Regular Film Posting (January 13-20)

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Brave (2012) & Aladdin (1992)

Been watching Disney films with Olivia for the past months. Instead of commenting on each, will probably just lay down a general observation for both.

Disney films, for better or for worse, has been great showcase of white American contemporary culture. Contemporary, being contemporary for each of the films’ release. There is of course a significant difference between representations of women on Brave and Aladdin. Brave being one with all the strongwoman archetype, and Aladdin as a film in-transition embracing a more liberal value with regards to choice. It is within this framework of historicization that we can understand Disney films older than these two. Just think that the older the films are, the more conservative white they are.

Their general weakness is their heavy dependence on cinema as representation. The same weakness of the more mainstream/populist Hollywood products in general. I think I’ve been addressing in here in several occasions the weakness of this dependence of representation: that it does not really address any kind of root problem. Especially in contemporary times where there’s an overabundance of representation that images flow with other excess in the semio-sphere.

American liberal/populist left seem to ride on this representative-driven aesthetics too much that they became the target audience. Regardless of actual audience drive, the flak caused by “misrepresentations” and “incorrectness” seem to shift capital flow from conservative to liberal spectrum. It is not that these are actually radical. We can go on a stretch that there’s really not much difference between them, that liberalism, being more rigid than conservative with their demands, is much the same as conservatives. Political correctness buy better social capital, still, in the era when culture industry is running on zombie mode.

In this ghoulish reality, where does critique place itself? In this constant rewind of history of representation, cultural critique becomes more and more a supplement to industrial entertainment complex.

 

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Salvage (2017)

At first, the glitches incorporated within the runtime of Salvage seem to be one of self-conscious effort to bridge between the logic of the camera-tool and the logic of the supernatural. But then again, there’s too much glitch that I begin to wonder whether if this would still work if these are actually salvaged footages. So, let’s drop the technological awareness.

This is the kind of a film Salvage is: one that has given up the more interesting aspect of its grand concept for the benefit of the other. Sure, there’s very interesting aswang sequences. There’s probably an excess in actually interesting aswang sequence for that matter. The first-person/found footage aesthetic work for the chase scenes: it gave us a sense of space and the entrapment the characters in the film found themselves in despite of the vastness of the forest. But that’s probably it, the majority of the film is a chase. If anything, it leaves out another important aspect in found footage film which is its sense of exploration. Weirdly enough, these are journalists, and most of the characters on screen doesn’t seem to be interested on doing anything.

Well, there’s very little to explore. Its probably because of its fascination for the supernatural get in the way for anything intellectual to intercede with anything. Sure, it works for its own good, and a lot of scenes are interesting, but it is left to that sense of interesting (interesting for whom, is of another question) other than something which is meant to be there in the frame to be something. The end of the film does not really add up to any other thought of being or becoming but rather, only piled up with its interesting-ness. The end sure, is interesting. The cast is interesting, the sub-cast is sure more interesting. But it’s nothing more than that.

 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter’s macho-led satire films are perhaps a genre of its own. In Big Trouble in Little China, Kurt Russell is portrayed and will be remembered as this stereotypical white truck driver which has no other redeeming qualities even in a fistfight. In its own way, it provides a refreshing take on this position in power of the white image. Still, he poses as the protagonist, then again, what did he really do?

The film can only be taken for all its goodness: sloppy Chinese martial arts and magic, conflict which bridges hell from Earth, and an insurance-troubled truck driver. It is culturally inappropriate? Sure. For both sides. Big Trouble… take on all these stereotypes, made them hypervisible, to make them even less believable, to attain a different level of fiction.  After all, what else can you do with them?

This self-consciousness of fiction as final-product of cinema makes this film worth while. It’s telling you right from the start: this has magic, this has martial arts, this is a fictional world. It is less serious about its representation than it is for cinema.

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Regular Film Posting (January 6-12)

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Sorry to Bother You (2018)

It is not hard to love this film. On one end, it functions as a (re)affirmation for everyone to see it about the value of human labor as an essential to generation of any sort of value. On another, it’s a real bait for Marxists, probably a more effective bait than Young Karl Marx (2017) or any other biopics about revolutionaries.

