Sunday, April 03, 2005
Unspeakable Genius

I completely forgot to mention that I saw the final version of the first of two films I worked on with Morgan last summer. He had a good deal of what I would regard as difficult footage, which is part and parcel of his shooting style -- his methods give him both opportunity for truly creative work and frequent complications, and certainly his films don't much resemble your typical Hollywood stuff. In any case, I think he did a really remarkable job. AwayAwake is less linear than Blue Citrus Hearts was, but I think it's still accessible for those viewers who don't mind putting themselves to a little more effort. Nobody (including Morgan) knows when the second of the two films will be completed -- currently he's getting ready to shoot another film over this coming summer, one that, according to him, will be the most linear and straightforward to date. I'll be looking forward to what he does with the uncompleted one -- the current film includes brief glimpses of some characters who have rather extensive film lives of their own, detailed in the film now floating in limbo, and it would be nice to see that potential realized eventually. But we'll see how things progress -- perhaps those characters will eventually be known only to those who were there when it all happened. That's an interesting angle in itself, I think.

I am continuing to have my world rocked by Maya Deren.


I'm currently reading her 1946 chapbook, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film, which is really an amazing piece of writing. Every page seems to hold a minor revelation -- you think I'm exaggerating, but I promise, I'm not. It's a classic case of having all those things you've known, that you've had floating around inside your mind without ever quite being able to pull them together, finally click into place so you can see them and hold them and begin to understand them more deeply. It's really a seminal work, definitely up there with the likes of Godard and Cassavetes (and pre-dating them both); it makes me rather angry that in nearly a decade of studying this medium, nobody has ever so much as mentioned Deren's name, much less advised me to read her writings. The argument could be made, I suppose, that as a pivotal avant-gardist, Deren's work doesn't bear as much relation to mainstream film -- film theorists and historians have constructed a high wall between the avant-garde and everything else -- but that's complete bullshit. And yes, part of me is inclined to attribute at least part of the neglect of Deren's work to the fact that she was a woman; even taking straight-up gender politics (always a tiresome subject) out of the equation, I think there's some kernel of truth to the idea that men and women do make different kinds of films.

I'm inclined to point to the other major female genius of the cinema as a second reference to this point, but since she was a dirty stinking Nazi -- I'm referring, of course, to Leni Riefenstahl -- we're not really allowed to talk about her work. The cause she glorified in film is, obviously, a repugnant and shameful one, but that doesn't lessen the innovation present in her films. Interestingly, Riefenstahl's studies of cinematic representation of human motion (I'm thinking specifically of the diving sequence in Olympiad) are probably most closely echoed by Deren's similar studies of cinematic representations of dance. Interestingly, both Riefenstahl and Deren started out as dancers; and while Deren shot endless anthropological footage in Haiti, Riefenstahl eventually did similar work in Sudan. Of course, Riefenstahl lived to an absurdly old age, while Deren died young (directly of a brain hemmorhage, but indirectly because of severe malnutrition and attendant heavy use of amphetamines to overcome the effects of slow starvation.)

It's just interesting, I think, that in the years I've spent studying film -- in both a deep-thinking liberal arts setting and in a nuts-and-bolts film school setting -- that for all the hours we spent watching films and discussing historical innovation, neither Riefhenstahl nor Deren were ever so much as mentioned. The one time I was made to watch Riefhenstahl's films, it was always with a general imposed attitude to silent disgust without discussion -- socially and politically warranted, yes, but not helpful when the subject is technique and aesthetic. Strangely, those same instructors would discuss D. W. Griffith's equally-innovative (and far more viscerally, repulsively offensive) Birth of a Nation with due reverence, even if always with a disclaimer attached.

Funny how that works. Anyway, yes, I'm digging on Deren.

I'd forgotten how yucky New England can be in the spring -- yesterday and today have both been cold and rainy, dreary grey. It almost seems to feel colder the warmer it gets. We're having minor flooding problems -- it's raining constantly, which leads to some standing water, but the rainfall also facilitiates the melting-off of all the accumulated snow, and we had a lot of snow this year. All the rivers and streams are overflowing from the runoff from the mountaints; the beaver pond on the local road is threatening to crest over its banks. But, as everyone continually reminds themselves and each other, at least it's not snowing. And that's an excellent point.

PS: For anyone interested, Morgan Fox's Blue Citrus Hearts is available at NetFlix, GreenCine, and Blockbuster. The current cover art is a minor atrocity (the original art was much, much better), but the film's worth a look. And yes, I worked on that one, too.
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