The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, Iran/Germany, 2010)

Blogpost, Film reviews, Iranian cinema

The Hunter is about Ali (Rafi Pitts), a former convict-turned-factory worker who tries to support his wife and child. Ali returns home one day to discover that his wife and daughter have gone missing. After hours at the police station, he discovers that his wife has been killed during a demonstration – and that his daughter is still missing. When the daughter is also discovered to be dead, Ali goes on a rampage, killing two police officers before being hunted down in a wood north of Tehran.

The Hunter sounds like a thriller, and in many ways it is one, but the film is also very slow paced in comparison to your average thriller from Hollywood, such as the recent Unstoppable (Tony Scott, USA, 2010). For example, the film is filled with prolonged scenes of Ali driving, particularly in and through tunnels, as he wanders around Tehran in his pastel green sedan. The film features a car chase, as Ali tries to elude a police car along mist-covered and winding hill roads. This scene is surprisingly effective, because, unlike Unstoppable with the numerous close ups of its star vehicle runaway train and its rapid cutting, the chase in The Hunter is filmed mainly in long shot and with takes that last a good few seconds.

In other words, if The Hunter is a thriller, its slow pace makes it a very unusual one, while the painterly composition of the film’s images, which director Pitts retains from It’s Winter (Iran/France, 2006) similarly draws our attention away from simply the action. While beautiful from start to finish, this painterly quality of The Hunter suggests that it wants us to understand not just what happens in the film, but why it has been filmed in the way that it has. Indeed, how the police manage so easily to track down Ali after his crime is never explained; they just seem to find him immediately, and the film does not seem to care especially for showing us how this came to be.

As a result, The Hunter seems to ask us to think about its formal properties, or how it is put together, and here the colour of the film comes to the fore. Ali’s sedan is the most striking example, but the colour green features prominently throughout the film. Green is an important colour in Iran, because the so-called Green Movement has since 2009 used green to symbolise its struggle against the fraudulent election result that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regain power. to read some background from WikiLeaks, read here.

In this way, the slowness of the film becomes not a fault but a symbol of the difficulty to move freely in contemporary Iran, as reinforced by the tunnel sequences. The police’s immediate discovery of Ali also suggests a repressive state surveillance system, while the death of Ali’s wife and daughter might reflect indirectly upon the social incarceration of women under the present Iranian regime (thereby perhaps making a link between this film and Zamani Esmati’s Orion (Iran, 2010), which refers to Orion as a hunter constellation in its critique of a phsyicist’s irresponsible treatment of its main character, Elham, played by Nasim Kiani).

As a result of its pace, The Hunter is a film that many might dismiss as dull and slow. However, these supposedly ‘negative’ elements of the film really reveal the call for freedom in Iran – and in a way that is seemingly novel for Iranian cinema.

For, by giving us a thriller/non-thriller, Pitts’ film marks a shift towards at least some acknowledgement of mainstream film audiences as a potential target for his political/artistic ambitions (even if distribution companies subsequently crush this by marketing the film in ways that do not reflect what or how the film is).

It is not that Iran does not have a mainstream cinema. However, rarely does this mainstream cinema from Iran receive large audiences in the West (except, perhaps, in Los Angeles and other areas with large diasporic Iranian communities). It is generally ignored by the commercial cinemas and not given much of a chance in film festivals. In part, this prejudice against Iranian mainstream cinema is propagated by Iranian scholars in the West, particularly Hamid Dabashi, who rarely has a good word to say about it. And in part this prejudice is also unjustified.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, for example, is widely feted (not least by Dabashi) as one of Iran’s greatest art house filmmakers. However, his early film Baykot/Boycott (Iran, 1985), which Dabashi does mark as being Makhamalbaf’s first ‘mature’ film (and he says that the films prior to this one can go into the trashcan), is most certainly a political action film, with shootouts and chases galore. In comparison to his better known Nun va Goldoon/A Moment of Innocence (Iran/France, 1996), Gabbeh (Iran/France, 1996), and Safar e Ghandehar/Kandahar (Iran/France, 2001), Boycott is rarely discussed. It is as if this more commercial film somehow did not count (and as if many people had drawn the line in a slightly different place from Dabashi and consigned this one to the trashcan, too).

Furthermore, I have been trying to publish work for some time now on Tahmineh Milani, exploring her work as a similar example of a woman who makes mainstream and popular films that are not only not bad, but in fact are good and, regardless of their ‘quality,’ are certainly worthy of scholarly attention (my would-be article, which is supposed at some point to come out in this journal, or one of its affiliates, is about Milani’s film Atash bas/Cease Fire (Iran, 2006) a comedy about divorce that was the highest grossing film in Iran of all time).

Somewhat akin to Darbareye Elly/About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, Iran, 2009), which is currently showing as part of the first London Iranian Film Festival, which I saw last year in Paris, and which is also something of a thriller about a child who goes missing, The Hunter seems to want actively to move towards these mainstream and ‘genre’ films – and not away from them as has seemingly been the trend for some time in the areas of Iranian cinema that are most successful internationally, that is, its art house or ‘festival’ films (made by the likes of Makhamalbaf and his family, Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, and so on).

Again, not that The Hunter, About Elly, or, for that matter, Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh/No One Knows About Persian Cats (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran, 2009), which in its use of a hip hop and indy soundtrack at least makes moves towards a more ‘commercial’ and MTV-influenced aesthetic, are fully commercial films, but they are signalling a shift towards more commercially-minded endeavours.

What might the reasoning be behind this? Well, firstly, since Makhmalbaf and family have fled to Afghanistan, and since Kiarostami has fled to Europe, and since Panahi was placed under house arrest by the Iranian government, perhaps filmmakers need now to occult even more their opposition to the powers that be. And while some, Ghobadi and Esmati included, have gone ‘underground’ to make their films, others – in a manner somewhat akin to André Breton, who in his Second Surrealist Manifesto suggested that surrealism also needed to hide in more commercial ventures if it was to retain its political power – have moved closer to the mainstream, because there is no point only making festival films that reach a small, if willing, audience that is already ready to hear what the film has to say (via its mise-en-scene, as seems the case in The Hunter).

If film is to be part of the effort to bring about change in Iran, against whose repressive regime The Hunter seems indirectly to be something of a call to arms, perhaps appealing not just to the international cinerati of the festival circuit, but (can I speculate?) a hopefully wider audience at home, is the most likely way of making this happen.

There is a scene in The Hunter where Ali drives on to the hillside outside of Tehran, perhaps to the very same spot that Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) goes to die in Ta’m e guilass/Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France, 1997), the film that won its director the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and arguably which launched or cemented the trend for Iranian ‘festival’ films around the world.

Not so much a critique per se of Kiarostami, whose Certified Copy (France/Italy/Iran, 2010) feels like something of a ‘cop out’ as the director decides not to engage with Iran in order to make wordy films about high art (can we really blame Kiarostami, though?), the moment in The Hunter, which bears a striking resemblance to the setting in Taste of Cherry, does seem to link this film to that film’s sense of hopelessness and the feeling of oppression (no one knows why Badii wants to die, or if they do, I can’t remember), but, given the violence of The Hunter, Badii’s resignation is implicitly criticised in the face of Ali’s desire to take up (maniacal) arms.

The Hunter, then, may yet signal/be part of a new evolution in Iranian cinema, the ‘mainstream’-seeming but deeply political cinema that accompanies the ‘underground’ movement signalled by Ghobadi and Esmati. In comparison, Kiarostami’s Certified Copy does seem somewhat irrelevant, a generic art house film in one of the worst senses of the word, but this is not to rule Kiarostami out, since who knows where he will go next, and we could argue that the mythical epic that his female audience watches in Shirin (Iran, 2008) also signals the increasing need for a mainstream presence in Iran’s art house cinema/the need for Iran’s art house cinema to hide itself a bit more in ‘mainstream’-seeming/’generic’ films. As Iran’s cinema evolves, however (with Kiarostami’s move to Europe perhaps a very important personal evolution, even if it is somewhat lost on me), we are certainly witnessing a cinema that has life in its bones yet. For all of the problems that Ahmadinejad’s Iran seems to impose on its citizens, and for the damnation that faces me for saying it, perversely this makes for exciting and dynamic times in Iranian cinema (cue Graham Greene and Orson Welles on Italy, the Borgias, art, Switzerland, and the cuckoo clock).