But the bait catches real good fish this time. Nothing fancy fanservice like in Young Karl Marx quoting classic passages as film lines. Sorry to Bother You has real understanding of the film medium. More than the technical prowess, the film shows great engagement with the film form. It chose this comedic route which would make one reflexive on whether s/he should laugh. It has this very uncomfortable sense of humor, which not in anyway offensive, but targets that sense of uncomfortability. It pushes a window for thinking, and is patient enough not to make quick cuts or jumping vibe.

The film’s intelligence doesn’t lie on what it’s done to itself, but what it’s doing to you. It forces you to acknowledge the things it acknowledges: from working class struggle, to the need of class solidarity, to the propagandistic function of cinema as its general function (a film theory which I’m very fond of and have been working towards for quite some time now). But propaganda, as most public relations people would have it, is not in the sense of force-feeding, but this “forcefulness” comes in a very persuasive way. Sorry to Bother You does not tell you things, it shows. Think of Medvedkin’s Happiness (1935). It is the only closest one I can think of who treats cinema in the same way of persuasion and discussion.

In a way, the title stands for the whole film. Cinema is a bother. And the film is kind enough to apologize in the first place, but it has to tell you something. It is a very modest thing to do for a film which, if put in a different context, boasts a lot. Gladly, this also comes with that same working class modesty where it is understanding that it will get uncomfortable, and it’s time and money, but we’re in this together.

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ABCD (1985)

What ABCD does is to take the educational format (something it probably took off from Sesame Street) and take all these things which seem to be out there either in questioning or mockery. It’s hard to distinguish what does it take and does not take seriously. The length of exposure might be one key, but looking at the whole work holistically, it seem to give equal weight to everything.

This seeming flatness is something which resonates with everything Roxlee has done. It’s this sort of hippie/new age attitude towards everything. That everything is connected. While it does mock Yoga in this film, it doesn’t really remove that hippie attitude. Especially with the soundtrack.

The image featured above is probably its best instance. Not only it does resonate the primary contradictory argument every mass organizer has been pointing out, it is also quite bold. This boldness is what made this film  stood out of everything Roxlee has done. Sure there’s an ample amount of bold statements on The Great Smoke, or on Tronong Puti, or even on the Juan Films, but never really as bold as this. Although, it might be just me reading it.

 

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s probably been a decade since I last saw the film. Never been the greatest fan of it. But growing up sure changes things.

I began to appreciate how the writing in this film is so balanced. You get to remember everyone, especially those who got paid a lot. Vincent, Butch, Jules, Mia, Marcellus, Fabienne. Harvey Keitel seem to have this very small role, but sure he’s quite memorable as Mr. Wolf.

There seems to be a lot of thought placed in here than what I’ve perceived from before. In a sense, all of them characters seem to scream that it was written by a nerd. You get that, a lot. In the way they talk. It adds a lot when you consider the archetypes the characters are playing on.

And it’s weird that it’s taking on archetypes, like, it’s been refuted a decade before this film. And yet, here they are. And they work.

I think a lot has been said about its choice of form, and probably they are all true to it. I don’t know if anyone pointed out the archetype of things. It seems to me a proper entry into the postmodern, wherein it’s when it begins to sink in for most nostalgic that none of these simplicity in worldviews will ever be back. As a result, the film is quite a mess with its approach, subject, or just about everything. But Pulp Fiction being a mess that it is is probably the reason why it stands to this day. Especially now that seemingly woke goody-two-shoes will never take light the way its dialogs and representation goes. And they’re probably right about it: it’s that piece of insensitive mess that happens to get away with it in the grunge era. And that is because this film is grunge. And grunge is just a decoration in the era of Twenty-One Pilots and less of an aesthetic.

