Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Words Are Unnecessary #2

Tomorrow night - Wednesday March 28 - at the Melbourne Cinematheque, one of my favourite films of all time, Antonioni's L'Eclisse is playing. I first saw this film when a friend and I started a nerdy cinephile film club at uni and hired in 16mm prints to show in a small room to an audience that usually consisted of three of us, rarely more than six. It wasn't elite. We desperately wanted more people to come along, but I think we invited social death with the complete lack of hipness of the films we bought in. We hired in L'Eclisse after having our tiny minds blown by L'Avventura in a class on Italian neo-realism (a class that was almost certainly more responsible for damaging my brain with cinematic purism than any other). Nothing quite prepared me for how much this film would get under my skin.

Here is how the cinemateque notes describe this film that has probably attracted more abstract and intellectual synopses than just about any film save for Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad:
Antonioni’s definitive film is an uncompromising & moody exploration of alienation, ennui & the “atomic age” starring Alain Delon & Monica Vitti. An unflinching yet poetic examination of the spaces, places & temporalities of modernity, Antonioni’s actors & characters are ultimately abandoned as the vehicle for presenting his truly contemporary vision (epitomised by the remarkable depopulated final sequence).

Startling on first release even after the bold experimentation of L’avventura & La notte, this film occupies a crucial position in postwar European cinema. With Francisco Rabal. Camera operator Pasquale De Santis, produced by Raymond & Robert Hakim, & music by Giovanni Fusco.

35mm print courtesy of the British Film Institute.
And all of this is in the film. And a lot more. More still as interpreted and extrapolated by the cinematheque notes written by Christopher Sharrett. Yet, for me, despite all of the ways that Antonioni unravels post war narratives and creates a cinema of architectural grandeur and the fallibility of Roman bourgeoisie, what made this film something extraordinary was the drama of silences, of looks and glances, of love promised, unfulfilled, defeated and betrayed by intelligent but inarticulate men and women. Also, like anything with Monica Vitti, there was also the joy of the moments in which her performance reflected on itself; moments in the mirror, mugging at someone, grinning despite herself, revealing the chaotic and occasionally joyful energy underneath. For all it's austerity and it's examination of 'ennui' in the 'atomic age', it is the precision in which love emerges in and around the spaces of the city that will always make this film something truly extraordinary. I love it. I love it. And, of course, both Vitti and Alain Delon are complete fucking hotties and Antonioni is unable to create a frame that is imperfect. So, um... if you're in Melbourne and you didn't run a nerdy film club and get to see it on a scratchy old print in a dusty university backroom, go see the damned film.

(There is a sad coincidence in that the script for L'Eclisse, like L'Avventura before it, La Notte  and many other masterful works of writing after it, was scripted by the almost unsurpassable Tonino Guerra who passed away this last week. A eulogy that lists the staggering scope of his work is here.)

Words Are Unnecessary #1

Monday, March 26, 2012


Family is pretty important, huh? I got three brothers and I would crush the living shit out of them with my love. I'm lucky in that we all get to hang out when we can and I'm very fortunate that I also get to work with one of my brothers who is a musician and composer from time to time. So, a brief spruik. He just did this pretty lush deconstructed score for a fashion film for Romance Was Born and Dion Lee Line II. It's different from a lot of the stuff he does usually and I think he kills it. I am totally fucking biased though. Who knows, though... you might dig it.


A few years back, I travelled with T around a large number of different communities in Aboriginal Australia filming for the Black Arm Band show 'dirtsong' which has, up to now, only ever played in Melbourne for two nights. I might have mentioned this before, but it is one of the things I am most proud of, due primarily to the intimacy with which we worked, the resulting immensity of the images, and the importance of the show and the songs themselves. During the live performance, about 70 minutes of film - a kind of lyrical accompaniment to the many different songs that were written in 13 different indigenous languages - played in inky black and white on a vast 16m x 9m screen. I've never seen images I've taken or been part of capturing projected so large. It is immensely strange that the larger the image, the greater the sense of intimacy you feel when watching them. (So much is lost with the shrinking of the cinematic experience - but that is another post for another day...)