Becoming Light (on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

Blogpost, Film reviews, Thai cinema, Uncategorized

For Einstein, light was the absolute limit of the universe. In his view, provided I have understood it correctly, nothing can move faster than light.

Without light we cannot see. This does not mean per se that we cannot sense without light, but even non-seeing species have skin that is sensitive to light and also to the warmth that light brings. Plants, for example, convert light into growth and life – as per photosynthesis. Perhaps human vision is simply the very long and slow development of photosensitivity (sensitivity to light) as a means of survival.

Human perception seems to be based on the ability to see different objects. Different objects are visible as a result of the simultaneous existence of light and, as far as the human eye is concerned, the ability of organised and solid matter to reflect and to absorb certain frequencies of the light spectrum.

If there was no light, there would only be darkness. Without any light to see, then, we might be able blindly to bump into things, but our ability to divide the world into different objects, surfaces and so on and so forth might be heavily compromised.

Similarly, if objects all absorbed and reflected the same frequencies of light, then we would not be able to see depth or different objects; all would be monotonous as we fumbled blindly in a ganzfeld.

We have light, then, and we have matter.

It is only as light travels into ’empty’ space that it illuminates things for us to see them. Without that light, that section of the universe is as good as non-existent; it is only when/that we can see it that it can be said to exist. In this sense, space is only as big as the area into which light can/has fallen.

We know how old the universe is because of how big the universe is. It is because light has an absolute speed that we can put a time value on the distance value; in fact, we cannot really measure distance without measuring time. In some senses, then, speed (namely, light speed) is the known measure of the universe. Time and space are inseparable; one is the measure of the other.

This part of the argument is somewhat harder to follow: if light allows us to see different objects in space, then perhaps light is also useful in allowing us to perceive different moments in time. If without light all objects in space would not so much cease to exist but collapse into one, inseparable chaos, then so, too, might this happen with time. An absence of light would not necessarily lead to the cessation of change (over time), but it would lead to an inability to perceive difference over time. That is, radioactive material might still decay at a predictable rate, but we’d not be able to measure this.

If light is what enables time and space, because it enables the perception of both spatial and temporal difference (and I would take these arguments further, since they are somewhat incomplete here, if sufficient for the hypothetical argument I wish to make in this blog), then light also enables history and memory. History is the process of change itself – the ongoing creation of differences that is perhaps the stuff of all life. And memory is the imprint of that change; it is perhaps, after a fashion, its own form of photosynthesis – an intake of light that is stored in the body, but converted into something else, something that allows us to grow by allowing us to retain information and to learn. It is, like a plant photosynthesising light, not a direct storage procedure, but a transformation, a turning of light into some form of energy, here called memory.

In this sense, memory is a form of photosensitivity (and here I can expand a little outwards from the ‘limited’ argument confessed to above: by ‘light’ I suppose I am talking about waves in the widest sense of the word – we may only see 5 per cent of the light spectrum; I am talking about all frequencies of eletromagnetic radiation; I might even say that I am talking about all that touches us – sounds and matter included, but this is a much bigger argument I cannot get into here, but it seems vaguely plausible provided I have not misunderstood the occasionally derided theory of superstrings, whereby all – everything – may consist of base ‘particles’ that vary in mode as opposed to kind).

If memory is considered as a form of photosensitivity, then it is important to remember that memory needs matter, it needs a body for storage purposes.

The problem with matter is that it changes over time. Or rather, part of this change, as far as the temporary units of organised matter that are called human beings are concerned, is death – and death does pose a problem to those who are particularly attached to their bodies (as we all can but be, whether we ‘like’ our bodies or not).

I occasionally take the radical point of view that there is no death, per se; the matter of which I consist will travel onwards and be involved in ever more intricate/basic (self-)designs, regardless of my involvement as ‘me’ in the process. Even though I say so myself, this is radical, because I do not draw a hard and fast line between life and death; I see life as a process of organisation, as the process of organisation. The principle requirement for organisation is matter. That is, all matter has the potential for life; I just happen to be a clump of matter that is more intensely or complexly organised (and by virtue of my relative complexity, I would hazard that I am a relatively inefficient organisation of matter, if the KISS rule of Keeping It Simply, Stupid applies here as it does in most places). And since I measure that potential as being real, I conclude – like I say, occasionally – that everything is alive, that there is only life.

By ‘only life’ I don’t necessarily mean only life; I’ll get on to that in a sec. But first: why only occasionally? Because I am of course scared of dying when on occasion I feel the vanity of not knowing what it would be like without my body. And second: light is a wave and a particle; light is life as much as the more recognisable objects around us (‘matter’) are life, according to my slightly wacky proposition.

If it is our bodies that set the limit to memory storage – if our bodies expire, and basically we humans are bound to die – then one means of trying to survive beyond our physical deaths would be to outsource as much of existence as possible from our bodies.

If memory is the incorporation of light in its widest form (if it is ‘experience’ felt in the body), then we reach something of a cul-de-sac: how can we do without our bodies, when every attempt at outsourcing experience (i.e. technology, including cinema) requires our bodies in order to exist? In fact, technology perhaps constitutes that (admittedly changing) boundaries of our bodies as much as we constitute the boundaries of technology (though whether we can actually pin a boundary down regarding where I begin and it ends is not something I would like to try to do with any accuracy at all).

One way might be to change the nature of that body; that is, to have a body that is dispersed across space and time in such a way that it is always alive, if that makes sense. To be omnipresent in terms of time and space. There is a substance that is the limit of time and space, and which therefore might a convenient tool both for memory storage, but also for the embodiment of our continued selves that, through this new ubiquitous and everlasting ‘body’, would ‘live forever.’ That is, if one could become light, then perhaps one could live forever.

Cinematography means writing with movement; but cinema is dependent on light in order to exist – both in terms of its construction and in terms of its reception. To become light, therefore, might involve some element of becoming cinema. Or rather, to become cinema feeds into the idea of immortality, via becoming light.

The title character of Loong Boonmee raleuk chat/Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands, 2010) explains a dream he has had. In this dream, ‘future people’ exist as images, or so Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) seems to suggest. ‘Past people’ are not welcome in this world, and when they are discovered, they find themselves projected in such a way that, for this viewer (me), they are brought into ‘the future.’ This involves, presumably, leaving their bodies behind.

This obviously has geopolitical resonance. In a film that, like others of director ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul, pits modernity, particularly in the form of medicine, against ‘tradition’ – in the form of superstition, religion and, most of all, nature as manifested in the jungle, there is a sense in which Uncle Boonmee is about that which is not – that which perhaps cannot – be made into a film. That which cannot or is not allowed to become cinema. This is geopolitical, because within the (admittedly and alas quite specialised) realm of cinema, there are the stars (those which have become light, as stars are) of mainstream cinema – and then there are the forgotten whose existence onscreen is only ever as a minority – if they exist onscreen at all.

Cinema has a tendency, then, of leaving out ‘past people,’ and/or if it spots them, it projects them, too, on to a wall such that they also become light. But that which is apparently ‘worthy’ of cinema – that which attracts the most attention in terms of audiences (who are inculcated only to ‘like’ certain types of cinema) – is only that which is glamorous and spectacular. The slow, the obscure, the unpretty, the old: these are things that for most people are not ‘worthy’ of cinema. And yet this is precisely what cinema, if it were democratic, can and should bring to light. And, within the rarefied field of ‘film festival films,’ perhaps it does.

