinema it is not usually its principal aim or concern. Images can be particularly powerful and visceral, think of the cutting of that eyeball in 'The Andalusian Dog', however, experimental cinema is more often described as challenging or unsettling as the imagery and construction is often powerful enough to produce these mental and emotional states in the spectator. Conversely there is, all too often, a take it or leave it approach to the spectator in that his comfort, her interests are not catered to at all.

Running times of experimental cinema rarely conform to mainstream practice. Only 'Man with a Movie Camera' and 'Run Lola Run' seem to have been intended for the general cinema goer. Andy Warhol’s film which watches the Manhattan skyline for hours and hours and hours and hours certainly does not conform.

The phrase, determining limits to originality, would be loathed by those involved in experimental cinema. Genre conventions would be equally despised and only hinted at to be subverted.

The aim is never to provide cosy recognition for the audience, rather they are to be made uncomfortable and unsettled.

While some experimental or expanded Cinema can seem more like hard work than pleasure, much of this genre continues to offer pleasure but pleasure of a more cerebral and aesthetic sort. It can also help break the mould of conventional ways of seeing and experiencing the moving image which can be life enhancing in that it expands modes of consciousness. It can also, through its modes of expression, be importantly memorable in the way that good poetry is. Indeed, it can often aspire to the condition of great music.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Spectatorship - Kenneth Anger: Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

Kenneth Anger is an American underground experimental filmmaker, occasional actor and author. Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which in particular have been grouped together as the "Magick Lantern Cycle," and form the basis of Anger's reputation as one of the most influential independent filmmakers in cinema history. His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing "elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle." Anger himself has been described as "one of America's first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner," and his "role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate", with several being released prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in the United States. He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley, and is a follower of Crowley's religion, Thelema.

As Anger discovered his homosexuality, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United States, he began associating with the underground gay scene. At some point in the mid 1940s, he was arrested by the police in a "homosexual entrapment," after which he decided to move out of his parents' home, gaining his own sparse apartment largely financed by his grandmother, and abandoning the name Anglemyer in favor of Anger. He started attending the University of Southern California, where he studied cinema, and also began experimenting with the use of mind-altering drugs like cannabis and peyote. It was then that he decided to produce a film that would deal with his sexuality, just as other gay avant-garde film makers like Willard Maas were doing in that decade. The result was the short film Fireworks, which was created in 1947 but only exhibited publicly in 1948.

Upon release of the work, Anger was arrested on obscenity charges. He was acquitted, after the case went to the Supreme Court of California, which deemed it to be art rather than pornography. Anger made the claim to have been seventeen years old when he made it, despite the fact that he was actually twenty, presumably to present himself as more of an enfant terrible. A homoerotic work lasting only 14 minutes, Fireworks revolves around a young man (played by Anger himself) associating with various navy sailors, who eventually turn on him, stripping him naked and beating him to death, ripping open his chest to find a clock ticking inside. Several fireworks then explode, accompanied by a burning Christmas tree and the final shot shows the young man lying in bed next to another topless man. Of this film, Anger would later state in 1966 that "This flick is all I have to say about being 17, the United States Navy, American Christmas and the fourth of July."

Sunday, 19 November 2017

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

 Urban Stories - Chungking Express

Wong Kar-wai is seen as one of the filmmakers able enough to capture the postmodern qualities of contemporary cities such as Hong Kong. Ping-kwan posits that in Chungking Express Wong Kar-wai creates a postmodern pastiche out of different parts of the city, but because the names refer to real places they reconstitute the cinematic city from its parts –
a postmodern pastiche of Chungking Mansion in Tsimshatsui and a fast-food place called Midnight Express in the Lan Kwai Fong area in Central. The pastiche of the names of places in the title, like the pastiche of the two unrelated stories in the film, helps us to blur geographical divisions and discredit referentiality. Yet the use of the actual names of these two places, as well as the sensitive lingering of the camera and the attention to details in art direction, also redirect our attention to the specific urban sites in Hong Kong.
Read more about Hong Kong and 'Chungking Express' in chapter 4 pg.94. Also useful for Film Noir and French New Wave.


FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

First and foremost, Chungking Express is about relationships in an urban environment. The Hong Kong that we see in Wong's film is a densely populated, multi-national environment that influences the characters. He said, "I think a lot of city people have a lot of emotions but sometimes they can't find the people to express them to. That's something the characters in the film share. Tony talks to a bar of soap; Faye steals into Tony's home and gets satisfaction from arranging other people's stuff; and Takeshi has his pineapples. They all project their emotions on certain objects."

For all of its stylish camerawork, Chungking Express is ultimately a film about human behaviour. One of the joys in watching this movie is seeing how these characters interact with one another. How they act and react to what each other says and does. The film holds a hypnotic spell over the viewer as they get sucked into these characters' lives and begin to care about them. As one character observes, "But for some dreams, you'd never wake up." And that's the feeling one gets from this film. You never want it to end.

