This session is an extension of the synopsis of text. As I "read" more films, I found they influence my making as much, if not more, as the texts do. I am not writing these as formal film/exhibition/performance reviews -- am simply picking points of interest to my own advantage. (Perhaps that's why I treat them as annotations rather than synopsis.)
- 1 Utterly Humbled by Mystery (NPR series)
- 2 Salt (one-woman play)
- 3 I Can Make You Feel Good, photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s (Exhibition at FOAM. 1995, US)
- 4 Three Identical Strangers (feature documentary)
- 5 Minding the Gap (feature documentary)
- 6 I Am He As You Are He As You Are Me and We Are All Together: Shuffled Subjectivities In and Out of the Frame by Yuki Okumura (lecture performance)
- 7 IFFR 2019
Utterly Humbled by Mystery (NPR series)
Salt (one-woman play)
written by Salina Thompson
Royal Court Theatre June 2019
I saw this play on the trip to London for MIASMA. Seeing a play was exciting and comforting, like visiting a friend who I had not spoken to for a while.
We waited outside of the space. A line was forming. Fifteen minutes, ten minutes, five. They finally opened the door. The man who were the head of the line reasoned, "it's just one actors. They probably don't want too many audience in there early. It would be overwhelming."
At center stage: a plump, black woman in a white dress. In front of her: a table with a large block of salt, a large mortar and pestle, incense burning. Above her: soft, white neon of a triangle.
Bench seating. The first two rows were equipped with safety goggles. I picked a seat on the second row.
Play began. The actor gave instruction: during the play I will be using a sledgehammer. Please have the goggles on when I have them on.
Then she said, as the first lines:
I am black. I am twnety-eight.
Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Tire. She hit the salt as she recounted stories, some from her grandmother and parents, but mostly from herself, about slavery, colonial past, loss of identity, institutional racism. I don't remember when I started crying, but I cried throughout the play. I related to her anger, frustration, sadness, tire. The notion of being somewhere yet not belonging. This diaspora (although different in our respective context). This loss of home, being privileged yet forever burdened by the past, this alternating reality of emptiness (deprived of identity, or inability to trace something and make it coherent) and lack of or mis- understanding from others.
As she laid parts of the salt down she visualized institutional racism. And she repeated
INSERT FROM SCRIPT
I was wearing my goggles. And my tears were filling them up.
Perhaps that's how affect worked. Extreme vulnerability, extreme pain, and extreme empathy.
However, I do wonder what the white, especially male and white audience thought of it.
I Can Make You Feel Good, photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s (Exhibition at FOAM. 1995, US)
I went to FOAM on May 24, 2019. There were a few exhibitions. One of the pieces caught my eye. It is as if the captive moment is extended. Images are repeated, but each time slightly different, just like memories are slightly different (not that precise/alters with time). I lied there for a good five minutes. The position reminds me of the actual staring at the sky (which appears in the image from time to time, deliberately framed).
Four large bean bags on the ground.
One high-definition projection mounted to the ceiling.
The visitors lie down and watch slow motion scenes of:
- teenage boy on the swing (large aperture, point of focus is his face, before/after out of focus)
- teenage boy jumping rope
- teenage boy hula-hoopiing
- teenage boys playing
- teenage boys swimming (shot from under the swimming bodies)
- teenage boy eating ice cream (shot from under as the melting ice cream drips to the glass (seems to be above the lens))
Most of the scenes are shot from a few different angles. For example the hula-hoop scene. In the frame there is a large swath of sky. Camera tilted up to focus on close-ups of the upper body and the hoop. In a different frame it features two boys. Mid-range shot.
One of the most memorable scene was two teenagers skate in tandem. The camera (pointing up) captures two teenagers holding both hands, moving in and out of the frame. CUT TO: the camera (shooting from side) captures two slopes in the skate park (left third of the frame) and the teenagers skate in and out of the rest of the frame.
My least favorite scenes are about eating ice cream. A teenage boy looks at the camera (pointing up) and eats a melting ice cream which drips on the glass. The scenes are done with one pink and one brown ice cream.
The only times the characters look at the cameras are when they are on the swing and when they eat the ice cream. Both take the viewer out of the work.
Simple ambient music composition.
Three Identical Strangers (feature documentary)
Director: Tim Wardle, 2019
Shot: Interviewee comes in to the center of frame against a dark green backdrop. Starts his story. Animated.
Shot: 1970's. Outside of a house in Upstate NY. Young person loads an old car.
The first half of the documentary is composed of direct interview of the subject (e.g. David), re-enacted scenarios (per accounts from the subject), and interview of the participant of the event (e.g. newspaper editor). It's shot and edited in a conventional documentary. For example, other than the protagonists, the other interviews are off-center with a shallow depth of field. As the interviews continue, clippings from yellowed newspaper (enlarged to a degree where the half-tone pattern of the paper is visible) and old footage of television shows (again, enlarged to show the low-res look from the 90's) appear as evidence. It feels very much like a feel-good story of re-union, told via the subjects themselves, friends, relatives, newspaper editor. The overall feeling is cheesy entertainment.
The story changes rather unnoticed when the interviews with the journalist starts. It introduces the supposed evil (the experiment). The film goes on with the tone of uncovering conspiracy. As the conspiracy (and the effects) grow darker, the so-called plot thickens. The visual language remains the same. The characters (old + new ones such as the old assistant of the scientist) start to give different "sides" of the extended story. At some point the two protagonists start to recall the death -- which seems to be the central turning point, the big reveal of the absence of the third brother. The director probably ask him to recall everything in the fashion of plainly explaining.
After that the documentary continues in present tense. E.g. one brother phones the organization about the record.
A few things irk me. The director withholds information from the audience blatantly. You get the "murder mystery," but half way through you know that everyone in the film already knows the story and it's been revealed to you because sorry, you are on the other side of the screen. "I can easily see it on Netflix", a friend said after watching the movie. It is a telling: there is a hook in every step... The story becomes about plot, which makes it somewhat cheaper.
Then when you think back about the cheeriness of the first half you feel betrayed rather than being there with the protagonists. There are still moving moments, but in a way the story is exploited to give shock and ask for sympathy.
Compared to Minding the Gap (the film I write about below), the director treats the audience as entertainment seekers, a bit brainless maybe, rather than equals. This is a good pair to compare how a film withholds and its effect on the viewer.
Minding the Gap (feature documentary)
Director: Bing Liu, 2019
The films starts as a skater movie, portraying young people in a skate park and friends having a good time. The characters emerge quickly: Zack, Keire and Bing (the filmmaker). Secondary characters: Nina, Keire's family...
The first half of the film feels somewhat conventional: footage from the past with voiceover talking about teen years, interviews with a documentary look. But even in the beginning something is different from a "proper", educational documentary. When Bing interviews the skate shop owner, he asks to talk about his impression of Bing as a teenager. (The filmmaker paints a self-portrait without painting it himself.) As he walks through his old house, his half-brother says "this is my brother's room," to which Bing responds off-frame, "you can refer to me."
This director's ease (or choice to be perceived this way) of being in and out of the frame (from different angles, mostly virtually) is unique. Bing's presence in the film is self-aware, both as a character and a mediating voice. What strikes me the most is his ability to hold his discovery (about Zack and Nina'a argument) and the choice he makes to continue observing. In a car, he directly and respectfully asks Nina (in the driving seat) how he should approach the subject (Zack is out buying food). Nina tells him to not to just as Zack opens the car door. This scene, as I recall it now, is filled with weighted decisions.
Bing develops the weight through further conversations with Keire — who apparently does not know about the incident. Throughout film he never reveals to Zack (or any of the main characters) what he knows. When he asks Keire to speculate, he asks in a non-judgemental way. In doing this, the audience and the director are withholding what they know together and waiting to find out about what the other person has to say.
Bing never confronts Zack directly. When he films Zack in Colorado, Zack jokingly asks him "is it one of those films where I talk to you or one of those where I pretend you are not there?" Bing answers, "it's up to you, how you feel." The trust involved in this film is incredible. Without this trust Zack would not have been able to talk about his desperation towards the end of the film, and we would have never got to know him as a full human being. It feels as if that Bing knows Zack more than what he does, and however disagreeing his acts were, he sees him as a whole person. And in developing the narrative around Zack, he lets the audience go through the same depth of understanding.
The revealing v. not revealing is also quite unique. Other than the knowledge about Zack, Bing tells Keire later on about why he is making this movie. "I am making it because I see myself in you." This surprises Keire, "wow, I never knew." The trust is also apparent when Bing captures Keire's visit to his dad (in which Keire cries).
The deliberate framing the talk between Bing and his mother is interesting, but perhaps not the most affective scene... Somehow all the other emotions ring true, but this one feels — because it is framed, almost in a performative situation, with the mother in front of the light and the filmmaker/son on the second camera from the side — wrapped up on a pedestal. The conversation is heart-wrenching. Bing remains stoic until he says, "I cut."
I Am He As You Are He As You Are Me and We Are All Together: Shuffled Subjectivities In and Out of the Frame by Yuki Okumura (lecture performance)
19.30, Apr 14, Nederlandse Filmacademie. 'Japanese artist Yuki Okumura will discuss how he has positioned himself in the process of his film making, and how he has staged lectures and interviews with simple yet particularly interventional instructions and employed them as materials for his projects tackling the notion of individuality that is defined by language and based on our physicality, where film’s very nature of framing time and space plays a key role.'
In his works he uses the process of translation as a mechanism to visualize authorship, (auto)biography and subjectivity. In one video ('Jun Yang: A Short Lecture on Forgetting and Remembering, 2011'), he films a translator (who spoke on behalf of the artist, Jun Yang, giving a lecture). Without context, the interpreter in the video becomes the artist as she speaks with the subjective "I".  In another project ('Hisachika Takahashi by Yuki Okumura, 2016 (curated by Reiko Setsuda)'), he creates an exhibition with the prints made by Hisachika Takahashi (which is reflected in the title of the exhibition). A related video features him being interviewed as Hisachika Takahashi (Okumura had memorized Takahashi's biography for this interview).
I wrote down a lot of points during IFFR 2019. Jujube/2019-iffr-log
Seems fitting to cross reference here.