Dear Film Journey readers. After a hiatus the past in year in which I focused more on print publishing, I’ve reformatted and restarted Film Journey at www.filmjourney.org or www.filmjourneyblog.wordpress.com.
Please update your RSS feeds and don’t hesitate to stop by or leave a note!
The Bitter with the Sweet
by Max Nelson
Love Is All You Need
Dir. Susanne Bier, Denmark, Sony Pictures Classics
Love is what everybody needs in Susanne Bier’s profoundly (if accidentally) mean-spirited new film. And love is what they get—that is, if they happen to be either a good-hearted hairdresser undergoing cancer treatments or a widowed businessman with short tempers and untapped wells of sympathy. The rest of Bier’s characters, rendered with varying combinations of smug disdain and outright contempt, aren’t as lucky: a shrill, emotionally abusive middle-aged mother, her beauty long faded; a ditzy blonde, her beauty soon to fade, a loutish husband cheating his way through a midlife crisis; a young man whose repressed homosexuality is treated with a staggering lack of empathy, when it’s not being written off as a sign of weakness or duplicity.
There are similar misanthropic gestures to be found in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, or in some mid-career films by Lars von Trier—touchstones of the Dogme movement to which Bier briefly belonged. But for all their shortcomings, those were films of righteous anger, driven by a palpable sense of moral outrage at human corruption, institutional injustice, and the cruel designs of fate. Bier’s misanthropy is more insidious, veiled by good intentions (or at least the appearance of good intentions), picturesque scenery, and rom-com trappings. Love Is All You Need often plays like the misguided wedding around which its plot revolves: an edifice constructed out of a sincere belief in true love and yet founded on a total misalignment—in this case between a director and her characters rather than between a bride and groom.
The romantic comedy has often traded in this strange combination of naïveté and cruelty: to ensure that your lovers get to live happily ever after, you have to be willing to toss under the bus anyone—family, friends, admirers, and above all existing significant others—who gets in their way. For example, the poor sap who had to compete with Gene Kelly for the leading lady’s affections in films like For Me and My Gal and An American in Paris tended to be a more decent, sympathetic guy than Kelly himself; when he inevitably lost, we would feel a twinge of guilt at the films’ triumphant, romantic finales, which we knew were made possible only by his heartbreak. Love Is All You Need more often reverts to the opposite strategy: vilifying the central couple’s competing love interests until their loss is sure not to spoil the hero and heroine’s gain. Ida (Trine Dyrholm) returns from her last chemo session to find her husband in flagrante with Jill from accounting; at their daughter’s Italian wedding, he shows up with new girlfriend in tow. Even after his tearful repentance, it’s hard to feel too sorry when she finally dumps him for suave widower Philip (Pierce Brosnan)—if anything, it’s a chance for her to balance out the scales. In the same way, when Philip hears his lonely, bitter sister-in-law confess her love for him, his unnecessarily prolonged put-down is made to seem like a sort of eye-for-an-eye justice, a punishment for the abuses we’ve just seen her rain down on her teenage daughter. In Bier’s romantic coliseum, a perfect match is nothing but the product of a long sum of injustices, insults, and mistreatments, carefully chosen to cancel each other out. That all this comes surrounded by candy-colored travel-brochure views of Italy, syrupy strings on the soundtrack, charming smiles, and declarations of love suggests that Love Is All You Need is either a profoundly ironic provocation or a film bafflingly unaware of its own bitterness.
At their best, the unshowy, refined performances manage to suggest unseen levels of meaning in even the bluntest of lines. And there are moments of sensitivity: the bride-to-be waking up beside her fiancé and running her hand along his shoulder with equal parts apprehension, affection and desire, or the way Brosnan’s impassive face hints at the reserves of kindness he’s stubbornly keeping just out of view. Yet these small, sensitive gestures can be misleading; they threaten at times to blind us to the film’s large-scale insensitivities. That unresponsive fiancé, we learn, doesn’t reciprocate his soon-to-be-wife’s advances because he’s struggling with his sexual identity—a struggle that culminates in a subterranean run-in with a pale, gaunt male seducer mid-rehearsal-dinner. This development spells the end of the engagement, and then, having served its purpose, both problem and character are promptly abandoned.
