Marxist thought – the dialectic approach to ‘knowing’ history. Criticism of capitalist culture to reduce the past to a series of stylistic effects (Frederic Jameson). First, the inherent arrogance in claiming to ‘know’ history by a simple arithmetic sum. Capitalism does not claim to know history and in so doing allows the space within the cultural consciousness to come up with multiple histories. There are multiple histories, just as there are multiple futures.


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September 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

‘Through a photograph you can make people believe anything. It’s not really the camera’s doing, it’s the person behind it. Figuring out ways to tell lies through the camera … it’s more interesting to show perhaps what you might never see.’

Cindy Sherman

‘Glasgow is a magnificent city,’ said Thaw.’ … Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger, because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books, and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.’

(Gray, 1981; 243)

taken from Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark

A city’s discourse, as framed by artists, by newspapers, by demography or any other official report determines popular attitudes towards that city and hence shapes subsequent narratives about it. The inhabitants of that place live an imagined life there along side their real life and this imagined life is caught in a feedback loop with the city’s discourse. One could define a genre for the discourse of a place and its influence on the aesthetic of the narratives that flow through it. In the case of my home city Melbourne, it is hard for any one in the film industry to go past the recent mythology attributed to organised crime as seen in films such as Animal Kingdom or TV dramas such as Underbelly. As an artist is it not completely unexciting to conform to a status quo such as the accepted genre of the representation of a city’s spirit? It’s inner life? Not to say there’s anything wrong with previous expressions of this place but more to say that discourse implies an evolving to and fro. It is hard to see where the change in conversation is happening in our arts and in our imaginations. The political dimension stays consistent, the entertainment invokes the same sets of signs and signifiers and the so-called discourse stays as it was perhaps even 20 years ago.

By living imaginatively I mean to say attributing a framework of myth and history, fiction and fact to the very heartbeat of the urban landscape – the eb and flow of the population day to day through the CBD; the police presence found on the city street corners on a Saturday night; the back streets and alley ways so teeming with nightlife.

‘[…] cities (and, indeed, all urban spaces and even ‘natural’ landscapes) are always already social and ideological, immersed in narrative, constantly moving chess pieces in the game of defining and redefining utopias and dystopias.’

Colin McArthur in The Cinematic City

The meaning that a city has, and the imaginative characterisations attributed to it have no fixed or absolute meaning.

I see mobile videography as a way to explore and see the city with fresh eyes – to re-imagine it. This is the goal of my mobile videography sketches and project. The goal of my film practice is also framed in such a light – to redefine and redefine again and again possible utopias and dystopias and not just of the city we find ourselves living in but also of the human mind and soul itself.

“Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.”

Karl Marx

Why the mobile? A different tool for a different vision.


August 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash…”

Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant

“Every human-technology relation is also a body-tool relation, and as such every mobile-body merger invokes certain kinds of being-in-the-world, and particular ways of knowing and making that world.”

Mobile media is a way of having a body. Heidegger – our being is always-already within domains of equipment. There is a relation between the tools/technologies we use and the ways we have a body – the ways in which we we will to power. This having-a-body is phenomenological and how we interact ontologically with the world – ontological here means to project questioning and meaning onto the world – . This interaction is precisely what stops us from seeing the world – the present-at-hand (the hammer, the mobile phone) can’t allow the world to show itself. The present-at-hand view also presupposes a network of practical relations amongst the things that we use – this is Dasein and Worldhood. Could it be that media and in particular mobile media is a new way in which this network of practical relations is made visible? So an affordance of the phone-as-media-maker might be its illumination of Dasein and Worldhood – once again I believe this is close to the interpretive practice around Chris Marker.

“Contemporary Western culture can be said to have a particular epistemological and perceptual bias, an ocularcentrism which works to prioritise visual and screen representations. The multistable and disparate nature of contemporary vision is a partial effect of the many screens encountered in the everyday – televisual, cinematic, information/text display, closed circuit, video – each with their own technical, environmental and interfacial specificities. What we experience is an aggregate vision , a continuous slippage and merging between televisual events, temporal zones, ‘culture fragments’, and genres of visual meaning.”

Pockets in the Screen-scrape; movies on the move

Paper presented at MIT 6,

Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission

MIT April 24 -26, 2009

Jan Simmons

University of Amsterdam

This is all about moving images produced for and by the mobile phone. A couple of genre names: the micromovie, portable film, cell phone movie, mobile movie, cine pocket. The key theme that emerges out of this analysis of the then fresh concept of the mobile movie in my mind is the idea that the small screen demands a small attention span and ‘quick fix’ nature at the level of audience reception. This is an interesting paradox in that the question becomes what type of communication can take place at lightning speed? The article argues that in the contemporary, networked world of screen culture communication has taken precedence over representation (something found in classic Hollywood for instance). If this is communication (at the level of the media made for mobile dissemination) then it is fragmentary, bite sized communication.

Representation – imagine the production of a Hollywood film. It is so resource heavy that the depiction of the world it creates is one imagined by the filmmakers – it is a representation – purely subjective to the filmmakers gaze. Everything is under control. 

Communication – so fast and un-doctored that it is a more pure slice of the world as it is. Still at a fundamental level subjective and lacking in objective clarity (an impossibility anyway) yet more an impression of the everyday experience of the world. 

Here I return to another key theme that constantly turns up when I encounter fragmentary and non-linear texts – memory and memory’s interaction with consciousness. The article quite rightly cites Eisenstein as the grandfather of this style of practice. Eisenstein’s theories of montage focus on collision, juxtaposition and the micro and the micro’s relationship with the macro – all the considerations necessary for the mobile platform.