Read more @

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express/La Haine World Cinema Contexts

Click above to download

Saturday, 18 November 2017

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

Urban Stories : Chungking Express

World Cinema Masterpiece: Chungking Express

Extract from: Left Field Cinema 

One of the most remarkable aspects of Chungking Express is its visual style. A thousand words could be used to describe this but none of them will ever truly capture Doyle and Wong’s poetry in motion which through truly inspired and unique cinematography achieves something very, very rare. Their distinct hand held style gets them close to the action, so close that no matter what format you view the film in you get a truly honest sense of location; but simultaneously the film is for large sections treats the audience as voyeurs observing these struggling couples from behind a jarred doors, in mirror reflections or from behind a bustling crowd, through this technique there are some excellent uses of deep focus. Along with this they’ve combined a dizzy sense of motion (the shots are rarely static) and dazzling colours, opulent yellows and deep blues, along with many others from a wide spectrum. Although there has clearly been some heavy colour grading it all feels natural; in contradiction with the heavy use of artificial light. It’s almost an hour into the film before we receive our first glimpses of sunlight, and even then it’s very brief. Otherwise it is almost entirely lit from the varying lights of the city, often combining warm and cold light in effective ways: at one point the woman in the blonde wig walks through a red light followed by a blue, followed by another red and so on. This explosively exciting cinematography is matched by Chungking Express’ speedy editing, often jumpcutting scenes and moving to bizarre cutaways, it all breezes by at an extraordinary pace for a film which doesn’t really have many events. Its effervescing style is both deliciously distinctive; elusively hypnotic and captures the beauty of this intoxicating metropolis. If these adjectives seem vague and flakey then I apologise, but honestly no words will suffice; perhaps the best description which others have used is kaleidoscopic.

This aspect is one which helps elevate Chungking Express to masterpiece status. Another aspect is Faye and Cop 663’s unquestionable and unquantifiable sexual chemistry. Faye has a magical energy which once again evades definition or explanation; likewise, Leung’s stiff, ridged but quietly contemplative, sweet, and heart broken Cop 663 contrasts well, but the attraction between them is what makes the film. Even when they’re not in the same room as one and other, the connection can be still felt, and this is what Chungking Express is about, the brief and fleeting connections between people worlds apart in the bustling city state of Hong Kong; connections created between characters who barely know each other. Wong uses all of his narrative restraint in keeping the two stories simple and yet utterly involving. He gives us narration and idiosyncrasies of all the major characters; be it the Woman in the blonde wig’s continual wearing of sunglasses and a raincoat, as she doesn’t know “when it will rain or when it will shine”; Cop 223’s obsessive compulsion - buying tinned pineapples with a May 1st expiry date; Cop 663’s habit of talking to a bar of soap, a towel or even cuddly toys, or Faye’s slightly irritating continual playing of “California Dreaming” by the Mamma’s and the Pappa’s (audiences will be forgiven if they’re a little sick of this song by the time the closing credits role.)

The characters are also reverse clichés in many respects, not so much now but in the year of the production the stereotypical Hong Kong police officer was basically Chow Yun Fat’s Inspector Yuen from John Woo’s 1992 action flick Hard Boiled. A dedicated police man whose life revolves around his occupation, who’s ruthless with a firearm and shoots first asks questions if the plot gives him room to. If we’re honest the evolution of this stereotype hasn’t been too profound in the years that followed, post hand over and we’re still seeing this sort of dedicated portrayal in Wai-keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak’s Infernal Affairs. Granted Tony Leung’s portrayal of Chan Wing Yan in Infernal Affairs is far more complex than the characters of an average Woo film but it still amounts to the same type of police officer; flawed and dedicated to the point of being totally engulfed by his work. In Chungking Express neither Cop 663 or Cop 223 can be described as hardened tough guys, 223 gets to briefly chase a criminal in the early stages of the film but other than this minor exception neither of them are seen doing any police work, their stories are not about their jobs, but about them as people. This is a master stroke from Wong as it allows the narrative to abstract itself from the potentially sensationalised nature of city policing. Cop 663 and 223 are instead shown to be real human beings, emotional, heartbroken, and grieving for the relationships they’ve lost; rather than being the typical laconic male figure of strength and solidarity they are instead a rather talky pair, needy and desperate for affection. The Woman in the Blonde Wig is also another contortion of a noir cliché, taking the femme fatal role, and instead of making her cold heart melt Wong keeps her totally consistent, ruthless and professional up to the end of her story. Then there’s Faye the lively girl working at the midnight express, a free spirit and a true eccentric, traditionally this sort of behaviour in woman is portrayed as “nice, but needs to be controlled by her strong willed husband” well here, like the Woman in the Blonde Wig, Faye stays faithful to her spirit right up to the end and never compromises her lifestyle for a man. In this sense both of the female leads don’t develop much, but they’re not in need to development, they are who they are and there’s no problem in that; it is both the cops who need to sort their lives out and get over their lost loves.

Wong shot the film in a two month lull while the much bigger shoot of Ashes of Time had ground to a hault. He literally shot Chungking Express on-the-run. Never stopping to breath they completed the shoot in chronological order within 24 days; they did this through low-budget and resourceful film making using crew’s houses and flats as locations for the homes of the characters. This guerilla style is part of the method which allowed Wong to capture the kinetic vibrancy of Hong Kong, a bustling street scene is actually shot in a bustling street, a person’s house is actually a person’s house. Night or day, light or dark Wong shot it how it was. Writing the scenes the night before the shoot, the film feels fresh and desultory - because it was, never given time to stagnate everything moves faster than you’ll ever expect.