Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974)

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Second time with Fassbinder (after Merchant of Four Seasons – which is better)

“People always say ‘but’…”: hard to shake the feeling of contrarianism, even recklessness at the beginning (past marriage). ‘Why not?’ and ‘Who cares?’ when answers are legion. Ali is most touching when this bravery caves into the vulnerability in the poster above. (later Ali dismissive “kif-kif” [I don’t care] lashes out at Emmi’s conciliation)

‘Not a good man…’ – ‘Neither good nor bad, like anyone else.’ Ingrained ‘normality’, thus Ali and Emmi are “unnatürlich“: a threat both to order and ‘good taste’, which have become fused; see in particular the waiter’s scornful invocation of decorum, Emmi “on the rack”.

Thus Emmi’s reintegration is expedient, decorous, political. “In business you have to hide your aversions” says the shopkeeper, reclaiming a customer from both the nearby supermarket and the peril of racial mixing; it is the man to whom Emmi is perhaps most defiant who begins to reel her back in (away).

If their vulnerability is when A is most real, then E’s reintegration is, to us, ironically and perversely ‘unnatural’. Foucault’s “technologies of the self”, taking it upon oneself to do what’s expected, to become a Citizen. (interesting that Authorities [landlord’s son, policemen] are most understanding, forgiving; no imposed doctrine)

Imagine the first half of this film: its that. Not to take away from its importance in 1974 but.

If MOFS won Best Fake Punching then this is a contender for Best Fake Crying. 

F himself, fag-addled cursing and flailing in an easy chair. Perverse pleasure in playing the Villain, in thus being a voyeur? (‘Look at his muscles!’ says natürlich Emmi) But as static waiters stare, panning camera among the yellow chairs prevents us from joining them. Less pessimistic than I’d been led to believe; that vulnerability also in Ali arms akimbo ‘I love you this much!!’

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Paterson (2016)

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Second time with Jarmusch (after Dead Man).

Paterson (the man) is a square peg in a square hole. No-one bears him ill will; all potential danger dissipates under his placid stare; his town (world) is hermetic and there is little to no rattle as he moves around inside it. All very pleasant.

I like P (the man)’s poetry (interested to read that it was contributed by Ron Padgett, not Williams, as I’d thought). Spare but resistantly arhythmic, verisimilitude of thought processes (I have read nothing by WCW, and almost nothing in American modernism. The modernism I think of first is superabundant, densely urban observation and painstakingly assembled chaos. [DFW on P’s shelf] Refreshed by the incongruity here.)

But what P sees seems at odds with what we see: vignettes on the bus; regularity in twins, yes, but the differences in the detail (swinging vs grounded feet, clean vs dusty shoes). J’s world (P the town) is closely observed, but P (the man)’s poetry flows only from moments at home (matches, shoulders) or dives straight into abstraction. Here is a very popular mubi review:

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Is P (the man) “observant”? He watches, but his words do not seem to “spring from ordinary streets”. Yes P (the town) is the source, the world of germs, but the relationship with P (the man) seems curiously antagonistic: when P (the man) writes he reads unhesitatingly, interrupted only by others. (Wish I’d had what Duncan’s having)

I wanted to rattle the peg; I wanted to “disturb the universe”; I jeered quietly when the bus broke down. Jarmusch teases us – the joke is that normality asserts and reasserts itself; P (the man) is restored to the centre. Should we be like P (the man)? He exhibits very little empathy: his eyes glaze over; a colleague stops complaining to him because he “wouldn’t want to know”, and we feel he is right. No real antidote to Eliotian aloofness here.

Does P (the film) feel 4 hours long (its less than 2) because nothing happens, because of the repetition? I like many films with structural repetition, films where nothing happens, many very long films; I don’t like them because of any frustration arising from these qualities.

Made me want to return to A Serious Man.

Mixed messages, but poetry is great.

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Taking Into Account Only A Portion Of Your Emotions (2017)

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First time with Pinkcourtesyphone. Not about death!

Structurally, recalls Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Playthroughs (a favourite): both reach to ambient touchstones yet occupy their own centres.

‘New Domestic Landscape’ sinks clunk of iron hulls through temple silence (Tomb Raider!) –  refined Bryars, but also strange and new.

‘Reference Point Intermission 1’ – something important pushing through, on the phone? (“Is there someone there?”) Stars of the Lid synths and strings swells and falls. Anxious guitar(?) loop in the background: still breathing but running out of time.

