she (excerpt No.3)

February 18, 2011

circa 1993



…if you have been brought up to be independant and self-sustaining, it is far harder to turn to someone else and ask for help, it’s hard to admit that your mind has just crumbled in on itself… You don’t have the language to reach out, you don’t have the knowledge to reach out, your pride gets in the way…


Kay Redfield Jamison
paraphrased from an interview
(TVO Allan Gregg)





Ernie&Bert ; all one word

February 4, 2011

What sense does Ernie make without Bert…
…or I without you?

she (excerpt No2)

February 2, 2011

circa 1993

Baraka (1994)

I’m not interested in fingering Baraka as my most favourite film, but there is one piece of evidence which is hard to otherwise explain: I have been out to see Baraka, played on the big screen of a cinema, over a dozen times.

One factor is that a viewing of Baraka – leagues above all other films, of which I would advise the same – is enriched by the cinema.  The large format provided by the dvd played on a big-screen-TV is nothing to sneeze at… but it’s missing a bit of collective magic.

Baraka – cousin to the Koyanistsika-Poyoniscasti-Nacognicasti trilogy and (later) films such as Kronos(?), under-sea(?) – rolls without any dialogue. Sound from a few scenes filter through; very occasionally such sounds emerge to the very surface. But shots pass silently beneath a musical soundtrack.

The musical soundtrack is point upon which I grumble a little. The score (by Michael Stearns) teeters near the brink of new-age-style slock. The “official soundtrack” cd released – by selecting too much of the most lyrical passages – falls beyond this threshold.  The film’s complete audio is not bad enough to cause my grumbling to interrupt my viewings. But from a distance – especially compared to Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniskaski (one of the greatest works by one of the late-20th century’s greatest composers) – I’ve always considered Baraka’s score regrettable.

I find watching Baraka to be like dreaming. (If it weren’t such a terrible cliché, I might use the word experience).  Baraka can be described as a long series of shots – of astonishing variety, without being disjointed. Watching minds alternate between wandering and being riveted, struggling to make sense of the flow and forgetting to bother. I think that I dream the same way: when I wake, my mind has sometimes strung together fragments into a (somewhat) coherent narrative, other times it has only confusion, yet others it has forgotten everything.

I find watching Baraka in a cinema to be an extraordinary experience of collective-dreaming.

Besides dreaming, Baraka also has the feeling of a Keith Jarett solo-piano improvisation. During these improvised performances (especially the Vienna Concert, La Scala), a theme emerges from near-incoherence, drifts and at some (not-quite-pinpoint-able) moment shows itself as a new theme. A sequence flows like this: a Sanskrit book in the lap of a chanting Hindu aesthetic (Sandu) cuts to an a book of Hebrew prayers open in the hands of a Hasidim… the bowing-like gestures of Hasidim at the Western Wall cuts to the bowing of Sufi dervishes… each bowed dervish receiving his teacher’s/leader’s(?) kiss cuts to the ritual kissing a shrine’s padlock by a Shiite pilgrim… and so on.

The cuts suggest dividing Baraka into sections, chapters or passages. Like our dreams, the lines between these are occasionally abrupt, but more often uncertain.  Once I began to watch the film this way, I spent some of my energy trying define each the bounds of each passage, and then to wonder if it had its own theme.  I have now – at the risk of ruining the mystery by looking too closely – have meticulously collected, and looked at, images snapped from each of the film’s shots… I can still say that Baraka seems to be in the process of dividing itself into chapters… the lines between each remain uncertain, and themes seem present but – dreamlike, again – nebulous.

With curiosity, I divided Baraka into 15 chapters; a rather anal-retentive exercise to be sure. The dvd itself divides the film two ways: the menu offers five chapters and sixteen imbedded chapter-points (which you advance through via the skip button on the remote control).  Despite feeling uncertain about the points which I identified, changing my choices a few times, these three lists mostly agree.

The photography, shot on six continents, is wonderful. (However, it is not as universal as this might suggest… sub-Saharan Africa is missing). The image quality – captured using 70mm cameras (rather than the traditional 35mm, or the new norm of digital) – is spectacular (provided the reels being shown are in good condition).

Baraka plays terrific games with both time and movement.  The camera variously stands still and floats, pans or zooms.  There are aerial shots slowed down to a graceful glide.  A shot begins by looking as if it has been slowed down, but then you find yourself watching sky full of stars race across the background. Cityscapes – wildly accelerated – pulse with frenetic exuberance/madness. Some of these sequences are familiar from earlier films, especially Koyonaskasi, but improved filming technology offers an enriched portrait of pace spun out-of-control. Figures stand motionless, looking directly into the camera as life goes on – rushing or inching – in the background.

The pace and structure of Baraka is unusual. We are very accustomed to films raising and lowering their tension, but rising to a single major climax. Baraka seems to pass like a series of waves. The first wave crests a about fifteen minutes in. Thinking carefully about these crests, I realized that their mood varies. Intensity rises to make the heart speed, but other times it rises to grip us in mourning.

Finally, as I watch Baraka, my dreaming position shifts. I am watching people who are completely unaware of my gaze. Sometimes this divide seems natural, other times it feels odd. Other times I am gazing into somebody who’s gaze is fixed on mine… lucid and intense.  Dreaming, I suppose, is the same: a path of lucidity dissolving and then returning – gradually or with startling abruptness.

for fear of dissent

November 6, 2010

Never forget that it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write.

The Social Amobea

November 2, 2010

within an interview with Oren Harman,
author of “The Price of Altruism”
PRI World Science Podcast.  Oct7,2010

“The example I love most is the social amobea – an amobea called Dictyostyleium discoideum which usually lives as an autonomous, single celled individual… Except when conditions are bad and food is hard to come by it emits a chemical signal… and they converge on the forest floor, and actually produce a single slug…. they had been formerly, autonomous individuals but now they [come] together, and now each of them is a cell in the body of an autonomous slug…”

Watch a Slime Mold

October 31, 2010

unshakable cliches no.1

October 30, 2010

.you can not care for others if you fail to care for yourself.

La double vie de Veronique (1991)
Krzysztof Kieslowski

I  don’t remember the first time I saw The Double Life of Veronique. It was probably the revue cinema in Peterborough… my habitual seat, near the front, left of center.  Whatever…

Double Life is not to everyone’s taste, but it is to mine. It’s not without flaws, especially: some of the acting is an embassaly earnest. (I rarely think of acting – compared to
directing, lighting, editing, etc – as a noteworthy topic. Unless, that is, its illusion is cracked by some ineptitude).

There is an real character to Double Life. The plot – built around a mystical connection between two strangers – seems to be told without the demand that it be
completely believed. It is, visually, intensely stylized. Like the a puppet show contained in the story, the film maker s have made no attempt to hide their hands.

Doub le Life is shot usin g coloured filters and ornamental lighting. So many scenes are bathed in richly coloured lighting that the few w hich are naturalistic seem oddly surreal… (I doubt that this was not calculated). When awakened by a late-night phone call, the lighting of Veronique’s face slowly increases as her grogginess lifts. The streets of Krakow are shot through grey-beige light. Other scenes are swamped in warm yellow-gold and an oddly beautiful green.

Camera-motion is kept short of a gimmick… the gaze o ccasionally follows a character’s vision, tilt ing and in one case, f alling to the floor.

Almost all movies confine any abstract visuals to behind the opening credits. In Double Life, the screen dissolves into a several abstract shots and short passages. Intense eroticism is amplified by a close camera and the blurred results of an extremely short focal length… like eyes struggling to focus.

The plot manages to peek and then hold my interest and curiosity. (Again, this is unusual. Like acting, I most often find plot to be of only minimal interest… not infrequently an excuse to keep the film rolling).

The plot of Double Life manages to be both subtle into grandiose,

The plot is decorated with visual symbols and meticulous self-references. Sometimes cryptic, these are not essential to the story and usually avoid tackiness, choosing instead to allow its audience to miss, or manage to notice them. They are always unimportant enough to the story to avoiding turning the film into a frustrating exercise in puzzling… but relevant enough for them to enrich repeat viewings.

Besides storyline, the plot devotes its attention to themes of love, companionship and solitude. Veronique quits singing (breaks with teacher). Veronika goes to Krakow to visit her aging Aunt, leaving behind her lover. Both Veronique and Veronika have tender, loving relations with their fathers and have lost their mothers. When we first meet Veronique she is making love to a man who, minutes later, she does not allow to stay. The subplot involves a lie about intimacy. A character turns the pursuit of intimacy into a game. There are co-incidences between characters who never meet. A hotel room is oddly furnished with two single beds pushed together. The story has Veronique, in several different senses, looking at herself. And finally: most central of all, there is the mystical link between (French) Veronique and (Polish) Veronika.

The ending of Double Life was re-edited for release in the US. It’s actually not terrible (such things, of course, are plenty to provoke a cringe). This alternative ending does not even destroy the closing of the original version. It does, however, wrap what is the film’s most cryptic moment within a bit of extra narrative. This makes it more palatable to anyone who does not like the unsettling feeling that they may have missed something.  On one hand,  Kieslowski is to be admired for creating a film so rich and complex while not poking his audience with that irritating feeling. I think audiences should feel curious, not taunted.
…still, I prefer the original ending.