Saturday, December 28, 2013

China Heavyweight (Chang, 2012): Mini-Film Review

One entry point into the boxing documentary China Heavyweight 千錘百煉 is to consider it as a presentation of atmosphere more than the presentation of a story. If narrative does not exist, but is a construction we use to make sense of reality, then this film would get my vote to be a case study. Three boxers, Qi Moxiang, Miao Yunfei, & He Zongli -- one loves boxing with selfless purity and devotion -- are not vehicles within Freytag's triangle, they are people we know for a while. Poverty. Rural teenagers. The lure of the global city. These realities are linked for 90 minutes by flawless cinematography, traditional and innovative, and ambient sounds, felt not heard. And voices.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ecocinema Article Published in 台灣文學研究學報, Dec. 2013

... I'm happy to say that my ecocinema article has been published in 台灣文學研究學報 / Journal of Taiwan Literary Studies. I've written a couple posts previously about this topic, as the article stems from my SCMS 2013 conference presentation: "Love in the Time of Industrialization -- Representations of Nature in Li Hanxiang’s The Winter (1969)"

... digital copy (open in .pdf format) here.

台灣文學研究學報 / Journal of Taiwan Literary Studies

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When the Mountains Tremble (Sigel & Yates, 1983): Mini-Film Review

The 1983 documentary When the Mountains Tremble (Sigel & Yates) features and recounts the story of Rigoberta Menchú. Menchú's story here, just as in her testimonio I Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, is the story of Guatemala amid civil war. By some accounts, the years from 1980-1983 were the worst of the conflict, labeled genocide by the United Nations (1). Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, this doc presents multiple first-hand images and interviews of the struggle. While the editing and pace of the film may feel slow and dated today, the impact of hearing Menchú's voice over images of poverty remains a powerful combination.

1) Thanks to scholar Daniel Quirós for this information.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

La Noire de... (Sembène, 1966): Mini-Film Review

Ousmane Sembène’s black and white film Black Girl (La Noire de...), produced in 1966, traces the life of Diouana, an African woman who arrives in France to work as a house worker for a French family that she originally worked for in Senegal. This tragic, brief film eloquently represents a microcosm of the effects of colonialism while granting subjectivity to the protagonist who narrates the film. Describing her state of confinement and repression, she states at one juncture: "Back in Dakar they must be saying: 'Diouana is happy in France... She has a good life.' For me, France is the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and my bedroom."

I currently teach this film in my Postcolonial Literature course, and it was first introduced to me in an excellent graduate course on the politics of migration in cinema. This film by Sembène also features in a comparative chapter of my forthcoming book in which I frame Bai Jingrui's 1970s Taiwan film Home Sweet Home within a wider context by placing it alongside two concurrent films that represent migration on the global stage: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf) and this 1966 film by Sembène. The film is very much worth tracking down and checking out.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

San Diego Asian Film Festival, Nov. 10, 2013

The two-day Taiwan Film Showcase presented by the San Diego Asian Film Festival continued on Sunday the 10th with three films and a free reception. It was a pleasure introducing the first film, A Breath From the Bottom, and being a part of the day's events.

A Breath From the Bottom 狀況排除 (Chan, 2012), a 42 minute, black and white film was first on the bill. The film, seemingly inspired by -- or a reflection of -- current political demonstrations occurring in Taiwan, depicts a father participating in an anti-government protest and the conflict that results when one of the police officers monitoring the event is his son. A Breath from the Bottom was an Official Selection of the 2013 International Film Festival Rotterdam, and winner of Best Director at the 2013 Taipei Film Festival.

Forever Love 阿嬤的夢中情人 (Aozaru Shiao, Toyoharu Kitamura, 2013) was the crowd-pleasing second film in the set. Co-director and actor Toyoharu Kitamura arrived from Taiwan to participate in the event, answer questions in a Q and A session after the film, and take pictures with attendees afterwards.

Co-director and actor Toyoharu Kitamura (left) discusses his film Forever Love.

