Re-framing the frame

Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.
Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.

‘Framing is a position of thinking.’

– Daniel Frampton, Filmosophy, p. 125.

As previously alluded to, I’m in the very strange process of having to think through my own comprehension of the cinematic medium. In a way, I’m taking baby steps towards my own theory of film. I’ll be taking these initial explorations to a couple of conferences in New Zealand in a couple of months, and I’m also running a studio around the same topic in the second half of the year.

The basis of this new research is that throughout film history, film theory, the notion of the ‘frame’ is never questioned. So much of this is due to the fact that up until very recently, the frame itself was a tangible thing: there’s little need to theorise or philosophise about something you can cut up and hold in your hand. While my research goes out on multiple tangents, the ones we’ll be looking at in the studio have to do with our framing of the world, and how we can link this notion of framing to our conception of self, and our own thought process. It sounds pretentious, I’m well aware, but I’m hoping that through exploring what a cinematic frame is in 2015, we can move towards a comprehension of digital cinema that is either entirely new or, at best, a – ahem – reframing of older theories of film form and philosophy.

My weekend, in film

As you will have gathered on Friday, I put together a rather formidable schedule of film viewing. This was partly due to the need to do a bit of catch-up, but also because after watching Snowpiercer and Drive the previous week, I was just in the mood to get some serious movie-watching done.

I was – well – well, look, I didn’t make it through all seven films. Lastnight, after half an hour or so of Christophe Honoré’s La Belle Personne, I hit critical mass and needed to switch off. This is no reflection on poor M. Honoré: his film looks stunning, and I’ll certainly return to it in the coming days.

Of those I did watch, I enjoyed The American most of all. Rather than re-hash my thoughts all over again, though, here they are, re-posted from my Letterboxd profile. Continue reading “My weekend, in film”

On Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is a funny one. In a lot of ways it’s a mere shadow of films like The Road or I Am Legend, in the sense that humanity’s last remnants must struggle to survive after some great global calamity. However, it’s also about the Arab Spring. Maybe. Or about the Occupy movement. But, again, it’s not. Because the film was based on an obscure French graphic novel released some thirty years ago.

The parallel most easily drawn, I think, is with Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In terms of setting, mood, tone, colour palette, the two films work quite well in this politico-apocalyptic mode. The fact that Snowpiercer (and its originator, Le Transperceneige) take place on a train, is often secondary to the class struggles that occur within. I’ve not read the comic, but I watched the French-language adaptation documentary on the bluray, and it seems that director Bong Joon Ho was determined to adapt the story rather than just translate it directly to the screen. This works, for me, in the film’s favour. The characters are mostly changed, from what I can tell; rather the setting, mood, and overall arcs are what remain from the comic.

As a few friends have noted, the pacing is odd, and I tend to agree. Rather than build and build right to the climax, the film seems to peak and trough with no rhythm. There are some stunning sequences, including the long-distance gunfight between carriages on a long bend: possibly my favourite from the entire film. These great set-pieces, though, are disconnected, and don’t fall into any sequential logic.

Snowpiercer fits alongside the other texts I’ve mentioned as ‘political’ cinema, albeit speculative. However, more than that, it fits into a cultural movement that transcends culture: what scientists and social commentators are calling the Anthropocene. McKenzie Wark has written and spoken eloquently on the cinema of the Anthropocene, in terms of a broad definition. He suggests it is now worth exploring cinema not in terms of character, but more in terms of setting. Further, he writes that maybe we should ‘ask about cinema as both a practice and a representation of energy-using systems.’

Snowpiercer is ‘Anthropocentric’ on all counts. The setting is crucial, despite its seeming obliviousness to the narrative. All characters are aware of the cold, and know they are secondary to it. The environment, thus, is the true tyrant. The train’s engine, ‘sacred’ as it is called by all the front passengers, is a representation of mankind’s reliance on technology, but also reflects this need to present energy and its considerations on screen. The cinema of the Anthropocene is contradictory in that human characters are both central to it, and yet entirely external. Rather, it is humanity’s irrevocable ruin of the landscape, inscribed as it is now geologically and atmospherically, that truly takes a starring role.

