Tag Archives: carleton college

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.

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.

videos from the vault

I’ve been doing some management of my digital assets, and came across two videos I made last spring while abroad in Europe on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip, which never made their way to the internet — but here they are now for your viewing pleasure!  Proof positive of what treasures a little cleaning (virtual or otherwise) can uncover.

From Berlin:

From Copenhagen:

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?

participant observation

Another video piece by me!  This one was made for an observational assignment for my nonfiction class; we were charged with the task of ‘observing a place or process’, and my observation was of both the rehearsal process and unique rehearsal space of my a cappella group, the Carleton Knightingales.  I am including my artist statement as an explanation of the theory behind the practice, but I would watch the video first, and then read on.  (Although if you choose to read my statement first, no one will know…it’s really up to the extent to which you will allow me as an artist to control your experience of meaning…)

a watch of gales in a chapel

artist statement

Although we were given the directive to capture a place or a process, I feel that my observations in a watch of gales ended up falling somewhere in the liminal space between the two – at once an observation of the process of a Knightingales a cappella rehearsal, and an observation of the rehearsal space itself in Dacie Moses house.

Unlike my previous video, I started out with much more of a theoretical concept for this piece, rather than simply beginning to experiment with the camera and discover in those very experimental forays the actual content of the piece.  I knew I wanted to document in a fairly subjective way, because the subject of my observation is too close to my self to even consider being objective about, and I wanted to communicate my sense of my cappella group.  I had also just read a lot of Balasz (preceded by Eisenstein), as well as history of the early abstract films by Fischinger, Eggeling, and company at the time when I was outlining my concepts, so I thinking quite a lot about abstraction, the close-up, the physiognomy, the idea of using music as an organizing principle for the moving image, and ‘harmonics’ of ‘lines’ in editing.  While I don’t think that the piece is a completely direct reflection of this theory and history, I have (like many artists, I think) taken the elements of it that appeal to me in a poetic and philosophical way and tried to let them take a practical form.

Wanting to abstract the rehearsal as a means of capturing my subjective experience of it, I began with the definition of abstraction from one of my readings, “the separation of qualities, aspects, or generalizations from particular instances” and decided to literally separate the audio from the video by deliberate making it non-sync, and even recording it on different days.  I then further separated the audio into five different “lines” based on conversational content, an idea that draws very loosely from Eisenstein’s later theories of harmonic, musical editing.  These five lines I have titled the “self-reflexive,” “business discussion,” “actual rehearsing/learning,” “gossip,” and “general chatter/laughter” tracks, which I layer over one another in an attempt to mimic the form of a cappella, but in the form of spoken harmonies.  The goal was an interweaving of chaos and occasional moments of clear statements.

The visual abstraction relies on the Balasz-derived ‘poetic potential of the close-up’ and synecdochic qualities of focusing on hands, feet, only parts of faces, cellphones, watches, and bracelets.  I filmed hand-held, attempting to make everything from my point-of-view, and preserved this subjectivity by simply editing the image based on what appealed to me aesthetically, creating a sort of loving subject gaze that hopefully captures my strong feel for the harmonic (and dissonant) social community of my group and my close attention (in literal, abstracting close ups) to the unique features of the members.

The fact that most of the audio is not what one might expect to hear in a piece on an a cappella rehearsal is very key to how I wish to represent the group – as one where the social harmonies are as important as the vocal ones, but where ironically we often end up spending more time talking than singing, although the video does finally emerge from the chatter and poetic close-ups into actual singing and two intercut self-reflexive, visually ‘quiet’ shots that want to point at the deep personal significance and actual beauty (and productivity in rehearsal!) that exists in this rather whirlwind environment.  My goal was to insert myself into the piece, to give way to the desire to actually hear singing, to create a sense of the collective echoing into the individual.

To speak, then, a little, to the title, which has some sort of arcane significance that I find kind of clever and worth noting, as it may be another aspect (like the conceptual constraints on the audio) that escapes the ‘uninitiated’ viewer.  The title, a watch of gales in a chapel, has several puns and allusions at work – my group is called The Knightingales, so we call ourselves the ‘gales’ for short; the birds nightingales come in groups called a ‘watch’ (like the equivalent of a ‘murder’ of ravens) but the piece itself was, as an observation, very much about watching; the etymological root of ‘a cappella’ comes from ‘in a chapel’, but the space where we rehearse and the ritual and music that is associated with it takes on a sacred meaning for me personally, and also functions rather like a communal confessional, a religious practice and place of sorts, in the totally secular living room of a cookie house where eleven girls meet and gossip and sing three nights a week.

