Films Seen in 2014

Favourites, in no particular order:

Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974)

The Snowtown Murders (Justin Kurzel, 2011)

Murderers Among Us (Wolfgang Staudte, 1946)

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Jeff Barnaby, 2013)

Lyle (Stewart Thorndike, 2014)

Detour de Force (Rebecca Baron, 2014)

Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)

War Witch (Kim Nguyen, 2012)

Angst (Gerald Kargl, 1983)

Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)

Possibly in Michigan (Cecelia Condit, 1983)

The Wormwood Star (Curtis Harrington, 1956)

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2014: An Online Reader

Often it feels like we’re at a point where we are only able to look back. Everything is post, or post-post. Culturally we have a need to name and define everything, and with that comes the impossibility of naming what comes next. Maybe rather than post-post-modern, we are on the cusp of something, we are a pre-era, one that will be looked back upon as a kind of beginning.

There has been so much violence for so long, but this year it has bubbled up to the surface and we are not only talking about it, but acting on it. Change needs to happen, and this time it feels like it will.

Some of the best pieces written, and then read this year:

Jes Skolnik’s No One Wants To Hear About Your Rape from Buzzfeed.

Denise Balkissoon Sorry, we haven’t reached a ‘watershed’ on violence against women from The Globe and Mail.

Darryl Leroux’s In Honour of Loretta for the Halifax Media Co-op.

“I turned the dead engineering students into sleeping beauties who received flowers from potential suitors.” Shelley Page, How I sanitized the feminist outrage over the Montreal massacre.

“Rehtaeh’s mother told me. “By taking the power of her name away, they’re stripping her of her voice a second time.””Amanda Hess, Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

“I AM AFRAID OF THE ONES IN POWER WHO KILL PEOPLE AND DO NOT ADMIT GRIEF” | Jenny Holzer, “Projections”

‘The time for remorse was when my husband was yelling to breathe’

The fact our society is more willing to condemn the destruction of property before the death of a Black man speaks volumes as to the sort of change we need.

What about the police? What about the violence against them? Passive observers will often note that “violence only begets violence”. However, this assumes there is a “zero-level” of violence which is the natural environment of any following action. This, of course, is entirely false. The oppressed of any community (racial, national, gender, etc.) exist on a social plane of consistent violence against them as they ‘actually are’. Everything ‘they are’ is considered contemptible and treated as such. Nothing could be more exemplary of this than what is considered the “criminalization of the Black Body” wherein police have come to see every Black person as a criminal and the very ‘image’ of a criminal is personified in the Black Body. Therefore, violence against the police, against the oppressors and their allies, is always a violence of liberation. A simple reaction to the violence that is already being put into motion; violence that has been put into motion against Black people, in specific, for hundreds of years. – Zak Brown’s “Justice for Mike Brown is Justice for All, Fuck the Police State!

fette sans’ grouping.

Definitely. Anything else you want to address?
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. But the one thing the dirty-ass prosecutor—God bless his evil lawyer soul—said was that the conversation must continue and I will just say this: Get together, converse in your church groups, in your living rooms, in your dens. It doesn’t have to be in a town hall, arguing. Get together with your friends that look different or are different. Talk to them, learn what to do to be advocates and then after the conversation, decide to do something and do it. Simple things you can do to fight. You can fight the Florida law that says you can’t give food to homeless people. You can fight that. You can fight the law that says you can’t feed the helpless and hungry. You can fight that. You can fight these bullshit drug laws. You can fight the targeting of stop and frisk of black males. There’s a lot of things you can do. You can fight. So have something to fight about. Find others who don’t look like you or are not necessarily for your cause and help them fight for their cause. Be a cross-line coalition. And push, push, push, push, push. That’s it, man.

Ezekiel Kweku’s The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a N*gger Nation.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations.

I have no idea what I want from what I read, or why I keep reading. Reading the U.S. Torture Footnotes By Keguro Macharia

Andray Domise’s “You people are so patient.”

