Thursday, January 1, 2015

random reviews: three daughters [aka teen kanya] (1961)

Poster being sold for $350 on eBay
Unedited and off-the-cuff review.

"Originally conceived as a three-part film, with each story running roughly an hour, Ray explores the fates of women in Indian society of the 50s. The middle film, the part that had been missing for decades, involves a ghost story in a once opulent mansion conceived in the manner of an English country estate. The film itself is a phantom as the film was released internationally without this section. The haunting presence or absence (since it is the thing that is not explicitly dealt with but lingers like the morning fog) is the issue of British imperialism and colonization. The wife's obsession is non-sensical since the camera is concerned with the space, furniture, and ornaments of the English-fied estate. (The characters in the film are 'ornaments' themselves as ornaments/jewellery is the key word here.) The ghost that lurks the mansion and garden outside is the influence of British values and ideas in a colonized country. What Ray brilliantly shows (by accident, I feel) is how the colonized subjects, the educated middle class and upper class, become curious actors in their own land, confused and unable to make the right decisions with regards to those unlike them: those who don't speak English and have no British 'sensibilities'. This is why the male character in the first section is unable to do the sentimental thing (in mainstream movie standards) which is equated as the right thing. And this is why the male character in the second (third in the original conception) essentially tames his wild woman by his sentimental gesture. On the primary and literal level, the film uses the fate of women to show the state of Indian society back then. These women are not Mother India (an iconic film) but instead are daughters of hers, which might explain the title. In addition, the daughter designation also frees them to from the responsibility of representing the Nation; and they are of age to marry and create families of their own. But no families are created in these domestic stories. The women's tears are epic, as Ray is able to bring out amazing performances from his actors, but the stories themselves seem to be in a tradition of what I can only describe as an old-fashioned humanism. There is something intact about the characters, solid, not so much archetypes, but formally recognizable as some kind of types. They way they react to the world is in accordance to a strictly defined psychology which doesn't waver except for the woman in the ghost story who's motivation is unstable and hence her unresolvable absence/presence which indicates what constitutes a viable character, the one who can be read as a recognizable and understandable figure. (Sorry not being clear, writing this while thinking, but you get the gist, no?) I guess what I'm saying is what is of interest is the woman in the second film, the section that never got released, because her character cannot be contained and could not be sustained as a viable presence. Her state shows Ray grappling with how to portray a character of differing motivations or it shows Ray's awareness of his own limitation because the world around him could not provide him with the vocabulary to do so, but he does attempt it! The form of the short story itself appears part of this idea of humanism, in the belief that things can be conveyed in this form which Ray transmutes into the medium of film. These stories are ultimately unreconcilable, which explains the state of the film for so long of missing section, because it follows the stories rigorously from its original form which in turn brings its attendant ideas about characterization and what makes one a human person. This may explain the presences of strange humans and animals in the narratives: a crazy old man, a pet squirrel, and a mysterious cousin. These are the figures that never made it to become characters and they appear as ornaments in the films. More significantly, it is the British accessories all around, a book by Scott or Tennyson, portraits of the royal family, western jacket, to name a few that function as signs of civilization--as the film itself is. I've never been convinced of Ray's work entirely (except for the poetic Pather Panchali), not sure to whose eyes these films were made for. The dismembered fate of the film reveals how colonialism had yet to be reconciled in Ray's consciousness; and the current reincarnation of the film--the third film was screened separately--shows that the non-diegetic world of the film has to do its own confronting of the past."

random reviews: snowpiercer (2014)

Yes, you!
Unedited and off-the-cuff review.