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

long time no see

Hello, my faithful readings public.  I’m ashamed to have gone almost an entire month (!) without exercising my rights to free speech here on this pedantic and personal platform.  It’s been a crazy month, even on the visual culture front, but I have come out the other side only a little worse for the wear.  Here’s what’s been going on:

  • I was hired as an employee of the CAMS Production Office here at Carleton, which means that I am getting to get paid to get more acquainted with the technologies of my media (and also tear my hair out when the equipment checkout system is failing us…)
  • I got to hang out with Focus Features CEO James Schamus quite a bit two weekends ago, including having the immense honor of introducing him as the Convocation speaker on the Friday of 5th weekend and seeing the very first American showing of the new movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • I wrapped shooting on my dear friend Sam D’s short film The Incredible Owlbear, for which I was serving as chief audio technician and sound recordist, which is a glorified way of saying ‘kid who holds the boom’ (albeit looking badass…)
  • I beasted a midterm in Film Theory, a midterm in Film History I, and a 10-page research paper on Marlene Dietrich in Vogue magazine during the 30s, all within 48 hours.  (And then I slept.)
  • I realized what I’ve been missing out on by not watching German Expressionism — finally seeing Fritz Lang’s M was revelatory.
  • I also made a couple of videos for Nonfiction, one which was a group oral history (fantastic) and one which was an ‘observation of a place or process’ (a watch of gales in a chapel — video still uploading, link to be added shortly).
  • I learned how to jump-start a car.  With jumper cables.  This is a useful skill.

I'm the second from the left. I think it's fairly obvious.

The biggest thing, though, is realizing how awesome it is to be really digging into what I love, which is film and media production and consumption and analysis and synthesis.  All day er’ryday, as they say.

When my life calmed down for half a second yesterday evening when I got done with class, I decided to just watch something that I’ve been meaning to for quite some time, which ended up being the Maysles brothers’ The Beales of Grey Gardens.  It is the new 2006 Criterion edition of the classic 70s documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy’s interesting East Hampton relatives, re-edited entirely from footage that was shot at the time but not used in the first edit.  I was both fascinated and made uncomfortable by the film, and given that I have not actually seen the original cut of Grey Gardens, I know what my next free-time viewing experience will be — you can expect some musings on the two pieces in contrast to and concert with each other in (hopefully!) the near future.

defending my rights

I have just re-read the opening on Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision.  Lately, I’ve been trying to re-evaluate how I approach Brakhage, or rather how to defend my enjoyment of his work.  When we screened The Stars are Beautiful in my Non Fiction class, it elicited quite dispassionate responses from some classmates (a reflection of a larger dispassion or antagonism towards the avant-garde in general by the non-CAMS major population as well, I would suggest).

The argument was raised that what Brakhage does in his films, technically or aesthetically, is being done “better” by other more mainstream filmmakers in more traditional narrative formats, to which our professor responded that the cynical interpretation of that point of view is that the avant-garde is constantly pushing the edge of what is acceptable in form and content, constantly innovating, and then the mainstream simply comes along and picks and chooses and appropriates what it likes aesthetically, without necessarily maintaining the conceptual or ideological meaning behind the techniques and styles that it acquires from pioneers such as Brakhage.

Which is exactly what I had been about to rebut with, so I was forced to pause and wonder: Am I a cynic in this regard? And if so, what’s up with that?  When did I become cynical about film, and where does that cynicism come from?  Is it legitimate?  I love the avant-garde and experimental traditions of the mid 20th century — is this love real or imagined?  Why do I love it?  Not because I find it more captivating (in the easy, narrative-drags-you-along-without-your-even-noticing sense), necessarily, but perhaps… These films do not exist in a vacuum, and the context of the artists, and their lifestyles, and their ideologies, and my own artistic aspirations, and certainly their writings create a world of captivation that is larger than but functions in concert with their films — hence my musings today beginning with my return to Brakhage’s own elliptical-poetic treatises in Metaphors on Vision.  Even when I watch a structural film that seems to resist pleasure, such as Wavelength, there is a certain kind of elitist, intellectual self-gratifying feeling from simply sitting through it, from the process of engaging with something that is not just a piece of film for entertainment or even edification, but a questioning of art and meaning and consciousness and perception.  And knowing that one has made the decision to turn your attention to these ‘higher’ questions of form and content is a different kind of good feeling, but good nonetheless.  While narrative film may message the senses, these films can also work on the level of massaging the intellect.

