Category Archives: Cinema

back to school // back to reality

Summer is over, and it is time to go back to school. I graduated from Carleton last spring (an event, oddly enough, about which I continue to have recurring anxiety dreams), but while I am now something like a real adult with a Bachelor’s degree, I am back-to-school as well, in that I am working as the Educational Associate (also known, colloquially, as “5th Year”) for the Carleton’s Cinema and Media Studies department. This is a one-year position, and basically entails managing the filmmaking, audio, and media equipment, assisting the faculty in a variety of ways, and (hopefully) expanding a series of evening technology and cinema studies workshops, labs, and seminars that I am calling “CinemaTechs.” So at least for my first year of frightened post-collegiate existentialism, I am somehow lucky enough to have gainful employment in my field (and in the exact department where I became relatively qualified in my field!). That’s a lot to be excited about — and on top of that, there are some pretty awesome film-art-related opportunities coming into my life as a result of my role in the CAMS department (which I will write about in due course, as they arise).

Brief back-pedal to summer. In a (completely non-exhaustive) list, Summer 2012 for me as a perceiver and a creator consisted of: reading and listening to John Cage, discovering the joys of collaboration with a non-filmmaker artist (my sculptor friend Eliza), interpreting Debussy on film, revisiting phenomenology (David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), shooting an indie feature called Lucidity, studying sound design//ProTools, finally watching Lar’s von Trier’s Melancholia and feeling no particular sadness in response to it, and developing a debilitating addiction to the song “Payphone” by Maroon 5. All that, and the privilege of slowing the pace of my often overcommitted and crazy lifestyle to explore Minneapolis with my wonderful girlfriend Gwen.

Reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous on the set of our indie film, Lucidity.

But to return to this idea that my job at Carleton is presenting me with some pretty sweet opportunities — one such is to continue to audit courses at the college, and I have jumped at the chance to take CAMS 286: Animation.

Thus far, Animation is taking me completely out of my depth, in a way that isn’t scary, but is rather enthralling and full of potential — we’ve begun the course with a return to the physicality of media, a thing that sometimes gets lost in the digital age of cinema. Our first exercise was to create a 5 second hand-made film on 16mm. I did mine on black leader, using pushpins to scratch Japanese kanji characters into the malleable, dust-producing, physical film itself, beginning what I hope will be a love and fruitful love affair with the medium. (Digitization forthcoming, I hope!) Our second exercise was a hand-drawn cel animation that linked together 48 transforming frames by each member of the class to create a minute’s worth of metamorphosing images, which (in my capacity as 5th Year) I compiled into a little video which you can check out on Vimeo!

As a filmmaker who fancies herself an ‘artist’, this return to the physical stuff of the world in my creation is suddenly and palpably addictive; and something about listening to Murakami Haruki’s A Wild Sheep Chase at 3am, drawing cel after cel of a squirrel transforming into Sir John Cage puts me in a delicious post-modern meditative state. There is a strange balance struck between a clearing of the mind and a productive fixation of the mind on certain ideas and feelings that such a repetitive, detailed activity allows.

Perhaps animation, or any more physical, slow-paced form of filmmaking (like handmade 16mm scratch films) is a perfect mode of production for an artist who also wants to be a theorist — a way to create physical real art and to think abstract complex//simple thoughts at the same time, through finding some synchronicity between these thinking and making processes.

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and now for something comprehensive

As I have undoubtedly mentioned at some point in the last several months, I’ve devoted a lot of my filmmaking efforts in the first portion of 2012 to my senior thesis film (also known as comps at Carleton).  It’s an experimental piece called when you wish upon a star, essentially a mash-up of Lady Gaga music videos and Marlene Dietrich films with footage of myself, a (perhaps overly?) complicated and problematized exploration of persona, celebrity, gender performance, and the performance of identity in general.  It tries to be a film theory and critical analysis through film-making, a sort of “filmed theory” as I have termed it, asks questions about whether comparisons I have made and wanted to make were even acceptable.

It was truly a labor of love, and after more than four months of such loving labors, I finally completed and presented it two Fridays ago in the second round of the CAMS comps film symposium.  (For those of you who were there, thank you thank you thank you; I am of a mind that comps talks are a bit like funerals, in terms of attendance, so it was wonderful to see so many faces I love in the audience.)

