Saturday, August 25, 2012

I've already mentioned two deaths, that of Remy Charlip and of Charles Bergengren. Another recent death was that of Chris Marker, the French filmmaker. He died on July 31st, which turned out to have been his 91st birthday. What was so interesting to me was that all the obituaries claimed that he was such a mysterious person; he never struck me that way. I guess because, over the years, a number of people i knew had gotten to meet him, work with him, know him, and they always described him as amiable and very focused and funny. But i loved his films. Some of the ones i loved were not so admired by others. Everyone seems to love "La Jetee" and "Sans Soleil" but i also loved "Le Mystere Koumiko" and "The Case of the Grinning Cat" and "Le Joli Mai". I liked the fact that, when he found it more difficult to make films, he simply shifted his focus to photography and media installations. But his film-essays will remain as an important "possibility" in the history of film.

It was strange that he died when he did, on his birthday, in the middle of the coverage of the Olympics, because "Le Mystere Koumiko" was such an elegiac portrait of Tokyo in 1964, when it was in the midst of the Olympics. From Tokyo in 1964 to London in 2012, i know that the Tokyo Olympics was one of the first times i was conscious of the media coverage. Then, it was on ABC, and that was the whole "Wide World of Sports" treatment of the Olympics, with coverage of everything. Now, it's become so compartmentalized, and prejudged. One thing about NBC: it was hard for NBC to go outside their playbook. One example was diving. The United States had been the dominant force in diving in the 1980s, but in the past decade, Olympic medals for diving have been very few and very far between. So diving was basically shunted to the side. And there was no plan (at all) to interview any of the divers.

And then, the United States wound up winning four medals. Two bronze (in Men's Synchronized Springboard and Men's Synchronized Platform), one silver (in Women's Synchronized Springboard) and one gold (in Men's Platform). The two big stories were: 1) Troy Dumais, who has represented the US in five Olympics without ever getting a medal, finally won a medal, a bronze in the Men's Synchronized Springboard  with Kristian Ipsen as his partner; 2) David Boudia won the first gold for an American in diving since Greg Louganis in 1988 (as well as a bronze in the Men's Synchornized Platform with Nick McCrory as his partner). Were any of these people interviewed by NBC? If they were, i missed it. NBC simply ignored them. NBC hadn't intended to interview any of the divers, and winning medals wasn't going to dissuade NBC from its plans. The big news was going to be Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, and damn if that wasn't going to be what NBC showed us!

And somehow, it reminded me of "Le Mystere Koumiko": whatever Chris Marker's intentions were when he traveled to Tokyo during the Olympics, once Marker met Koumiko, his focus became a (very gentle) investigation into her personality. For many people, that gentle quizzical quality is a problem, but for me, it's part of the enchantment, an enchantment that i find in many other Marker works, a skeptical but compassionate inquisition which is the hallmark of a sensibility at once agnostic, humanistic, and resolutely affectionate. For Chris Marker, the point of making films was to keep oneself open, even if the evidence is ovrewhelmingly pessimistic (as in "A Grin Without a Cat").

Friday, August 24, 2012

I mentioned recent deaths. Another (surprising) one was the passing of Charles Bergengren on July 16th. I hadn't actually seen Charlie in about a decade. Maybe more! He had been teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art for the last two decades, a professor of art history and architecture. But i met Charlie in 1969-70, when he was working for Anthology Film Archives when it opened at the Public Theater. He was always dressed in brightly colored shirts, which usually came from South America. He was really quite a sight, because he was tall (i think he was 6' 5") and thin, with long hair and a beard, and he'd be riding his bike through the East Village. He moved on, to Cleveland, where he had a wonderful career as a teacher: there have been a lot of tributes from students on his Facebook memorial page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It has been two months since my attention turned to this blog. And, yes, a lot has happened. I've started to contribute my grades to CriticWire again. I'm still skeptical about this whole idea of consensus as a critical methodology... but we'll get to that later.

