Rosemary Heather on TIFF
Moving House Movies
9 March 2011
We launched APEngine with the Kubrick Archive inspired films made by Animation students at the London College of Communication as a ‘live brief’ project. As part of their latest project, LCC ...
Seeing things as we are…
3 February 2011
Image by Jeremy James with original Photography by Hugo Glendinning Courtesy of Steve Jackman Michael Carlson and Michael Atavar reflect on recent experiences of the intersection between artist ...
Arts Council England axes Animate Projects
28 January 2011
We are very sorry to announce that Animate is likely to close down at the end of March 2011, following Arts Council England’s decision not to fund our 2011 programme. Animate ...
Len Lye at Ikon by Edwin Rostron
26 January 2011
Len Lye - Free Radicals, 1958 The Body Electric runs until 13th February 2011 at Ikon. “Some nights I’d have a dream that my five senses were taken out of my skull, ...
A structure for possible films by Ajay RS Hothi
20 January 2011
Scherzo, Joe Diebes Ryan Tre-who?  Oh, him?  He’s so oh-ten and that was, like, a decade ago or whatever? I think we can take it as read that we are now living ...
Rosemary Heather on TIFF
Film Socialism, Jean-Luc Godard

Film Socialism, Jean-Luc Godard

Some of the films Rosemary mentions can be seen at this year’s BFI London Film Festival – clink links for more.

The 2010 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) seemed particularly hysterical. Toronto crowds have proved reliable predictors of future box office success – Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was rescued from straight-to-DVD obscurity at TIFF, and Precious (2009) was an audience favourite here before becoming an Oscar contender. It’s a track record that contributes to the sense that TIFF has arrived, it now being considered second in importance only to Cannes in terms of industry weight. Burnishing this image is the glamorous new TIFF Bell Lightbox, home to the festival and the branding of its corporate sponsor Bell, the hated pretty much by everyone Canadian telephone conglomerate. Not that we live in an age where anyone cares about this kind of thing. One of the main venues for TIFF screenings was a big commercial movie complex that is mystifyingly (to me at least) branded with the name of a bank. Regardless, the Lightbox is a glorious addition to the city’s art ecosystem, a reassuring sign that, better late than never, Toronto has caught on to the prestige and economic power that culture can bring to a city.

As for the movies, TIFF is so huge, featuring over 300 movies, that audiences will have seen at any number of festivals. Sticking to the art beat, I caught a number of films that were noteworthy. Toronto video artist Daniel Cockburn presented his first feature film, the beguiling You Are Here (2010). To say the movie is hard to summarise is to suggest what’s good about it. A series of interlocking narratives that fail to resolve in a conventional fashion, the film shares in common with Inception (2010) an world view informed by the logic of computing. At times Inception feels like an interminable Sprint commercial, because it wastes so much celluloid explaining its premise. By comparison, You Are Here is the superior effort. It explains very little to its audience and yet is fully comprehensible on an intuitive level. As such, it tells us more about where we are going than where we have already been; generally, you get the latter with most feature films.

Also explaining nothing, Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialism (2010) was typically misanthropic. A familiar late-Godard mélange of sound, image and inscrutability, the film starts off on the decks of an opulent cruise ship, lags somewhat in middle scenes featuring a country gas station and a lama, and finishes like a segment of the French director’s Histoire(s) du cinema (1988-98). Actors spoke in German, French and English, while the subtitles played another game altogether, offering up gnomic pronouncements as if summoned from the film’s subconscious. Grouped in irregularly spaced clusters, the text barked out phrases like “Napoleon burning Moscow” or “Arabs don’t get royalties”. Perhaps more than ever, Godard assumes we are barely civil. Incidentally, L’amour Fou (2010), Pierre Thoretton’s documentary about Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé makes for a nice companion piece to Godard’s film. Its focus is mainly on the couple’s relationship and Bergé’s preparations for the auction of their monumental art collection after Saint Laurent’s death. Whereas Godard holds his audience’s feet to the fire for all the sins of civilization, Thoretton’s camera presents lingering and sometimes ennui-inducing pans of their collection and the couple’s many homes, offering an unapologetic view of the victor’s spoils as it were.

As a cinematic master, Godard is his own authority and remains as committed as ever to the art of complex montage. Elsewhere, however, I detected a tendency for filmmakers to underplay this aspect of the cinematic vocabulary. On evidence of a number of films I saw, the preference is for duration and the construction of cinematic space within the shot. This includes, Bruce La Bruce’s LA Zombie (2010), which expands on the gay zombie porn genre he invented in his 2008 film Otto: Or Up With Dead People. He walks among us, in Bruce’s view as a marginal figure that could be mistaken for a homeless man. Largely without dialogue, the film coheres by combining long shots, lurid cinematic hues and the almost abstract sculpted physique of zombie-lead, François Sagat. As expected with a BLAB production, improbable sex scenes make an ostensible claim for the film’s outré status, although in today’s anti-humanist climate LA Zombie’s sentimentalism is in truth its most avant garde feature.