By the end of Love Is All You Need, Bier has taken on a herculean range of delicate subject matter, enough to tax any filmmaker’s capacity for sensitivity or tact: adultery; eating disorders; the physical and emotional toll of cancer treatments; barely of-age adults going off to war; family bereavement. Bier can be forgiven for not having dealt responsibly with so many high-stakes issues, but there’s something deeply unpardonable in the way she consistently, aggressively refuses to engage with them as anything other than plot devices or unearned effects: she films a distraught Ida, left bald from months of chemo, tearing off a blonde wig like a horror director might film a monster popping out of a cabinet. If we pity Ida, it’s purely incidental; what matters to Bier, or seems to matter, is the pleasure of the shock.
The film’s final scenes commit a similar offense: an unopened letter from the oncologist becomes a source of cheap suspense and cheaper satisfaction. Bier, for her part, seems to believe wholeheartedly in the happy ending that follows, and there’s something perversely admirable about the way she sends us off—at once with a raised middle finger and a smile so cheery you’re almost convinced that the eye doesn’t see what the hand is doing. Taken most charitably, Love Is All You Need is a slight but harmless romantic comedy mistakenly warped somewhere between conception and execution into a cruel case of audience shaming; taken less charitably, it’s a candy-coated poison pill. Either way, it stings.Issue 33New Releases
Back and to the Left:
An Interview with Olivier Assayas
by Adam Nayman
Reverse Shot: I’d like to begin with the ending of the film, and with that very suggestive sequence of the B-movie shoot that Gilles is working on, where there are Nazis and cave girls and dinosaurs all together in one shot. It’s like history becomes a haunted house when the film cameras come out.
Olivier Assayas: Yes. But I’m also having fun representing the idea that the film industry is populated by Nazis. It was an homage to the film industry, in general. It can be seen from different angles. One angle is ultimately the autobiographical one, because that film does exist. I was not on the set when it was shot, but I was on the set of similar films made by that director, Kevin Connor, who was doing like one of them a year, like Warlords of Atlantis, and The Land That Time Forgot. They were British, cheesy B-movies, kind of tongue-in-cheek in their own way. Connor was a nice guy, he made a movie in the U.S. called Motel Hell. These really were my first jobs in filmmaking. I would get summer jobs through friends of my father who were old men by that time, and I would end up in crazy situations. I worked as a trainee with an editor who became one of the kings of the pornographic industry in France. He was assembling movies shot by Jess Franco in Spain, like The Sex Life of Frankenstein. When I worked on the Richard Fleischer film Crossed Swords, there were all these actors from another world: Charlton Heston, George C. Scott, Rex Harrison. It was shot by Jack Cardiff in Cinemascope, like in the 1950s. What I’m saying is that during my first experiences in cinema, I was confronted with something that felt to me like the distant past, like movies from another era. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It felt completely archaic. So there was this tension between my approach to cinema—and the movies I wanted to make and what attracted me to the independent American cinema of the time and the counterculture—and the movies I was working on. There was no way of reconciling them so at some point I had to make a choice.
RS: There’s also a tension between the movie Gilles is working on and the one that he goes to see at the experimental film festival. Both seem to suggest different possibilities for cinema, and different moments of realization for the character.
OA: The [experimental] film is about resurrection. It’s about bringing the past back to life, that art is about giving life to the past, and that is the beauty of filmmaking. She [his ex-girlfriend, Laure] is a ghost from his past who is alive again, and beautiful, and he finally gets to his own starting point. I don’t take him to a place where he knows he is going to make movies, but maybe his foot is ready to take a first step in that direction.
RS: It’s significant that the girl in that film is not Christine, but Laure, who is arguably a less important character, and maybe not who the audience would expect to be present for such an obvious grace note.
OA: She’s more symbolic. She is Gilles’s muse, the girl who eggs him on and takes him to a place where he can become an artist.
RS: In that case, it would seem that your—or Gilles’s— definition of a muse is somebody who seems superior and intimidating, somebody who makes the artist feel insecure. Christine loves Gilles without complication, but Laure is very judgmental about his work and more elusive in her affections.
OA: Laure is about lifting him up and pushing him to do better. He follows her. When he loses her he kind of loses the thread of his life. Somehow he realizes that he can find that thread again in cinema. It’s an epiphany.
RS: And it’s a happy ending.
OA: Yes. It’s a happy ending. It’s a weird happy ending.