My Grandma the Poisoner by John Reed

Beverly pledged her life to Catherine three years before Alain died, in 2008, at 85. He and Beverly were good friends. “We had terrific fights about wine and Shakespeare,” she says. Alain was glad to know that Beverly would take care of Catherine after he died. The perpetual bad boy of French intellectuals to this day overlooks the ladies’ proceedings from the black-blue urn where his ashes reside, on a bureau shelf in the château’s dining room. The lip of the vase has great drips running down its tall, curved sides. “It is the urn,” says Madame, “that weeps.” The Thin End of the Whip by Toni Bentley

Who were the poets you read?  Wasn’t it the English, above all?
For me, the English were the greatest poets.  Emily Dickinson, too, in America, she’s terrific.  During the war here, I had had a sort of passion for Shelley, for the man, I read him a lot.  Naturally, I read Keats, who is a greater poet.  But also Blake.  And then, I read the lesser poets.  But the lesser poets in England would have been the great poets in another culture.  In my opinion, the English have no philosophy, no metaphysics, because their poetry replaced metaphysics.  They said everything in their poetry. Interview with E.M. Cioran.

M. Lee’s Am I a Koreaboo?

“I asked her, I said ‘Brooklyn, can I take your picture?’ She looked up and gave me this great big smile and I said, ‘Thank you,’ and she says, ‘I love the woods.’” Toddler who spend 22 hours alone in the woods found safe.

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2014: Things I Did Not Write

a piece on The Static Herd, a piece on Detour de Force, 1/3 of the first screenplay, a piece on Duke of Burgundy, five love letters, a piece on the failures and weird successes of Night Film, diary entries for most of October, applications to graduate programs, job applications, the project you and I are working on, and more, in general.

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The pimp and his trophies (Antoinette Zwirchmayr, 2014)

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Both this year and last, the Wavelengths series has turned towards experimentation in narrative rather than just on a filmic level. One of the films that leaned towards the former was Antoinette Zwirchmayr The pimp and his trophies. More of a meditation than a coming to terms with a grandfather’s, the titular pimp, life, Zwirchmayr uses space and photographs to explore what this man was.

The film is centered on a gap. On the auditory level, which is the anonymous narrator explaining what her grandfather had done, and how as a child she did not understand. This is looking back from a position of knowledge. On a visual level, the film documents the now abandoned rooms that used to house the “trophies,” as well as photographs or those in question. Visually, we only have the remains of the events, and through both mediums we get a “full picture.” But what really happened, the “truth,” remains in time, which the film can only reach back and try to understand.

The memories in question, lack understanding, for what her grandfather did was not something the child realized. As the narrator recounts these memories, the actuality of the circumstance, which went unnoticed by the child, comes to fruition. She remembers sitting in the lounge of her grandfather’s building, as the voiceover recounts, pornography playing on all the televisions. The audience sees the lounge today, empty and in disrepair, and strive to picture what the voiceover tells us, to see what the film cannot show us. We cannot see these memories, and we cannot resee them with this new knowledge, as the narrator does. We can only piece together the fragments of this memory. These empty rooms refer to their previous uses – the lush red carpeting and mirrors everywhere tell us more than the narration does – and act as a testament to what happened before.

Along with these empty rooms, Zwirchmayr also explores family photographs, doubling the image with a mirror while discussing the subject of the photo. The mirror acts as a distorting influence on the image, while the voiceover connotes new knowledge. We see the image and its reflection, and with this reflection the image becomes distorted. At the same time the new information from the voiceover alters how we understand the image. A portrait of a man becomes the portrait of a pimp, a mirror revealing and undermining at the same time.

Zwirchmayr also explores the unreliability of the image itself, with one shot involved a group of men in front of a forest, dressed up for the hunting trip that the narrator speaks of. This image is from the present day, and these men, who may or may not be the surviving subjects of her discussion, pose awkwardly, waiting for the photo to be taken. There is a memory here, but it may not be right. Her grandfather was a well-respected member of the community, and only as an adult does she realize that all his friends were pimps, and that the whole family was supported by the exploitation of women. What was once a fond memory becomes radically altered with this new context. We cannot trust these images, much like we cannot trust our memories. What really happened is pieced together through image and sound, but it cannot be captured in this medium.

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The Dragon is the Frame (Mary-Helena Clark, 2014)

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There is a strange tension between film and death. As the medium which is the best at        representing real life, at this point anyways, film allow us to relate to figures who are not there, and have often already passed. In this way it functions as a part memorial and part invocation, an impossibility where we are able to see people who have passed as if they were still alive. These images are artificial and fleeting and this reunion is always one sided; I am moved by an image as if it were a real person, but the image has no sense of me.