But this is not without its paradoxes. For, to lose one’s body and to become light, to become a spectacle that is/has only a spectral/unbearably light existence is to forego life; it is to become a spectre, or ghost. To become immortal, one must perhaps die in the most profound sense of the word: one renounces the possibility of change, the possibility ever of becoming something different again, instead being fixed forever in a limited form by the images that become our constitution.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Boonmee seems to fear the contents of his dream. For as he knows too well thanks to his ailing kidney, he is his body. And if immortality requires the giving up of the body, then the immortality that is becoming light, that is becoming cinema, is fundamentally to give up what he is.

In other words, cinema can never truly depict that which it seeks to; it can never truly have a body in the material sense that humans have bodies, even if the human body is a constituent, perhaps the key component of the cinematic experience. Or rather, if light is matter, it is not the same matter as human life is at present.

What is the difference between the matter of light and the matter of a human (or other) body?

I shall answer this question shortly, but first I shall try to reconstitute the above in a different fashion, one that is far too JudeoChristian/Western for Uncle Boonmee (as a Thai film), but which seems relevant. It is ironic that so much Christian thought relies upon the renunciation of the body, based as it is upon the purging of sins committed by the flesh, since to be made up of flesh seems an originary sin without which none of us is. For if to be without a material body is to be light, then to be ‘en-light-ened’ (the ‘civilising’ drive of the West as it brings the rest of the world into the age of Empire) is also to be prey to Lucifer, whose name means ‘bearer of light.’ In other words, there is potentially a satanic element to becoming light.

This must be worked through a little bit more, as per the question above. Light is a form of matter, just a form that is different from the organised body that we inhabit if we have eyes, brain or internet voice software to read or hear this blog. So if I am talking about becoming light as a means of constituting a different form of body, what is it that I mean?

Principally, it is this: as humans made up of matter, we are not simply made up of light, even if the ‘particles’ that in string theory potentially constitute everything are the same ‘in’ light as they are ‘in’ me and other ‘solid’ forms of matter. What particles we are made from are in a different mode (or oscillating at a different frequency) to light itself (which must be the case, since if we oscillated at the same frequency as light, we would not be able to tell it apart from ourselves; it is the different speed, or temporality, of our oscillations that individuate not just us as human beings, but all different bits of matter; different temporalities articulate difference itself; in short, every thing has a different tempo).

In fact, humans are not made uniquely from light; we are also made of what I shall term darkness.

I term it darkness because this is as good a term as any to think of that which is ‘not light.’

It is also useful because we know that we need darkness in order to see. Blinking in the human’s way of periodically assuring that we continue to see. Not only does this protect our photosensitive eyes from too much light – which would blind us – but it also moistens our eyes so that the heat from the light does not dry them out, thereby similarly saving us from blindness (it does not matter what ‘colour’ blindness is; simply that blindness means an impaired or void capacity to see difference).

These seemingly imperceptible periods of darkness help us to see. However, there is more darkness to us. Our brains are permanently in darkness, as are most of our insides, unless we happen for some sad reason to be ripped open. Our skin is the barrier that separates us from but also connects us to the world, and our skin is photosensitive, as we know from its fluctuating pigmentation under sunlight (and sunbeds). We do feel things beneath our skin, from vibrations in our viscera, to memory in our muscles. But these things are for the sake of present circumstances invisible; they are in darkness – and they are as constitutive of who we are as any interaction we have with the light of this dimly lit universe. If we became wholly en-light-ened, these invisible parts of ourselves would be fundamentally destroyed; by being brought into the light, they would cease to be.

In other words, it seems that our bodies are darkness. We can reason that we die anyway, so if we became light, this death would only be a different form of death, perhaps less unpleasant, than the physical decay that our bodies will inevitably undergo. Indeed, if we are destined to evolve, then perhaps becoming light is the next step of evolution, so maybe all of this is a ‘good thing.’ Why the long face about the end of darkness, then?

Perhaps what I am terming geopolitics can once again step in to help us think about this: if humans are destined to evolve in this fashion, then so be it. But perhaps there is no need to impose this process on everyone. If ‘darkness’ is all that one has, then perhaps some people do not want to or would feel unhappy about the prospect of having even that taken away from them under the presumption that other people know what’s best. Perhaps some people do not want to live forever. Why force it on them?

Alongside economic and military warfare, perhaps cinema is the imperialistic tool par excellence – and by cinema I mean here cinema in its most expanded form, to include maybe all audiovisual media, but certainly the mainstream ones. It is arguably a force for homogeneisation – the rendering similar/same of all things, the production of a cultural ganzfeld in which difference is lost.

If this ‘ganzfeld‘ is created by making everything visible, then within the geopolitical realm of cinematic production and distribution (and reception?), there resides an enormous paradox: maybe some filmmakers need to resist the ‘monstrous’ drive of cinema to show any and everything (‘monstrous’ because montrage, from the French montrer, to show, wants to show us everything; the word also implies the economic imperative of exploiting all things for profit by showing/making a spectacle out of them; as Jean-Luc Nancy has pointed out, moneo, implying a warning, is also the root of money; perhaps showing (etymological) roots are the money of all evil).

If some filmmakers take up the challenge of hiding things, of working with the invisible, of working with and in darkness, then Thai cinema emerges as particularly relevant – though I could not be sure as to why. For one of the most important moments in recent cinema, a moment that brings us to the black hole of cinema, can be seen at the climax of Weerasethakul’s Sang sattawat/Syndromes and a Century (Thailand/France/Austria, 2006), in which the camera tracks calmly around an empty room before honing in slowly on the black hole that is the end of a ventilation shaft/extractor fan.

All that we can see is supported by all that we cannot (consciously) see. To emphasise, as cognitive film studies perhaps tends to do, the purely visible elements of cinema is to miss half the story (not least because of the darkness that lies between every cinematic frame). That which exceeds our vision is always inherently in the image: the excess incessantly ‘inceeds’ the image, even if it exceeds our vision.

A final paradox: perhaps light itself is invisible, too. We can see the objects illuminated by light because they absorb some frequencies and reflect others. What it is harder for us to see is the light itself. As if each photon were only visible because it comes into contact with matter in another mode, contact which switches it from invisible to visible. As if vision itself were vision of vision; that is, the photon is invisible until it touches matter in another mode, which switches it from invisible to visible, meaning that we cannot see, but can only see that we can see. As if within light itself there were its opposite, or darkness.

The blind leading the blind.

I need to sign off, and so beg forgiveness for these ill-considered thoughts. If at all they merit interest, there will be more to come, but not within the time and word limits my body has set for myself tonight.

Certainly there is a great mystery afoot, a black hole the effects of which we can see even though we cannot see it itself, and which lies at the core of our understanding of cinema, perhaps ourselves, and perhaps the universe we inhabit (which is a too bold proclamation to make by far, no doubt).

If it cannot be seen, then perhaps it cannot be shown, even if we can see its effects and claim at times to feel it. Perhaps it is the God particle that is also made up of fragments of soul. Time must also be considered more thoroughly to get into this conundrum.

This blog cannot do so tonight and perhaps will never do so as much as watching Uncle Boonmee, together with Syndromes and a Century, can do. But these are – I wonder, I vainly hope – the absolute limits of… something. Lame last sentence: no wonder the Cannes jury felt that it was worthy of this year’s top honours.

Mike Leigh in Ruins

Blogpost, British cinema, London Film Festival 2010, Uncategorized

This blog is not going to say Mike Leigh is really in ruins. With his new film, Another Year (UK, 2010), Mike Leigh proves that he is still on good form. But the idea is also to compare this new film at least in part to Robinson in Ruins (UK, 2010), the new documentary from Patrick Keiller, and which I saw at the 2010 London Film Festival.

For both films are concerned with the decay of a certain mode of British existence and both films are concerned with history.

Condescending towards his characters. The characters are stereotypes. Bittersweet. These are the stock opinions and phrases that are wheeled out to discuss the work of Mike Leigh. All hold true here, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Another Year centres around the Hepple family, which consists of Tom (Jim Broadbent), Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a couple in late middle-age, and Joe (Oliver Maltman), their 30-year old son. Tom is a geologist; Gerri is a counsellor; Joe is, from what I can tell, a barrister. They are all, after a certain fashion, happy go lucky, in that they all make light and learn to find the positive side of the tribulations and slings that life puts in their fortunate way.