While not one of the film's biggest fans, I enjoyed the way Forever Love uses humor to depict the golden age of Taiwanese film-making (taiyu pian) in Taiwan in the late 1960s, a time when (as the film suggests) free spirits pursued their love of film with few inhibitions. The director mentioned that he wanted the film cause his audience to laugh, but also to cry -- and based on a show of hands during the Q and A session, when audience members admitted they were moved by the film -- it seems that the director accomplished his goal.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow 明天記得愛上我 (Chen, 2013) -- an Official Selection at both the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2013 Tribeca International Film Festival -- was the third film; unfortunately, I missed it -- I look forward to reviewing the film in the future.

As stated on the Taiwan Film Showcase website the event was: "co-presented by the UCSD Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair for Taiwan Studies and the UCSD Taiwan Studies Lecture Series, with additional sponsorship from the Taiwan Ministry of Culture and the Taiwan Academy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles."

Monday, November 11, 2013

San Diego Asian Film Festival, Nov. 9, 2013

The Taiwan Film Showcase -- a wide variety of Taiwan films presented by the San Diego Asian Film Festival -- kicked off on Saturday November 9th at UCSD's Price Center. Festival Art Director Brian Hu introduced the event and the day's first film, A Rolling Stone 築巢人 (Shen, 2012), Grand Prize Winner at the 2012 Taipei Film Festival 台北電影節.

Taiwan Film Showcase poster at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2013.

A Rolling Stone delivers its story in layers. Rather than depicting a father's relationship with his son with autism in a linear fashion, this documentary shows the son at an art gallery presenting his geometric drawings of bees and hornets, or the father receiving questions in a cold and grey room -- responding as if in the presence of a psychoanalyst. Each excerpt from their lives is held for the perfect amount of time. Almost all of the shots are medium shots and close-ups, never really providing the full picture. But providing just enough to wonder why it is that we persist living in the ways we do, and if we really have a choice.

To My Dear Granny 親愛的奶奶 (Chu, 2012), the Opening Night Film of the 2012 Golden Horse Film Festival, was next. I had the opportunity to introduce this film and then appreciate the way the film makes startling connections between cinema and memory. In fact, there were moments in this otherwise sticky-sweet film that made me entirely forget I was watching a film. The narrative is essentially a series of flashbacks presented by a protagonist who recalls his grandmother's influence while growing up in Taiwan. The scenes in which the child's memory allows for his deceased father to be present among the living are incredibly effective and definitely worth checking out.

The Sandwich Man 兒子的大玩偶 (Hou, Wan, & Tseng, 1983) was the third and final film of the day on Saturday. This three-part film remains astounding for a number of reasons -- the moment in time in which short story writer Huang Chunming's 黃春明 stories were presented on the silver screen is certainly pivotal in Taiwan film history, and the film's first segment, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien remains endearing. Yet the third story, directed by Wan Ren, continues to grow on me. It begins in black and white, and changes to color when focusing on the blood of a working class laborer who is struck by a car driven by a U.S. military serviceman in 1969. The transition from black and white to blood red, the blood of the worker, sets the tone for a short piece that retains its good humor while presenting a searing critique of inequality.

 With SDAFF Art Director, Brian Hu.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2013

... looking forward to attending, tweeting, and blogging at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, November 7-16, 2013.

Also, with gratitude to Brian Hu and the SDAFF organizers, I'm looking forward to introducing three films at the Taiwan Film Showcase (info. and schedule here) at UCSD’s Price Center Theater on Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th.

I'll be introducing TO MY DEAR GRANNY (Saturday the 9th at 1:45pm), THE SANDWICH MAN (Saturday the 9th at 4:05pm), and A BREATH FROM THE BOTTOM (Sunday the 10th at 1pm).

It will be an honor to introduce THE SANDWICH MAN in particular, having met Huang Chunming (黃春明), the author whose stories are adapted to the screen in this wonderful and important Taiwan film.

Meeting Huang Chunming at UCSB in 2008 while attending a literature conference as a Ph.D. student.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Buddha Bless America (Wu, 1996): Film Review

Buddha Bless America 太平天國 (1996), directed by Wu Nien-jen 吳念真, represents the disruptions and complexities of a postcolonialism as well as any film I am aware of.

The film is set in Taiwan during the Cold War during the 1960s, and it focuses on a local community of residents who are relocated to a small elementary school while the United States and Nationalist armies jointly conduct military exercises on the community's farmland.