"How far can a commercial film with an anti-authoritarian message go in terms of sustaining narrative momentum and plausibility? At what point does the train of narrative filmmaking derail from its linear way of storytelling? Traversing the planet to coincide with the length of the year, the film's train (why not a shinkansen?) is a metaphor for a few things, but the one thing I want to focus on is how it moves through the world like runaway Capital, without stopping at any point, fuelled by exploitative labor, endlessly circling the globe to maintain a status quo. Thus when the it finally stops, the passenger cars, which by the way are not unlike strips of film, collide and get thrown out of order and into chaos. Capital time effective stops. And guess what happens? The narrative stops as well. And what does that look like? A black leader of film strip, the likely end of the movie, but since the demands of commercial cinema requires audience upliftment or placation, the film offers a brief glimpse of "hope". As my co-viewer sharply observed, the image given to the eyes of the film's characters is not one they would recognize. In fact, the recognition of the image is likely to appease the audience for a happy end. Note though that the image offered to us is a digital construction, which undermines the "hope for humanity" that is initially offered. In this way, the film is about film too: what happens to image in the age of digital construction AND its relation to our revolutionary needs. Bong Joon-Ho stages the confrontation between rebels and soldier/police/fascists (who can tell the difference these days, right? even campus "cops" mace students without remorse) with a kind of somatic and psychic satisfaction (in the tradition of great South Korean revenge films, I guess) that I was tempted to raise my fist and join the dissidents in their bloody battles. And yet, upon further reflection, with the aid of my fellow viewer, the film seems to contain the rebellious spirit by a narrative twist that makes little sense. (Implausible moments are interesting in the way they reveal how the logic of a work isn't operating at that moment and reveals so much about the totality of the work itself.) By turning the rebellion as a staged event provided by the status quo, a slight yet strict opening for the expression of dissatisfaction and anger, the film negates the thrilling action set pieces of the movie. There is no other choice in the film but to explode into smithereens. Who and what survives? The audience desire to see these images of revolution and protests which have been slowly entering into the representative realm in film and television, a set of images that either mimic or compete with the actual images of rebellion on the newscasts and internet lately? The good guy? The audience? Because of the evident digital construction of the image that closes the film, it is cinema itself that survives in the new technological development of digital image-making. What then happens to our desires to see revolution depicted? What is depicted on screen? The casting, by H-wood standards, is progressive with ample roles to non-white actors. Casting becomes political critique too: as gay white men have been incorporated into mainstream society, they too become oppressors, the film suggests. Asians too are shown to be co-opting with their white counterparts, though it's interesting to see their designation in the society since I didn't see any decadent Asians but ones who fulfill a function in the hierarchical society of the movie. (Daijobu desuka? Daijobu.) No, Boon doesn't short shift Asian since the duo come of as co-protagonist, but not THE protagonist. It's still a H-wood movie, after all. God forbid a non-kung fu Asian guy as lead, one who is middle aged and not a looker and doesn't speak English. What else is on screen? Children appear with only a single parent present which indicates to me a kind of magical production which if taken seriously can plausibly explain where all the abundance in the film is coming from. Intentional or not, the missing parent says something about how things are produced and reproduced much like the invisible labor that we have grown to be aware of but cannot see represented. This is the reason why notes inserted into items such as clothes or handbags indicating the abusive and hard conditions of factories become news. It's not a human interest story but more in line with "how dare they speak up" or make their presence known, which disrupts the rhythm of everyday life. How dare they interrupt our carefully calibrated notions of morality. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but one of the consistent themes (that I see) in recent Hollywood films is that of the visibility of invisible labor (something I noted in Pacific Rim). There's also a preponderance of missing limbs. The film signifies these as symbols of sacrifice. However, it's not too much of a stretch to think about the losing of limbs in factories with exploitative labor (the book Fast Food Nation and news from China). How are we audiences suppose to understand this from its literal narrative function? How can a limbless population stage a successful coup? I don't know the answer but I've got a feeling that this idea can be extended further. (Need your help guys.) Going back to the idea of revolutionary desire, what happens to it? It would seem that the cinematic form (and its form creators) understand that images of revolts are needed for cinema to survive, which indicates cinema's vitality with audiences's desires and psyche. Hence, cinema is still a vital form. Ok, this is a bold argument, but I think there's something going on there. Go ask Eisenstein! But does lead to political and/or aesthetic change? In commercial cinema, like in this film, it is certain dampened by false and/or happy ending and surprise psychological motivations that explains blahblahblah. For answers, I think we must look to other forms of cinematic film production that yet to bubble up from the margins. Film your local protests and upload it for everyone to see."

love work

"There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? Who is the audience for this dictum? Who is not?

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace."