In James Benning’s Ruhr (2009), shown in the Wavelengths series of screenings devoted to avant garde film, new technology and the filmmaker’s practice as a whole result in a film composed exclusively of long takes. As explained to me by Wavelengths programmer Andréa Picard, with this work Benning marks his transition to high-definition video. Ruhr presents a series of static shots filmed in the eponymous German region. Freed from time limits set by the use of film cartridges, the final segment is a single image of an industrial smokestack. It lasts for an entire hour. His first feature-length work in the format, in video, Benning’s long-standing interest in film phenomenology is made sculptural, primarily due to the medium’s heightened capacity for depth of field.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Andrei Ujica

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Andrei Ujica

Andrei Ujica’s The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010) works with found footage to create the opposite effect: not a world living and breathing in cinema time but one deprived the oxygen of reality by dictates of a communist regime. Ujica constructs a three-hour plus film from propaganda footage shot over the 25 years of Ceausescu’s reign. Viewers see long unedited takes of the Romanian dictator playing badminton or droning on at the podium of some communist plenary. He tours North Korea and is knighted by the Queen of England. Everywhere he goes, happy crowds are there to greet him, and the shops are always full of goods. Presented without any voiceover narration, the film often lapses into long segments of raw footage without sound. The effect is claustrophobic. After a while one longs to see what lies beyond the screen. Oppressive and at times absurd, just like communism, in the end Ujica’s film takes on the dimensions of a great conceptual artwork. Witnessing the starring role the image plays in the construct of communism should make viewers wary of its pervasiveness today, cults of personality having moved on from showcasing the best features of the ‘top guy’ to, well, everyone in the digital age.

Speaking about the transition we are currently undergoing from film to the digital format, San Francisco filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky dryly designated the latter a mere “image capturing device”; i.e., technically competent but lacking the romance of celluloid. The series of silent film poems Dorsky presented at TIFF leave no doubt about which side of the transitional divide he stands on. In comments he made after the screening, Dorsky explained that his goal was never to just shoot images but rather “turn the screen into an object.” That would be an object infused with light, which is often in Dorsky’s films given contour through a lattice of tree branches or the shifting planes of a window reflection.

Although presenting himself as a film purist, Dorsky’s work proved to have an unexpected affinity with entirely different project, the first 3D documentary, Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). The subject matter is the star in this film. Given exclusive access to the 32,000 year old Chauvet cave paintings in southern France, Herzog opts to film in 3D. He makes an interesting point about the paintings, some of which show staggered images of Palaeolithic mammals as if in motion, being a form of proto-cinema (they would have after all been illuminated by a flickering light). However, Herzog and the experts he interviews at other times strain for significance, and the use of 3D is as temporarily exciting as it was in Avatar (2009). It doesn’t matter. The movie is enthralling. Because the caves present a contoured space in depth for filming, and because the film gives us languorous opportunities to simply look at the paintings on these walls, Cave presents moments of stillness I hadn’t before experienced when viewing cinema.

This is the sculptural effect Nathaniel Dorsky speaks of, and which presumably is sought after by James Benning. To finally discover this ideal lurking within the cheeseball confines of 3D technology is ironic, to say the least. It’s the mystical dimension Herzog is looking for: but in the end the mystery is all in the paintings. The idea of artworks made 32,000 years ago is endlessly fascinating. Get your head around that and, with or without your 3D glasses, time stands still and history collapses.

About the Author: Rosemary Heather is a freelance writer and curator.


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  2. [...] The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Andrei Ujica (2010)The 2010 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) seemed particularly hysterical. Toronto crowds have proved reliable predictors of future box office success – Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was rescued from straight-to-DVD obscurity at TIFF, and Precious (2009) was an audience favourite here before becoming an Oscar contender. It’s a track record that contributes to the sense that TIFF has arrived, it now being considered second in importance only to Cannes in terms of industry weight. Burnishing this image is the glamorous new TIFF Bell Lightbox, home to the festival and the branding of its corporate sponsor Bell, the hated pretty much by everyone Canadian telephone conglomerate. Not that we live in an age where anyone cares about this kind of thing. One of the main venues for TIFF screenings was a big commercial movie complex that is mystifyingly (to me at least) branded with the name of a bank. Regardless, the Lightbox is a glorious addition to the city’s art ecosystem, a reassuring sign that, better late than never, Toronto has caught on to the prestige and economic power that culture can bring to a city. [...]




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