Then, coincidentally, I discovered later that evening that the blog Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess had just published a post entitled “Lady Gaga, Marlene Dietrich, and…Anna Swanson?” — and aside from the immediate fact that it’s a massive ego-sweller to have my work as a filmmaker analyzed for the first time, I was also struck by the (for lack of a better word) accuracy with which Joseph, the blogger who wrote the piece, perceived exactly what I had intended to be taken from the film, meaning-wise.  Or rather, not ‘exactly’, but approximately, since the film is so much about the difficulty of pin-pointing meaning, and is very much intended to be interpreted through whatever lens each new viewer brings to the work.

I was particularly thrilled by Joseph’s reaction to how I was wrangling with whether to ascribe to Dietrich the mantle of queer iconography and feminism: “I can’t help but wish that all the folks who ever professed that Dietrich was their feminist icon would watch Swanson’s piece!”  And the comment thread that his reaction to my comps sparked was similarly intriguing and satisfying.  It even gets around to touching on the question of whether Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is reductive in its treatment of gender/identity/sexuality/etc. — to which I would respond that ‘reductive’ is relative, and that this song may perhaps be the most effective (or at least the catchiest) example of strategic essentialism to be found today.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking seriously about how to exhibit and control the distribution of my work; I’ve been jokingly taken up the motto that I will require a second screening of a film immediately after its has ended, and force my audiences to watch it twice.  And in a somewhat related vein, I’ve been wondering about whether to make my work completely and publicly accessible online, which has been my M.O. for all my work in the past.  To that end, I recently decided to make the online version of when you wish upon a star private/password-protected, which I have been interested to note has been noticed by the blogger(s) at The Last Goddess — the entry on my work has a new heading:
EDITED MAY 7, 2012 TO ADD: Looks like the video has been made private. What a pity!

More flattery.  Goodness.

So, for now, while I wrestle with my (cough) burgeoning fame and (cough) burgeoning ego, I would just like to insert a shameless plug for an upcoming LIVE screening of this work of mine.  For anyone who missed my comps talk but is in the Carleton area this weekend, we will be hosting a screening of all 10 senior comps films in the Weitz Cinema at 8 pm on Sunday, May 13.  It will be a truly beautiful extravaganza of moving image pieces that have had the hearts, souls, sweat, blood, and tears of we brave artistic souls who are the graduating Carleton CAMS seniors of 2012.  I personally guarantee a good time shall be had by all.

some shameless plugs

I am once again taking all Cinema and Media Studies courses this term (including Comps), so it’s been pretty CAMS-y up in here.  On top of that, my friends Sam and Jack and I decided to submit to the annual Carleton film festival/competition, the Golden Schillers — which meant that two weekends ago, facing an 11:59pm submission deadline on the same day, we began shooting a minor masterpiece entitled The Perfect Hipster.

First of all, let me just take this opportunity to thank my fellow filmmakers for getting behind on this conceptual project — it’s a brainchild of mine that’s been gestating for about 2 and a half years, ever since I had the happy coincidence of finding Jorgen Leth’s short film The Perfect Human and the blog Look at This Fucking Hipster sharing space in my mind for one perfect moment.  It probably had something to do with the fact that I had a) just written a final paper on The Five Obstructions and b) was at that point going through an existential crisis regarding my own identity and whether to apply the term ‘hipster’ to myself, which resulted in my spending a lot of time exploring the Internet’s conception of hipsterdom.  Anyway: I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time, never have, and when I casually mentioned it to Sam one evening during a break on our radio show, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who found it appealing as a project.  Sam told Jack, we formed a team (team name: Unicorn something something…), and the rest is history.

Appropriately, The Perfect Hipster is a film based on a film you’ve probably never heard of, unless you are a CAMS major, a hardcore Lars von Trier fan (the continual reworking of The Perfect Human is the centerpiece of his film The Five Obstructions ), or, I don’t know, Jorgen Leth.  It combines Danish existentialism and infinite white rooms with contemplative, probing voiceovers with too much irony and a healthy dose of plaid and PBR.  And it stars campus hip-stars Alex and Chisa — they are phenomenal and so understated.  It’s uncanny.

Here is the original basis for our film: Jorgen Leth’s masterpiece.  So good.