The story traces the impact of this event on the lives of a middle-aged man named Lin who initially supports the intervention, but over time becomes disillusioned while retaining a positive overall image of the U.S. At the same time, his son is removed from his regular school routine and hangs out with his friends day and night -- they watch the U.S. military exercises and observe the behavior of men at a brothel built specifically for the foreign troops; meanwhile, his grandmother strives to maintain her family's dignity while her fading memory leads her to blur the lines between concurrent events and events that occurred previously during Japanese colonization.

In a memorable scene she stands her ground and uses a wooden broom to prevent U.S. tanks from ruining her farm property.

The way the film presents a type of psychological colonization on the local populace is effectively conveyed throughout the film by the stylistic use of music and the passage of time -- in another powerful scene, slow-motion is used to portray a grandmother and then a boy walk in front of the camera while a light bulb sways in the foreground and men fight in the background -- leaving a lasting impression.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cape No. 7 (Wei Te-Sheng, 2008) & Orphan of Asia

Cape No. 7 海角七號  (Wei Te-Sheng, 2008), one of the highest grossing films of all-time in Taiwan, contains a narrative thread which has remained prevalent with me, namely the film's representation of nostalgia for Japanese occupation -- and more specifically, the film's representation of a romantic relationship between a couple from both Taiwan and Japan that was cut short due to the socio-political situation in the region in 1945 (trailer below).

The film's nostalgia has been written about in both film reviews and academic essays (see "Memories of the future: Remaking Taiwanese-ness in Cape No. 7" by Chialan Sharon Wang). And it remains the case that those scenes continue to evoke further inquiry.

This is certainly the case for me after again reading and teaching Wu Zhuoliu's 吳濁流 1946 novel Orphan of Asia 亞細亞的孤兒 (Leo Ching's great review of the text here -- and I'd say that the English translation by Ioannis Mentzas reads wonderfully) in a postcolonial literature course.

It's quite astounding how placing these two texts side by side can lead to new ideas and access points into discussions of memory, colonialism, and nationalism. For example -- evoking comparisons with Cape No. 7 -- the protagonist of the novel, Hu Taiming, who is from Taiwan, finds himself during Japanese occupation very much enraptured by a Japanese schoolteacher named Hisako, yet their relationship never comes to fruition because as Hisako states, "you and I are different" (50).

Furthermore, toward the end of Wu's novel, we witness a state during the turmoil of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a populace under increased Japanization, and an economy strained to the point that malnourishment is prevalent. In such an environment, Hu Taiming finds himself depressed, anxious, paranoid, and both psychologically and physically ill. Within a comparative analysis, one notices that the moment in which Hu Taiming might be most grateful for the departure of the Japanese is the moment in which, in Cape No. 7, the departure of the Japanese is arguably conveyed with a sense of sorrow and loss.

Most importantly, any comparison between the texts becomes exceedingly complex -- after all, Hu Taiming in the novel forges a solid friendship with a Japanese colleague named Sato, and is sad to see his friend return to Japan -- so one returns to the historical-material context depicted, the time periods in which the two texts were produced, their linguistic characteristics, the nature of both individual and collective memory, and the formal qualities inherent to both literature and film -- and all of this seems necessary to re-ground oneself in order to initiate a new comparative question that again leads to an almost infinite set of variables worth consideration.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An Open Letter to Hayao Miyazaki

9 October 2013

Dear Hayao Miyazaki,

I have been wanting to write this to you for some time because your films have been influential in my life, just as they have been for my friends and family.

Specifically, I want thank you for Princess Mononoke -- your movie is what made me want to go to graduate school to study film. Previous to watching it, I was quite burned out with university work and I could not see myself returning to the classroom even though I loved studying literature as an undergraduate.

But it was the way that Princess Mononoke captivated, its purity of characterization, its strong female protagonists, its beauty, and most importantly its ambiguity that fascinated me unlike any animation I had seen before -- and even while watching it I knew that I wanted to go back to school so that I could study and write about it.

Ironically, I ended up writing about Fight Club (Fincher, 1999) instead of Princess Mononoke for my MA degree, and even since then I have yet to write an article about your film which means so much to me. But I have had a chance to teach Princess Mononoke in one of my World Cinema classes -- of course my students loved it.