They have a lovely house, a back garden, and an allotment somewhere in London (not specified, unless I missed it). They also have a small group of friends that includes:

– Mary (Lesley Manville), who is perhaps in her late forties, who is single, and who desperately wants to find a man, preferably a young man, perhaps even Joe;
– Ken (Peter Wight), who is an old university friend of Tom and Gerri, who is similarly single and in need of love, and who lives in Hull;
– Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom’s brother, who towards the end of the film becomes a widower, and who moves down to stay from Derby with Tom and Gerri.

There are other friends – but these are the main ones.

Mary and Ken in particular drink like fishes. In fact, each sequence in the film is more or less divided into Tom and Gerri receiving house guests, notably Mary and Ken, and watching them get pissed as a way to cope with their nervousness and with their solitude. Tom and Gerri do drink, but not like these people.

Mary and Ken come in for the worst treatment. Ken is a fat lad who is annoyed with the fact that ‘his’ pubs in Hull are now populated by young lads – particularly graduates (Ken graduated from Manchester with Tom and Gerri) – who make a lot of noise. In one particular scene, he drinks about four large glasses of red wine in about three minutes while delivering a rant with his mouth full of food about the above decline in his social life: the UK does not want old people to be seen or heard.

As he scoffs more food (despite having a seemingly empty plate) and drinks more wine, we cut to shots of Gerri in particular looking down at his glass of booze, which he then slugs in an oblivious fashion – as if his behaviour were beyond his control/he was beyond the censure of others.

Similarly, Mary gets pissed round at Tom and Gerri’s place, she seeks to flirt with Joe (and Tom on occasion), and she expresses repeatedly her angst and nervousness at being alone in the world. Men have treated her poorly, while there is also a sense that she ‘wasted’ a good chunk of her life working in bars in Mallorca and Corfu (perhaps chasing dreams that Shirley Valentine might also have chased), and, perhaps, that she has addled her brain from smoking a lot of pot, also in her youth.

Booze features prominently in the film: Tom, Gerri, Joe and Ronnie drink it more or less constantly, but Ken and Mary drink it most of all, since they drink it copiously and constantly. Furthermore, Tom and Gerri repeatedly hint at both of their friends that they should stop drinking or cut down – though never outright do they say it.

Instead, the film is indeed full of furtive glances at the glasses of these characters as they become drained. And slowly it begins to emerge that Tom and Gerri do actually judge their friends. Not obviously, but implicitly.

This is made most clear through the role that their house plays in the film. Aside from a few brief forays on to the road (with Mary, who has a new car; with the Hepples as they travel to the funeral of Ronnie’s wife; a golf course; opening shots of everyone at work), the house and Tom and Gerri’s allotment are the only settings for this film. Coming to stay with the Hepples is a real treat for Ken and Mary – as it is for Ronnie at the end of the film.

In fact, Ronnie’s Derby home is depicted as about as grim a 1950s north Midlands house as you could wish for: VCR stacked on top of old television about four foot from the settee, with an unwelcoming grey-green wallpaper, cramped hallway and staircase, tiny kitchen for one. “This place has not changed,” says Tom, or words to that effect when arrives at his brother’s house.

The implication being that he has left and never really bothered to return to Derby, since he has, unlike Jenny from An Education (Lone Scherfig, UK, 2009), had an academic education, and he has used this to escape from the grim north and down to the beautiful south.

Never would the Hepples entertain the idea of staying with Ronnie, nor even of helping him out from a distance. The only way to make Ronnie’s life better is to take him into their homely pad where he can rehabilitate/come to terms with his grief.

Similarly, although Mary and Ken both describe their pads, we never to get to see them; why would we want to? They don’t want to be at home; they’d rather be chez Hepple, too. And so the assumed betterness/superiority of the Hepple household is confirmed in the mise-en-scène of the film, which does not allow us into the homes of the other characters.

With the ‘betterness’ of their home comes a sense of betterness more generally. Joe reveals this early on: in his job, he represents an old man, Mr Gupta (Badi Uzzaman), who has been ill and who now faces repossession if the court does not find that he has not been paying his bills due to the enforced absence that his illness provoked. “Hmmm, lovely,” says Joe to Gupta and his young lady friend (Meneka Das), when she explains to him that they own a restaurant. Joe’s tone is one of condescension and is met with awkwardness by Gupta and the friend.

As if the aspiration of owning a restaurant were a bad one – although Mike Leigh did make much of a fool out of Aubrey (Timothy Spall) in Life is Sweet (UK, 1990), who opened and aspired to make a success of the Regret Rien.

Where Aubrey does come to regret his restaurant, though, it would seem as though Tom and Gerri here have little to regret – while Mary and Ken’s lives are full of nothing but. And because they have nothing to regret, because everyone wants to come round their house, they can look upon others not with disdain per se, but with a hidden and never-to-be-expressed self-congratulatory sense of self that is in fact fundamentally disinterested in other people as, precisely, people.

More on this: Tom has evidently not been to Derby for a long time – and so is obviously not particularly bothered to keep in touch with Ronnie. However, he then chides Ronnie’s son, Carl (Martin Savage) for not being involved in family life with father Ronnie and his late mother, for not being a good son and staying in touch with his parents. Carl is a bad son, while Tom is a good brother – when he wants to be. Unspoken/unseen in the film are presumably all of the times that led to Tom and Ronnie being such different, perhaps even opposite, people, despite being from the same family.

Family is everything here, as Gerri says to Mary at one point – again provided that that family is nice and cosy – and when everything is nice and cosy it is easy to sermonise to others about how badly they lead their lives.

Gerri’s turn: one of the opening scenes of the film shows Gerri talking to Janet, a woman who is sleepless and who is depressed, who gives her life a 1 out of 10, and who would not change anything but everything about it if she could. Janet does not want treatment, really, from Gerri, but she has to go if she wants her sleeping pills.

That said, while Janet may ostensibly be set up as a key figure (not least because she is played by Imelda Staunton), she in fact disappears from these opening moments in the film and never surfaces again. As she expresses resistance to Gerri’s desire to ‘help’ her, Gerri ends up saying that only Janet can decide whether to come to therapy or not – the implication being that Gerri feels that only therapy can help Janet, and that it is Janet’s fault if she does not want to help herself.

Loaded into this, if it is accepted as what is going on in the film, is a deep-seated self-righteousness that could never even be pointed out to the character were they alive to hear it, because even if they did hear it, immediately it would be denied, since every safety mechanism has been created to disengage as and when any trouble comes along and to blot out of her life anything that does not conform to expectations.

Take Gerri’s rejection of Mary. Mary acts like a silly heartbroken girl when finally she meets Katie (Karina Fernandez), Joe’s girlfriend, who also works in medical care (looking after old people, no less). However, while Mary is acting like a heartbroken 12-year old, it is not entirely her fault. However manic and imbalanced she is as a character/person (and the transparent nature of Mary’s character, in that she can do nothing to hide her desperation, might lead some to accuse Mary in particular of being a character condescended to, deprived of any real soul or depth, and played as a stereotype by Manville), it is not as if this car crash had not been anticipated. Joe flirts something rotten with Mary – and in front of his parents. He gets Mary to drink-drive him to Kings Cross, before dumping her with Ken, who is also cadging a lift to his train back to Hull. And he stares relentlessly at her to gauge her reaction to Katie when they are introduced. Something very cruel is going on here, principally through Joe, but with the whole family’s complicity, too. And having set a trap that someone like Mary would never be able to avoid, Gerri can soundly reject Mary, as can Tom and the others. And hereafter the knives come out: even though Mary has already been described as ‘special’ by Joe to Katie just prior to their first encounter, come their second one – months later – Katie is happy to make unpleasant gestures about Mary when she cannot see them.