But the most amazing thing, to me, is that we produced it in less than 10 hours, from the moment we turned on the camera to the final moment when we finished exporting and submitted the piece with roughly 90 seconds to spare, and we’re pretty fucking proud of it.  A lot of work goes into the filmmaking process, and a lot of it requires processes that in turn require SO MUCH WAITING, or just time invested, so our adventure two Mondays ago was one of those experiences that makes me so excited for the real world — the possibility of finding a workflow and a creative team that just jives and gets really interesting, aesthetic, challenging filmmaking DONE.  So, props to us.  And watch out, real world.

Of course, with respect to the awesomeness of what we produced, you don’t have to take my word for it.  If you are on the Carleton Campus, the Golden Schillers are tomorrow (FRIDAY!) night in the Chapel at 8 pm, and obviously this is where all the cool kids will be.  After attending Sam’s CAMS comps talk in the Weitz — 4:30, room 133, be there or be square.  I would say what it’s about, but you probably haven’t heard of it.

on finally seeing pariah

I’ve been looking forward to the film Pariah ever since I first saw the trailer at BAM this summer (and subsequently blogged about its uncannily consistent juxtaposition with the trailer for Gun Hill Road).  I even mentioned this state of heightened anticipation while seated near James Schamus at one of the several formal meals that we enjoyed together while he was at Carleton last term; when he overheard my comment, he interjected with something to the effect of “THIS FILM IS SO GOOD! YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT.”  Which, even coming from the guy who runs the company that produced the film (Focus Features), struck me as totally genuine and basically made me even more excited for the release of the film this past December (if that had been possible…).

Adepero Oduye rides the bus in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, as Alike in Pariah.

So: on Friday night, thanks to Carleton’s Metro Arts Access Fund and the efforts of Sarah Berlin (Sarah: you rock.), I was at long last able to see Pariah.  For those of you who don’t frequent Autostraddle (or similarly queer-ish online publications) and have therefore missed the ongoing hype about the film, the basic premise centers on the coming-of-age of Alike, a black lesbian teenager in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who excels at school and expresses herself through poetry, wants to find a girlfriend ASAP, and isn’t exactly out to her parents.  Familial clashes ensue over time spent with her openly lesbian best friend, Laura, and her mother, played with surprising sobriety by Kim Wayans, decides that forcing her into acquaintance with a colleague’s daughter, Bina, will solve things.  So of course a sleepover with Bina turns out to be Alike’s first romantic counter.

Aasha Davis as Bina and Adepero Oduye as Alike.

Pariah is director Dee Rees’ first feature, an expansion of her earlier short film, and it preserves so much of what won it the Audience Choice Award in 2007 at the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival: the great cinematography, the very Brooklyn feel of the mise-en-scene, the poignancy and rawness of the performances, especially that of star Adepero Oduye, the honesty of the storytelling, undoubtedly the openness and necessity of the story content in this day and age.  But here’s my complaint: somehow, even expanded to 86 minutes, it still feels like a short film — the ending seems too soon, our glimpse into Alike’s coming of age too short, too easy.  Perhaps this is because the temporality of the film is so fluid, that the final scenes and Alike’s preparation to leave for California and college come so quickly, but it feels as if the conflicts that were driving the film remain less than fully examined, or left to remain unresolved.  And while this is frustrating to a viewer who wants more of any good queer cinema we can get, perhaps it also speaks to the lingering unspeakability of these questions of identity.  Even with films like Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh, streaming on Netflix NOW, run don’t walk to SEE THIS) and Pariah being released in 2011, queer cinema is still finding its voice, just like Alike and her poetry.  But it is finding it, and with that, finding wider audiences — and I firmly believe that we can only expect more truthful, powerful, beautiful work to ‘come out’, as it were, as the decade progresses.  Especially if I have anything to say about it.

four films and a funeral (minus a real funeral)

I’m “home” now (aka back in Olympia, Washington, birthplace of riot grrls and site of one of the most toked-out colleges in the country, the illustrious Evergreen State) — which means a chance to return to the Capitol Theatre, and my beloved Olympia Film Society.  I actually wrote my college application essay about (among other things) the religious quality that this space and its attendance holds for me, the spiritual qualities of sustaining oneself through the evening’s double features on Oldschool Pizza and organic lemon-pepper popcorn.  So coming back is a bit like coming to a personal CAMS-majory Mecca.  And since I’m feeling chagrined about my lapse in posting, I’ll wax quasi-eloquent about what I’ve gotten to see this week.