I've been going to various bookstores and magazine shops, waiting for the September 2012 issue of Sight & Sound to make it to our shores. (I just went today, and there's still the August 2012 issue, devoted to Alfred Hitchcock.) Of course, i've read all the stuff online, but i'd like to get ahold of the magazine. (Ok, the big news was that "Vertigo" replaced "Citizen Kane" as the Number One entry in the Top Ten poll.) "Citizen Kane" had been Number One in Sight & Sound's poll in 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002: a fifty-year-run.

Too many people are (i think) getting bent out of shape about the poll. There aren't enough women represented on the poll. (But what's the consensus on which film directed by a women is important?) The poll is too historical, there aren't enough "recent" (made within the last decade) films. (But what would a consensus be on which film is important, and from where?) When people point to the fact that, in the first Sight & Sound poll of 1952, De Sica's "Ladri di Biciclette" made it to the Top Ten, and in the Sight & Sound poll of 1962, Antonioni's "L'Avventura" was the Number Two film (after "Citizen Kane"), what people forget is that, at the time, there were not as many films that had been made, and both films represented a very specific aesthetic which was agreed upon as important (Neo-Realism in the case of the former and Modernism in the case of the latter). But i'd like to take time to really look at the poll, not just the Top Ten (or even the Top Fifty) but also the various individual lists (which are available online). And i do have my own thoughts about the poll, but i personally think it is what it is, and it's a fair representation of what the canon of film looks like right now. But this consensus stuff: that wasn't why people read Otis Ferguson, or James Agee, or Manny Farber, or Dwight MacDonald, or Pauline Kael, or Judith Crist, or Andrew Sarris. You read them for their individual opinions. Too many people don't understand that you don't read a critic because you always agree with them (how can that happen?) but because their insights might show you something you might not think of yourself, or might expand your understanding or appreciation. (I always point to Manny Farber and Pat Patterson's review of Fassbinder's "The Merchant of Four Seasons" in Artforum; i'd already seen a number of Fassbinder films, because Larry Kardish had recommended Fassbinder among the filmmakers i should check out in Das Neue Kino retrospective at MoMA, but i was kind of neutral, and Farber and Patterson pointed out the specifics of Fassbinder's visual style, and made me appreciate it.) I mention this, even though, when i did meet Manny Farber, he turned out to be such a pig, i never felt the need to further the acquaintance. (Evidently, he mellowed once he got out to UCSD, where he taught a number of friends of mine, but that was long after my first encounters with him.) But this consensus stuff: what does it prove?

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of two "institutions" which have proven to be of great significance to me personally. One is the Judson Dance Theater, the other is the New York Film Festival. I'll be writing more, but suffice it to say that whatever i know about dance and performance, and film, i wouldn't have known without those institutions.

On another note: there have been so many deaths of late. On August 14th, Remy Charlip died in San Francisco. Such a dear man, he moved out to San Francisco a while ago, and in 2005, he suffered a stroke, and never quite fully recovered. But i remember this because, when i helped Wendy Perron and Cynthia Hedstrom with the Judson Dance Theater Reconstructions in 1982, Remy was one of the people i hadn't really known before, who became a friend. Another was Robert Ellis Dunn. I had no idea that Remy had been the inspiration for Brian Selznick's book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"; the book is dedicated to him, and Remy posed as George Melies!

And there have been some really fascinating movies of late. Chantal Akerman's "Almayer's Folly" played for a week at Anthology Film Archives, and it's certainly one of the best movies of the year, even though i have some reservations in terms of how Akerman adapts the Joseph Conrad novel. So Yong Kim is one of the best American directors now working; her first two movies, "In Between Days" and "Treeless Mountain," were two of the best independent films of the last decade. Her latest film, "For Ellen," is problematic. I respect what she's trying to do in the movie, there is an attempt to extend her range in terms of subject matter (having a male protagonist, for instance) and there are wonderful scenes, but the last twenty minutes or so seem to lose focus: the movie seems to dribble away.

But i want to write more about these movies, as well as other movies i've seen lately, and i'll write more about Sight & Sound and film canons.