Suspended chimes in ‘High End Smalls’, birds-eye view; below, OPN synths like voices break with exhaled waves on the sand: Biosphere perspective but coming slowly down. Halfway something’s changed: the chimes fall back; Douglas Trumbull filters bleed in deep Lynchian ultramarine and we’re reawakened.

(‘Ambient’ is popularly equated with ‘background’ which implies listening space, while Tim Hecker’s crumbling instrumental pieces evoke recording space, but compare TIAOAPOYE‘s visuals rather with Eno’s unbounded Augé-esque abstractions on Music For Airports or grounded field-locations in On Land – ambient is three-dimensional, not time or tempo but musical space.)

‘Reference Point Intermission 2’ – (to what do these Points Refer? They seem more static) Looping sonar drops atop swelling bass drones and insect choruses – a later Godspeed interlude maybe. Abstracting meltdown borrowed from HES above; in all, TIAOAPOYE‘s least distinctive, probably least engaging ‘moment’ (at 13.41…)

Rejoining NDL’s sunken Titanic in ‘Horizontal Format (For D. Marti)’: eroded, Leyland-Kirby thumps and scrapes; a sonorous, broken drone underneath. Stretching and splitting; kelp fields waving in a sea breeze. Then pared back to the minimal.

Title of ‘Schlaflied [Lullaby] (für PvK)’ makes me think of KFW’s Schöner Flußengel, but it opens with call-and-response synth tones more from Eno’s last album. Peace (no spatial imagery here; more weightlessness, zero dimensions). But disruption through stalactite drips and weak exhalations, then characteristic submersion but with (of all things) velcro and paper rips – a return to the otherworldly coexistence of sounds on the opener.

Like a dream: unmemorable (unrememberable) but you know you want to go back. Returning again and again.

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A Crow Looked At Me (2017)

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Not really a Phil Elverum fan. This won’t leave me alone though.

Why does this stand out amongst the weird glut of (great) male musical perspectives on close death? (see Sufjan, Mr. Mark Kozelek, Bowie himself)

Levi speaks of the shame of becoming a writer, and Barthes writes about “the fear of making literature out of it.” (Mourning Diary, which I flipped through broodingly, unwittingly under the influence of this album) For Elverum death is “not for singing about / It’s not for making into art”; its “real”.

“real”: the Details is Benji-esque; it can’t be interpreted. Knausgaard connection (s/o TMT) but KOK is writing to write while PE writes in spite of writing it seems. These songs are equally about himself. Definitely a tugging question as to why (my enjoyment seems incidental).

I think Phil’s words are often as incisive as Mark’s, too: “I don’t want to learn anything from this.” Almost defiance in ‘Ravens’, first to memory (internal) then to the threatening world (external): “I will move with our daughter / We will ride over water”

Plus there are moments when he sounds like he’s about to collapse right onto the mike (“death is real” at the end of ‘My Chasm’ – have we been listening? [repetition is important here, dwelling and going back either compulsively or as a remedy – Améry’s ‘ethics of resentment’ justifies “disagreement with every natural occurrence, including the biographical healing that time brings about”; see ‘Forest Fire’: “You do belong here / I reject nature, I disagree”])

Shuffle of a sleeve off the guitar at the end gets me. Of course – his experience continues after the album. Is that ‘moving on’? I don’t know but what ‘I know’ or at least think is more than before I had first heard ACLAM.

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The Pearl Button (2015)

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Second time with Guzmán; Nostalgia For The Light, which I watched last year, mixes with The Possibilities are Endless and The Act of Killing in the cream of contemporary documentary film.

Where NFTL slowly teased a cosmic theme through emerging parallels between two Chilean projects seemingly connected only geographically, TPB starts with a central concept – water, in all forms – and expands outwards and chronologically forwards through the country’s history, threading through events like a string through beads.

Haunting archive photography: Chilean immigrants predating the Europeans by several thousand years, Kawésqar faces – silent (silenced) though the water testifies through its own “language” and the historical parallels with, again, Pinochet’s desaparecidos, unaccountably returned to the land from ocean’s “cemetery.”

The other side of Herzog’s golden coin? How does Guzman (again) marry Planet Earth-style macrocosmic montage and gesticulations towards elemental, planetary, cosmic significance with ‘stories’ frustratingly and completely human (absurdity, futility, but visionary possibility)? Here he makes an explicit connection in the mythologies of the Chilean aboriginals but the film is doing the real work around this. Like harmonising brass bass felt deep in the organs with the pitch and heady wail of a violin; breaking out trembling at the skin.