My theory of cinema

Thanks guys. #pilgrimage #lyon #institutlumiere
Institut Lumiere, Lyon, France. Photo by me.

I’m in the midst of writing a paper for inclusion in a semiotics journal that will eventually, I suppose, become my theory of cinema. The thing is, I could probably just cobble something together from Deleuze and wrap it around a conception of mobility and collaborative cultures. The more I think about it, though, the more intrigued I’m getting about just what my conception of cinema is. ‘Cinema’ doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did fifty years ago. Nor twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s coming to mean the original ‘niche’ understanding of the broad swathe of films that aren’t made, necessarily, for commercial gain. In this sense, ‘cinema’ means a body of filmed work that speaks to something larger than the typical art/commerce spectrum. The definition of what that larger something is, thus, becomes the crux of this paper I’m working on. My issue, though, is that I don’t think movies-for-the-masses should necessarily be excluded from the category of ‘cinema’. I guess I’ll have to work in some social angle, and I guess the mobility and consumer-creation stuff is the bridge there. Anyway – expect more disjointed rantings on the subject as I work through this.

Gone Girl

GoneGirlAmy

What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

About a month ago, I smashed through Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a few days. I came away from the book feeling dirty: sullied somehow. My first words to my partner were, “I think I need a shower.” It’s hard to define why this is. I enjoyed reading the book. I was hooked the entire time, utterly engrossed in this deep character study of two seriously messed up people. The book was very well-written, a literary thriller of the first degree, and mesmerising in its wit and structure. The book was funny, at times, too. Continue reading “Gone Girl”

Cinemaaaah, cont’d

I’ve been doing my best to take notes on as many films as I can, but for now I’ll just compile a list of those watched in the last fortnight…

  • The 39 Steps (d. Hitchcock, 1935)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (d. Kubrick, 1999)*
  • OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (d. Haznavicius, 2006)
  • The Artist (d. Haznavicius, 2011)
  • Fargo (d. Coen, 1996)

Planned viewing for the next seven days…

  • Tora! Tora! Tora! (d. Fleischer et. al., 1970)
  • L’Appartement (d. Mimouni, 1996)
  • Manhattan (d. Allen, 1979)

* – Rewatch

Michel Chion on film analysis

eyes-wide-shut-sm

“The right way to work on a film – to avoid too closed an interpretation – seems to me to be to watch it several times with no precise intentions… As in a police enquiry, one should not set up any hierarchies or look in any particular direction. One should not banish emotions and projections, but rather bring them to light, formulate and be aware of them, let them float.

“A film is a system, not of meanings, but of signifiers. We must go in search of these signifiers … and we can do this only by means of a non-intentional method; for in cinema, that art that fixes rhythms, substances, forms, figures and all kinds of other things onto a single support, the signifier can sit anywhere.”

Chion, M. (2013). Eyes Wide Shut. London: British Film Institute, pp. 37-8.

It Boy (2013)

pano1_20-ans-d-ecart-sm

I have a big soft spot — a cultured gooey centre, if you will — for French farces. Often romantic comedies, though also often full of slapstick and cases of mistaken identity, I’ll watch the lot.

Unfortunately, this habit is dependent on whatever French films period — let alone any from a specific genre — are imported to Australia (and adequately subtitled, etc.). To this end I’m incredibly reliant on the likes of Hopscotch and Madman.

Thankfully, Madman saw fit to include the charming little Parisian It Boy in its 2013 catalogue. This light, breezy, highly improbable comedy sees a 21-year-old become infatuated with a much older woman based on a bumpy plane ride. Perfectly reasonable.

Virginie Efira is delightful in the main role, with excellent support from the rumpled French Matt Smith aka Pierre Niney. The girl called this the French Devil Wears Prada, which I guess is kind of apt. Suitable acting, beautiful location, and perfectly-executed comedy cinematography. A solid and contented three stars. More of this, please, Mr. Madman.