Don’t get me wrong; Katie can indeed feel irked by Mary’s behaviour. She least of anyone could have anticipated how she would act upon discovering Joe to be in a relationship. But she quickly gets in on the game that sees the Hepples play the welcoming and warm-hearted family as long as it is on their terms and as long as no one steps on their toes – and quickly they will find a ruse not only to eject people from that place when they want to, but also in such a way that it is the fault of the other person and they can feel good about themselves. Classic passive-aggressives – as Gerri’s treatment of Janet and as her judging eyes on Ken and Mary’s wine glasses also show.

The question becomes: does the film share in this ‘passive-aggressive’ behaviour? Sort of. Carl is dismissed as a thug (perhaps it is relevant that he has moved further north than Derby, to Yorkshire, where it is even more grim than down in lov-er-ley Lahndahn). And Ken is a bore.

Given that the scene featuring Ken drinking an amazing amount in such a short space of time, and given that while doing this he is permanently chewing on food that is not on or from his plate (or so it would seem), Another Year seems to want to make an eating and drinking spectacle of Ken – and that rather than portray him realistically, we have instead a stylised rendering of gluttonous behaviour, masquerading as realism, as is Mike Leigh’s way. Is this Gerri’s point of view, then? Is the porcine Ken that we see in fact the version of Ken that Gerri is looking at and judging? Or does the film itself wish to say that Ken actually is this bacchanalean, and that we are therefore not given Gerri’s point of view in a calculated and signalled manner, but instead are sutured into her point of view, which is also the view of the film itself? That is, does the film endorse Gerri and, by extension, the rest of her family, or does it implicitly critique them?

To be honest, on this score I am not sure. Mary is treated like a fool, but this is okay because she acts like a fool. She buys a new car in this film, making her something of a grown-up version of Poppy (Sally Hawkins) in Happy-Go-Lucky (UK, 2008), Mike Leigh’s last sortie. In that film, Poppy learns to drive with Scott (Eddie Marsan), only to find that he is psychotic, and here Mary gets behind the wheel only to be led on in the car by Joe, groped by Ken and ripped off by the guys that sold the motor to her, since constantly it breaks down – although it is also her fault because she drives and parks badly (as well as while under the influence).

Not only might we implicitly find a message that the freedom of movement engendered by driving is ‘not for women’ (something that arguably continues with Sally Hawkins into Made in Dagenham (Nigel Cole, UK, 2010)), but also that where Poppy had aspirations to drive but learns to be happy with what she has, a miserable old wreck is where she might end up if she continues on. Except Poppy, being a teacher, had perhaps more of the Gerri than the Mary in her. So perhaps she will be fine. Maybe not an older version, then, but Mary is somehow Poppy gone wrong.

The film ends with Mary being allowed (as opposed to being invited) to sit again around the Hepple table as Tom, Gerri, Katie and Joe talk about all of the travelling that they have done and will do. Tom used to work in Australia and he and Gerri took seven months to travel back. It may not be the same thing, but Joe and Katie are going to Paris for the weekend (and we know that Joe has gone for the weekend to Dublin on a stag, too). Mary and Ronnie, meanwhile, sit silent, at the table but not party to the conversation. Mary, we know, had to choose between a holiday and her car; having chosen the car, it then broke down on the one time that she wanted to go on holiday – to Brighton – and in fact ended up back at the place where she grew up, Crawley. Ronnie, we suspect, has not left Derby for years.

It is not so much that there are generations of people who now have access to cheap travel via low-cost airlines and the like (although this may be true). It is more that the educated classes of any/every age get to travel and enjoy the world – and to be happy – while the non-educated, including Ronnie and Mary (who is ashamed of her secretarial qualifications in the face of Katie’s questioning about them), are left behind and can only dream of second hand travelling, of being at the Hepple family’s table, where they can hear talk of such things/avoid having to hear about them by drinking to excess.

Tom, Gerri and Ken were at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1968, as we learn from their reminiscences. 1968 was probably not the year I’d have chosen to be at the festival in the first three years of its running, since 1969 was Dylan and The Who, and 1970 was Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Joan Baez and Miles Davis, while 1968 was ‘merely’ Jefferson Airplane and T Rex. But, of course, 1968 is the iconographic year of the youth movement and the Paris ‘revolution.’ It is made relatively clear that Tom et al did not really take part in/love the 1968 festival in the way that many hippies might have done at the time, but at least they were there. But implicit in this might be the notion that whatever 1968 stood for, they have perhaps sold out on it, swapping a wish for equality for condescension, while those who try still to relive their youth (Ken and Mary) are made fools of/are shown as fish out of water.

The older I get, the more I realise that history is important. This is a sentiment expressed by Tom when in bed with Gerri one night. And yet, he seems not to be able to connect with history, in that Tom did not really live 1968 as the myths have it as being lived. Or rather: for Tom, history is best when it is just that – history and subject to amnesia that misremembers one’s part in it. Meanwhile, Ken and Mary who try to keep the past alive, who in effect live ‘historically’ are derided. History is important, but it is Tom and Gerri that forget it, while Ken and Mary seem to want to live it. As such, it seems problematic not that the film explores these issues, but rather that the film wants us to take Tom and Gerri’s side, to ‘suture’ us into their point of view.

As such, the one-sidedness of Ken, Mary and Ronnie (which is not to mention Carl) seems deeply unfair and, indeed, condescending (Leigh as usual). Tom and Gerri are, as their name suggests, the real cartoon characters, while Mary, Ken and Ronnie have real issues to deal with. So closely have the Hepples worn the facade of happiness that they do not know how to get back to really living. The burden of really living is a hard one to bear, and it is easy to criticise a drink-obsessed culture when one disavows one’s roots and participation in it. But living a real life might indeed force one to seek solace in wine and beer. The Hepples have no real problems and so can frown upon drinking – they do not need it, in the same way that Janet does not need the sleeping pills, or so Gerri would have us believe.

And yet, no one perhaps needs drink and pills – and the provision thereof is in some respects therefore the ruin of the nation (whatever that is). But if you can do without drink and pills, then perhaps it is because happiness is, too, a social prosthetic used to hide the emptiness that lurks inside all human souls (?). Happiness is not something that we aspire to; it is something that we use to hide from reality (except that reality itself is vague enough to allow such a condition to be professed and upheld as, precisely, real). Happiness is a technology of the self: it helps us to understand ourselves – it is a tool.

Perhaps the real issue is the notion of selfhood, which could in other circumstances perhaps be called into question, and which perhaps was called into question in 1968. Ken, who, ironically enough, claims to have been born in 1896 – the year of cinema’s birth according to many of the records – also recalls going down the pub in his youth as a collective/group exercise. And he dreams of being part of the pack, or so it seems. And yet he cannot be.

Tom, who never really liked the crowds on the Isle of Wight, was always an individualist – prepared to create a small family because this was the best he could do to compromise between individualism and collective living; and those that really did pursue collective living, which I perhaps misread here as Ken and Mary, are left alone and to fend for themselves, idiots for having dreamt of something different.

Perhaps Another Year does not enact what it depicts. That is, the film does seem non-judgemental towards its characters – and we certainly are with Mary and Ronnie as the film ends and they sit silently as the Hepples and Katie talk off screen of hotels in the Marais. It is not that the film should come out and condemn the Hepples; far from it. Nor should it love Mary and Ken. But by not letting us into the lives of Mary and Ken (because Tom and Gerri are not really interested in doing so – or because the film is not really interested in doing so?), the film does run the risk of the usual Mike Leigh clichés.

That said, perhaps it is precisely for this head-scratching reason (is it the people or the film that finds Mary and Ken one-dimensional?), Another Year is deliciously ambiguous and sees Mike Leigh tread carefully through a Britain in ruins.

Meanwhile, Robinson in Ruins is Patrick Keiller’s long-awaited follow-up to London (UK, 1994) and Robinson in Space (UK, 1997).

In some senses, the film is no disappointment. Although Paul Scofield’s voice over has been replaced by the wry tone of Vanessa Redgrave, and although Robinson is no longer necessarily the character who always accompanies the speaker on his journeys, being instead now someone who comes and goes and who remains somewhat elusive, the film bears many of the traits of its two predecessors.

That is, the film is witty, informative, angry, and beautifully shot. It lingers on minor details of local and British history that most British folk would overlook as they busily travel around paying no attention to the very space through which they are travelling, obsessed instead as they are with the destination. As such, Patrick Keiller aims to take to his viewers the kind of passion about history that does allow us to know who we are and to learn – unlike Tom and Gerri, who seemingly talk a good game.

But much as I enjoyed Robinson in Ruins, I could not help wonder this, which is, unfairly to the film, the only thing I wanted to say about it, and which tenuously is only linked to this blog because of the films’ shared (at least professed) concern with history. And the ‘this’ that I referred to in the previous sentence goes as follows: as we are given yet more information about yet other places and details of history, one comes, or at least I came, to wonder that Robinson… is the first film of the Wikipedia age.

(Forget Facebook for the time being, though I may blog about that film at another time.)

For, hearing more and more details about various phenomena felt like clicking through on Wikipedia in order to achieve similar. I doubt that this would please Keiller at all, since one wonders that he wants precisely to present his films as somehow old fangled, hence the static cameras, the lingering takes of flowers in the wind, and so on. And Wikipedia is about rapid click-throughs (people hate an entry with too much information). So while diametrically opposed, I wondered if Robinson… and Wikipedia are in fact two sides of the same coin. And that may be this: the more we wish to preserve every detail in films like Robinson… and online, the more these prosthetic memories/our drive to outsource our need/desire to have to remember things, the less, indeed, we do remember things. Heaven forbid, because in so many ways do I disagree with myself for saying this, but Keiller may even be like Tom Hepple: history becomes important to him, but only a version of history that agrees with what he wants history to be. In this sense, both Leigh and Keiller’s perhaps ‘modern’ films are read ‘against the grain’ as ‘postmodern’ – and in fact are revealed to accelerate the ruination of the very thing that celluloid might otherwise have preserved.

Mickey Mouse Studies (for ODC)

Film education, Uncategorized

It is a tale told in a voice of urgency. It is a tale told in a state of extreme fatigue. It is important to enter into states of extreme fatigue, into extreme states. Knut Hamsun knows that it is by entering into liminal/extreme states that one achieves a sense of otherness. By going to places to which the body is not used, the mind must follow – and as a result new thoughts can be found, because new physical conditions are the conditions for new modes of thought, new mental conditions – or at least Spinoza might claim that this is so. What follows may not be new thoughts to you; they are not necessarily new thoughts to me – but they are thoughts that have tonight been illuminated by the spotlight of consciousness such that they merit attention in the form of comment. In the form of a blog.

Watch this. It will help.

It seems apparent that the Browne Report will involve a huge cut, maybe a 100 per cent cut, in funding for humanities at universities. What does this mean?

I am not sure – and never will be – that I grasp fully what is going on in the world. It’s a big world. It’s a world that is larger than I can fathom. How could I grasp fully the rationale behind the desertion of funding for the humanities in higher UK education? This is the response that logically will be given to this post (should anyone read it to want to respond): you don’t understand the bigger picture. Subtending this (as yet hypothetical) response is the supposition that the person who makes this claim does understand the ‘bigger’ picture – whatever that is.

I work in Film Studies: the camera can only take in as much information as it takes in, as can the human eye. If you have eyes to see the ‘bigger’ picture, then what you gain in size (‘bigness’), you lose in detail; what you gain in detail, you lose in size. By which I mean to say: I don’t know what the bigger picture is – because we all take light into our eyes, we all see – even the physically blind, and if I cannot trust my own sense of vision, in combination with my other senses – i.e. if I cannot trust my sense of self (whatever that is), then I must be blind. If I am blind, then my perceptions are pointless: I see nothing. If my own perceptions are pointless, then how can I perceive how pointful are the perceptions of others? And yet, it would be by telling me that I perceive poorly that my hypothetical antagonists would undermine what I am about to write. Well, I perceive as best I can, and I write as honestly as possible in accordance with my perception. And so if I am wrong, I apologise – but not to you who merely thinks me wrong – but to you, the invisible (to me – i.e. God) who knows me wrong.

(A problem with Film Studies regarding shot sizes: it seems to me that in general a close up is considered to be more ‘detailed’ than a long shot. But this is not the case. A close up is as detailed as a long shot. A close up fills the same amount of screen as does a long shot. As such, there is as much information in a close up as in a long shot. Indeed, a long shot is – permit some twisted argumentation – a close up of length, and a close up is a long shot of closeness. Like the camera, we take in as much as we can at any given moment in time. Our subjective existence is only ever as big as our subjective existence is – and if a pin prick destroys my belief in God, when others require an atom bomb for this to be the case, then the object of pin or bomb is irrelevant: the process of the destruction of faith is the thing that is important. As such, objects, which exist in space are often prioritised over happenings or processes, which exist in time. It does matter what is the catalyst. It matters, because the catalyst, the thing, has a material existence. It is made up of matter; as such, it matters. But in other ways, the thing does not matter at all – and the only thing that ‘matters’ is the process. It is the immaterial, the invisible that also, perhaps even really, counts: the process. Time is the overlooked element – because we impoverished souls cannot see it. But it is there, a black hole whose effects are visible everywhere while it itself can never be seen, because no light escapes from it. The Higgs boson as a particle of time; time as a physical entity. We are happy to accept that the bed that currently supports me is created from particles that have divergent origins – and if we separated this bed into its constituent particles, we would be happy, I suspect, to accept that each particle was not destined to become a bed, but that it had the potential to be a bed, that it had ‘bedness’ embedded within it. But we do not assume that time might be the same – which is what I wonder is the case: time, like space, consists of particles that, if we were to look at them from their point of ‘origin,’ would not cohere to the fleeting moments in time that are my breathing in and breathing out. Instead, they, like particles of space – like matter because they are material – in fact come from all over – and what coheres them together is simply organisation, as opposed to continued and persistent identity in the form of memory. Time seen from ‘without’ (Aeon) is not the opportunity for us to see the past and the future in a coherent sense; rather we see the chaos that is time, and it is the process of experiential time (Chronos) that makes ‘sense’ of time, and gives it a ‘chronology.’ Time in and of itself has no order; and what time we experience in life is the ordering of otherwise random particles, particles which, like those spatial particles that comprise a bed, come from all over the Aeon, are from any and everywhere, but which ‘randomly’/spontaneously cohere/self-organise. The point of this: to readjust the common assumptions made about time would be to readjust our common assumptions about identity, which in turn leads to challenges in the field of politics and ethics. In effect, to contemplate Aeon might lead to tangible changes in Chronos – in the way in which we lead our lives and act upon the shared assumption that we love each other.)

Back to the beef – and apologies if you are lost already – but it’s okay to get lost, because without getting lost you cannot find out where you are, you cannot re-think, I cannot learn: what do the proposed cuts in humanities funding suggest? Well, from my (by definition) limited point of view, they suggest a government-backed desire for universities not to encourage freedom of thought. Don’t get me wrong: a failure to back the humanities is not to say that the sciences, commonly if erroneously thought to be the humanities’ beautiful sister, do not encourage freedom of thought. Of course, the sciences do encourage freedom of thought. The sciences require freedom of thought for progress to happen. But it does mean that free thinking, perhaps the art that lends to the sciences its future, is undercut.

I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who works in Film Studies. Film Studies, as a relatively new discipline, often, like (New) Media Studies more generally, gets labelled a Mickey Mouse field of endeavour. What (the fuck) is the point of studying entertainment? Entertainment is simply there to entertain. It is not serious, and therefore is something not to take seriously.