In the time I’ve been home, I’ve managed to see four films (and may be able to see two more before I jet back to the Midwest…), but this is likely my last visit to Olympia while it is still “home” — hence this post’s title’s invocation of the funerial…  What I saw, in order of viewing (not necessarily in order of enjoyment): Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, The Mill and the Cross, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Weekend.

Detective Dee is a visualization of everything Kristen Whissel has to say on the new verticality of digital cinema in “Tales of Upward Mobility”, with its towering personification of the threat of modernization, regime change, and power in the hands of woman, and it’s gravity-defying wu xia fight sequences.  A sort of Crouching Tiger meets Sherlock Holmes plus a talking deer and people bursting into flame.  Basically, a 21st century period romp, which I would highly recommend for its indeterable enjoyability.

The Mill and the Cross is a heavy-handed filmic moralization of Pieter Bruegel’s painting The Way to Calvary, a relatively plotless meandering (or trudging, if we feel ourselves as Christ’s companions in the slog towards the end…) through a masterpiece of lighting and cinematography that puts Pictorialism to shame.  Here, with the camera in the hands of director and cinematographer Lech Majewski, the world is literally painted with light, as sequence after slow-moving sequence sends the young film student into a dizzy spin of rapture on the medium’s powers of translation, for the film is literally a series of living oil paintings, with all the richness and inner glow that one might expect.  Only when I resigned myself to being whacked over the head with religiosity for 96 minutes could I fully appreciate the irony of the film’s greatest attributes being its greatest sins, its visual sensuality at odds with its purportedly pious subject material — the painting depicts 16th century religious persecution in Flanders, plus some suffering on the part of Jesus, for good measure.  Thus, the film’s form and content are arguable equatable with sin and virtue themselves, and the film becomes a glorification of the pleasures of visual stimulation — which after an hour and a half is about all one can take.

My parents saw these first two films with me, but they wouldn’t go to Martha Marcy May Marlene, which is truly unfortunate, because although it is, as they objected in advance, quite disturbing, it is precisely that which makes it so good — it is a precision study in disturbance.  The ending is shockingly sudden (especially after 101 minutes, when I mistaktenly expected the film to be exactly two hours long), and in it’s suddenness, eerily ambiguous.  The story unfolds beginning from the young woman (Elizabeth Olson) Martha’s return to her family after two years with a cult in the Catskills, and one is left wondering where such a story could have come from, and where it will go, hacked off at the close as it is.  It is a study in power and life philosophy that makes the “normality” of the life led by Martha’s sister Lucy and her husband Ted match almost shot for shot the daily (and nightly) goings on in Martha’s memories of the cult.  Is a farm in upstate New York where rape and death are made sacred so far afield from the cult of money and possession that Martha accuses Ted of living for, really?  We leave the film feeling morally unleashed, afloat in our own uneasiness, not just with the farm and the charming horror of Patrick (John Hawkes) but also with the kind of society that drives young girls like Martha to feel at home in such a cult.  In film, water is so often (almost tritely) a symbol of female awakening, but as Martha is plunged repeatedly intto these lakes, we do not sense her freedom — rather, as her final swim is steeped so in danger these symbols seem reversed, as if perhaps o capture the totality of Patrick’s awful power over the women in the cult — extending even into the tropes of cinematic feminist ‘rebellion’ (within the patriarchy of course; even his name — Patrick — sounds like patriarch…).  He brings these images back into the fold, as with his women, “just pictures”, as he very creepily sings to Martha (who he has rechristened “Marcy May”) the morning after raping her in a ‘rite of passage’.  So much remains unclear, arcane, locked in Martha’s memory — and when the final shot cuts to black from Martha’s darkening face — at last from the trance of the film itself, as uncertain of what we have just experienced as Martha herself.

