Monday, August 1, 2011

Dispatches from the frontlines of the 60th MIFF continued: Peter Tscherkassky + days 5, 7 and 8

Post Mortem
I had heard such good things about Chilean director Pablo Larraín's previous film, Tony Manero, that Post Mortem came as a great disappointment. An insipid, middle-aged gent works at a morgue and begins an infatuation with a down-and-out neighbouring burlesque performer, rendering him completely oblivious to the horror he abundantly evidently ought be feeling at becoming an accessory to atrocities being perpetrated against Salvador Allende and his regime. His is the most excruciatingly slow of slow-burn descents into madness; were only that he – and the film overall – were much less lifeless. Alfredo Castro's performance in the lead and the extremely drab cinematography both conspire to utterly enervate the film of any and all vitality and to altogether void the final still shot of any of the pathos and horror that its greatly overextended duration suggests it was clearly aspiring to.

Into Eternity

Into Eternity

This is an interesting Danish documentary considering best practices for the safe disposal of Finland's – and, by extension, the world's – nuclear waste, such that it will be safe not just for the foreseeable future but also far, far beyond – 100,000 years into the future, to be precise. For the most part needlessly subtitled – most of Into Eternity's energy industry talking heads speak perfectly good English – more is made in the program blurb of Michael Madsen's documentary asking the “mind-bending central question” of how we communicate with people 100,000 years from now than in the film itself, which doesn't really start to probe this line of inquiry until past the halfway mark.

Even then the interrogation doesn't much assume the more cosmic dimensions I'd hoped it might, instead giving more consideration to matters of governance, bureaucracy and statesmanship. It isn't until close to the film's end when the more interesting, philosophically weighty questions are explored along the lines of: given human nature, now and projected into the distant future, is it better to try to communicate to the future of mankind the existence of extremely dangerous materials buried not all that deep underground (the film doesn't countenance the possibility of any other form of intelligence roaming the Earth within the next 100,000 years), or is it better to cover the whole thing up such that it might become lost to posterity, presuming that it will never later be discovered and so never imperil anybody?

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

Oh, such gender trouble as is explored in Marie Losier's documentary on the pandrogyne that was (and, even beyond the grave, is) the union of industrial music pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and their* late inamorata Lady Jaye Breyer!
* Gender trouble always leads to pronoun trouble, as well we all know, but here it assumes a whole new dimension!
Losier's Ballad is a lovely, scattershot tribute, punctuated by kooky performance artsy goings-on, to a relationship forged by a fascinating pair of individuals who sought to deny their own individuation in favour of becoming not just one with another but actually becoming one another. It's unavoidably weighted more heavily towards Genesis' accounts of things, due to his/hers/theirs, of the two of them, being the life spent more in the public eye and, hence, having been well documented; additionally, much of the production occurred after Lady Jaye's passing.

That said, one can't help but feel that Genesis' account of her (I use that pronoun now in the interests of simplicity) all-consuming love for her partner – which extended to the former Neil Andrew Megson's undergoing several cosmetic surgery procedures to greater resemble Lady Jaye – and vice versa) – tells it much like Lady Jaye would have told it, too. They really were each other's other half, literalised to an extent that may never hitherto have been realised in the union of one human being with another. And, hence, pandrogyny.

Here's hoping that some bright spark – hello the folks at the MQFF! – might think to lure Genesis out here for a presentation on this wonderful new gender construct/destruct of their own, peculiar devising.

Peter Tscherkassky – Programs One, Two and Masterclass
I think Peter Tscherkassky made for the most fascinating guest MIFF (in partnership with ACMI) has had in all my many years of engagement with the festival. While he was present for screenings of two exquisitely well projected packages of his extraordinary materialist short avant-garde works, and for generous and enlightening Q&As after both, the peak of Tscherkassky's visitation to Melbourne was surely in his gift of a masterclass to this year's MIFFgoers.

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine

In this lecture, which he invited us to interrupt any time we had questions, Tscherkassky took us through the organisational principles, philosophies, dark-room jiggery-pokery and aleatory means of footage-wrangling behind his Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), in which footage principally taken from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is manipulated in conjunction with footage of those parts of a reel of film which are not normally ever projected – the instructions for a projectionist etched upon a few frames of any given reel of film ahead of that film's projection – to produce both a stroboscopic re-narrativisation of the Sergio Leone classic as well as a film essay upon the film's projection of its very self by its own protagonist!

The irony of Tscherkassky's, this most analog of practitioners', taking us through Instructions, screened ahead of the lecture and then in portions during it, through a necessary recourse to digital frame-by-frame analysis was, I'm sure, not lost on him, even as it wasn't spoken of during his address. (In fact, he fielded so many questions regarding his practice from a very engaged audience that it really is surprising it never came up. Whereas, in one of the earlier post-program Q&As, the matter of how he feels about women... for example, his mother, did! Perhaps it is ever the fate of the Viennese to be asked such things?)

But so dense is Tscherkassky's layering of fragmentary images, and so rapid the montage, consistent with a lot of avant-garde film practice, that in order for him to illuminate certain key frames within Instructions, which might not even have been consciously absorbed on an initial viewing, it was, of course, necessary to use a digital rendition of the film.

His wonderful masterclass aside, another clear highlight of MIFF 2011 has been seeing Tscherkassky's CinemaScope trilogy projected off superb 35mm prints. Outer Space and Dream Work, in particular, are just utterly ecstatic experiences, every bit as viscerally affective and entrancing as they are virtuoso works of dark-room voodoo.

Oki's Movie
Or: Four Variations upon a Narrative Construct in Search of a Greater Truth (in Filmmaking, as in Life. Because All Life is Cinema, and the Cinema is Life). Or something like that.

This was my first, long overdue, engagement with the much exalted, renownedly cinephilic, reflexive cinema of Hong Sang-soo, and it was every bit that as much as I'd been led to believe. As to how I feel about it: I'm not yet sure, beyond knowing I'd like to see more of his work. Watching Oki's Movie, I got the feeling of an auteur striving for something beyond that which a single film can contain, can communicate; I got a real sense that Hong's approach to filmmaking might well be of a more oeuvrist ambition. Of course, I won't be able to test that hypothesis without seeing more of his films (and, alas, it looks like the screenings of his other film at this year's MIFF, The Day He Arrives, fall inconveniently for me). Still, colour me most intrigued.

And hat's off for the wonderfully awkward filmmaker Q&A depicted in the first of Oki's Movie's four story strands in which a filmmaker, post-screening, is grilled persistently by an audience member, not apropos his film at all but rather along much more personal lines than etiquette ever allows in these forums. But then, cinema is life... life is cinema...

Cold Fish
I enjoyed Sion Sono's Cold Fish much, much more than I suspect I should, in good conscience, ever have been able to. Offering up something of a highly bizarre love pentangle, Cold Fish is of that ilk of extreme Japanese cinema where I have no idea to what extent its cruelties and misanthropy – and especially its misogyny – are the stuff of postmodernist fun and games or to what extent they're simply an extension of the often matter-of-factly rape-y goings-on in films from the heyday of pinku eiga. In Cold Fish, how many parts wallowing in grotesquerie and taboo-tweaking (but... whose taboos? Only ours, as Westerners?) is Sono indulging in to how many parts black-as-pitch, satirical social commentary?

Cold Fish

This makes for a complex coming-to-terms with my own enjoyment of Cold Fish. I'm pretty sure Sono is playing its ghastliest sequences for laughs, and a Melbourne audience, almost despite itself in sometime disbelief, myself included, was forthcoming with them.

Truth be told, I do get a kick out of having my sensibilities challenged, and political correctness be damned, but with a film like Cold Fish, especially when so very well made – Sono is a very gifted filmmaker, and no mistake – there's always a strange aftertaste, and I'm never sure how much of it is distaste, and how much of it wonderment at how little I really know about, in this instance, Japanese culture, tempered by an uncertainty over whether I really wish to understand it better. Might my enjoyment of a film like Cold Fish, where part of the pleasure has to lie in being gobsmacked at the perceived sheer temerity and transgressiveness of its makers and the images and scenarios they've crafted, be lesser or greater compromised for better understanding the societal and cultural conditions which gave rise to it in the first place? And, were I to learn more about such things, is whether I enjoy it or not something I should then ascribe any importance to anyway? On learning more, there might be much weightier concerns to be troubled by than that which is contained by a few reels of film.

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