Time is the sun, (Isiah Medina, 2012)
2013 brought with it a number of significant and unexpected changes for me, and looking back it's clear I spent most of the year simply coming to terms with them. Cinema and literature were largely eclipsed until the last few months—according to my diary I watched only sixteen films in the first six months of the year, which is perhaps minimal by anyone's standards, never mind a supposed cinephile's. Equally, after submitting a final version of this, I realised that I could give up the pretence of actively responding to film culture—which, it seems, for the most part I did.
So I've seen only a fraction of the year's major releases (not among them: lauded new films by Diaz, Dorsky, Garrel, Gray, Guiraudie, Hutton, Jia, Straub, Tsai, etc.) and hardly any experimental cinema (having attended no festivals or screenings of new work in London). However, first team:
- Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
- The Canyons (Paul Schrader, 2013)
- Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Gabe Klinger, 2013)
- Du zhan / Drug War + Man tam / Blind Detective (Johnnie To, 2012 + 2013)
- E Agora? Lembra-me / What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto, 2013)
- The Great Cinema Party (Raya Martin, 2012) + La última película (Raya Martin & Mark Peranson, 2013)
- Leviathan (Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2012)
- Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, 2012)
- Les Nuées + Vers Madrid — The Burning Bright! (Sylvain George, 2012 + 2012-2013)
- Les salauds / Bastards (Claire Denis, 2013)
- San zimei / Three Sisters (Wang Bing, 2012)
- Time is the sun + (Ǝu) [u ≤ f and u ≤ m] (Isiah Medina, 2012 + 2013)
- The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt, 2012)
I was particularly pleased to see such fine films by artists and writers who I first encountered through their blogs many years ago: Dan Sallitt's The Unspeakable Act and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's Ellie Lumme (2013). A couple of the year's glassier films struck me as particularly reflective and misunderstood: The Canyons and The Bling Ring (2013), the former of which has been spoken of as self-evidently inept in a manner that's far from apparent given its distinctive presence and conspicuously vitrified form. This position perhaps has an origin in the smug and patronising tone (most visibly towards Lohan) of the widely circulated long-form NYT article on the film's troubled production, but these qualities are entirely absent from the film itself—which, to me, makes it infinitely preferable.
Raya Martin's recent films-about-film felt like two of the most explicit and joyous celebrations of the medium (or media) that it has produced, and I hope they will be widely acknowledged as such. If La última película, made in partnership with Mark Peranson, might be thought to inadvertently celebrate the end of industrial production of analogue film, it seems fitting that some of the year's most exciting new work originated on video, and was distributed solely by uploading to YouTube and Vimeo. Isiah Medina's sublime Time is the sun is perhaps the fullest expression of an emergent school of 'amateur' cinema (a designation that we should use more often in praise!) united by spirit and tone rather than exact aesthetic similarities or geography: s/o here to the rest of the based fam, particularly work by Kurt Walker and Douglas Dixon-Barker.
Time is the sun was completed in September 2012 but not shared publicly until last year, when a number of shorter videos by Medina followed to accompany it (I'm particularly fond of two very short works uploaded late in the year: B. waiting outside of a school and (Ǝu) [u ≤ f and u ≤ m]). In Medina's videos, as well as in the kindred work of Alexandre Galmard, the variances between and within images (or, more operatively, in any series of discernible cuts) function as both sets of reflections and a philosophical inquiry (that is, actively, of thought). The same figural content and footage frequently recurs across all Medina's recent videos, but is configured differently each time. Collectively, his short works present pieces of a world that is layered rather than divided, and they are abundant with touching moments drawn from the most familiar quotidian materials—text (often recited), music, light registrations, and shared undramatic experience. There are clear antecedents for Medina's loosely autobiographical filmmaking in experimental cinema (the diaristic and personally expressive work of Jonas Mekas and Bruce Baillie, for instance), but the distinct form of his practice is perhaps most recognisably and familiarly Godardian. In Godard's video work, however, the interrogative act of editing usually has an explicitly historical or critical function: to reflect on the production and dissemination of images in relation to an institution's utility and popular identity (be that cinema, an electrical goods retailer or a museum). In Medina's videos, a similar practice is applied almost entirely on the level of the personal: the resultant work is defiantly minor, and political in a particularly ambitious sense. It is a cinema for friends, comrades and lovers; one that is coming to terms with a world (with its world) by thinking it.
So in 2014 (or later), the two films that I'm looking forward to seeing most are Medina's 88:88 and Dixon-Barker's For Life—irrespective of any critical expectation that I might have for them, I'm simply happy that they're being made.
In all, the most important release of the year for me was, unexpectedly, Before Midnight. By now, the Before films are providing a marker of autobiographical time alongside the usual surplus (here's more!) narrative time of sequels, and the way this connection to personal experience affects our relation to the films themselves is clear in the diversity of responses they've inspired. I sympathise with some of the arguments made by Midnight's detractors—the notion that the series has perhaps 'gotten dark' too hastily, or displays an unfortunate recourse to simplistic gender absolutes—but instead I'm far more inclined, to borrow a phrase that Mark Peranson uses here, to be overly generous towards the film as a full-bodied means of support.
Neither Before Sunrise (1995) or Before Sunset (2004) were explicitly about the coming into being of a successful romantic relationship, so the anti-romanticism of Midnight shouldn't necessarily be surprising. Looked at from this distance, Sunrise is primarily concerned with the performativity of its singular encounter (most apparent in Céline's careful earnestness and Jesse's inchoate assuredness), whereas Sunset, my favourite of the three films, deals frequently with the actualities of failure and unknowing: it begins with heartbreak (as we learn Céline didn't make it back to Vienna), and ends with one of the most non-committal happy endings in all cinema. At one point in Sunrise, during the single-shot tram ride, Céline responds to a feinted, half-formulated answer from Jesse regarding past love with cautious, fleeting disappointment—in small moments like these, it's hard not to sense that everything that follows in Midnight is already present. Céline's response here finds a lengthier expression in the confessional car journey towards the close of the second film, and structures the fallout of the third. Hence Céline becomes the operative character in Midnight, and I admire the time and attention that Delpy, Linklater and Hawke give to her character, as well as the complexity of her desires and emotions.