Mary-Helena Clark’s The Dragon is the Frame is a tribute to her friend, the late artist Mark Aguhar. The film is uneasy, a sort of mystery, but the crime and the criminal are notably absent. The frame of the film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but Hitchcock’s work only shows up in fragments, with use of the score, static shots of buildings, amongst other things. With these images, as well as fabric and shadows, Clark interworks some of Aguhar’s video, poetry and spoken word pieces. Using the structure of Vertigo, the film is searching, but as Aguhar’s image comes into the frame as the answer, it is clear that it is searching, much like with Hitchcock’s film, for something that is not there.

With Vertigo the latter half of the film is all about trying to bring someone back from the dead, creating a double for the initial one is absent. At the end of the film it is revealed that what was initially loved was the double, but the protagonist was attempting to find an impossible original. Vertigo is a mystery film, and its ending is a circular loop back upon itself. The Dragon is the Frame does something similar. It has found the work and image of Aguhar, but it is only an image, only a copy. The film searches for its lost friend, but it cannot find them. This attempt to search for the departed friend is a means of mourning, of coming to terms with the loss and the impossibility of these images bringing them back.

A lot of the film is opaque, but as a personal tribute to Aguhar, how the filmmaker chose to remember her friend will always remain opaque to the audience, which is as it should be. Mark gazes back at the audience with their piece “Gay Gaze,” and there is the knowledge that they survive in their work, but also the knowledge that it is not really them. Aguhar’s gaze is especially potent in this piece, for the film is searching for them, and all the film finds is an image gazing back at us. Clark’s work opens up both the connection we have with film and the images that form it, but through her own loss, and the desires that we have that can never be fulfilled.

On a personal note, I want to add that the audience I saw this with was atrocious. A lot of people laughed at Aguhar’s voice and work, and the homophobia was palpable. Considering that Aguhar committed suicide, it was especially distasteful. Most likely the audience did not know this, the TIFF write up did not mention Aguhar or suicide, but that does not make their reaction any less awful. Audiences at experimental film screenings are usually terrible (I don’t know why you go see something in public to be the only one laughing at it), but this was notable. I wish I’d said something to Clark after the screening, but didn’t, so I’ll write my laments in a blog a month after the screening.

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Shew’s Nest (Juanfer Andrés & Esteban Roel, 2014)

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The structure of most horror films involves a threat entering into the protagonist’s world. There is a fear of an outside that comes in, best exemplified by Psycho, where, at your most private moment, you can be brutally murdered. Horror does what it can to disrupt our safe spaces, but the foundations it rattles are always threatened by a kind of “other.” In Shrew’s Nest, a Spanish film directed by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel, the source of the monster is reversed, for the threat is not about someone coming in, but rather a fear of getting out.

Shrew’s Nest is the tale of two sisters, the much older Montse, and her younger, nameless sister, who is referred to as “the girl.” Their mother died giving birth to the latter, and a few years later their father disappeared during the war, so Montse has raised the young girl for years. Montse is a talented seamstress but severely agoraphobic, and the younger sister is her lifeline to the outside world. Things begin to spiral out of control on the occasion of the younger sister’s 18th birthday. While spying on her sister Montse sees her talk to a young man, and is overcome at the horror of any man touching her sister. Her religious fervor kicks in, and Montse cuts her younger sister’s face with a switch, a mark that “the girl” will have for the rest of the film. “The girl” defends herself by hitting Montse in the head with an iron. Montse’s wound is hidden by her dark hair, and this is the first of many wounds that is revealed throughout the film. Their dead father torments Montse in visions, alluding to her “true self.” Montse has been hiding what she is for so long that the seams begin to unravel.

One night there is a knock on a door, and a strange man is collapsed outside it. Terrified but inspired by Jesus, Montse takes him in, and quickly becomes enamored. The man has broken his leg and needs to “disappear” from his own life, so staying at the apartment of the two sisters is ideal for him. His intrusion, however, sets off a violent spiral revealing the family’s secrets. Montse becomes increasingly obsessed with this man, drugging him with morphine and doing everything in her power to make sure he doesn’t leave. As “the girl” attempts to figure out who this man is and rescue him from his sister’s clutches, Montse becomes more and more obsessive, descending into violence.