Weekend is Andrew Haigh’s new film, introducing Tom Cullen and Chris New as brief and complicated lovers (for, as the title suggests, merely a weekend).  It struck me as one of the most poignant and truthful portrayals of love and sex, period, but as a representation of the complicated state of queer love and sex, and what it means to be queer in the 21st century, it is an apotheosis.  Everyone.  Just see this movie.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest art-house cinema.  You won’t be disappointed.

auteur du jour: peggy ahwesh

Born: 1954 in Pittsburgh.
Currently a resident of: Brooklyn. (represent!)
Favorite themes: sexuality, language, vision, female experience/subjectivity, the manipulation of genre conventions
Style: found footage, Pixelvision, alternative narrative, documentary, digital animation
Most famous film (arbitrary): The Color of Love (1994) for appropriating graphic material in the service of approaching the beauty and sensuality of the medium as inherently haptic.
Films by her that I have seen: From Romance to Ritual (1985), Martina’s Playhouse (1989), The Deadman (with Keith Sanborn, 1990), Nocturne (1998), She Puppet (2001), The Third Body (2007), Beirut Outtakes (2007), Bethlehem (2009)   //  [check out her full filmography here.]
My favorite: Nocturne (1998), for breathtaking reverse sound and motion, complicated explorations of female desire, and requisite dreams within dreams.

Ubuweb calls her a “true bricoleur…her tools include narrative and documentary styles, improvised performance and scripted dialogue, synch-sound film, found footage, digital animation, and crude Pixelvision video. Using this range of approaches, she has extended the project initiated by 1960s and ’70s American avant-garde film, and has augmented that tradition with an investigation of cultural identity and the role of the subject.”  Her work spans myriad experimental media, and has evolved into the digital age in ways that challenge new technology while still engaging with theory, language, and vision as bravely as ever.

Language and cinema have had a long and complicated relationship.  (Not unlike that of language and philosophy, language and queer/gender studies, language and… etc.)  Many film theorists have tried to speak of cinematic language, to conceive of film in linguistic metaphors (enter semiotics!), and many filmmakers have argued for cinema beyond language (Godard’s next film is going to be titled Adieu au Language, although admittedly this is a slightly different case), because it is a visual medium; it shouldn’t need words to express itself.

So what makes the work of Peggy Ahwesh so fascinating is her total embrace of language: she frequently uses voice-over of herself or collaborators reading aloud from texts, theory and fiction and poetry, or includes reading and quotation within the diegesis of her films.  Hers is a cinema of allusion, appropriation, of dialogue, but where the practice of “folding language into, or asking it to hover above, the image is predicated on an understanding of the shortcomings of language itself”(Senses of Cinema).

She began her career on Super-8, drawn to the artisanal and home-made feel of the medium as a means for exploring both language and looking.  One of her earliest films, From Romance to Ritual (1985), invokes and inverts the title of the 1920 book by Jessie L. Weston as it, like the book, draws connections between pagan history and ritual and mythology, though Ahwesh’s myths are not those of not King Arthur but the (modern) woman.  Such titular references are common throughout her body of work, including one drawn from classic Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom (1987), which I have as yet been frustrated in finding a means of seeing (if anyone has a copy lying about, drop me a line!).

Martina tells a story to the camera in Martina's Playhouse.

Her 1989 Martina’s Playhouse, which she purportedly titled thus as a counterpoint to Peewee’s Playhouse, focuses on the young daughter of an artist friend playing at gender roles, intercut with footage of filmmaker Jennifer Montgomery in Ahwesh’s apartment and close-ups of flowers.  It is notable, however, for the voice-over of first a child (Martina) reading haltingly from Lacanian theory about the constitution of the Self and the desire for the Other, which is then re-read later by an adult voice.  As part of my comps (comprehensive senior thesis) project, I’ve been thinking a great deal of late about how one can “film theory” — that is, enact critical and scholarly work through the very means of production that we in the CAMS world are critiquing and studying.  One idea for my own film that I have been considering is having my self to staged readings of excerpts from various theorists (Eco, Irigaray, Butler, etc…), so seeing this played out in this film was very intriguing to me personally.

It speaks to the power of language as one of many tools of the cinema, not necessarily as a metaphor for cinema itself, and to the power of repetition and whose voice we record or listen to.  It gives me hope for the possibility of theorizing through film, but in Martina’s Playhouse, there is a lack of heavy-handedness that allows the voices, words, and images to create the potential for engagement in the viewer rather than forcing any interpretation, characteristic of Ahwesh’s ambiguous and open-ended style, who says herself that “the reason I’ve never liked narrative is because traditionally narrative film has to have resolution.”

Ahwesh directly captured footage of herself playing Tomb Raider to make She Puppet.