Why do I think that Film, by which I mean the media more generally, is something to take seriously? Not only this, but why do I think that Film is perhaps the single cultural artifact to take more seriously than any other?

Firstly, the answer is in the way in which the question is posed. If one feels tempted to describe something like Film Studies as a Mickey Mouse endeavour, then the very fact that one uses a term from the history of film – Mickey Mouse – to describe the endeavour is highly significant. To describe Film Studies – among other disciplines – as ‘Mickey Mouse’ means that already one is influenced by the media – since Mickey Mouse is a media construct – that one wishes to dismiss. That is to say, to use the term ‘Mickey Mouse’ means that one is prey to not taking seriously precisely the media that helped to form the opinion that disciplines like Film Studies are ‘Mickey Mouse.’ If one is happy to use the term ‘Mickey Mouse’ without giving further thought to why one is using this phrase to describe this discipline, then the power of the media to hide their own operations already have you in their grip. We are encouraged not to take seriously the very thing that disavows how seriously we should take it. And, so I contend, as soon as we feel we should not take seriously something that shapes and helps to form our opinions, then this is the moment when we should begin to take these cultural influences – Mickey Mouse himself – most seriously indeed.

Teaching film is interesting: year after year (in the few, brief years I have been teaching it) I find students who express deep distrust in the idea that a piece of ‘mindless’ entertainment can influence our thinking. Two different but seemingly relevant examples come to mind.

Recently teaching Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928), conversation in class became obsessed with the idea that the prison guards who taunt and try to shame Joan (Falconetti) would not have had a metal pot – which occurs as a prop at one of these points in the film. It is not that students became concerned with the pot (which was raised as an example from them of an anachronism in the film) per se; or rather, I am not trying to single out a comment from a particular student as one in need of particular attention. That is, I am not trying to lord it over ‘ignorance,’ since I needed to go check on Wikipedia myself that metallurgy has been in recorded existence since at least 5,500BC. More, it is the idea that anyone – myself included – would think something like that 1431 would be an age in which metal would not be fashioned into something so basic as a pot/saucepan. By which I mean to say: that we collectively suffer from the perception that everything in the past was ignorant, and we are surprised – perhaps – by how long some ideas/technologies have been around.

I shall return to the above, but before that: secondly, in relation to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (Germany, 1927), a student put forward the idea that because the film is ‘old,’ the world that Metropolis depicts is old, is irrelevant, and therefore that the film has nothing to say to us today and is simply an (un)interesting artifact of a time gone by in which – again – people were somehow less ‘clever’ than they are today.

Why are these examples worth mentioning? Well, let’s start with the second one first. In conflating the age of the film with irrelevance, we/I see the strange effect that film has on our society. That is to say, because the film is ‘old,’ it is alleged that it also has nothing to say about today. That a society of rich people is subtended by a society of impoverished and imprisoned workers apparently has nothing to do with the present age, because such problems have been eradicated – or so the theory would go. I personally believe that while things may from certain points of view have gotten ‘better,’ the world today is not perfect – and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, in such a way that Metropolis remains a deeply relevant film – not least because it is set in the future, thereby suggesting that the ‘medieval’ not only coexists with the ‘modern,’ but that the modern needs the medieval to remain, precisely, medieval, in order for the modern to remain modern. But for someone to believe that this is so – that problems of class inequity – are today non-existent, an ‘artifact’ of the quaint and old-fashioned past, means that they are not given access to information that tells them about how such inequality not only persists but is the bedrock of contemporary privilege. And if they do not know/are in denial of the fact that problems of class/wealth do persist today, then this is perhaps because information about such things does not find its way into the media, is not publicised, which means that it does not find its way into the consensual consciousness. If people are not only unaware but also in denial of contemporary inequalities pertaining to wealth and class, and if this is related to the channels of information in the world, then a key question becomes: who has access to the channels of information/communication that do exist? Who controls these channels? And what is the agenda – be it conscious or otherwise – that determines the kind of information that is distributed via these channels? In other words: the media themselves, which here I umbrella under the term ‘film,’ determine our sense of the world – such that stories of class inequality are deemed to be ‘irrelevant,’ mythical even, in that they pertain to an age long since disappeared. Since this is not the case – that age of inequality is our age – the occultation of inequality via the media is something that we need to take very seriously. Cutting funding for the humanities – of which something like Film Studies forms a part – is to suggest that all is well with the media and the kind and channels of information that predominate. All may be ‘well,’ but to deny any encouragement critically to think about these things (via the removal of funding for the humanities) speaks of a complicity with – as opposed to a resistance to – the very messages and media that like to make themselves (the channels of communication and the agendas behind their content) invisible.

To return to the Joan of Arc example: this does not relate to Film Studies so much as to History – but the two are related. That we all are encouraged to think of our predecessors – the very humans that predicated our being here in the first place – as idiots and that everything that is ‘technological’ (i.e. pots and pans) is modern and ‘beyond’ the capabilities of those that lived less than 20 generations ago, is to fall foul of the idea that history in particular is not worth knowing. The past is another country, in the same way that countries that are ‘other’ to we Westerners are deemed somehow to be living in ‘the past,’ or ‘medieval.’ Film – and the media more generally – help to convey this message: if it ain’t fast and flashy, it is old and putrefied/shit. How fuckwitted might it be to assume that people from the past were fuckwits? And yet if – as I am contending – uncritically to think about our media and the messages that it distributes is also uncritically to assume that the contemporary saw the birth of everything ‘important,’ while the past was full of intellectual, cultural and moral retards, then a failure to take seriously the media that surround us might only lead further to this failure to grasp that at every moment in history, humans and all other creatures have been as brilliant (and probably as idiotic) as they can be. Perhaps we do not need to learn this lesson – in that no lesson is necessary, because we myopic humans cannot see time from without to know in advance what lessons will be useful to us before they become so. But that we can learn this lesson in and of itself means that we have developed a system of thought that probabilistically finds it useful to learn lessons – and in part to deny that – as the cutting of humanities funding seems to indicate – is not only to deny an opportunity not to re-perform the same mistakes as our ancestors, but it is also to deny in part something – learning from the past – that has become second/human nature.

Do the arts need funding to survive? Do the humanities? Nicholas Rombes has provocatively argued that young people today understand film and media far better than those that ‘educate’ them understand. In some respects, I have sympathy for this position. I do personally wonder that we have experienced something of a paradigm shift, starting with cinema, but continued with the digital era, whereby we think less in language and more in audiovision (for want of a better term, we think in ‘cinema’). Or rather: we – the multitude – have thought in cinema long before we have thought in language and will continue to do so. But language, not least because of the media, including voice and print press, that could distribute it, becomes the decentered medium for conveying thought, and is replaced by audiovision, by cinema, because cinema is more accurate, not least because it appeals to all of the senses, whereas ‘mere’ language – in many cases – appeals only to that supposedly rarefied – but in fact entirely embodied – phenomenon: the intellect.

If we think and, more importantly in the age of YouTube, if we express ourselves audiovisually, then the ‘translation’ that needs to take place in order for these audiovisually expressed thoughts and messages to be conveyed in the ‘old money’ of ‘rational’ and ‘academic’ language is always going to weaken the audiovisual message itself. Something – always – is lost in translation.

If this paradigm shift is happening/has happened, then perhaps the humanities do not need funding to survive. In the age of citizen tubing, then perhaps the arts do not, either. Or rather: maybe the arts and the humanities need funding in an absolute sense, but communication itself has changed such that language – spoken or written – no longer forms the core part of the process, but just another element, along with the tactile, sonorous and intellectual elements of film.

And if young people actually ‘speak’ audiovisual better than they ‘speak’ linguistic, then why waste money on training them to say in ‘old speak’ (i.e. in spoken/written language) that which they already understand through their bodies and which they already speak in audiovisual (here, ‘new’ speak)? In other words: why not cut funding in the humanities?