But think about how grunge worked: it’s punk’s transgression self-consciously sold out with pop rhythm (significantly slower than punk). It’s that capitalist hate sold on 7-11 shelves. No one really knows what one is to do with it. It kept kids jumping in the 90s. The adults are merely clueless. Pulp Fiction, in a way, functions the same.  It took out all of these 70s and 80s, and even earlier, archetypes of everything cinematically despicable. Made them chewable. An actually recommendable version of an Abel Ferrara late-80s / early-90s film. And that, I think is quite commendable. Unlike punk, it’s hard to make a Ferrara film recommendable to any uhhh, euro-loving cinephile. And Pulp Fiction‘s opportunism, for better or for worse, made itself quite an achievement. Like grunge.

Makes me think how impossible it is to do something transgressive these days.

Regular Film Posting (January 1-5)

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Insects (2018)

There are three living surrealists in cinema who are still actively working to this day. David Lynch seem to give up back in 2006 with Inland Empire to focus on his new age campaigns (which he calls transcendental meditation) but were able to make a come back in 2017 with a new season of Twin Peaks. Alejandro Jodorowsky is doing stuff again with his last two films being consistent with his works from his early days.

Insects is Jan Svankmajer’s second curtain call for himself. I remember him calling it quits 8 years ago with Surviving Life (within the same year as Bela Tarr’s retirement). This might not be a complete retirement for him, as I’ve read somewhere. Seems like he’s only doing what Hayao Miyazaki is doing: retirement from feature length films.

I can see the reason why. At the advent of entertainment explosion everywhere, cinema seem to be less and less of priority when it comes to pastimes. Arthouse filmmakers like Svankmajer, much as they get very privileged status in cinematic discourse, can’t seem to ensure economic stability without having to compromise with mainstream / Hollywood framework. And with Svankmajer, you really just can’t make his films compromise. But it is less because of an artist’s stubborn personality. His films are in a way, impossible to be mainstream.

Insects is that another stubborn film in its very core. It actualizes what surrealism originally is: a material which leaps from familiar to unfamiliar and back. Insects work as metacinema, but it is less concerned with commenting on its own. It’s meta-form makes a continuity between production and the product. Which makes it more of a surrealist film, than most of his works. Svankmajer made his strongest flex as a filmmaker: he’s letting us see what he’s doing and all the “faults” one might find is intentional as we can see him instructing the actors: “forget acting school”; “act without empathy.”

It’s weird seeing this film now. It seems to be something which you may see on a retrospective along with, say Last Year at Marienbad and 8 1/2. Its reflexivity has more of the modernist / futurist claim for artistic autonomy than it is of a postmodern musing. And Svankmajer is there to assure that.

“I told you,” is his last words in the film. Insects responded to that remark I had over a private conversation, that in cinemas, why materials tend to be self-reflexive is because we need to be constantly reminded that we are watching a film. It came from an insight that people seem to blur the line between the screen and real life due to the ubiquity and practical uses of screens. Svankmajer pushed this reminder further: “you’re seeing this from a screen which you do not have control of. You’re watching a film, my film.”

 

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

I’ve already said enough of this work. This would probably be a summing up.

Its form makes you need to take it seriously. Some took it as your regular Black Mirror material. You know, your favorite dose of cynicism and capitalist realism. The acceptable Thatcherite neoliberalism for the semi-woke to ignite your unconscious anti-working class sentiment (while still keeping it unconscious). You know, it doesn’t offer much for the future, and therefore it’s cool.

Bandersnatch works best if you do not take its content seriously, like most Black Mirror episodes. It’s a great exercise in cinematic expression, of course. Like the best of British TV, it moves like a film, conscious of the smaller screen size.

But none of the form is new. Bandersnatch is self-conscious of it. It presents these three layers of reappropriation of the “choose your own adventure” (CYOA) literature. Which its way of admitting that none of these are original.

Narrative-wise, it presents this interesting speculation that, what if, back in the 80s, there’s a CYOA novel which was done by a lunatic? It is in this aspect that a really good (possibly radical) element of the schizophrenic that Bandersnatch initially present. Only to suppress it, of course, in the guise of negative popular discourse surrounding schizophrenia. Reverting back to the very neurotic character of the control freak paranoid of control.