And at home, I am happy to say, my children are growing up primarily watching your films instead of Disney films (I know Disney distributes your films here in the U.S., but it's not the same thing).

Thank you.

Best Regards,
James Wicks

Monday, September 30, 2013

Amour (Haneke, 2012): Mini-Film Review

Just like one of the classical music CDs that Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) listen to in Amour, Michael Haneke's 2012 film is like a record that one plays again from the beginning as soon as it ends. After all, the beginning of the film is the ending of the film, linked by memory as the credits roll in silence, while the film's ending itself is a new beginning. Because it is Haneke, we have come to expect, correctly, an extreme representation of tension, something psychologically bleak and violent. Yet it is the film's daily, mundane depictions of age, frailty, and relationships that captivate here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (Harris, 1993): Mini-Film Review

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (Harris, 1993), an excellent U.S. independent film of the early 1990s, presents a sharp teenage African-American protagonist named Chantel (Ariyan A. Johnson) who tells her story as she sees it, while it unfolds -- her life in Brooklyn, relationships, pregnancy, and the pursuit of academic goals -- by addressing the audience directly. Sometimes it is noticeable that the film was shot on a low budget in just 17 days, yet for many reasons this does not take away from the film's consistently clear depiction of its reality -- something money/high production values can not buy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Migration, Transnational Theory, and Film

One of the best, or at least favorite, books that I read over the summer on the topic of transnational studies was Thomas Faist, Margit Fauser, and Eveline Reisenauer's 2013 text Transnational Migration (Polity Press). The topic itself is essential and fascinating within transnational theory, alongside issues of mobility, displacement, and the nature of cultural flow.

The introduction to Transnational Migration provides succinct, clear descriptions of its key terms, namely "three transnationals" that I hope to consider further and use within the classroom. These three terms include: "transnationalization" -- the site of transaction/s; "transnational social spaces" -- spaces created and formed in the contact zone/s of transnational exchange; and "transnationality" -- the various forms of connection between transnational participants (2).

When reading this text I kept reflecting on transnational film industries, and the ways in which festivals, films, capital, production crews, the news media, etc., cross and intersect various borders physical, cultural, technological, and ideological. For example, (among other possibilities) what are the sites of transaction in the film industry (investment capital, film production and distribution, even purchasing a ticket at the theater), the social spaces created due to film exchange (festivals, university courses and conferences, award ceremonies), and the ways in which participants remain connected and communicate?

And in terms of formalist film analysis, what techniques are used within specific films to represent these sites of exchange via image, sound, noise, editing, music? Keeping transnational representations in mind throughout the reading was not difficult since the book draws attention to such connections by beginning with a commentary on The Edge of Heaven (Akin, 2007).

So I found that the contribution of the text, which uses the transnational as a lens, might further theories of the transnational in media studies -- just as the text contributes to sociology -- in interesting ways that I continue to reflect on. Especially considering, as the text observes, the challenge of integrating the exchange of so many participants at multiple levels.

A link to this text on the Polity website is: here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

China Scholars on Twitter, Fall 2013

... I've benefited and learned a lot these days by the wealth of informative news about greater China presented by academics on Twitter -- so I would recommend checking out China scholar Jon Sullivan's blog post: "The China Studies Twitterati 50" if interested in links to current China news. Sullivan's list created a buzz in my Twitter feed today as scholars expressed their gratitude to be included in his list. And I found a lot of scholars to follow thanks to this list. Such a cool way to stay connected. Also, if you survey the posts, you'll also find yours truly in Sullivan's public list of scholars writing and presenting links to Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong news.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997): Mini-Film Review

Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami's exploration of film creation and narrative manipulation are perhaps best displayed in Taste of Cherry (even though I like Kiarostami's must-see Close-Up even more due to its use of tone, color, and especially its characters). Taste of Cherry seems to ask if we watch movies in order to witness narrative resolution or creation -- if its the former then there is no hope for the viewer, if it is the latter, maybe there is no hope for the idea of the film's protagonist. No other film is quite as successful at both instigating this question and leaving it unresolved.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Postcolonial Literature Texts, Fall 2013

This fall I've been inspired by university instructors who have shared their course reading lists in order to exchange information and receive feedback. Following suit, the following is the course reading and film list for my fall (2013) upper-division postcolonial literature course which I am teaching for the third time -- if you have any suggestions, recommendations, or note any glaring or significant omissions, please let me know (there are so many additional texts I would love to add!).