RS: To circle back to the beginning of the film, I thought the scene where Gilles and Christine clash with the riot police was extraordinary, not only in setting the scene historically but in showing how shared experiences in youth create deep relationships. I’m thinking of them in the aftermath, huddled together, breathing hard, friends for life.
OA: It’s the sense of bonding, of sharing your youth, that is I think similar with every generation. But that generation was totally defined by crazy politics. It was also defined, I would say, by a very specific form of communication. After the film ends, we could say that it very quickly will become the communication age. In the years before the film is set, I think people trusted the mainstream media, the media of the majority, they listened to the radio, watched TV, read the newspaper, and they relied on that information. Afterwards, it became something else entirely, this culture of instant communication. [My film] is in the middle, in this weird moment, where you don’t trust the media: they’re bourgeois, they lie. You don’t listen to the radio, which, in any case, would not be playing the kind of music that you would want to hear anyway. There is no TV show that is playing anything that you would be even remotely interested in. The mainstream is out of touch with how the world is changing. You’re getting your information from the free press, from poetry, from record covers . . . a form of communication that is verbal but also nonverbal, and connected in a profound way with art. So art is not just a solitary pursuit but also something collective, something that unites that generation.
RS: And yet art is also a case of individual expression, which suggests something about the fissures that form in the group. Gilles doesn’t want to make collectivist cinema. He wants to be an artist on his own terms.
OA: They also break apart because they are all experimenting with potential, with their own potential and the potential of the time. It’s a generation that experimented with every aspect of their lives. Youth is about experimenting. In the 1970s, you had nothing solid you could lean on, or rely on. Society was bad, it was evil, you were dropping out, you didn’t trust anything. You felt like your generation was reinventing the world.
RS: But wouldn’t you say that it was ever thus?
OA: I would say it is less so now. I don’t want to say that it’s all been said and done. People now are not dealing with a new situation, they’re dealing with a society and with values that have been around for a long time. They know where the boundaries are. Getting drunk, taking crazy drugs, raising mayhem—that’s what youth is about. But there’s something more gratuitous, maybe. Drugs have become a way of disconnecting from reality, as opposed to heightening it. The seventies generation was discovering free sex, and maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that they were obsessed with it at all. I don’t remember kids my age being obsessed with sex. I was a shy kid anyway . . . but the guys around me and the girls around me were shy too. Now sex obsesses teenagers. That’s because of the Internet, of pornography online, they’re raised on this excess . . .
RS: Well, you’ve already made that movie…
OA: Yes, I made that movie. What I’m saying is it’s a very different thing with this generation. Movies dealing with teenagers now are only about sex. Sex was a very minor part of our lives. I’m not saying that we were right, maybe we were wrong. I’m sure there were great things to be done, we just did not do them.
RS: In terms of what your characters actually end up doing —their militancy, their protest, their defiance—would you agree that the film has a certain ambivalence? And is it reflective of your own politics, then or now?
OA: I think that, like the character in the film, I was a child in many ways. My father gave me a political education. He had been a militant anti-fascist in Italy, very much involved in that cause, as a leftist, at a time when it was really dangerous. And he was an anti-Leninist as well, closer to the ideas of somebody like George Orwell. What he passed on to me is a kind of left-wing antitotalitarianism. To me, anything that smelled of totalitarian politics was evil, because those were the ideas that fucked up the revolutions of the 20th century. So when I had kids my age explaining to me that the Cultural Revolution in China was this great hope, I knew that it was really a disaster on a monumental scale. Like, if you start believing in that crap, how are you going to get it right in France?
RS: The film seems to support the development of a certain skepticism, although not at the expense of one’s ideals.
OA: It’s important to operate ethically and to learn to think for yourself. It’s what Gilles does. He has to find his own way of thinking, with some clarity, outside the timeline his generation.
RS: Was it important for you that he gets there? Or, rather, considering that this is an autobiographical film, was it important for you that you represent yourself getting to that point of enlightenment and self-realization?
OA: I think I made this film to make sense of how I got there. It’s a process of self-rediscovery, to figure out how I found my way through these very weird times, and to save my skin.
RS: I have to ask about the exchange about “revolutionary aesthetics,” which is quite funny, and which seems to be as much about the film that we’re watching as the films being made by the people onscreen.
