Friday, October 28, 2011

Dying Twice

"If you die without anyone to remember you, it's like dying twice"

Image: Tod Seelie
Words: Santiago Roncagliolo

Hearts and Darkness #2

A couple of weeks back, I mentioned a pretty damned perfect night out, filming a live performance by Mono. Washes of darkness interspersed with moments of light. Not much through the camera lens, but a whole lot felt through the body. And, so, here is the short performance piece we put together for the larger project profiling artists of the Melbourne Festival. It's one of the things I've done lately that I dig the most. Lights out. Listen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Wish and The Thing

“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.” 

words: Cormac McCarthy

They Seduced Me, Man

Over the last fortnight, along with a barrel load of other work, our little production company has been churning out twenty short documentaries exploring the artists and works of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. They are short and sweet pieces about some extraordinary folks and, we've been able to rope in a lot of the great crew that we like to work with so as to allow us to turn over a large amount of work in a very short space of time. The pace has been furious but, as is always the way when sleep is minimal and productivity is high, there have been endless bad jokes, indoor cricket matches, ankle taps, bird flipping, top 40 dance-offs and smutty discussions ranging freely and frequently through pop stars, Percy Grainger's dick, Pitbull and anal sex.

Although we are still a few days from completion, I have to link to one of the pieces I finished last week - about The Manganiyar Seduction - if only because I can listen to the two key creative artists involved in the show talk about it over and over again. There is something so irresistible about people who are crazy passionate about the work they do. To keep a work as alive in the way you talk and feel about it, as it is on the stage, or screen or page, is a small miracle given the complexities of bringing anything as grand and expansive as this to life. "They seduced me, man!"

Monday, October 17, 2011

True and Truth and Truer

"It’s all true. I don’t know what truth is, though. 
I think it’s a lot truer than I intended it to be."

Alma Har'el on her film 'Bombay Beach' which I would like to see very, very, very badly.


A decade or so back, during its infancy, I used to write a bit for the journal Senses of Cinema. The editors at the time - prolific filmmaker and founding editor Bill Mousoulis and cineaste Fiona Villella - were generous and inviting in giving reign to writers to explore whatever it was they felt most passionate about. So I wrote short essays on Jay Rosenblatt and Peter Tscherkassky, on Rosetta, Dancer in the Dark and the festival screenings of Tsai Ming Liang, Elie Suleiman, Werner Herzog or Claire Denis, and I got lost in long and wildly indulgent pieces on Bill Douglas or Jean-Pierre Leaud or Jem Cohen

I still remember telling my step-dad one day that I was writing an essay for the journal and he listened and nodded. I rambled on for a while. He listened and nodded. And then he asked, "why on earth would they call a magazine Sensitive Cinema?". In my head I still think of this world beating film journal - started here in our own backyard from the cluster of film fanatics, filmmakers and academics, that is now regarded as one of, if not the, world's best online cinema journal - as Sensitive Cinema.

Well, Senses of/Sensitive Cinema needs help to keep publishing. So, here is a link to throw a few bucks it's way. Do it. Don't think about it. You could probably be a miser and think you're saving yourself twenty five bucks and then blow it on an overpriced burger (with wagyu beef and kefalograviera), a ticket to some soul crushing 3D extravaganza starring Sam thingo, or you could just hand it on over and help keep one tiny pocket of cinema stay vibrant, diverse and flourishing. Hell knows, cinema needs it.

Friday, October 14, 2011


While playing with Thelonious Monk in 1960, saxophonist Steve Lacy transcribed these notes of advice as given to him by Monk. They are a beautiful thing.

"When you're swinging, swing some more."

"Always leave them wanting more."

"It must always be night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights."

“Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

This Precarious Life

image: Patrick Zachmann

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When Minds are Blown #3

In 2001 - a particularly great year for cinema, for festivals, and for me as an audience member - I saw a handful of movies that blew my mind. I thought that I had reached some kind of zenith and that, forever after, I would be on a slow downward slide of disappointment. Turns out that it was partially true (really, 2001 was a great year for cinema going for me). That is, until Fatih Akin's Head On. I love this film. I love everything about it. It is flawed, of course, but it has more essentially human experiences coursing through the first five minutes than a decade of the films surrounding it.

I also, being partial to a drink, love a film that doesn't shy away from the the messy extremes of self destruction. I also, being partial to love, love a film that doesn't shy away from the messy extremes of romance, of falling in love, of sex, jealousy and obsession. I also, being partial to music, love a film that doesn't shy away from the life or death relationship that many of us have with the songs that make our lives worth living. This is a violent, messy, destructive madness of an experience, and it is tender, vulnerable and as romantic as a film can be. I love it.


