Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Girl and Her Blog are Eventually Reunited

Promotion for the first
Hobbit instalment assuming
Stalinesque dimensions in
Wellington, early in 2013.
Yes, lest anyone have thought that the wholly moribund appearance of A Little Lie Down was indicative of a retreat on the author's part from the world of cinema (or even from the “sundry other matters” which this blog's header purports the reader may also find addressed here), I've deemed it necessary to return to the Blogger coalface to chisel out an account of the year in film culture that was mine in 2013.

Indeed, it's been so long since the previous, Hobbit-heavy post here that a second fucking instalment of The Hobbit has already arrived in Melbourne cinemas. (Thankfully, it's a darned sight better than the first, and all credit to the wise heads who determined it'd be at 24 rather than at 48 fps that the media preview last week would be projected. That said, my criticisms in my last post regarding Jackson's vainglorious adoption of High Frame Rate technologies – and, by extension, shooting a film in this one, particular flawed format only to ultimately present it in multiple others, each unavoidably compromised by trickle-down shortcomings in the translation, and with, perforce, a corresponding diminution in cinematic vocabulary imposed upon all, especially with respect to any play with depth of field – still, vehemently, stand!)

But, look. I am already digressing.

What now follows will be a link-filled, media-rich reckoning of what I got up to in the year very shortly now to have been 2013.

I'll begin with work accomplished which had been harbinged here previously.

The fabulous Bright Lights Film Journal ran my review of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas' Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study in its 79th issue in February. It was a long time coming, my getting it to them and up to snuff, but I'm very glad that I did. It's a fine book, detailing thoroughly an often unpleasant, yet ethically complex realm of cinema which had never been given a tenth so comprehensive an account of before.

I alluded in my only other post here this year to ensuring there'd shortly be more on ALLD, and in Senses of Cinema, on legendary Czech animator Jiří Trnka. I came good on this promise in Senses rather sooner than on my blog; please refer “The Passion of the Peasant Poet: Jiří Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Hand” in February's issue 66 of a gal's longtime favourite film journal.

The context for my writing on Trnka is important, and is in fact key to my being so very busy this year that, till now, I had failed to blog even once since Thursday, January 3's “Less is more: If 3D is more 2D than 2D (and 48fps is even less truth per second than Godard's 24) then how much more 2D will 4D be than 3D?

Less is more, indeed?

My Trnka piece appeared in Senses of Cinema under “Cinémathèque Annotations on Film”, indicative of its having been written to provide contextualising accompaniment to Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings of certain of Trnka's sublime puppet animation films. Moreover, I had made it a personal mission to get those films over here in the first place, through becoming a Cinémathèque committee member after enjoying many a long year as a dedicated regular at the Cinémathèque's Wednesday nightly screenings, and as she whose task it had been for many of those years to prepare the annotations for publication in Senses of Cinema in my role as that journal's tireless, seldom-complaining Web Designer.

Trnka's sublime A Midsummer Night's Dream (1959), which screened at the 1st CaSFFA,
presented in conjunction with the Melbourne Cinémathèque

But rather more key still to acquiring those films for screening in Melbourne was the launch of the inaugural Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia (or “CaSFFA”) in May and June of this year, with me appointed as its first Artistic Director, who sought a partnership with the Cinémathèque in order to present these very rare films in sunny Melbourne on glorious 35mm, care of the National Film Archive in Prague and with no small amount of help from the Consulate of the Czech Republic in Sydney.

CaSFFA also presented an accompanying exhibition, “Jiří Trnka - Serving Imagination”, prepared by the Czech Centres, with other highlights of our debut festival including the presentation of a 50th anniversary digital restoration of Štefan Uher's brilliant The Sun in a Net and our restoring some utility to the still beautiful, but overlong neglected RMIT Capitol Theatre, by presenting the bulk of our other screenings there, along with two memorable absinth- and Becherovka-soaked parties!

The Sun in a Net also appeared at the 1st CaSFFA, co-presented by the Melbourne Cinémathèque
and with large thanks due to the enthusiastic co-operation of the Slovak Film Institute

Here's a taste of what you missed/a further reminder of all the fun you had, at the 2013 CaSFFA:

I'll pause here also to hail once again Alesh Macak's superb CaSFFA trailer, inspired by Linda Studená's super leggy designs, as seen all over all of our festival literature and collateral in promotion of our inaugural event!

A 2nd CaSFFA – bigger! bolder! even betterer! – will be staged in 2014 in Melbourne and, I will carelessly not hesitate to rumour, elsewhere too. Really wonderful things are in store, folks – watch this space!

And, in other developments

As anyone who knows me might tell you, after they've weighed up what's at stake in compromising my privacy, I'm very fond of hotfooting it abroad to attend film festivals, whether as a member of the media corps, providing coverage for Senses of Cinema; representing CaSFFA; attending in a more participatory capacity, or a mixture of all three. One such multi-purpose trip I took mid-year, escaping Melbourne's winter for a preferable European summer, took in major festivals in the Czech Republic and Ukraine. And hence, September's 68th issue of Senses of Cinema ran a report of mine entitled “Post-Soviet Bloc Partying West of the East and East of the West, Into and Out of the Past: The 48th Karlovy Vary and the 4th Odessa International Film Festival”. The smart money would have to be on some of the films mentioned within this piece making it to the 2nd CaSFFA in 2014 – but which?

Excerpt from the June 30 edition of the
Karlovy Vary Festival Daily
Whilst in Karlovy Vary, I managed, wearing my CaSFFA hat (not depicted at right), to find my way into the KVIFF's daily paper. And in Odessa – where my film geekdom may have come close to reaching its apotheosis in catching a screening of Murnau's Sunrise, at sundown, with live symphony orchestral accompaniment, on none other than the Potemkin Stairs – I wound up giving an informal lecture-cum-Q&A to the festival's Summer Film School students entitled “Film Criticism Sans Frontières: The roles that critiquing and staging international and transnational film festivals can play in furthering critical practice and professional opportunities in the Internet age”. No, really. I believe it went quite well, if falteringly at first, with hopefully not too much lost (and maybe a little gained?) in the translation into Russian. Personally, I can't bring myself to watch it (not least for my mortification upon realising I'm wearing the same top in both the KV Festival Daily pic as in the clip from Odessa, below). While I'll concede that this post could come across as something of a trumpeting of one's own 'orn, truth be told, I'm actually not over-enamoured of the sound of my own voice...

Enter Guy Maddin

What would a year of Little Lies Down be (even if numbering in posts only two) without a guernsey for my favourite Winnipeger?

Early in the year, Slovenian print journal Kino! surprised me by commissioning me to contribute to a dossier it was compiling on zombie movies. In turn, I provided Kino! with probably the very piece of writing of mine on cinema of which I am most proud, “Guy Maddin, Zombie Master”.

To whet your appetite for something you'll, at least for the time being, only be able to obtain in, or from, Slovenia (or, I suppose from me directly, if you play your cards right (which is to say, ply me with liquor or with film festival accreditation)), here's the abstract for my essay, from Kino! no. 19/20:

Guy Maddin is a filmmaker almost invariably overlooked in the consideration of zombie films. This essay aims to right that wrong, not only by dredging up multiple clear instances where Maddin has explicitly employed the tropes of zombie films in his work, but also in demonstrating that, in fact, the entire cinematic corpus of Winnipeg's most celebrated filmmaker is predicated upon exhumation, on and off the screen. Maddin is forever resurrecting long dead film aesthetics, language, genres, performance styles and even entire lost films, whilst ever privileging an aesthetic of impossible material agedness and decomposition. His is a cinema full of somnambulists, amnesiacs and entranced obsessives whose actions resurrect elements of Maddin's often traumatic autobiography. It is a cinema absolutely bursting at the seams with zombie-ism and undeath. Maddin himself will be positioned both as zombie and zombie master, à la Bela Lugosi's 'Murder' Legendre in White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932). Moreover, his cinephilic audience, extensible to all cinephile audiences, will be implicated in zombie-ism as well. Ultimately at stake in this essay is nothing less than an argument for cinephilia as an entirely zombie fascination, with Maddin, one of the most cinephilic of all filmmakers, providing the perfect springboard for this argument. Along the way, analogues for Maddin's zombie film practices will be explored variously in the limitations of method acting, in the writing of Laura Mulvey and in the vexing matter of film canons.

Wheeee! 'Tis a fortunate thing indeed that I conquered some time ago my fear of overreaching. And another that such folk exist as my wonderful friend Maša Peče to incite me to write such things as this, as would likely otherwise never get written, in the first place, especially given my lamentable track record on my own blog. Consider here also my (admittedly scarcely trumpeted) desire to write a definitive critical history of orchids in cinema. Will not someone one day dangle before me money/liquor/film festival accreditation in order to goad me into actually writing it?

Closer to home

On many Thursday mornings fortnightly throughout 2013 I could be heard in my usual slot on 3RRR joining Richard Watts on “SmartArts” for the segment “A Fistful of Celluloid”, which would oftentimes begin with Richard noting that this several-year-old segment is increasingly conducted under the pall of a dreadful misnomer, as celluloid is surely not long for this world, followed by me mule-headedly insisting that there's plenty of life in the old girl yet, and more even than there ever will be in the inert digital image which, anyhow, isn't proven to be long for this world at all, quite the contrary in fact, given the dire problems yet to be surmounted in reliably preserving it... (Discuss.)

Shirley Clarke
I also made some other appearances (so to speak) on the 3RRR airwaves this year, joining a crack couple of Plato's Cavers in Tara Judah and Josh Nelson for a couple of "Max Headroom" specials, both of which are still accessible online, “on demand”, as follows:

From Thursday, October 24: Tara, Josh and I wax lyrical about the cinema of Shirley Clarke, in celebration of ACMI's splendid season “Uptown Girl: The Cinema of Shirley Clarke”.

And lastly, much as was vaunted in ALLD at pretty well this same time last year, I'll have a contribution to Senses of Cinema's annual World Poll published any day now.

And that will about do for now, barring my customary pledge not to forsake this blog in the year to come... Well, let us wait and see.

Lawks! I almost forgot! Sundry other matters, matter to me...

Yes, it was a year when certain sundry other matters came into their own. I'll give a quick shout-out to the fab folk at Black Hole Theatre for inviting my lovely carny-lounge sometime trio, nowadays more oftentimes quartet Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies to tap into the musics of Jacques Brel, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter in accompanying some top-notch live puppetry at “Puppetry Slam Noir: How I Wish The Wish I Wish” at this year's Castlemaine State Festival. Fun!

The Spud Hussies – myself on bass, Katrina Wilson O'Brien on keys, David O'Brien on guitar and Nicola Bell on drums, with all keen and handy when it comes to contributing foley – may even have just landed a prize slot at the annual Great Trentham Spudfest in 2014 for our troubles – hurrah!


I spent two weeks in November ensconced in the fabulous Footscray Community Arts Centre BRINGING IT with a fab bunch of magnificent lady folk working towards the realisation of something grandly theatrical which I'm not sure I can much speak about yet. But! As and when I can, you might hear about it here first.

But for now, till 2014, ahoj!

x Cerise