In this vein, her recent work She Puppet (2001), which consists of screen-captures of Ahwesh-as-Lara-Croft in Tomb Raider with a soundtrack drawing quotations from a number of literary sources,  has been called “the most succinct and powerful essay on the position of women in the field of cinematic vision since Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’.”(Senses of Cinema)  In She Puppet, the words and their accented readers complicate the otherwise straightforward imagery, creating a sort of serious-playful, poetic-theoretical discourse that does more for the rewriting of women’s place in cinema than Mulvey did with her seminal 1975 essay.

One other film by Ahwesh that I also have yet to see but would love to find a copy of is 73 Suspect Words (2000).  Her artist statement at Electronic Arts Intermix describes it as “a deceptively simple and ultimately chilling meditation on the power of text…based on a spell-check of the Unabomber’s manifesto, the work evokes the violence underlying the key words presented.”(EAI)

She is also known for her frequently graphic portrayals of sex and violence, but her female subjects seem to maintain subjectivity, or even when they don’t, it is really a case of the film lacking a subject altogether, suggesting that perhaps the subjectivity lies not within the diegesis but in the viewer and film themselves, as the mutually engaged viewing subjects that Vivian Sobchack posits in her “Phenomenology and Film Experience.”

As much of her older work (she’s been active since before 1983) is on Super-8 and other analog formats, some of it can be hard to get ahold of, but several of her films are archived online at UBUweb.  Ahwesh is currently a professor at Bard College, and is currently continuing to make more provocative and awesome experimental work as the 21st century complicates the meaning of cinematic experimentation.

auteur du jour: coming to a blog near you

Now that the most intense finals period and the most intense term at Carleton College in the history of the author has been survived, here at The Semioptician, we the editorial staff are happy to announce that break is over!  Or at least, the break from blogging. 🙂

And what better to inaugurate our triumphant return than the introduction of a new and exciting ongoing series, intended to educate and inspire both the author and her readers?

Yes, “Auteur Du Jour” has finally arrived.

A few words on the genesis of this (hopefully ongoing!) project: basically, when I am freed from the shackles of academia by such things as Thanksgiving Break (and believe, I gave thanks like never before), I tend to waste no time in becoming self-incarcerated — that is, filling in the holes in my education as a budding filmmaker, film theorist, feminist, and philosopher.  As I mentioned last month, there are a staggering number of films that I haven’t seen that I believe that I ‘ought to’ as a Cinema and Media Studies major, so the last several days have been a picture of happiness and personal growth centered on me curled up with my favorite laptop and my subscription to Netflix.  And what I realized is that the way I go about structuring my viewing becomes almost by default centered on filmmakers — I’m in the midst of a massive Woody Allen kick, a did a day of Godard, I could spend a week watching Jarmusch over and over and feel totally fulfilled.  I also realized that this is an even more applicable (almost necessary) approach to ‘educating’ oneself about the avant-garde and experimental cinema, where the independent and artisanal tendencies of the medium enforce an auteur theory unto themselves.  And between the mainstream and the avant-garde, there are plenty of filmmakers (Andrew Sarris can come over here and debate their status as auteurs with me if he feels like it) whose work I want to acquaint myself with in a more comprehensive way.

Thus, like every good little academic, I’m going to write about it, and share each new authorial exploration here — hopefully those of you who are interested in film will find out about some filmmakers you didn’t know, or find out things you didn’t know about the filmmakers you thought you knew, and those of you who aren’t interested in film will be interested enough in my learning process to hang on, because in that case you’re probably a close friend or my mother.  (But I know you’re interested in film, too, Mom.)  It will likely be a bit sloppy, as is the nature of the auto-didact’s endeavors, but it should be the fun kind of sloppy.

So tomorrow, I will prove Roland Barthes wrong and revive the author with my first installment, an introduction to the fascinating, raunchy, deliciously linguistic and theoretical work of Peggy Ahwesh!

Stay tuned, kiddos.

the rapture is finally here!

I’ve been working on my final film (rapture) for Nonfiction over the past few weeks, and here it is, in all its “final” cut of glory (this is to say, I will be continuing to tweak and perhaps totally re-do over the coming week, and a more final version will make its way to Vimeo as well).  With that in mind, please watch, read my discussion of the work below, and please please please give me feedback!!!  Why bother being alive in the 21st century if we don’t take advantage of our ability to crowdsource-workshop our work?

rapture. a film by anna swanson.