OA: Those really were the kind of questions that people were dealing with. It was an every day concern, you know. Those questions were asked in a very dogmatic way: politics became totally ideological. You couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that: there was a total blindness to actual reality. But still, whatever I have done in films, I am defined by those questions. I gave a different answer. I have beliefs that have taken me to a totally different place. But the questions are still valid. At the same time, there is a maybe a certain irony in the writing, about the naiveté of a generation, and how it was formulated . . . but I ‘m not making fun of them.
RS: That tendency to make period pieces where we’re cued to know more than the characters, to have 20/20 hindsight and to feel superior to their values or beliefs is very popular. You see it on TV (like on Mad Men) and in cinema all the time.
OA: I made this film because people have been making fun of the seventies. And I think that’s because the dreams people had at that time are still considered a threat. I would never make fun of kids who rejected the material values of the world, and who considered that life was about some sort of political or spiritual path. They were dealing with abstractions, and I do believe in abstractions. I don’t think there’s anything too romantic in the film, either. I was trying as much as I could to strip that away, because I have already done the romantic version of this film, in Cold Water and Desordre. I used the same elements, things that I lived through, and inscribed them in narratives that are in some ways more conventional, which was the way I functioned at that time, and I am really happy with those films. But in terms of the way that I wrote and conceived them, this one is very different. It’s not a classic narrative, and every single moment that I could have emphasized and exaggerated I attempted to tone down. Because that’s how I experienced them! And ultimately, if there’s any emotion that creeps in, it sort of happens on its own terms.Issue 33Interviews
Dance, Dance, Revolution
Leo Goldsmith on Color Runaway Dog and Dress Rehearsal for Utopia
In 1991, in the French daily newspaper Libération, Serge Daney began writing about the coverage (or lack thereof) of the first Iraq War, and it was here that he famously drew the distinction between what he called “the visual” and “the image.” Daney’s terminology defines the visual as a sort of functional form of imagemaking, one that is meant to be informative, easily read, but not quite seen—an image reduced to the legibility of a code. The visual would include things such as television news coverage or surveillance. Against this, Daney posits the image as that which still bears the signs of cinematic purpose and craft, rendered not as information but as experience.
Daney’s distinction between these terms is not quite the old opposition of technology and techne (the merely mechanical versus the artistic), but for many it might as well be. Daney, dying of AIDS and writing from his sickbed, was pondering a death of another kind, a process that now might seem to us complete. The pervasiveness of the visual, a technologized mode of looking that enables everything from baby cams to drone assassinations to camera endoscopies to the immediate mediation of a live concert, apparently places us in a world that exists definitively and irreversibly “after the image,” to use another Daney phrase. Now we are no longer in the position of marking distinctions, but of charting the spread of an overwhelming visual feed, the extent to which it has invaded and overpowered the image, rendering impersonal and general that which is personal and specific, denying any sensory complexity in favor of a universal readability and functionality.
But if this spread of the visual is accomplished, we might ask, what happens when the image instead invades the visual? How can the flow of the visual be incorporated into a more personal vision, a cinematic way of looking?
Enter Venezuelan videomaker Andrés Duque, whose two feature-length works and handful of shorts strive toward a new consideration of the visual, attempting to draw it back into a project of personal image-making. The two features are curiously complementary and often dizzyingly opaque: 2011’s Color Runaway Dog and 2012’s Dress Rehearsal for Utopia are works of vertiginous montage, and each mine the director’s large (and seemingly disorganized) hard-drive archive of everyday images, observational footage, ripped DVDs, and YouTube objets trouvés. As Duque’s epigraph to Color Runaway Dog makes plain (in an idiosyncratic English which I preserve here):
I have no celluloid or videotapes. I only have numbers stored on hard drives and memory boxes called Quicktime. From them, I extracted images—now put together—ordered and presented with sincerity.
Although, truth, are not.
In each feature, a sudden occurrence—a broken ankle in the former and the death of his father, Silvio, in the latter—prompts Duque to plunge into this collection, to wander among images from the near and distant past. Portraits of friends and family, records of trips to Barcelona, Mozambique, and Italy, ephemera sourced from internet chatrooms or ripped from DVDs of classic films—all intermingle in an assemblage that suggests not just the vast and incommensurable flow of the visual, but also of discrete types of images: home movies, travelogues, online videos, commercial cinema, propaganda, cell-phone autoethnography, archival document, even dance films. At the center of Duque’s work is this archive, this library—a Borgesian accumulation of the world’s images. But this archive is an index of lack (of lost artifacts and missed connections) rather than an orderly or authoritative compendium of information. In these works, Duque is interested less in the order of things than in the way this wealth of the visual might still capture a glimpse of the real, catching it in fleeting instances in seductive, disjunctive ways.