I am not saying that we should abandon spoken/written language; audiovisual does not replace it, but it sure as hell supplements and expands it. In fact, by this rationale, I think that not only should the humanities in general and Film Studies in particular benefit from continued governmental support, but that it is absolutely vital that this is the case. Otherwise we seriously risk alienation between generations and peers; we seriously risk failing to take seriously the ‘language’ that emerges when communication moves beyond words and into the realm of the senses. We the older people with the purse strings can moan all we like about how it is the fault of the young for not speaking our language; but it is our fault, similarly, for not speaking theirs. And humanities funding allows us to learn the (audiovisual) language of the young and to help it move into dialogue with the (linguistic) language of the old.

Do the arts need funding to survive? A year ago, I made a film called En Attendant Godard (UK, 2009). It has had some modest ‘success,’ and while I would be delighted to promise in this blog as a form of plug that I am happy to send the film to those that request it, provided they give me a postal address, the reason that I mention it is this. I made the film, which is far from being a good film (whatever that is), as a means of proving that one does not need funding anymore from anyone in order to make a… film. In other words, in the digital age if not before (but almost certainly before), artists do not need funding to survive.

(But it is not as if even the earliest professional artists did not need some form of payment – in terms of food and shelter – in order to survive. Artists need funding of a sort – but they will find a way to live even if their art is not what supports them in a material sense.)

To deprive people of things is to make them understand what they need, and it is to make them – perhaps – autonomous, in that they work out that of which they are deprived, and creatively they find ways to win it. Conceivably one might argue that there is a perverse benefit to cutting humanities funding: the humanities will have to find novel and innovative ways in order to remain relevant. Threaten it with death and at this moment it will feel most alive.

Beyond this, however, it was as a fuck you to funding bodies that I wanted to make the film. Not only that – but by having no funding, I could make the film I wanted, even if the film is (willfully) full of things over which I had no control and in which, in hindsight, I/the film revel – because having no control over, in particular, a large group scene that pays homage to Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, France/Italy, 1967), a scene that has had most criticism from people as a scene that should be cut from the film (as if other people knew better what the film should be [not because I do know better what the film should be, but perhaps precisely because no one can know what this, or any, film should be] meant that the film raised precisely these issues of what a or any film should be at all).

If I set out to ‘prove’ that one needs no funding to create art, and if I were successful in this bid (which is debatable), then what (the hell) am I complaining about? Well, what I feel upset about is that even if the unusual, even if the amateur, even if that most perplexing of phenomena in the capitalist world system – the uselesscan and will persist regardless of the lack of institutional support that comes it way, it is still an insult not to support such endeavours. Because I made this – and my next film, Afterimages – for no money, I hope that I am exempt here from sour grapes. If no one ever gives me money to make my films, this will not stop me from making them. No one can and no one will stop me. I shall not stop.

But, as at one point I make Alex, the main actor and character of En Attendant Godard, say, the world needs the useless, it needs the previously un-illuminated, it needs the (even willfully) opaque, in order for there to be progress. Not that progress is the movement towards a pre-defined goal or telos. Who knows that to which we are headed? But change, the hope for something better, is dependent upon that which is not now understood, in order for us to come to understand. If, perhaps contra Nicholas Rombes, we do not understand everything already, then we can only understand more, we can only learn, by coming into contact with that which we did not previously understand, with that which we did not previously know.

Even if I say so myself, there is more to my Godard film than this; but by isolating this aspect of the film, I want to reiterate, but now in a blog as opposed to in that film, that that which is now apparently useless can indeed come to be useful. And even if it never comes to be useful or liked, it has its place in the ‘grand scheme of things.’ But to rule out before the fact that neither the arts nor the humanities will have use or value, which seems to be the message of cutting humanities funding at universities, is precisely to pre-determine the (lack of) use and value of the arts – which historically do have incredible use and value, even if it is not clear, known or recognised at the time of that art work’s creation. (And I am not claiming that En Attendant Godard is this; I could not know if it will prove ‘useful,’ but I put it out there – as feebly/best as I can/could – in order at the very least to give it a try.)

(Trying: trying is a sign of faith. Being prepared to take risks is necessary, not as a thing, by which I mean one cannot know in advance – in spite of pressure to know in advance – what will be useful. If we knew, there would be no risk involved. But taking risks as a process is the cornerstone of progress – again, not towards a previously identified telos, but as a process in and of itself. The apparently ‘useless,’ therefore, is most useful. Outliers are de facto precisely that: people who lie outside of the currently useful. Not that EAG is useful – perhaps it never will be. But I put it out there in good faith that I am taking part in a human process of… good faith. Bad faith is risk aversion, a refusal to try anything new, a decision to forsake the foreign for the familiar – a decision to prejudge the foreign, to exclude, to dismiss, to show no interest, to ignore – be the object of that prejudice, exclusion, dismissal, disinterest and ignorance something from a different place or, in the case of ‘old films,’ from a different time.)

A paradox, which takes us in the direction of tautology, which perhaps is the profoundest level of insight that we can have about the world (namely, that it is as it is, even if we contribute to and change it, even if it is dynamic, precisely because it is dynamic, and any attempts at essentialisation/reification are doomed to failure): if art and the humanities can and will get by without governmental support in the UK – which they will because no government has nor will be able to stop a culture from becoming aware of itself – even if we educators are wrong in feeling that we play an active role in this education happening (because the students know it all already) and even if we are as a result of this already redundant, regardless of whether our employers make this officially so – then surely there is no problem in cutting funding regarding humanities and the arts?

In some senses, this is true.

But if you turn your back on the useless in favour of that which is deemed singularly useful, and if then the world changes, and you go rooting around to find that which earlier you discarded because now you realise it will come in very handy, but cannot find it because it has been destroyed in a fire, then you, my friend, are fucked.

You burn your humanities, you burn your past. And with no past, you have no future.

Idiots that people in the humanities are, though, you people who despise the humanities and who despise artists won’t be fucked. Because we’ll still be here when you do need us – and we’ll be here even if that day never arrives and you can die smugly saying that you got by without us because we were, indeed, as far as your existence was concerned, useless and you were correct in burning us off.

And like idiots, if ever you do need us, we’ll be ‘naïve’ enough according to your standards, to let you take advantage of us in the same way that school bullies occasionally condescend to the swots because they need their homework doing. You’ll think us weak for being ‘kind’ enough to help you, because your value system would never help anyone for free, because you value system is based not upon courage and having a heart/cœur, but upon, precisely, attributing ‘values.’ You’ll think us weak and you’ll never realise that it is only the strongest who can take your persecution, as opposed to feeling that to persecute is to show strength.

The paradox, the tautology: you are right to forsake the humanities. But you are wrong in thinking that this is because the humanities are the weak point in the world. The humanities, like the poor, are the strongest. You may never learn that we let you fuck us over because we are the only ones that can take it and you are fools that need to feel justified in your military industrial sense of self. Artists, like people from the past, are from your perspective idiots. You feel like you suffer us. But the truth is that we suffer you. We, in fact the multitude that you wish was yourself, hence your need to try to make everyone into a person of use and value, are not the people that need you; to cut the humanities funding proves that you need us. You need us precisely to sacrifice us, tautologically to make us the others we always already were.

The ‘you’ and ‘we’ just described, though, are actually just a ‘we’: we are all together, and to divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’/’you’ is potentially counterproductive. We need we in our diversity; we need we artists, even if artists and humanities scholars all we are not. We – stupidly – continue to hope that one day we will treat ourselves equally and with respect. We are all in this together, and while some of us want to discard certain members because the boat might sink if we are not removed from the equation, others of us continue working and fighting until the bitter, salty end, in the hope, perhaps even in the knowledge, that we will triumph – all of us – because faith in others is in fact a thing worth retaining now as ever before. This, surely, is the key to the humanities, be they topics in the ‘Humanities’ or in the ‘Sciences’: we believe in humanity, however good, bad, same, or different. As such, we want humanity to blossom; not just certain aspects of it.

We don’t have to; we won’t, perhaps, remember. But remembering that humanity is the heart of the Humanities can never be a bad thing to consider.