This is why returning to my copy of Essential Brakhage is exciting for me.  Brakhage is not Saturday night with coke and popcorn fare (he even, in fact, invokes popcorn as his anthithesis at times, or at least as a powerful synecdoche for the commercial theatrical cinema to which his work is perpendicular).  I think Brakhage demands repeated viewings.  I think you start to get so much out of it, too, when you let him create a context for his art, especially since his prose is itself as beautiful, arcane, stimulating, and challenging as the hundreds of films that make up his body of work.

There.  I have defended my right to take pleasure in difficult cinema.

plundering my past

I am currently in the [slow] process of unpacking everything that I own and settling into my room in Memorial Hall.  In doing so, I have come across two flash-drives, ancient but still functional relics of my high school and very-early college writings, academic work, and even, lo, film-making efforts.

Like anyone, I find it rather surreal to be re-reading things that I penned (or typed) so many years ago, watching bits of film I crafted or perusing half-finished screenplays I abandoned.  It’s like meeting yourself from the past all over again, cringing at the ferocity of your tweenage angst or the frequency with which you referenced Catcher in the Rye in all of your poems, remembering that you were quite the rap-writing enthusiast back in the day, and re-discovering how you tried to sell yourself in prose to the college you are now attending.  Most of the things I have encountered this afternoon are probably of little interest to anyone but me, but I’d like to share a couple of them here.

When you apply to Carleton (or at least when I did, so many falls ago), you are asked to answer several supplementary questions in addition to submitting your Common App essay.  This was one of the questions.

Do you have a tentative (or firm) career plan (or dream)? Please describe it.

In my heart of hearts, I would like to make films.  I want to capture human relationships and emotions and mix them together in just the right way so as to make people stop and think and perhaps behave a little more humanely to one another.  This is definitely more of a tentative dream than a firm career plan, but nonetheless, film is a powerful and glamorous medium, and I am drawn to it.

I think that somewhere between leaving home and arriving at Carleton and beginning to discover that theory exists, the person who said this got a little lost.  I’m rather thrilled to find this proof of my own passion, almost objective in its feeling of having been written not by the me of today, but about the me that will always be in love with the cinematic.  And to have my 17-year-old self quietly and boldly remind my 21-year-old self that we must be humane, and that art can humanize us, and that is within my power — that strikes me.

For one of the later questions, I had also written two responses and labeled one as “Director’s Cut” and the other as “For Release in Theatres”.  This amuses me immensely, but even more, it echoes this sense of a historical inclination to film that I am encountering in my digging through my own past.

I also found something that I have been looking for since the beginning of this summer, the first little experimental film that I made during Fall Term of my sophomore year, as a part of the illustrious Profesore John Schott’s Avant-Garde Film and Video course.

It is based, roughly on the e.e. cummings poem “a total stranger one black day”:

a total stranger one black day
knocked living the hell out of me

who found forgiveness hard because
my (as it happened) self he was

but now that fiend and i are such
immortal friends the other’s each

I don’t claim to be proud of it, but I find it interesting in its first-ness: a rather sketchy imitation of Brakhage and shades of Deren, an overly dramatic banter with the ability of Final Cut Pro to overlay many many layers of video of varying opacity, but an earnest attempt to create a sort of cinepoem, to strive for what Deren suggests is the greatest form of the film, the vertical communication that defies narrative and allows the interplay of image and suggestion and light to create a psychological space.  The imagistic relationship between the poem and the film continues to intrigue me.

And so, the artist that the me of today is becoming has communed with the person that the artistically-inclined me of the past was intending to be; how very different and yet the same our conceptions may have been and are.