Few works lend themselves less to synopsis than Duque’s two features, but it may be useful to give it a go anyway. Color Runaway Dog‘s adventure is partly inspired by a scene from Bill Douglas’s autobiographical 1972 film My Childhood in which a boy—the runaway of Duque’s title—climbs over the railing of a pedestrian bridge above the train tracks and jumps onto the top of a coal-car passing underneath amid a thicket of steam. It is a romantic, cinephilic vision of boyish wanderlust to match the final moments of The 400 Blows. But of course when Duque attempts to replicate it in real life, he lands with a thud: his handheld camera jostles to the ground along with him, and later documents the arrival of the paramedic, the trip to the hospital, and finally the grim view from his sickbed. After a few minutes of idling on Chat Roulette, Duque begins his journey through the hard drive, visiting diverse locations in Barcelona and Caracas, and resuscitating images of his family and friends. Many of these moments are vivid in color, but strangely out of place: the image of a screaming Bruce Lee on a mass-produced shirt amid the uniformly red outfits of Caracas’s Dionysian San Juan Festival; a lonely SpongeBob SquarePants balloon against a rich blue sky; assorted outtakes from Duque’s other works, including his first short, Iván Z, about the cult filmmaker Iván Zulueta. These strange images are without place, a runaway reality held for a moment before it flees. Duque follows them with a tribute to yet another runaway, his now-departed dachshund Román, who apparently committed suicide by jumping out of a window. As a confessional subtitles tell us, "Sometimes I imagine him flying and I shudder. I see a blur that falls into the void. A difficult blur to describe, but definitely a color."
Whereas Color Runaway Dog offers its audience directions through onscreen text, Dress Rehearsal for Utopia charts a similarly wayward course without the cues. We discern only midway through that its primary theme is the death of Duque’s father, whom we see first lying in a hospital, hooked up to a series of tubes and wires. A TV narrator’s voice emanating from elsewhere in the hospital room: "Undoubtedly, the first labyrinth that ever existed was in the human body." And Duque seems to create his own labyrinth with its own maze of unfamiliar memories, associative, foreign, and obscure: a park bench in the jungle, a rainy quarry, a dog on a beach, hip-hop dance competitions, and, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, kids dancing, fighting, and mugging for the camera. Every image has a darkling tinge, blurred and haloed and rusty in color. And even the cinematic references are oblique: a shot of the signage of a crumbling theater that reads "Cine Africa" gives way to a pirated clip from Robert Lynn’s exoticist 1965 international coproduction Mozambique, which leads to an extended sequence of archival footage from the moment of that same country’s independence in 1975, with men and women dancing and brandishing Kalashnikovs on a beach at sunset. And the soundtrack offers its own ripple of strangeness. In one of the first images, Duque responds to a friend who has asked how he is doing, "I’m sad because—," and his voice is immediately interrupted by a loud drone. Thenceforth, the images are accompanied by a subtly disjunctive sonic plane of misplaced birdsong and especially a low, almost subsonic fizzle and hum that is alternately disconcerting ("Is there something wrong with the sound?") and soothing.
Both of Duque’s digital features play with this alternation between the uncertain and the palliative, but Dress Rehearsal for Utopia seems intent on delaying the latter, and to greater effect. Taken individually, Duque’s intimations of utopia are somewhat murky, but together they emerge as recognizably pure, if undeniably idiosyncratic: on the one hand, dance and revolution; on the other, quiet, treasured moments with his father just before and after his death. What for much of the time seems like a random assemblage of images, the arbitrary flood of the visual, quite suddenly comes into focus as something personal, local, embodied in certain privileged moments. In one shot, Silvio, with the help of Duque’s mother, laboriously puts on a sweater, and then picks up a magazine to read, in a frail voice: "Because as much as time passes, the soul doesn’t change." Later, in a final succession of moments, Duque returns to footage of a trip he had made with his parents in Italy, gradually transforming what seems like innocuous tourist movies into a surreal record of his father, now dead, wandering amid monuments and museums. The grandly historical and the minutely intimate fold into and comment upon one another, together at last on the same conceptual plane.