Beyond this point are spoilers, but from the plot summary I am certain we all know where this film is going.

A tight, claustrophobic, and aesthetically pleasing horror film, I was looking forward to this until about 10 minutes in where I realized the direction it would go. Montse’s agoraphobia and religious fervor come from her father sexually abusing her as a child, and the younger sister is not her sister, but rather her daughter, a child of an incestuous rape. Montse’s murderous madness, which is what it turns into by the end of the film, was caused by this abuse. Their father did not disappear, but rather was killed by Montse, when she suspected he was about to begin abuse their daughter.

Montse has hidden his body in the house, and as more intruders come in, searching for the man, Montse has to hide those bodies as well. The horror of this film is the monster that is hidden in the family, the horrors that are boarded up in the walls. Montse has killed, and feels like she “has to” kill again. Montse’s agoraphobia is not a fear of the world, but rather, she is afraid of herself, for the “monster” here is within. When finally confronted with the outside world she destroys what she can, hoping to save herself.

My biggest pet peeve in cinema is the reduction of all non-normative behavior to being raped. Not only is this deeply offensive to survivors of rape and abuse, but also terrible writing. Why does one have to be insane to kill their rapist? Why does one have to be raped to be insane? Any attempts at motivation or character traits that are not superficial, are reduced to this initial trauma, making Montse nothing more than her rape. This trope, which reeks of misogyny, for it is almost always a woman, makes a promising film tired, offensive, and easily forgotten.

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Winding Sheet: Edwige Fenech Eyes

Inspired by giallolooks.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, what are we to make of the make-up that frames them? Edwige Fenech, the uber babe and face of giallo, has one of the most distinct looks. Her big eyes are framed with large fake eyelashes and no other obvious make-up in almost all her roles in gialli. Though there is certainly the real world circumstances of her controlling her image and finding that this look to be the one that suits her best, the amount of time spent in close-ups of her face and eyes makes one ruminate on what is going on here.

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971)

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971)

Fenech’s eyes are accentuated through her false eyelashes, but remain without colour. Fenech is undoubtably beautiful, and keeping her face free of obvious make-up, eyeshadow, bold lipstick, etc, outside of the false lashes, only draws attention to it. Her appearance is sparse, which allows for extremes. With her pale colouring she is almost black and white, and there is something very old about an eye full of fear, something animalistic when responding to death. By keeping her eyes sparse with make-up, their large frame reveals what her characters are feeling, and allows for the audience to project into them. Often a light is shone onto a face, explicitly direction our attention towards her wide eyes, and what those eyes can convey.

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971)

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971)

The close up of the eye in giallo is usually a means of demonstrating fear, one’s eyes full of horror, or madness, a close up of the killer before he is about to strike. ‘Good close-ups are lyrical; it is the heart, not the eye, that has perceived them’, Béla Balázs write his Theory of the Film. In those moments where the knife is about to strike, all that matters is the emotion the characters are feeling. Which is why the choice of the eye is interesting. A scream and a wide open mouth could convey the same sentiment, but some eyes can capture the expression of a whole face. When terrified, we lose control of our body. The eyes often reveal more than one intends, and this wide-eyed terror reinforces how dire the situations often are. The audience feels the fear of the protagonist, and in their eyes our own fear is reflected back.

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All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)

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All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)

Her eyelashes, for all their ability to allow emotions to be channeled from film to audience, are often a reminder of how fabricated these films are. Fenech bathes and her eyelashes remain attached. She wakes up after a bad night’s sleep with each hair perfectly placed. She has been unconscious for days and wakes up in a hospital bed, looking exquisite. There is no health care plan that includes make-up touch ups while your unconscious. It is in these moments that we see not only how constructed the film is, but how constructed appearance is as well. Gialli does not aim for realism, but there is the normal degree of verisimilitude in narrative films. The unreality of the maintenance of her appearance is a reminder of how appearances are constructed, and that while we may have our own fear reflected in her eyes, that too is manipulated.

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All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)

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All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)

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