“The practitioners of the pocket cinema seem to be more aware of the gap that separates the cinema-as-we-knew-it from contemporary digital visual culture […]”

This is a pertinent comment – one thing does not necessarily replace another but sets up a new barracks. Cinema-as-we-knew-it still exists (thank god) but we also now have the montage/collage/real/amateur/observational/ridiculous/fragmented and non-linear. Now comes the creative question – what to do with it? Like any art form, a good start is to identify its uniqueness, its potential, its affordance. For me, it is the closeness of the networked media landscape to the epistemological – the knowledge structures of the modern mind. Just as the bicycle or the car is an extension of our need to walk or run, or the hammer an extension of an arm or a will-to-power the network and the phone is an extension of knowledge structures and the communication of them.

See Willard Quine, Daniel Dennett, William Burroughs.

the article opens with Kierkegaard:

I call these sketches Shadowgraphs, partly by the designation to remind you at once that they derive from the darker side of life, partly because like other shadowgraphs they are not directly visible. When I take a shadowgraph in my hand, it makes no impression on me, and gives me no clear conception of it. Only when I hold it up opposite the wall, and now look not directly at it, but at that which appears on the wall, am I able to see it. So also with the picture which does not become perceptible until I see through the external. This external is perhaps quite unobtrusive but not until I look through it, do I discover that inner picture which I desire to show you, an inner picture too delicately drawn to be outwardly visible, woven as it is of the tenderest moods of the soul. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

When we practice the auteur theory – which is to say simply that we summarise and critique an individual film based on its stylistic value as compared to other films of the same auteur – we look for the language of the author – are we really ‘rationalising leaden clinkers into golden nuggets’? My opinion: NO. The language of film is hidden beneath or better yet, encoded in, a films apparent ‘entertainment’ or ‘dramatic’ value. An auteur who is praised must have work worthy of praising – a masterpiece here and there. For William Friedkin we might cite The Exorcist, The French Connection or Kiler Joe. For Michael Mann you cannot go past Heat. Both of these auteur’s have films which were critically rejected during their time at the box office.

Take Miami Vice by Michael Mann for instance. The reaction to this film by and large by the critics was negative. To quote David and Margaret from At The Movies:

The real problem is that this is a nothing plot, we’ve seen it many times before, Mann’s inclusion of a couple of extended sex scenes that are not really so sexy is just a diversion.

Colin Farrell is developing into a deeply uninteresting actor, not that Mann’s screenplay gives any of the actors much opportunity for subtlety or depth.

There’s a lot of jargon. And the end result is that the plot, such as it is, verges on the incomprehensible.

Viewing Miami Vice however in reference to other texts – a more postmodern view – the film can be read as a masterpiece of style. Genre conventions are another viewpoint through which to analyse this film. Though Margaret describes this film as ‘unsexy’ I would have to disagree and assert that this is a romantic film first and foremost in which some action takes place. The final battle that draws us through to the end of the third act is predicated on vengeance for one lover and the rescue of another; duel couplings, just as in the romantic musical genre. Looking at this film through the filter of a Goddard-infused reading one can see the level of pop/fashion/media culture being coded into this film. It is plot-lite precisely to foreground fashion, fast cars, epic Caribbean skyscapes and rock music. The themes are universal: daring, vengeance, love, forbidden love, and eventually existential choices to not live happily ever after on part of Sonny (Colin Farrell).

This does not constitute a ‘see-it-or-you-don’t’ shortcut to scholarship, as Sarris’ critics would determine, but a reasonable A-iconoclastic look at what is described as the language of film; that is film form, convention and style and how these elements might relate to each other and imbue a sense of a human personality talking to us from the screen. We might ask this disembodied, coded voice ‘what do you see in relationships between people?’ or ‘how does one deal with injustice amongst the many?’, or ‘is there a place for honour and trust in contemporary society?’ This is not a shortcut to thinking but a love for film and style as it lights up the screen at 24 frames (I would hope). For structuralism and linguistics and the death of the author – these avenues of scholarship are fine, but taken in isolation can suck the life out of the most exciting form of human expression – that form that comes to us from innovation in technology, from the division of labor and the pursuit of an individual and collective landscape of dreams and desires.

Sarris hits on two interesting, dovetailing points: He says of the French critics that some had succumbed to a European-orientated (rationalist) pragmatism where intention was more nearly equal to talent in critical relevance (sounds familiar – the contemporary Australian film industry). He goes on to summarise that Truffaut had seen the writing on the wall: he and his colleagues had ‘discovered auteurs’ whilst their successors have ‘invented’ them.

This is an interesting lens through which to view the shift from the studio system to the more politically active, independent film making of the post-classical, 1970’s-on period. In the classical era the movies assumed that audiences were autonomous in their own right – that they did not need to be enlightened. Take one of John Ford’s westerns which assumes a level of respect and sentimentality for the formation of civilisation in the wilderness of the American frontier. Or perhaps a Lubitsch comedy in which it was famed that Lubitsch had an unspoken understanding with his audience and innuendo and the unseen canoodling behind closed doors was poetry. The auteur was found in the expression of style within the confines of a rigid, but practical, narrative form. The post-classical era sees auteur’s inventing themselves and what reigns here is not the value of the aesthetic expression as it erupts from a set of conventions and structures but political message and activist agenda – intention more nearly equal to talent. This immediately starts to evolve an ‘in-group’ as with any politically orientated movement – their successors had invented them.

Ultimately Bazin reasons for us with his charisma and gusto:

“How can one review an Anthony Mann western if it were not an expression of the genre’s conventions?”