Despite its mix of sources, times, and references, Duque’s work doesn’t really function like other found-footage or archival films—it’s neither a sentimental return nor an effort to pinpoint and interpret specific moments of private, historical, or cinephilic significance. Duque’s freely associative structure is less about reviving the past than about opening up new passageways, ones that either convey the viewer into a new space or leave him wandering aimlessly in the labyrinth. The two key words of his titles—runaway and utopia—point to the exit door, a way into that immediate alternate reality which only cinema’s images can conjure, one composed in the interplay between chaos and order, sensations and sensibilities, the physical and the virtual.
In a way that distinguishes them from most works that deal with pre-existing footage, Duque’s work suggests that what continues to define cinema—against a purely iconic, informative mode of visuality—is the way in which it affords us privileged access to lived experience. These are not fussy, dusty archival excursions, but portals into the real, invigorated by the easy access that digital technology affords. This is not to say, however, that these works are entirely without ambivalence when it comes to new technologies: as Color Runaway Dog at one point posits, the Internet also seems like a possible utopia, but it’s immediately disqualified:
Internet is not even close of being a utopia. But it seems that it solves a fundamental dilemma. The dilemma of how to live together while keeping distances.
The Internet may seem like a way of connecting discrete sites of intimacy and experience, but it preserves only the distances; the multiplication of connections and associative gestures found in the cinema—home movies and propaganda and art cinema alike—is what defines the utopian, conjuring up a space of riotous associations that are more felt than thought. Thus while Duque makes use of the remnants of the past and images of a fleeting reality, they also bring us into proximity with something undeniably physical. Duque’s is a utopia of the body, too, found in the raucous percussive partying of the San Juan Festival in Color Runaway Dog, and in the many images of celebrating Mozambican revolutionaries and leaping synchronized dance troupes in Dress Rehearsal for Utopia. The title itself hints at this: the phrase derives from Robert Stam’s 1989 book Subversive Pleasures, where it describes Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the carnival as a site of performance and opposition, of "ecstatic collectivity," of sensual riot, dance, revolution.
This utopia is itself a struggle—with the inexorable power of the state and the inevitability of death. For Stam, the carnival is the ultimate performance of the “oppositional culture of the oppressed,” a liberation of creative, sensual, and social energies. But it is also the body’s struggle with mortality—etymologically, the carnival is "a farewell to the flesh"—just as in those last few moments of Duque’s father’s life, in which he wrestles with a body that is soon to evict his soul. After the moment of Silvio’s death, more strange images from the threshold of the real: figures in the street, levitating off the ground, shudder slightly back and forth in mid-air as if caught between worlds, as if paused between frames. In this instant, all experience is struggle, a moment between life and death, a blur that falls into the void.
Reverse Shot staff writer Leo Goldsmith is co-editor of the Film section of the Brooklyn Rail and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University.Issue 33The Life of FIlm
The documentary below, “Tamani”, is an hour long film by Nicolas Guibert and Sébastien Gouverneur, recorded in Burkina Faso back in 2008. Structured as if you are spending a day in Ouagadougou, untroubled by time-consuming public transport commutes, the different scenes zap you from one neighborhood and slice of city life to another, encountering people on your way, most of them intensely immersed in their daily manual labour – wood and metal workers, motorcycle repairing, maize sifting, selling of camels, sewing of cloths… It isn’t until 20 minutes into the film that the observed silence gets broken by words from Burkinabe rapper Art Melody.
There’s no need to understand French (or any other language for that matter) to get a taste of what Ouaga sounds like here. The most interesting part about this film is, I found, that it seems to carry many of the seeds of ideas and sounds Guibert has since 2008 been trying to nourish, especially over the last years: producing quality music and video in close collaboration with independent and struggling artists in Ouagadougou, culminating most recently in the release of “Wogdog Blues” (reviewed here). Watch it here:
Bonus: “Soul Please”, a new track released the other day by Art Melody (Ouagadougou), Anny Kassy (Conakry) and Redrum (Bordeaux):
Photo by melburnian.
For a while I worked as a temp, writing in the evening or whenever I could during the day. I was sent to a series of grey-drab, concrete offices, where I passed the hours typing out letters for jowly depressives, weathering their fits of bile, barely earning enough to pay my rent.