So, the point of this blog post is a little bit of self indulgence - like all blog posts - but also, for once, information; this weekend, to close the Message Sticks festival in Sydney, dirtsong will be staged once more, two years after its inception. Many of the original artists have moved on, one has passed away, but many will perform the songs that they wrote for the original show and I imagine that the songs will be just as spine tingling now as they were then. It's a beautiful thing for your work to be able to accompany something that feels so special... I imagine it will feel like an honour for a very long time. While the films - which act as a kind of conversation and mediation between the singers and songs and the lands and cultures from which the songs emerge - don't really work without the songs, below are some stills from the screen grabs. The images we took were often vast landscapes, sometimes intense moments of connection between an individual and the camera, sometimes intimate moments observed in community, or tableaux staged for the camera. We got to film some incredible things in places I had never imagined I would be able to go but like all filmmaking, all image-making, I now feel like there is a thread leading me back to where the images were taken...


“My photography is a reflection, which comes to life in action and leads to meditation. Spontaneity – the suspended moment – intervenes during action in the viewfinder. A reflection on the subject precedes it. A meditation on finality follows it, and it is here, during this exalting and fragile moment, that the real photographic writing develops, sequencing the images.

For this reason a writer’s spirit is necessary to this enterprise. Isn’t photo-graphy ‘writing with light’? But with the difference that while the writer possesses his word, the photographers is himself, possessed by his photo, by the limit of the real which he must transcend so as not to become its prisoner.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Front Row #1

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Live Suddenly

I live suddenly and other times I follow.
I touch a face suddenly and it murders me.
I have no time.
Vivo de pronto y otras veces sigo.
Toco de pronto un rostro y me asesina.
No tengo tiempo.

Image: Adam Broomberg
Words: Pablo Neruda, from 'The Waltz'

Friday, March 9, 2012

Life and Living, Film and Filmmaking

The Past

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
William Faulkner. 

I watched a conversation two nights ago between Javier Cercas and Juan Gabriel Vasquéz at the pretty damned fine Wheeler Centre for Writing, Books and Ideas. The conversation, like their respective novels, revolved around the meeting point between history and memory and the role of the novelist in unravelling what we believe to be true and historical, and what we believe to be subjective and remembered. Vasquéz and Cercas both talked at length (ruing their agreement on ideas and approaches, as they would have preferred to disagree and make the 'show' more fun) about the notion that 'remembering is a moral duty' for a writer and how a novel that treads the path between fiction and non fiction can provide an alternative to the implicit objectivity of official history. Truth and cultural history, they said, can be found in fiction as much as falsity in service of power can be found in non fiction.

Although they explored these ideas by way of Cervantes, Bellow, Stendhal, Roth and Aristotle, for these two writers, their main literary obsession is the landscape of their own country's memory. And, like many countries with turbulent recent histories, the role of remembering in their homelands is intricately intertwined with the practise of making art. In Cercas' Spain and Vasquéz' Colombia, the shadows of civil war, of dictatorships, massacres and violence are heavy shadows that loom over the creative act. It made me reflect that, strangely, in a country such as Australia, where our violence has been carried out, often without military uniforms, without formality, and in the sanctioned space of language, governance, bureacracy, and out of the eyes and minds of the majority of the populace, our creative lives are more often occupied with forgetting than remembrance.

It was Vasquéz, though, that reminded me of the Faulkner quote above from Requiem for a Nun. That "the past is never dead. It's not even past." And these words echo as much for the concerns of the historical novel as for a chump like me interested in the spaces and abysses between humans as expressed in cinema. The ways we continue to live the past - and the echoes of personal and cultural history - in every moment of the present are the greatest complications for our movement into the future. The more we continually revive and resuscitate what has passed - in both shadow and light - the more we see how the past distorts our perception of the lived present. In Australia, a country that fights to live only in the present or in a falsified and nostalgic myth of what we wish we might have been in the past, this act of resuscitation becomes a necessity. There will always be a quiet violence when we try to forget or allow forgetting to happen and it was a small, good thing to be reminded of it by these wandering writers.

Soft Heart

Apologies if I've posted these before, but the soft heart in me likes this series of pictures that I gathered together from a handful of different rolls I took over a year or two. The only internal logic for this gathering was romance. I tried to look through old posts to see if I had already posted this series in whole or part, but it was taking forever... so, in the spirit of quickness and overexposure, I'll just throw them up here anyway. Humble thanks.