The theoretical framework of postcolonialism continues to inform my approach to transnational studies. During the semester students analyze texts that describe the effects of the colonial experience in terms of geography, history, and culture and engage in conversations with cultural theorists, theologians, philosophers, and historians who are who are interested in a variety of questions regarding gender, ethnicity, class, postmodernism, and theories of transnationalism.

  • Buddha Bless America (dir. Wu, 1996)
  • Black Girl (dir. Sembene, 1966)
  • When the Mountains Tremble (dir. Sigel, Yates, 1983) 
  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Editions). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.
  • Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York.: Random House, 2008.
  • Wu, Zhuoliu. Orphan of Asia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. 
  • Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 2008.
  • Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography of My Mother. New York: Plume, 1997.
  • Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. New York: Verso, 1984.  
  • Satratapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.
  • Kanafani, Ghassan. Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Bad Sleep Well (Kurosawa, 1960): Mini-Film Review

Thanks to a Criterion Collection half-off sale, I ended up with The Bad Sleep Well, the first film by the director's Kurosawa Production Company, and starring the divine Toshiro Mifune. At 150 minutes, I watched the film over a couple sittings, but what a great film. The protagonist's righteous, unbridled thirst for revenge is half of the story, while a romantic relationship composes the other -- the result is, expectedly, a crisis of interests: characters either carry out, prevent, or become victims of the protagonist's desires. Again, Kurosawa is the master of the partial resolution: nothing turns out exactly as (we) hope/d.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Le Quattro Volte (Frammartino, 2010): Mini-Film Review

Le Quattro Volte is an exceptional, captivating account of an Italian shepherd's life, which then morphs into a depiction of the farmer's livestock, the passing of the seasons, and rural communal life. The film is slowly paced, yet oddly the wordless 88 minutes seem to move quite quickly as it depicts ways in which people and nature are linked in interesting ways. Some of the images will stay with me for a long time. And it's an exemplar of the long take. I am grateful to have come across this film in part thanks to scholar Kiu-wai Chu's SCMS presentation “Beyond Human World: Eco-cosmospolitanism in Global Art Cinema” which asks: how can film convey a global/planetary environmental awareness?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jameson Quotation from "Globalization and Hybridization"

 ... I find Jameson inspiring here as usual as he keeps the totality in mind while theorizing the transnational, mapping globalization by way of "what cannot be narrated":

"I start from the premise that mapping the totality is still one of the most vital functions and ambitions of art at the present time, as it was under the very different conditions of the modern period. The totality today is surely what we call globalization, and it is therefore the problems involved in the representation of this new and seemingly unimaginable totality which offer the most interesting challenges for the artists and writers of the postmodern, as well as for its literary theorists. But postmodern philosophical positions also warn us to avoid the implication that correct or definitive "representations" of reality are possible or conceivable in the first place: so that what is wanted is an inventory of the dilemmas of representation, of what in the structure of object or subject alike makes representational accuracy or truth an impossible achievement and an ideological ambition or fantasy as well. We map the contours of globalization negatively, by way of a patient exploration of what cannot be perceived and what cannot be narrated."

-- Frederic Jameson, pg. 315 from "Globalization and Hybridization" in Durovicová and Newman's edited volume: World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives (Routledge, 2010).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Big Heat (Lang, 1953): Mini-Film Review

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame are stellar in this, one of the best film noir crime dramas of the 1950s. The movie includes, to this day, one of the most sadistic outbursts of angry violence on film when Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) splashes a pot of burning coffee across Debby’s (Grahame’s) face. What stands out is the inability of Ford’s character Bannion to maintain a Leave it to Beaver-esque, seemingly perfect, hetero-normative, cookie-cutter lifestyle -- which exists and has every potential to thrive in the film -- after a crime syndicate sets out to destroy everything he loves. Redeemable seedy characters in the film similarly long for the domestic lifestyle Bannion no longer has access to. Crime destroyed family values, apparently. The 1950s never looked so great, realistic, and bad.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


A link to Part 1 of my dio-story, RENEGADE ANDROIDS. Suggested rating: PG-13.

(looks best on a computer screen or tablet)

Synopsis: Secret operative Macabre, on hire to seek and destroy an immortal half-man, half-machine adversary, undergoes a physical, philosophical, & psychological journey.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, 2013): Film Review

We know before walking into the theater that we're about to see huge monsters fight against giant robots, and we know that it's going to be awesome because Guillermo del Toro is at the helm.

But what else can be done to provide intrigue to a standard movie type? Pacific Rim (though not perfect -- the current IMDB score of 8.0 is spot-on) does not fail to impress in this regard:

1) each Jaeger robot is operated by two pilots who must synchronize their psyches in order to be successful, enabling narrative conflict since Jaeger pilots must find a compatible partner to share the most hidden aspects of their unconscious experience;

2) the Kaiju monsters are not only physical beings, but access earth's topography via an almost demonic/spiritual, extra-dimensional wormhole at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

While the film's dialogue, and a handful of awkwardly presented facial expressions, do not present that shoe-shine polish we might expect from Marvel film productions, this deficiency is made up by -- not only the visuals and special effects -- but also the following concepts:

3) the Jaeger operation is run by neither the military nor the business community entirely ("we don't need them") which, perhaps like a film production crew, seems to present a kind of socialist utopia (albeit apocalyptic) in which operations work only if it is all for one, one for all;

4) allegorically, the film presents two of a society's options when facing conflict: to either behave defensively (by building walls), or behave offensively (by building Jaeger's) -- this is a broad-scale observation, but it's a broad-scale film;

5) the main character Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) looks exactly like a thin, muscular version of director Guillermo del Toro -- it's the directors' doppelganger having all of the fun. And for the duration of the film, so are we.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

World War Z (Forster, 2013) & Baudrillard

World War Z (Forster, 2013) has been a pleasant surprise this summer for fans and reviewers alike who expected the worst. The film contains a few flat moments, yet as a whole it is strangely endearing. I walked out of the theater into the sunlight midday and found my entire psyche altered -- I love it when a film can do that. This film was all about the gaze: Pitt's character Gerry Lane looks back at the destruction, always one last time: out of a plane window, through a pulled curtain -- so we can see things we hope we never see.


The film's apocalyptic vision presented in in CGI brings to mind the opening paragraphs of Jean Baudrillard's essay "After the Orgy":

"If I were asked to characterize the present state of affairs, I would describe it as 'after the orgy'. The orgy in question was the moment when modernity exploded upon us, the moment of liberation in every sphere. Political liberation, sexual liberation, liberation of the forces of production, liberation of the forces of destruction, women's liberation, children's liberation, liberation of unconscious drives, liberation of art. [...] Now everything has been liberated, the chips are down, and we find ourselves faced collectively with the big question: WHAT DO WE DO NOW THE ORGY IS OVER?

"Now all we can do is simulate the orgy, simulate liberation. We may pretend to carry on in the same direction, accelerating, but in reality we are accelerating in a void, because all the goals of liberation are already behind us, and because what haunts and obsesses us is being thus ahead of all the results -- the very availability of all the signs, all the forms, all the desires that we had been pursuing. But what can we do? This is the state of simulation, a state in which we are obliged to replay all scenarios precisely because they have all taken place already, whether actually or potentially. The state of utopia realized, of all utopias realized, wherein paradoxically we must continue to live as though they had not been. But since they have, and since we can no longer, therefore, nourish the hope of realizing them, we can only 'hyper-realize' them through interminable simulation. We live amid the interminable reproduction of ideals, phantasies, images and dreams which are now behind us, yet which we must continue to reproduce in a sort of inescapable indifference."
-- Baudrillard, translated by James Benedict


At the same time, World War Z seems to contain a certain humanity to it that can't entirely be regarded or discarded as simulation.

Waste Land (Walker, 2010): Mini-Film Review

Consumer culture is a broken system, a fact impossible to ignore when watching Waste Land (Walker, 2010), a well-presented documentary focusing on Brazilian artist Vik Muniz's efforts to photograph garbage workers in the Jardim Gramacho landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro. Artist Vik Muniz realizes at the end of the film that he became more attached than he anticipated to the people he met along his journey; hopefully this sentiment might similarly summarize the experience of the audience: we are connected. Superb soundtrack by Moby.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Two mornings ago I had a dream between snooze alarms that conformed perfectly to the narrative rhythm of a horror film:
  1. The Illogical & Unnecessary Exposition 
  2. The Fake Scare 
  3. The Real Scare
First, for some reason there was a bear blocking a hallway that some friends and I needed access to. (Lately I have dreams in which tigers are chasing me -- no wonder Life of Pi (Lee, 2012) got to me -- my other fear is sinking on a ship), so anyways, we decided to wake up the bear -- a person I was with shot a slingshot to wake it up and then we (are these people really my friends?) and I ran screaming out of the hallway.

Horror Film Step 1 Complete: The Illogical & Unnecessary Exposition -- there is no need to wake up a bear in a hallway, just like all of the horror films that would never be scary if the actants did not: enter into that dark house alone, decide to make a film about a cult, stay in a remote cabin for the weekend, etc.

Next, we ran into a parked van with a sunroof -- as we scrambled into the van the door handles did not work properly and actually broke off after we got into the van. We laid down quietly in the hopes that the bear would not know where we were. THEN ALL OF THE SUDDEN a stranger jumped on top of the van and looked down at us through the open sunroof -- he asked us if he could come in the van too because he and some other hikers were being chased by a bear. We all let our guards down to have a brief conversation with this friendly, frantic man.

Horror Film Step 2 Complete: The Fake Scare -- out of nowhere, this hiker comes by to scare the heck out of us because we thought it was going to be the bear. But it wasn't the bear, just some nice hiker who happened to be hanging around a building with a hallway with a bear sleeping in it.

Finally, the bear grabbed the friendly hiker -- the nice hiker SCREAMED as he was dragged off of the roof of the van, and the entire van was rattled violently by the roaring bear.

Horror Film Step 3 Complete: The Real Scare -- after being placated, calmed, and relieved to see a nice hiker on top of our van, the bear suddenly showed up and scared the socks off of us.

... then the alarm rang and it was time to get ready for work. That's not a deus ex machina, that's real life.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Marcuse on Oppositional Art, Quotation by Douglas Kellner

"Marcuse writes that truly oppositional art must be shaped in such a manner that it reveals the negative system in its totality and, at the same time, the absolute necessity of liberation. The work of art must, at its breaking point, expose the ultimate nakedness of humanity’s (and nature’s) existence, stripped of all the paraphernalia of monopolistic mass culture, completely and utterly alone, in the abyss of destruction, despair and freedom. The most revolutionary work of art will be, at the same time, the most esoteric, the most anti-collectivist one, for the goal ... is the free individual." 
-- Douglas Kellner

Monday, July 1, 2013

The 30 Year Rule in Cinema

I've thought about this before, yet it was after recently watching Milk (Van Sant, 2008) and the Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (Peralta, 2012) skateboarding documentary that an idea seemed be be confirmed:

there is a 30 rule in cinema; namely, after 30 years a given historical topic is optimal for cinematic treatment in terms of audience receptivity and, likely, profits at the box office.

Both of the films mentioned above deal with the "living history" of the late 70's/early 80s -- moments prevalent in the minds of one generation and still accessible to a new generation interested in its past. After 30 years, filmmakers might enjoy both the advantage of historical hindsight and the ability to gauge the current reverberations of the event/s depicted.

Has this been written about previously? Perhaps there are correlates with fashion cycles? It's probably not an earth-shattering observation, and likely been written about before although I have not yet encountered it -- while I am aware of the 30 year rule in technology -- and I'm certainly not offering this 30 year rule as an absolute, for certainly any given era might be a subject for the camera.

But there remains a possibility that the 30 year rule exists. I know that personally, watching Mississippi Burning (Parker, 1988), a late 1980s film that represents the early 1960s, was quite formative for me in terms of developing a social consciousness as a teenager when I saw it in the early 1990s, and it roughly follows this 30 year rule pattern.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Yi Yi (Yang, 2000): Film Review

Edward Yang 楊德昌 (1947-2007) is the master par excellence of presenting infinite complexity within the commonplace: hidden, yet present if one will ask a question or look a little closer (in urban reflections, by way of new perspectives & backward glances, reflected in a mirror, through a window across a balcony... in spite of verbal miscommunications), like the rhythms of nature.

It is not difficult to describe Yang's film Yi Yi as one of the best films of all time. The film, which begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, presents multiple moments of contemplation...

NJ contemplates life with and without his high school sweetheart.

... within settings equally, if not more complex, than those of contemporary Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-hsien... like this image in which Nancy is floating, alienated in space within her office -- hovering psychologically and seemingly suspended physically above the cityscape of Taipei:

Yang's use of perspective reminds one of Velázquez's "Las Meninas."

The film's seamless parallel editing of Wu Nianzhen's character NJ and his high school sweetheart Sherry with his daughter Ting-Ting as she goes on her first date effortlessly displays how the repetitions of life -- the inability to start over, the weight of time, and the presence of memory -- all serve as a corollary, by extension, of Taipei's history without ever forcing such associations in a heavy-handed manner.

Yi Yi's films best scenes involve NJ and the Japanese businessman Mr. Oto. At one point Mr. Oto  states: "You are like me.. We can't tell a lie... Risk is high when you do anything for the first time... Why are we afraid of the first time?... Everything in life is a first time... [yet] we are never afraid of getting up in the morning... Why?" ... the delivery is perfect in this, perhaps one of the most moving portrayals of genuine souls caught at the intersections of transnational capital.

And of course, young Yang-Yang (a representation of director Yang himself?) takes pictures of the backs of everyone's heads to help us see what we don't see: that we only grasp half of reality at best, even with all of our images in a visual culture.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Creative Minimal Cinema

Recently re-watching Star Trek (Abrams, 2009), and thinking about the use of silence during moments when explosions are going off, led to this brief thought on the use of minimalism to convey narrative content. There was no need for the sound of explosions during those Star Trek scenes (that would sound like: Ka-boomkrrrrkrrrr!!! etc.) because the audience already knows that information and thus recreates it in his or her mind.

Like traditional paratactic Chinese poetry, or Ernest Hemingway and the absence of adverbs in his writing... the audience just needs the minimum detail to understand -- and perhaps ultimately enjoy -- the piece.

Like the absence of a soundtrack in Yang Li's 2003 film Blind Shaft.

Like Aeschylus's play Agamemnon in which the murder is off-stage, or sex scenes in 1950s film noir films that are off-camera, the equation seems to follow that the less detail conveyed, the more the rhetorical/emotional impact, and maybe even at times the following is true: when only the minimum is conveyed, film is at its best.

If too little information is presented, then a specific idea might not be conveyed, and the result could be pure abstraction.

If too much information is conveyed ... the English language has much to say about this: over-embellishment, heavy-handed, unauthentic, perhaps the baroque. The result can be impatience, boredom, eye-rolling.

Certainly, over time the definition of minimum -- "only the minimum is necessary" -- changes; that's what I think appeals to me the most.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sundance and the San Diego Surf Film Festival: A Comparison

In some ways, both Sundance 2013 and SDSFF 2013 were life changing events, definitely unforgettable, and I plan to be a return attendee to both.

But they are far from being the same thing ... I imagine that when Sundance started it had a similar vibe to SDSFF -- on opening night for the SDSFF this year we were sitting on the floor of an art gallery to watch a film ... perhaps in the future the SDSFF will be a red carpet event like Sundance with its long lines, star sightings, and national headlines. For now ...


… here are some of these film festival’s differences:


-- festival pass at Sundance: a lanyard and barcode
-- festival pass at SDSFF: an old Padres baseball card on a string of hemp

-- snow, wearing multiple layers of clothing

-- pleasant, short-sleeves

-- theaters with 1000 person capacity

-- sitting on the floor or on folding chairs

-- all kinds of films

-- all kinds of surf films


... and similarities:

-- cheering crowds when the credits roll

-- stoked directors glad you loved their films

Sundance, 2013
SDSFF, 2013