"A week later, López Azcárate hanged himself from a tree and the news ran through the university like a terrified, fleet-footed animal. And when I heard the news it left me shrunken and shivering, but also amazed, because although it was bad news, without a doubt, the worst, it was also, in a way, exhilarating, as if reality were whispering in your ear: I can still do great things; I can still take you by surprise, you silly girl, you and everyone else; I can still move heaven and earth for love."
Roberto Bolaño, Amuleto

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hearts and Darkness #1

Throughout the Melbourne Festival, our little rabid crew are turning our day jobs into night and day jobs and shooting a couple of dozen short films with visiting artists and performers. We've already finished a couple - on Russian Art superstars AES+F, on Tom Tom Crew, photographer Daniel King - and many more are underway. But last night, after 12 hours of cutting, I went out to film with a favourite band of mine who are also guests of the festival: Mono

Hear them now, as you read and look.

These Japanese instrumental superheros are as incredible onstage as they are in their recordings. Staged in the dimmest of light (making filming hover around the borders of impossible), they create, from stillness, a slow transcendental build to chaos and disorder. It's perfect. And I watched people weep while feedback roared from the speakers, so they are clearly doing something right. Hearts. Darkness. Perfection.




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Good Morning

image by wastedrita

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Minds Are Blown #2

"In my cinema, when faced with the choice of distancing oneself from reality or using an effect that might be used to win the popularity with the public, I always renounce these possibilities and stay close to reality."
Gillo Pontecorvo

The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo. Blowing minds since 1965.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


 Let us go where no one judges us.

I love the images of photographer Nikita Pirogov. The cold. Stark beauty. The warmth.


Simonides: "Dancing is silent poetry"

And can't we just run, and run? 

Let the wind burn our ears and whip through our hair.

When Minds Are Blown #1

Credit where credit is due.

At different times in my life, I've encountered work (as probably many of us have, whatever field of life we stumble through) that has radically altered how I think about film and what I believe is possible both as a viewer and as someone who aspires to make the damn things. Sometimes it's just a single film that cracks the lid, and sometimes it's an entire body of work. Sometimes it comes from the usual suspects, whose works have blown minds over and over again, and sometimes it comes from unexpected quarters and surprising sources.

Exhibit A in the list of usual suspects. I offer up Bernardo Bertolucci. 

I was recently reminded of my early obsession with him while talking to a friend who is curating a retrospective of his films in Melbourne and was able to meet and spend time with BB in Venice recently. After a bout of insane star-fucking jealousy on my part, I thought back to two key films of his early work - both made in 1970, in a period of incredible productivity - that I watched back to back when I was 20 and which completely unravelled what I thought was possible for filmmakers to achieve in terms of the complexity of their ideas. These were films that contained an intricate density of narrative, with an oneiric layering of ideas, sensation and impossibly beautiful images; films that loosened the boundaries between idea and expression, and which embodied an inherently playful approach to the world outside of the film (especially as expressed in other texts - literature, cinema, psychoanalysis, political theory) and which were brimming with a visceral, sexualised expression of human desire and repression. The Conformist and Spider's Stratagem were the films. Buttressed between the unruly brilliance of Before the Revolution and Partner, and the grand mastery of Last Tango in Paris and Novecento, these two films became a turning point for me in realising that cinema is, if nothing else, an art of endless possibility. Filmmakers talk of limits but Bertolucci found ways to circumvent all limits. In these two films he allows a sequence to be visually staggering and a narrative lynchpin, while also serving as a moment of psychoanalytic severance, an unraveling of Plato, a reflection on his relationship with Godard, with Freud, with his poet father, or with the moral orthodoxies of the neo-realists; or he offers a scene as a demand that we view it's inversions and subversions in the context of the most challenging contemporary histories. The layers of interpretation throughout these films, within a coherent narrative, were, to my mind, staggering. And these films contain dozens of these endlessly re-interpretable sequences.

On top of this, what I also encountered, and what I loved equally, was that these films are sexy, wild, playful, beautiful, demanding, startling. They are not perfect films but, when I first encountered them, in all their flawed brilliance, they made cinema seem to me to be the perfect form.

Post script:

After writing this little love letter to the past, I started thinking out my plans for the retrospective and mulling over the schedule and noticed that there was an accompanying essay to the retrospective written by bloody Christos Tsiolkas who sits in the next bloody desk over from me and who had not once mentioned that he'd written this beautiful and far more articulate essay of adoration. Read it... It's a beautiful thing.

"We need to come to it, as we need to come to all of Bertolucci's work, acknowledging that we are thinking, active, ethical beings, that we come to cinema with ideas and dreams we seek to explore and to think through and to challenge."
Christos Tsiolkas