A modified version of my project proposal, for the provision of context:

In keeping with the fairly personal, autobiographical work I have already done for the course, my final project will be a piece that delves into my personal archives. While I was abroad in the spring, I shot a decent amount of video on my Nikon D5000, which I had on my person at pretty much all times between March 15th and June 3rd. Because all of my archival footage was shot on a Nikon D5000, it isn’t the highest quality that it could be, but it has a great value in its digital-indexical referencing of lived (and remember) experience for me. This specific aesthetic is in the tradition of the autobiographical avant-garde’s “simplification of the recording apparatus”(13), which I think allows for a greater premising of the indexicality of the footage as holding as its referent the lived experience of the filmmaker. Many of the filmmakers Lane references “shot by themselves in available light and recorded sound at some time other than the moment of shooting”(13) – the former which I did, over the course of the spring, and the latter which I intend to do this fall as I edit the picture. I want to work in this “artisanal form of autobiographical expression”(13).

The piece, rapture, is about a great number of things. On one level, it is about a specific incident of personal injury that I incurred while walking along the former Berlin Wall, but it also seeks to more broadly address the sort of transformative experience of being in Europe this pass spring, and to that end, to address the very manner in which I remember/glorify/conceptualize that part of my (recent) past. It is psychology as well as abstract expressionism. It is about the subjective and constructed nature of history and memory, the way that always having a camera changes the world, the very real psychological strangeness of going from normal existence to suddenly being in shock with blooms of fatty tissue exploding from one’s palms. It is both a visceral experience and my own mediation and historicizing of that experience.

For those of us who regularly document our lives on film or video, the footage that we take is in some ways a visual manifestations of the thoughts we think when we are alone among the crowd of the world, and these thoughts compound to make up the history of our selves, our memories. So, because of my interest in film as an analog for and an exploration of memory, I employed the formal constraint of only using footage that was shot while abroad, restricting myself to a bank of personal archival footage that I am equating, conceptually, with malleable pieces of memory. The re-composition of these is itself an experiment in the construction of the past, through the literal process of editing this past into something of varying degrees representational and abstract.

The voice over is likewise restricted (as a further analog for drawing on memory) to selections from automatic writings I have done while in Europe and over the summer, rather like prose-poems; a means of furthering the psychological mimicry and individually subjective form of the constructed memory, drawing on my supposedly-subconscious mind’s outpourings, the products of experiments in extreme sleep deprivation.

The selections from the writings are each voiced by different people in my life, each narrator corresponding to a specific piece of writing, which I then intermixed in a way that again approximates the reconstruction of memory, but also invokes the way in which we as people are constructed by those that we love, and are moreover never the same person at any given point in time.

In terms of the editing style, I attempted to mirror the free-association of these patterns of thought, with occasional clear connections, and occasional moments of seemingly totally random mental jumps – varying degrees of jarring and fluid.

Three areas of inquiry that were central to the process:

What is the nature of memory? How do we construct it? How is it shaped by the records we take (personal photographs and videos, for example)?

How self-specific and revealing can I be without totaling confusing or alienating an audience, or on the other extreme, making them uncomfortable?

How can I add voice-over without over-determining the images or robbing them of their power to speak, and without speaking to them either too literally or too abstractly?

quote for the night

For reality holds within itself no hidden kernel of self-understanding, of theory, of truth, like a stone inside a fruit.  We have to manufacture those.
— Comolli & Narboni, “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”

I’m up late, reveling in my Film Theory reading for tomorrow’s class: ideology day.  Having recovered from the cogency of Peter Wollen’s argument in favor of Godard’s counter-cinema, those Seven Cardinal Virtues dismantling Hollywood-Mosfilm’s Seven Deadly, I was drawn back to the suddenness of this quote from my first reading by the Cahiers du Cinema re-manifesto of sorts that Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni penned in 1959.