(Source: Imaginechina/Rex)

"...This focus on the individual is hardly surprising coming from Jobs, who cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate — all states agreeable with ideal romantic love. Jobs telegraphed the conflation of his besotted worker-self with his company so effectively that his black turtleneck and blue jeans became metonyms for all of Apple and the labor that maintains it.

But by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

The violence of this erasure needs to be exposed. While “do what you love” sounds harmless and precious, it is ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism..."

(Source: Imaginechina/Rex)

"One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?""

From here. Images from article here.

terminal case

"I think our social responsibility is to live here, now, and contribute to joyous lives for those around us. It's as if we're in a hospice situation. I think we should be serving as witnesses to our own demise, as well as to the demise of the many other species we are driving to extinction.

In addition, I believe we have an obligation to not keep making things worse for every other species on the planet. It appears that we've thrown ourselves into the abyss, but we don't need to drag every other species on the planet down with us. So that's why I so much appreciate what is going on here, at Earth at Risk, because it keeps the focus on species beyond ours, and the focus on cultures and societies beyond ours. We think it's all about us, whatever "us" is, and from a cosmological perspective our species just showed up really quite recently, and yet we think it's all about us.

So maybe we could, for a change, make it not about us, for starters."

(Photo courtesy of J. Mahoney)

"I try to encourage people to pursue their passion, to do what they love, and apparently some people love having children.

Obviously I think that's a terrible strategy, given how little time we have on this planet as a species, but who am I to interrupt somebody else's reproductive rights? So if you love having children, have children and love them, and no matter how long their lives are, try to make them be joyous years. I think that goes for all of us, and if that means you want to bring children into the world, who am I to stop you from pursuing what you love? That's what I try to encourage people to do."

From here.

Chomsky's "The End of History?"

Still from Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language (2014)
"It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven U.N. sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck's devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts. One dreadful consequence of the U.S.-U.K. invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today's sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn't believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group's major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the U.S. and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the U.S. and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive U.S. support. Egypt's fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power. The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world. The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction. The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before its summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl."

From here.


Cassiopeia A (Source: NASA)
"Every morn­ing, when I wake again under the pall of the sky, I feel that for me it is New Year’s day.

That’s why I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed matu­ri­ties, which turn life and human spirit into a com­mer­cial con­cern with its neat final bal­ance, its out­stand­ing amounts, its bud­get for the new man­age­ment. They make us lose the con­ti­nu­ity of life and spirit. You end up seri­ously think­ing that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new his­tory is begin­ning; you make res­o­lu­tions, and you regret your irres­o­lu­tion, and so on, and so forth. This is gen­er­ally what’s wrong with dates.

They say that chronol­ogy is the back­bone of his­tory. Fine. But we also need to accept that there are four or five fun­da­men­tal dates that every good per­son keeps lodged in their brain, which have played bad tricks on his­tory. They too are New Years’. The New Year’s of Roman his­tory, or of the Mid­dle Ages, or of the mod­ern age.

And they have become so inva­sive and fos­sil­is­ing that we some­times catch our­selves think­ing that life in Italy began in 752, and that 1490 or 1492 are like moun­tains that human­ity vaulted over, sud­denly find­ing itself in a new world, com­ing into a new life. So the date becomes an obsta­cle, a para­pet that stops us from see­ing that his­tory con­tin­ues to unfold along the same fun­da­men­tal unchang­ing line, with­out abrupt stops, like when at the cin­ema the film rips and there is an inter­val of daz­zling light.

That’s why I hate New Year’s. I want every morn­ing to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself, when I feel drunk with the inten­sity of life and I want to plunge into ani­mal­ity to draw from it new vigour. 

No spir­i­tual time-serving. I would like every hour of my life to be new, though con­nected to the ones that have passed. No day of cel­e­bra­tion with its manda­tory col­lec­tive rhythms, to share with all the strangers I don’t care about. Because our grand­fa­thers’ grand­fa­thers, and so on, cel­e­brated, we too should feel the urge to cel­e­brate. That is nauseating. I await social­ism for this rea­son too. Because it will hurl into the trash all of these dates which have no res­o­nance in our spirit and, if it cre­ates oth­ers, they will at least be our own, and not the ones we have to accept with­out reser­va­tions from our silly ancestors. 

– Trans­lated by Alberto Toscano"

From here.