Again effective sparing use of talking heads, though PG’s own voice is more present in this one, and more guiding than in NFTL, which gave the impression that he was learning through telling the story, one of NFTL‘s notable singularities.

Though I’m not qualified to say confidently, this really feels like significant postcolonial work; same reaction as to Pedro Costa’s Horse Money.

Somehow a worthy cousin to one of the better films, documentary or other, of the last half dozen years.

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Florentina Hubaldo CTE (2012)

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My first time with Lav Diaz. Do wish I hadn’t ignored his recent, mostly concluded Mubi retrospective.

With Shoah this is perhaps the most distressing film I have ever seen but one that touches Tarr and Tarkovsky for breathless weight in the camera’s unflinching gaze.

(An almost unspeakable plot: Florentina Hubaldo (remember the name), a Filipino girl torn away from now resurgent memories of towns and carnivals to a secluded rural hell of prostitution and domestic violence at the hands of a toxic father whose onscreen presence evokes the kind of thick terror and hatred that we felt for Fiennes’ Amon Göth.)

Her titular psychological condition, producing splitting headaches and memory loss, both shackles her to her tiny world and ultimately provides the film’s redemptive upturn (buried though it is under a total nadir of suffering and pity): her struggle is at least in part to become homo narrans, testifier to her own story.

This positions Diaz alongside the central figure in FHC‘s substantial subplot – a depressed farmer caring for an adopted daughter with two deadbeats desperately digging for reputed treasure on his land – as both facilitate the transmission of Florentina’s narrative, which is really only one that film could tell (with six hours of your time – and get the sandwiches in beforehand because you won’t want to drop the thread).

Scenes of epiphanic intensity: a struggle with a young male assailant; Florentina trying to recall her life story as she feeds goats; a young girl racked with coughing fits; a direct appeal to the camera; staggering down a lamplit street in search of help; others I do not want to summarise but will not forget.

More to say (insatiable) but that only proves the point that FHC is (hopefully) the first word in a long conversation.

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The Street Sweeper (2011)

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Read alongside Sebald’s Austerlitz for a course on Dickens and Human Rights in contemporary fiction, but slowly began paying more attention than was required for work.

Perlman’s support for Sebald’s line that “only in literature can there be an attempt at restitution over and above the mere recital of facts and over and above scholarship” is expounded fairly laboriously, as TSS treats us first to hundreds of pages of facts before showing us the extra work it can do.

(Staged discussions about testimony and voice, history of facts and of motivations overlap in the form of parallel narratives: a probationary African American hospital-worker is compelled to listen to the account of an Auschwitz survivor at work while a deadbeat historian toils in the negative space around his institutional employment to reanimate the story of a pioneering psychologist’s work with WWII Displaced Persons. Both threads dramatise problems of memory, empathy, and audience that dog historical enquiry; meanwhile Perlman fleshes out the recalled historical events in their own concurrent narratives, thereby pushing past ‘historical’ work with fictional construction.)

Part of Perlman’s point is that fiction can shrink impossibly large worlds and problems into manageable microcosms; he is a little over-exuberant in elbowing our ribs while winking towards his coincidences and contrivances.

He also clearly believes that fictional writing has the right and the ability to delve into indescribable experiences – sections on the Sonderkommandos and the Lager gas chambers are appalling but adroitly handled; a sense of urgency in imagining these scenes.

TSS was in need of a cynical editor but Perlman can be partly excused for overabundance: after Lanzmann’s Shoah there is a sense that enough can never be said about this history, although this undermines Perlman’s own small-world model awkwardly.

Also worth noting that while Perlman does good work unearthing the historical academic David Boder, on whom TSS‘s investigative émigré psychologist is based and to whose disquieting inquiry I Did Not Interview The Dead we (probably) in fact owe the tradition of Holocaust oral history that Lanzmann cemented, he nevertheless alloys fiction with fact in less palatable fashion: tarnishing Boder’s neglected memory with fabricated ethical ambiguities to pry into a particular guilt Perlman detected in his interviews.

Perlman’s own narrative voice is often too knowing and self-important but his novel asks interesting questions about the role of literature in preserving history and memory. An interesting though fairly tiring accompaniment to Sebald’s work and Philippe Sand’s own excellent study East West Street, from last year.

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