Given my current courses, I am constantly thinking about the nature of nonfiction, and here the two theorists speak directly to my own conceptions of the ‘genre’ (if we can call it such, which I am still on the fence about — this would necessitate turning to Richard Altman’s semantic/syntactic approach to film genre, which is beyond the scope of my midnight musings).  I have been making and watching a lot of cinema verite and direct cinema and documentary, all of which are essentially stabs at truthiness — but these theories of ideology seem spot on.  I know that I am manufacturing ‘truth,’ and consuming manufactured ‘truth’ in these nonfiction forms.  To find this empirical realization uttered so powerfully in the midst of my reading on the ideology of predominately narrative film — a moment to be added to Sandor Krasna’s list of things that “quicken the heart.”

coming out

This past weekend was the Out After Carleton reunion here, and one of the great annual events that is part of this is the Coming Out/Back party at The Cave, where alumni and current students take the stage to share stories and have the chance come out as anything — a hipster, someone with depression, the owner of a vast collection of Beanie Babies, a poet, and, oh yeah, any range of identifications within (or out of) the LGBTQA spectrum.  It was pretty awesome, and moving, and hilarious at times, but it got me thinking about the identities we have and build around our majors (for those of us who are college students, or were, or plan to be…).  I am a CAMS major (Cinema and Media Studies), and this means there is a canon of films that we are ‘supposed’ to have seen — the films that come up in casual CAMS conversations as necessary examples of genres or auteurs or ‘classics’ or historical periods or important technological and ideological and stylistic transitions and traditions within the last 115 or so years of THE CINEMA.  Films we should have studied, or at least have seen.  Necessarily, there are films that I haven’t had time to see in my young life thus far — and some (many?) or these seem to come under this big, shifting canonical umbrella.  I cringe when Metropolis gets brought up.  It makes me feel like a less-than CAMS major, remembering that I have yet to see Pulp Fiction.  But I am learning to live with these ‘gaps’ in my education, to recognize and accept that my filmic education is a work in progress (and that ‘The Canon’ is somewhat arbitrarily exclusive, when seen as a genre that is comprised entirely of what critics and academics and the Carleton College CAMSland has recognized as worthwhile).

So, in honor of last Friday, I want to finally come out as a proud CAMS major who has NOT SEEN ANY OF THE FOLLOWING MOVIES.  In no particular order, and of course not exhaustive, is a list of 111 movies I am planning to watch.  What should I add?  Is my concept of the canon strange?  Spot on?  I’m curious.  And of course, I’m slowly knocking these off — don’t judge me too harshly, and take me for what I am.  Acceptance is a process.

Pulp Fiction
Metropolis
The Matrix (any of them…)
The Godfather (any of them…)
Rocky
8 1/2
The 400 Blows
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Modern Times
Raging Bull
Gone With the Wind
Schindler’s List
City Lights
The Graduate
On the Waterfront
All About Eve
A Clockwork Orange
Dr. Strangelove
Dr. Caligari
Duck Soup
Jaws
Silence of the Lambs
Memento
Toy Story 3
Brokeback Mountain
Old Joy
Stand By Me
The Terminator
The Shawshank Redemption
Bonnie and Clyde
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Psycho
Rebel Without a Cause
Taxi Driver
The Asphalt Jungle
American Graffitti
Blue Velvet
Brief Encounter
Days of Heaven
The French Connection
Breathless
Amadeus
The Birds
Two or Three Things I Know About Her
Rules of the Game
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Great Dictator
A Fish Called Wanda
A Man for All Seasons
The Piano
Saturday Night Fever
When Harry Met Sally
Being John Malkovich
Boogie Nights
Bull Durham
The Earrings of Madame de…
Dirty Harry
Dr. Zhivago
Down By Law
No Country for Old Men
Empire of the Sun
Fargo
Grand Illusion
Hoop Dreams
The Jazz Singer
The Big Lebowski
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
My Dinner with Andre
Mullholland Dr.
My Left Foot
Animal House
Rushmore
The Pianist
The Red Shoes
Say Anything…
Shane
La Strada
Requiem for a Dream
Wild Strawberries
The Year of Living Dangerously
Lost in Translation
Gangs of New York
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Bowling for Columbine
Yojimbo
2001: A Space Odyssey
Sunrise
The Bicycle Thief
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Touch of Evil
La Dolce Vita
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Fanny and Alexander
The Shining
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Nanook of the North
Midnight Cowboy
Paris, Texas
Reservoir Dogs
Twelve Angry Men
Cleo from 5 to 7
Alphaville
Land Without Bread
Chronicle of a Summer
A History of Violence
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Sonatine
Night Moves
The Sting