There’s several endings for the material. All of them are admittedly quite a disappointment. Like most Black Mirror endings, all of them are non-endings. Symptomatic most probably of its capitalist realism. Although the processes of getting to the ending are most enjoyable much as they are frustrating. The illusion of control is what makes it attractive. It is this auto-generation of pain-enjoyment that one can’t really dismiss Bandersnatch as mere hype. Or perhaps, this pain-enjoyment is the reason of its hype. Like in a Black Mirror ending, you’ll realize you’re not really in control. But then again, like all good ideological deployments in cultural products there’s the good old Zizekian formula: you actually know, but you still did it.

 

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Bird Box (2018)

What could possibly go wrong with a dystopian film? Nothing much. It’s already wrong. It’s dystopian already.

I really wanted to love the film. But it has this TV Movie feel that as if none of these were taken with really great consideration.

It has these bits of things which is good. Charlie’s character provided a really good metacritique of prominent trends in dystopian literature. But, I don’t think this critique is what the film needs. It probably needs more meta: why not a critique of dystopian literature itself?

Bird Box‘s dystopian apologism, however, provided an indirect counter argument with Jameson’s “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Essentially, the film answered just that: capitalism ended with the alien invasion. Only it ended with a positive feedback against the “creatures”: if the problem is seeing, we can just forget seeing completely. Looks like Saramago’s Blindness in reverse.

Again, like Black Mirror, it concluded with a non-ending. None of the home of the blind sanctuary helped resolved the real threat of the creatures. Then again, like most dystopian literature, there’s only two options provided: non-resistance or compromise.

 

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BLACKkKLANSMAN (2018)

BlacKKKlansman is clear with its intent. It does not really resolve a compromise between being with the police and the black liberation. Its conclusion made it sure.

What it highlights more is the solidarity produced by the Black Liberation not just within the movement, but even outside of it. In the end, it doesn’t really exclusively give priority with black liberation, as white-extremist reaction would have it. Although the form might make it seem like it.

It all boils down on whether the film can hold firm of its position transhistorically with the method it uses for now. It seems that the film tries to negotiate between the state disciplinary apparatus and black liberation while making us shift its focus on the infiltration mission. BlacKKKlansman seems to situate itself within the specificity of its time.

But then again, this is cinema. And what’s more, Hollywood cinema.

What it gets wrong, is that it falls bait with all of Trump’s racist drama. That it only stand within this specific wrong: what if Trump changed his mind? In the end, BlacKKKlansman will remain reactive. There’s a lot of potential in the material, but it falls within this very respect of the source that it did not get to fulfill its full potential. Then again, there goes its limit as a biopic.

 

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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

There seems to be a lot of negative reaction against Michael Moore’s latest essay. Mostly coming from his supposedly “empty” ranting. Of course, he can be as liberal as he gets. But thanks to this recent development at least we can hear a disavowal of the classic AND the neoliberal framework in the frame of class struggle.

There’s a bit in the film wherein Moore addressed this necessity to reshift our focus on the working class instead of dividing our attention with identity politics. That identity politics — whether racial or gender politics — have indeed been reappropriated by bourgeoisie as their tactic in the dawn of the 21st century, to reassure votes, and therefore, have them remain in power. Something BlacKKKlansman seem to fleetingly address but only to present it as white discourse.

But Moore seems to be naive with his trust of the young ones trying to change Democrats. I’m not really sure though how to respond to this properly as a Maoist, since it seems to be a very valid tactic on my standpoint. But, what also needs to be addressed is that it should be transitory. Like how representative politics should have been transitory on any actually working democracy.

But then again, who knows?

As a political material, I think, there’s more to learn here than on earlier attempts of Moore to critique politics on his middle-aged naivete. This fruitful maturity is welcome. No matter how gimicky Moore has become, seems like his resolve in here goes beyond mere gimick: this is an actual document of Moore making an action. The image above becomes more of a symbolic act for a direct action against the perpetrators. He’s alone there. What more if there’s a crowd to flood the governor with the poisoned water he made Flint drink?