During Midnight, the earnest and performative gestures of Sunrise are seen to have become utilitarian habits, tired and doubted instruments for collaboration and companionship. Although the later film documents the limits of these gestures in a fairly unforgiving manner, it also suggests that they still have potential within an arena of shared experience. Given the palpable fragility and/or futility of Jesse's improvised letter at the film's close, Midnight seems to most immediately suggest that too much damage has been done, and that there's no locatable way back. But, as we already know, these characters have played a long game, and another nine years are still to pass. I'm pretty sure that, above all, Midnight is attempting to show how people do grow together, even if that drives them apart. Few films are so generous toward their characters, so in that sense I find it difficult to let them go.
In rep cinema, I was mostly drawn to filmmakers who focus on romantic or patriarchal failure, as well as, at times, the onset of depression: Garrel, Rohmer and Naruse. At the end of the year I spent more time with filmmakers whose images work at opening out to the world: Peter Nestler and John Carpenter. But although I didn't watch many old (and new) films overall, I continued to read about them no less frequently. Adrian Martin has noted that end of year lists rarely give time to critical responses alongside films themselves, which is odd given that having some connection to the latter is (presumably) why many of us are asked to draw up lists in the first place. So, in that spirit, some outstanding pieces (and/or collections) of English language film writing/criticism published last year:
- Caroline Champetier, talk given at La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival, October 2012 + Martin Barnier, Predator or A-violence (these are perhaps the stand-outs from Ted Fendt's recent translations; Barnier's brilliant essay on Predator helped me to see and experience the film in an entirely new light)
- Aaron Cutler & David Gatten, The Secret of a Happy Home: David Gatten on The Extravagant Shadows (a moving and inspiring intervew)
- Glyn Davis & Gary Needham (eds), Warhol in Ten Takes (one of the most carefully designed and illustrated academic texts that I've seen for a long time, which matters for the study of such normally inaccessible material)
- Scott MacDonald, American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn
- Dan Sallitt, Notes on the Extant Films of Mikio Naruse (an incredibly rich and thoughtful resource)
- Gina Telaroli, A Precarious Preamble + Allan Dwan: A Dossier (Gina's text for the online release of Traveling Light addresses, amongst many things, the actuality of independent filmmaking and self-distribution with valuable openness and clarity—it's rare to read a text like this from a working filmmaker, particularly if that filmmaking and distribution is made possible by another form of labour entirely)
- Various, Letters to John McTiernan
In the end I spent more time with music than film last year, so another list seems appropriate. In the first half of the year I was pleased to discover Johanna Billing's This Is How We Walk On The Moon—not the full 28-minute film made in 2007 and originally screened at documenta 12, but its isolated and unabridged soundtrack released on vinyl (by apparent extent) in 2008. The soundtrack documents the experience of a group of musicians sailing on the North Sea for the first time, and is structured by a version of Arthur Russell’s This Is How We Walk On The Moon that unfolds over the full course of the film's duration. Unusually, after hearing the record I haven't felt it necessary to see the film's images as well, for its sound works so completely in isolation. We could think of cinema as always offering this potential for doubling, or at least never refusing it.
Favourite/most-played releases, reissues, etc.
- Rashad Becker, Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol. I
- Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
- Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Devotion
- Colleen, The Weighing of the Heart
- Inga Copeland, Higher Powers + Don't Look Back, That's Not Where You're Going
- Donato Dozzy, Plays Bee Mask
- Grouper, The Man Who Died in His Boat + FACT mix + Raum, Event Of Your Leaving
- Graham Lambkin & Keith Rowe, Making A + Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet, Photographs
- Gucci Mane, Trap House 3
- Karen Gwyer, Needs Continuum + Kiki The Wormhole
- Julia Holter, Loud City Song
- Tor Lundvall, Structures and Solitude (Last Light / Empty City / Sleeping and Hiding / The Shipyard / Night Studies)
- Sean McCann, Music for Private Ensemble
- Eliane Radigue, Adnos I—III
- Rezzett, Rezzett EP
- Matana Roberts, COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
- Rome Fortune, Beautiful Pimp
- Mammane Sani et Son Orgue, La Musique Électronique du Niger + Idassane Wallet Mohamed, Issawat + Super Onze, Gao (favourite releases on Sahelsounds)
- Terry Riley & Don Cherry, Live Köln 1975
- Team Rockit, Anima
- Tree, Sunday School II
- Tropic of Cancer, Restless Idylls
- Various, Greek Rhapsody—Instrumental Music from Greece 1905-1956 (Dust-to-Digital)
- Various, Hata Unacheza: Sub-Saharan Acoustic Guitar & String Music, ca. 1960s (Canary Records)
- Wanda Group, Get Hypotenuse or Tense + Outer Alsation
- Chris Watson, In St. Cuthbert's Time
- Young Thug, 1017 Thug
I only heard some of the above right at the end of the year, but I know I'll be listening to them a lot more over the next few months. Also, some streams that I enjoyed and/or revisited during the year: Majical Cloudz's Fader mix; The People Dreaming in Church; Rene Hell's Dummy mix; the archives of Lauren Martin's show for Subcity Radio. And songs: Palmistry, Catch; Kanye West, Hold My Liquor; Gucci Mane, Hell Yes; Tropic of Cancer, More Alone.