I remember those brief, unsatisfying periods of tenure as a series of rooms. Rooms jaundiced by bad lighting, so you wondered, what is ague, and could we have it? Rooms that hummed, a hum you couldn’t quite identify, or that seemed in the end to come from your own head. Rooms with high windows so you only saw the free birds weaving tactlessly across the sky. Rooms like a fairy tale, where everyone seemed to sleep, and yet, they spoke. Rooms where you thought the delicate gossamer strand that connects you to the world of certainties, measured opinions, received normality, might just snap – forever.
A fine and almost forgotten poet, Charlotte Mew, wrote on ‘rooms that have had their part/ In the steady slowing down of the heart.’ The heart slowed, yet, perversely, the clock slowed too. The hands of clocks on grey partitions seemed to stall, while you waited – willing Time to resume again. When you were there, stranded at your desk, typing out generic phrases, discoursing madly on pencils with your neighbour, you longed for the hours to vanish, and yet, when the day ended, when the sky boiled into one more livid sunset, you felt sick with longing, fury, frustration. You walked in a dire and futile rage to the underground, and you went home panicking – another day!
The whole temping experience made me dislike the modernists as well, or some of them. It made me lose faith in those post-Nietzscheans who condemned the ‘ordinary man’ (or woman), who decried ‘the masses’ and assumed the masses all felt and thought the same. Often, as I waited in some random flock of people, I thought about Ezra Pound’s seedy protégée, Richard Aldington, who stood in central London and wrote:The Masses at Piccadilly
Are sordid and sweaty
We suspect them of vices
Like marriage and business
We know they are ignorant
Of Hokkei and Rufinus
Or Amy Lowell, ‘imagist’, who added:Fools! It is always the dead who breed!
The little people are ignorant
They chatter and swarm
They gnaw like rats . . .
I ranted my way home each night – as I stood with my kind, as we swarmed into a mass, as we breathed in unison, like ladybirds in a cluster, related and merged organic matter, as I stood and swayed – I hated Aldington, Lowell, felt that had they not been so utterly dead I would have found them and beaten them to the ground, a futile fantasy of vengeance on the long dead, but I thought, how easy, how glorious, to set yourself against the masses, when you have been saved by wealth or accident, how easy to denounce the Others –
Others to you, perpetually unknowable –
But when you are the masses, sordid in your seamlessness, sweating from proximity to others, trapped in the little business of earning a wage –
Well, then! You rant . . .
The irony of this condition is that each day you pass through such furies, such protests, you grit your teeth, you want to fall to the ground, you’re like an angry child, you weep because someone has stolen your coffee cup and you teeter all the time on the brink of complete psychosis. Meanwhile you discern this madness in the eyes of others – you come to realize the entire city is, essentially, mad –
And yet you sleep, in your unhomely home, you wake to the ritual whine of planes, the old grey buildings polished by the dawn, you are calm, even optimistic, and you begin again. You rise, you eat breakfast, as if the whole thing is entirely reasonable, you dress with practised efficiency, you are sane at least until 10 a.m. Then – again – someone bores you, someone snaps their pencil in your face, someone speaks for hours, then further hours, on the phone, so you want to run from the building and never go back again. Swiftly, you dwindle.
Perhaps this was what made Aldington, Lowell so uneasy, confronted by the crowds. Perhaps they were worried that one day their sordid sweaty masses would just lose their wits entirely, run amok, that the city would engulf itself –
Aldington and all his pals, hemmed into a corner, clutching the complete works of Rufinus . . .
The fantasy consoles you for a moment, one long tick of the clock –
Then you begin again –
You may have noticed a new logo lurking around Africa is a Country headquarters. When Sean put out the call for a design upgrade last year, I immediately thought of Diego Guttierez, an amazing graphic designer I’ve had the luck to work closely with in recent months. I met Diego a couple years ago when he was hanging with the Mex and the City folks. At the end of last year he signed on as the Art Director for Dutty Artz, the artist collective I belong to in Brooklyn, and has done an amazing job upgrading our visual identity. Now he’s agreed to help do the same for Africa is a Country. Check out the rest of his work here: http://talacha.net
Sun Trust, the bank, forecloses on a supermarket. Policemen in Augusta, Georgia, guard food as it is thrown into the trash.
Exhausted, exhausted, L'age d'or
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for 9/10ths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those 9/10ths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary conditions for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.
In a word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
From the moment when labor can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolized, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say individuality vanishes.
You must, therefore, confess that by "individual" you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible.