Introducing Vladimir and William

Beg Steal Borrow News, New projects, Uncategorized, Vladimir and William

While we are busy working simultaneously on This is CinemaLa Belle NoiseThe Benefit of Doubt and The New Hope 2, we are also delighted to announce the completion of Vladimir and William.

Vladimir and William consists of eight video letters sent between William Brown and Macedonian experimental filmmaker Vladimir Najdovski between 2017 and 2018.

The film is inspired by various epistolary movies, such as Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, Erik Baudelaire’s Letters to Max and Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari’s Life May Be.

Featuring images of Skopje, London, Edinburgh, New York, Paris and Abu Dhabi, the film offers thoughtful considerations of various contemporary issues as well as perennial philosophical conundrums.

Here is a link to the film. If a password is required to view the film, then do get in touch with us and we shall happily send one to you.

Circle/Line Filmmaker’s Diary #3

Beg Steal Borrow News, Circle/Line, New projects

Day 9: Wednesday 10 June (Mansion House and Cannon Street)

Cameraman Tom Maine and I were apprehensive as we reached Mansion House. Our experience at Moorgate, also a Circle Line station that sits in the City, had been so poor (and dispiriting) that we feared more of the same.

However, that fear was not wholly necessary, for, despite some rejections (always disheartening), we did manage to convince a few people to talk to us. Brian, the first person with whom we spoke, seemed to enjoy the interview and took my number, since he works at an advertising firm and thinks that he might need interviewers for a show that he is producing in which people discuss what it is like to be thrown out of an aeroplane.

I have no idea whether to believe Brian, and the way he spoke to me led me to believe that he thinks me younger than I am, but either way it was nice of him to offer potentially to offer. Who knows? Maybe my interviewing skills will transfer to a new project before too long.

AJ, Ves, Prash and Kerry all followed, with Kerry perhaps being the most vocal. ‘No,’ she insisted straight away, she is not happy. And she laughed. ‘Why,’ I asked? ‘Money,’ she responded with a smile. ‘I have expensive tastes and I need lots of it.’

Over from New York and studying in London for a year, Kerry said that she is enjoying her time here, and is most happy when walking around London. I find it odd that Kerry, fun as she was to talk with, wants money for happiness, and yet is most happy when she is doing something, walking, that is free. Perhaps I should challenge people more with regard to their definitions of happiness.

Tom finally featured me in some wider shots of the interviews today – mainly with Brian and AJ at Mansion House. This made me think of my friend Jonathan Taylor, who has directed episodes of such high-profile BBC documentaries as Great Ormond Street and Protecting Our Parents.

In late 2014, Jonathan gave a masterclass on making observation documentaries at the university where I work. I remember him saying that more or less the first key lesson he learned about making obs docs – from a figure as influential as Roger Graef, no less, Graef being one of the giants of British documentary – was that while the film wants to give the impression that you, the filmmaker, are invisible, in fact you have to be absolutely visible and fully participating (after a fashion) in the events that you are seeking to portray.

The logic is that if you are invisible, or say nothing, then people will not open up to you. It is only by being fully present that your subjects can trust you, Jonathan explained. And given that so many of our interviewees have a propensity to speak for as long as possible in abstract terms or in generalisations, without ever being specific about things that interest them, what makes them happy, then getting them to open up becomes important.

Therefore, even though Circle/Line is not an observational documentary, I believe that this idea of needing to make yourself present is equally true with Circle/Line. The more I put into these conversations, the more I get from people in terms of them opening up and moving beyond those generalisations – even if the film will not reflect my participation as it emphasises the people whom we have met rather than me. In effect, while based increasingly on conversations rather than on monologues from the participants, it is through a two-way conversation that the most interesting things that people say can come out.

This evening a few people did the usual ‘walking away as soon as they see us coming’ routine. This is fair enough and one learns not to take offence, even though we (or at least I) believe that everyone with whom we have spoken for this film has had a few minutes of interesting fun with us. Maybe this is not true in the eyes of others, but thinking that you are offering people something that in fact is, or might be, quite pleasant, makes the out of hand rejection quite disappointing.

Thinking about these rejections, Tom and I discussed whether one of the reasons why various people seem unwilling to talk to us, and many completely unwilling to open up to us if they do, is because we live in a society that is much more media savvy than it used to be. It is safer to give nothing away, even about one’s own happiness, except to speak in vague generalisations, and rarely if ever with specific examples about personal experiences. (Maybe I am a bad interviewer.)

As I have perhaps mentioned before, Circle/Line takes its inspiration from Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, a 1961 film shot in 1960, and which itself is a movie comprised of vox pops of people in Paris – with Circle/Line also featuring a touch of Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s Le joli mai (1963) thrown in for good measure

In the Rouch and Morin film, from what I recall, people seem so willing to talk to the camera. Of course, we don’t know how many people said no, nor how long interviews lasted in order to get to what we see in the film. Nor, indeed, how prepped people were (I refuse to tell my interviewees the first question – ‘are you happy?’ – explaining to them that if they know it in advance, then it will spoil the response).

Nonetheless, in Chronicle of a Summer, it strikes me that when someone turns up with a camera in the street, people wander curiously over and want to know more. Nowadays, however, the camera is treated with suspicion, people are wary, tech savvy, and while some people are curious about what we are doing, most are not.

As Tom and I hang outside Cannon Street, I tell Tom about how it is apparently possible to run from Cannon Street to Mansion House in the time it takes for a Circle Line train to get from one station to the other, meaning that one can get off a train at Cannon Street and get on the same train at Mansion House. I shall have to check where that story comes from and whether it is true or not.

Tom and I continue to be concerned that older people are harder for us to persuade to take part in the film and that, oddly, we have not convinced a family to talk to us all at once so far. Still things to work on…

Day 10: Friday 12 June (Blackfriars)

A pleasant evening and people seemed willing to talk. If only all stations were like Blackfriars (especially because the station has a pub, the Black Friar, right opposite – meaning that finding people with whom to talk is, so Tom says, like shooting fish in a barrel).

We discuss amateur dramatics with Luke, the systemic shortcomings of capitalism with Omar, what it is like being away from one’s family with Julien (he has a brother and a sister in Mexico, with the majority of his family in his native France), and the joys (or, as I believe, the horrors) of shopping on Oxford Street and in the Westfield with Anisha.

I even questioned Anisha about several things, mainly because she is contagiously happy, and I am not sure why. Firstly, Anisha, like Kerry, feels that walking makes her happy. Secondly, Anisha suggested that poor people can and are happy and that in fact rich people are often unhappy. I asked her if she plans on giving away her money in order to be happier. She said that she will not.

I am not sure how much I should ‘challenge’ my subjects, but like Kerry who believes that she wants to be rich and yet is happiest doing something for free, Anisha seemed to say that happiness is inversely proportional to money, while also being unable to give up money for happiness.

This is not to single out Anisha; I feel this myself, and assume many people do (not that poor people are happier, but that one might well be happier if one sacrificed more money, while being unable to sacrifice that money). But it does raise the issue that our happiness, particularly if it is linked to money (as the overwhelming majority of responses would seem to suggest so far), is in fact illusory. As Julien says, perhaps we are all in the Matrix.

A final thought: a few people in these last few days – AJ, Ves, Prash, Anisha – all seem to believe that if you truly want it, then you can bring about happiness in your life. I hesitate to agree with this, mainly because to believe that we are the authors of our own destiny suggests a belief somehow that we are not quite in, or with, the world, but rather that we are separate from it, somewhat. For, we can do what we want, and the rest of the world does not constrain us, since it does not really touch us.

I am delighted that so many people tell us that they are happy. But I am always intrigued when people say both that unhappiness exists, that the unhappiness of others brings them down, but that they don’t let the unhappiness of others affect them too much. For me, this speaks of a lack of being touched by the world; happiness thus today becomes something not to be shared, but something more like a wall, or a womb (a matrix, indeed) that we construct around ourselves in order not to be touched by the rest of the world.

And yet, while it heartens me to know that so many people are happy, with exceptions like Kerry unhappy not because of loss but because she has not yet reached the point in life where she wants to be, I am concerned about the lack of touch, as well as the resort to insular as opposed to common happiness. Is constructing a common happiness what I am really wanting to ask people about here? I do ask questions along these lines. Indeed, Omar this evening suggested pessimism about the possibility for common happiness. Maybe I am making the film in search of how we can achieve it.

As Tom and I head home, we work out whether the Cannon Street to Mansion House dash is feasible. I reckon it is. Tom is a little bit more sceptical. Perhaps we should try it when Circle/Line wraps.

Looper (Rian Johnson, USA/China, 2012) (In Memoriam Chris Marker 2)

American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews, Uncategorized

(This blog contains spoilers – pretty much all of them – so it is basically for people who have seen the film or who realise that spoilers do not in fact spoil a film. Indeed, knowing what happens plot-wise allows you to tell if the film is actually any good, because a good film will keep you interested in spite of knowing the twists, while a mediocre film relies on the twists and not on how they are revealed to entertain audiences.)

I like Rian Johnson’s films. Brick (USA, 2005) is a quirky high school noir that has very dark edges around its comic exterior, while The Brothers Bloom (USA, 2008) is under-watched and a bit under-rated – Johnson can do the con film as well as any.

In some respects, I like Looper, but I am also a bit disappointed by it – and my disappointment springs from a different outlook on the world to the one that Johnson’s film seems to me to present, and which I shall elaborate below.

Looper tells the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who kills men sent back in time from 2074 to 2044, when he lives. One day, an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time and Joe fails to kill him. Instead, he must go on the hunt for him – along with all of the crooks who are disappointed that young Joe has failed to ‘close his loop’ – i.e. to kill his older self, a standard practice for loopers who then have thirty years of happy retirement.

Old Joe does not want to die because, although he has spent many years as a violent killer both in Kansas, the film’s principle setting, and in Shanghai, which features during a brief section that summarises Joe’s ‘retirement’, he latterly learns to be good thanks to a woman (Summer Qing/Qing Xu), whom we never hear speak and who basically looks lovingly at Old Joe in the bits in which she features.

We sort of understand Old Joe not wanting to die – who does want to die? – but he’s not exactly a saint, either. In order to stop himself from dying, he decides to use his obligation to travel back in time in order to kill the childhood version of a future supervillain called the Rainmaker, who is ordering the closing of all the loops, i.e. the deaths of all of the loopers – including Joe himself.

If you’re not sure what this means, let’s put it another way: yes, the Rainmaker’s future crime will be – as far as the film is concerned – cleaning up the streets of heartless hitmen.

The problem is that this heartless hitman, Old Joe, now has a heart – and it’s been broken, since the men who took Joe also killed his seemingly mute wife – and so revenge must be his.

Only Old Joe does not know who the Rainmaker is – no one does. All Old Joe knows is that it’s one of three kids born on a certain day and living, as if by coincidence, in the very same county that he worked in (as a looper) in his youth.

And Old Joe happily kills at least one of the kids – and shoots another in the face, this other kid turning out to be the future Rainmaker.

Regular Joe decides to to stop Old Joe from killing the Rainmaker, his motivation being that by virtue of meeting Old Joe the chances of Old Joe’s life becoming the life that regular Joe leads – or vice versa – are greatly diminished, leaving regular Joe free to grow up into a different Old Joe who won’t have the same regrets as Old Joe does. That and because regular Joe believes that his future self should not want to live any longer than the deal is for loopers – the mandatory 30 years – because obviously there is honour among murdering thieves.

Or rather, there is no honour here. Regular Joe is an anti-hero if nothing else: he sells out his best friend Seth (Paul Dano), who is mutilated before being killed, and he wants to kill his older self so as to avoid a life on the run. In other words, regular Joe thinks only about himself and his glamorous lifestyle.

In trying to prevent Old Joe from killing the kid who would be Rainmaker, however, regular Joe meets and falls partially in love with Sara (Emily Blunt), the mother of the Rainmaker-to-be and whom regular Joe is protecting.

It is not that regular Joe learns a sense of moral responsibility. His’love’ for Sara is superficial at best. Furthermore, the kid who will or might become the Rainmaker, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), is, or at least can be, a mean, telekinetic (“teleki-what?“) little shit – with shades of We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA, 2011) characterising their mother-son relationship.

It is only because Sara promises to raise Cid to be a good kid, to not become the Rainmaker, that the future might be averted. And Joe believes that Sara can do this, in spite of seeing Cid violently kill a man with the power of thought. For this reason, regular Joe decides to stop Old Joe from acting out his selfish love fantasy in the future.

Now, I do quite like Looper, even if the above synopsis makes it sound a bit dumb. The film has plenty of scenes that feature the quirky dialogue and narrative elements that Johnson is well known for: Sara describing how she found Cid after her sister, who was also Cid’s foster mother, had been killed (she was wearing a party dress and felt stupid); the frog beeper warning system that Sara forgets as soon as she is given it; the inept gunplay from useless henchman Kid Blue (Noah Segan).

These quirks lend to the film something human and touching, as do Johnson’s indulgences towards his actors (Jeff Daniels as crime boss Abe, who has been sent back from 2074 to oversee the loopers, in particular gets to showboat a nice amount in this film: “Trust me, I’m from the future. You want to go to China.”).

That said, Looper also has some daft elements. Foremost among these is the fact that it takes Old Joe several days to find and to kill the kids that could become the Rainmaker – even though he has their addresses and the local city seems pretty small. Furthermore, Old Joe also decides to risk his life by killing Abe and his many henchmen rather than getting on with killing Cid (and in spite of using loads of machine guns and grenades to do the former, he decides only to take a relatively small handgun to carry out the latter).

Furthermore, as the reduction of Old Joe’s wife to pure, unspeaking image suggests, Johnson does not care much for his female characters. Sara is, like Old Joe, something of a reformed character; a former party girl in the city, she now realises that raising Cid well is all that is important – but she does not really feature too strongly in the narrative (as mentioned, her love with/for regular Joe is superficial at best). Stripper Suzie (Piper Perabo), coincidentally the mother of the second could-be-Rainmaker child whose death we never see (because it never happens?), seems to be a woman that regular Joe wants to protect, meaning that regular Joe views Suzie not as a person but as an image to possess. In Suzie’s favour, she knocks regular Joe back, saying that she is quite happy being a stripper, since she has her independence, an independence that is rendered in the film as a cruel rejection of Joe such that she both basically disappears from the film and so that Old Joe must of course kill her son (whether he achieves this or not) to punish her for not wanting him.

However, in spite of these good and bad aspects of the film, none is quite what I want specifically to discuss.

What I want to discuss is the role of possible worlds in the film.

This isn’t about describing quantum physics and the like. Rather, we can stick to Looper and the other films that it talks to, rather than half-digested and half-developed theories from science, to explain what I mean.

Looper has various reference points. Foremost among these is the relationship between America and France. Joe is learning French (slowly) in the hope of moving to France upon closing his loop (something he never does, since he moves to China in the version of events that we see).

This desire to learn French expresses a desire to be in the old world – a desire for some old world sophistication, compared to the new world flash, glitz and shallow relationships and violence.

Joe’s desire to be French is mirrored in part by Johnson’s film itself. There are a couple of nods to Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle/2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (France, 1967), for example: twice in Looper we see cream clouding in a coffee cup in a manner reminiscent of Godard’s cosmos in a coffee cup sequence from that film.

The somewhat crummy and still-industrial city also partly suggests Godard’s sci-fi classic, Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution/Alphaville (France/Italy, 1965) – although the Kansas setting cannot help but also evoke The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, USA, 1939), which arguably makes of the film a Depression-era escapist fantasy, making it an interesting bedfellow with the also-quirky Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, USA, 2012).

Furthermore, beyond the chaotic semi-references to Godard, any time travel film that involves a doubling of the self naturally recalls the great and late Chris Marker’s La Jetée (France, 1962). Indeed, here the casting of Bruce Willis becomes important, because Willis has of course played the role of the time-travelling anti-hero before – in Terry Gilliam’s remake of La Jetée, Twelve Monkeys (USA, 1995).

In other words, Johnson seems to express some sort of kinship with France. However, this kinship is for me superficial – in the same way that Twelve Monkeys does not match La Jetée in a lot of ways.

For, I am not sure that Johnson ‘gets’ much of the politics of the French New Wave. Godard may have spoken of making films that feature just images, but he also wanted to make films featuring images that are just. And this is perhaps what is lacking in Johnson’s film.

Maybe this can be expressed inadvertently through the film’s other casting: Piper Perabo, who plays Suzie, also played Geneviève Le Plouff in Melanie Mayron’s somewhat dim-witted Slap Her, She’s French! (Germany/USA/UK, 2002). As Joe wants Suzie/Perabo, so do Johnson and Joe seemingly want to be French, without realising that the object of their desire is in fact not French at all, but an actress pretending to be French, a superficial understanding of what it is or might be to be French. As Suzie is reduced simply to a symbol in the film, so, too, is France and the French films to which Johnson seems to wish to speak.

Not only is Looper a bit superficial, then, but it also seems to fail to understand the lessons learned from La Jetée and from other time travel loop films such as Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, USA, 2001), which seems a much more appropriate point of comparison for this film than is, say, The Matrix (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA, 1999), to which the film has otherwise and to my mind erroneously been compared.

In La Jetée, the man (Davos Hanich) is sent back in time – to various different points in time – in order to try to save the world from the fate that awaits it after World War Three: no food, a life underground, no medicine, etc. Like Joe in Looper, he is haunted by the woman that he loves, as well as by an image of a man being shot at Orly airport in his childhood. At the film’s climax, the man realises that he saw his own death as a kid.

While La Jetée suggests that even if we could travel in time we cannot escape our own fate, Looper tries to be more upbeat. It says that maybe we can change the future, that perhaps we are only always ever changing the future – since every interaction between regular Joe and Old Joe causes Old Joe’s memories to change.

In some ways, Johnson’s film has here a sophisticated understanding of what time travel might be like and the parallel universes that are opened up by it. Furthermore, the way in which Old Joe and regular Joe basically completely disagree with each other suggests that Johnson understands humans as ultimately multiple – we could become many different people in our lives – and Cid could end up not being the Rainmaker – a source of hope perhaps in that we are not doomed from the off to a pre-ordained destiny to which we personally do not have access.

However, while I like all of this in terms of its understanding of the multiverse and of the multiple personalities that exist as potential within us as individuals, it seems to miss something.

Perhaps a closer comparison with Donnie Darko can bring this out. In Richard Kelly’s film, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) realises that in the 28 days since he was supposed to have died, all of his fantasies come true: he gets the girl, he’s a hero at school, a period of total wish fulfilment made clear by Donnie’s line to Gretchen (Jena Malone): “how do you know I’m not [a superhero]?”

However, Donnie learns that having all that he desires is not all it is cracked up to be. For living beyond his own death and having his fantasies fulfilled also causes Gretchen to die at the hands of Frank (James Duval), who is in turn shot dead by Donnie.

In other words, while one can know that there are many parallel universes and many parallel lives for us to lead, I wonder that the moral choice that one should make is to accept the life that one has – since one never knows what will be the consequences of one’s selfish desires, of fulfilling one’s own fantasies.

If this is what Donnie Darko seems to tell us – Donnie goes back to the moment of his death at the hands of a falling jet engine so that Gretchen can live – this is not what Looper seems to suggest. Looper instead seems to suggest that we should fight to change our fates.

This might seem counterintuitive to argue. For, at the film’s climax regular Joe kills himself in order to prevent Old Joe from trying to kill Cid, an act that most likely will make him become precisely the Rainmaker that Old Joe is hoping to eradicate.

(And if Old Joe succeeded in killing Cid, what then?)

And yet, in killing himself regular Joe consigns Old Joe to being a deluded weirdo who is preparing to kill kids in order to spend some more time with his wife and in order maybe to have kids of his own.

Maybe this is fair enough: that Joe, Old Joe, is irreconcilably nasty – in spite of believing himself not to be – and self-interested, that regular Joe, who learns how to be nice, must kill him off by killing himself off.

But it seems disappointing on a certain level for Old Joe not to realise the error of his ways and to let Cid go – and in such a way that in doing this Cid might also not become the Rainmaker that he is otherwise supposedly destined to become.

We are told by Abe that coming back from the future addles one’s brain – and maybe this is plainly what happens to Old Joe. Nothing too complex, in spite of the gimmickry around time travel: just a guy going mental because he’s ended up 30 years in the past with a younger version of himself.

Indeed, how many people do die without learning moral lessons? How is this not like the rage of a drunken brawler who will not see reason – and why should I cling to and endeavour to judge Johnson’s film by a romantic notion that reason will ‘out’ and that we would choose to accept our fates. We know full well that some people are just not like that – and they will take all that they can regardless of the cost to others.

So in some senses, Johnson’s film is insightful: some people – ourselves, even – will not and never will see reason, and so must be killed.

But if Johnson’s film claims to offer hope – the Rainmaker may not grow up to be an evil telekinetic tyrant – it does so by being hopeless about Old Joe’s capacity to change. In other words, there is bad faith in Old Joe (he must be killed), such that the supposed ‘good faith’ in Cid/the Rainmaker (he might grow up to be good) seems unfounded. If there were good faith, the Joes would work out some way around the conundrum.

Abe and regular Joe discuss the latter’s propensity to wear ties. Abe mocks Joe for trying to affect a twentieth century look taken from the movies. Johnson’s film may be self-conscious about the role of affectation and the appropriation of styles – but this does not prevent Johnson’s film from precisely affecting to offer us something that ultimately it does not match, since it is only an affectation without the conviction of the original.

Perhaps this is why the film’s most experimental opening half hour, with formally interesting upside down sequences, stretched images, and more, disappear from the film when the prerogative demanding at least some action kicks in and Johnson must respond to the need for his film to make some money.

This was La Jetée‘s total genius – making me miss Chris Marker even more: his film is composed almost entirely of still images. That is, not only does Marker not resort to regular action as Johnson does in Looper, but he makes a film that is almost entirely devoid of action in the conventional sense of the word (moving people, moving images).

Johnson’s film reflects a world without conviction – and as such is fascinating and surely well made – just like the films of Christopher Nolan, to whom no doubt some/many will compare Looper, if not his other films. But this world without conviction seems to wear a mask of conviction (as Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears a mask throughout the film to make him look a bit more like Bruce Willis – at least, I assume this to be the case), but never shows its true face. A great film always allows its true face to emerge; it accepts its fate, rather than aspiring to be cinematic on someone else’s terms. Rather than having it all, it accepts its limitations and realises that it is those limitations that perhaps set us most free.

Becoming Light: on recent documentary film (In Memoriam Chris Marker)

American cinema, Blogpost, British cinema, Documentary, European cinema, Latin American cinema, Transnational Cinema, Uncategorized

I rewatched Sans Soleil/Sunless (Chris Marker, France, 1983) today in honour of the passing of Chris Marker. It was as, if not more, beautiful than the first time I saw it.

Nonetheless, I want to write about four other things today: Madame Tussaud’s in London, and the films Nostalgia de la luz/Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán, France/Germany/Chile/Spain/USA, 2010), Swandown (Andrew Kötting, UK, 2012) and Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, Sweden/UK, 2012). But while this post is not explicitly about Marker, I hope that his spirit infuses it somehow.

Time – the single most under-considered element of reality – will hopefully allow me one day to write the book, Becoming Light, that will draw upon what loosely I here wish to talk about. But in order to explain what this curious phrase, becoming light, means, I shall start today by considering Madame Tussaud’s.

There is plenty to say about Madame Tussaud’s, one of the most enduringly popular museums in London. For example, it is extortionately expensive (£30 entry). What is more, it also features a 4D cinema experience made in association with Marvel/Disney, which I may well mention at this blog’s conclusion.

One might also analyse the role – made prominent in the exhibition itself – played by waxworks in bringing an element of visuality to what we might call the news. That is, when old Mme Tussaud made waxworks of prominent people, the curious could finally get a sense of what the faces of those famous and infamous names looked like.

Umberto Eco, in Travels in Hyperreality (recently redubbed Faith in Fakes) has intelligently analysed the way in which waxworks played a role in constituting the age of simulation in which we now live. That is, for Eco, viewers of waxworks ended up mistaking the map/the simulation for reality, such that when the real was actually seen, it was somehow disappointing, or less than real.

This analysis is pertinent to what I want to say about Madame Tussaud’s (henceforth MT). For, when one enters the museum, one is taken via a lift up to the top floor, where one exits to the sound of flashing bulbs and paparazzo-style invitations to pose for the camera.

That is, MT opens up with glamour: one walks into a room filled with waxworks of, inter alia, Bruce Willis, the Twilight boys, Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, Helen Mirren, John Travolta, Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Russell Brand, Cheryl Cole and so on. Not all film stars, but predominantly so.

It is a deeply unsettling experience. Sure, some people perform humourous poses with, say, J Lo, by pretending to bone her from behind. But on the whole people walk up to the waxwork, put their arm around it, and pose for a photo taken by a friend as if with a real person for a normal photo: maybe a victory sign, maybe a thumb up, but basically just a smile.

Being a snob, I naturally refrained from posing in any photo. I want to discuss my snobbery. But first I want to think about what the posing by other people means.

I use the phrase becoming light to signify what I believe humans most deeply desire: to divest ourselves of our bodies in order to exist in a state whereby we occupy all places at once and whereby we move with total speed. To become light, then, is to exist purely as an image.

When I say we want to divest ourselves of our bodies, I need to clarify what I mean. We want paradoxically not to have our bodies, but we also want physically to experience the becoming of light, the being pure image. That is, to have no body but also bodily to know what this feels like.

This will only be possible when humans work out how to use light as a system of memory storage. From what I understand, humans are actually working on this process. I am more specifically referring to the creation of computers that use light as a system of memory (this is what humans are working on), but one might also read cinema as a whole as a system of preserving/outsourcing memory through the storage of the physical as an image via means of light and shadow. That is, cinema already is this external memory machine.

The reason that we need to know how to use light to store memory in order to become light is because memory is embodied: it is the system whereby we use our physical/embodied experiences in the world in order to understand reality and/or predict with as great accuracy as we can what probabilistically will happen in the future. Memory is a result uniquely of the physical nature of our existence – and if we can find a way of preserving memory as a process via light and without requiring a physical body to do so, then perhaps we will be able truly to divest ourselves of our crude skinbags.

What does this have to do with MT?

The desire to pose alongside waxworks of stars for me speaks of the desire to become light. One could read posing alongside waxworks of stars as consolation for the fact that the people who stand with them will never meet the real star. This is their brush with fame and glory. This is as good as it gets.

This is not wrong. But it also overlooks an important aspect of the desire to become light. For it is not that the waxworks can equal flesh and blood human beings. Rather it is that the flesh and blood human beings are already waxworks; they are already disembodied light. And what people want to become is not a film star who works or anything like that. The connection is much more metaphysical than that: it is the desire to become simply an image.

There are grounds to argue that the desire to become light reaches something like epidemic status when we consider that people are so in love with images that they prefer images to real people. Perhaps it is for this reason that the daughter of the family that I visited MT with actually blushed when she put her arm round the inanimate waxwork of Johnny Depp and placed her head on its shoulders for a photograph. So heavily do we invest our desire in images that their grip on us is more powerful than reality. Were the real Johnny Depp there, no doubt reality would have censured the girl from being so forward as to put an arm around him. Instead, the blush comes from the total honesty that is involved in showing publicly that one loves not a person but an image of a person. We are in the age of hyperreality indeed.

Now, the reason I did not want to pose with the stars is probably because I would also blush but do not wish to be exposed as investing more in images than I do in people. I know that as I looked at Kate Winslet and Cheryl Cole, I could feel desire. Not uniquely sexual desire – these waxworks did not arouse me, though this does not mean that they could not. But an intense, brain-burning desire to have the image look at me, to return my gaze, to render me also an image.

To thus feel in effect that my life is not complete because my body is not capable of transcending itself and of becoming light speaks of how powerful the desire to become light is. For it destroys the possibility to be happy with whom we actually are. To lead our lives in a bodily fulfilled fashion, rather than to feel shame, to blush, precisely when our bodies expose their very corporal nature before powerful images.

This discomfort at the waxworks in MT was alleviated as soon as one passed into the sports section – I do not invest in Sachin Tendulkar and Johnny Wilkinson with the same level of desire as I do film stars – only to resurface somewhat before Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé Knowles and others in the music section – because music stars are in videos. That is, they are also images.

(This feeling finally died away again in the politics section where, bizarrely, Mohamed Fayed had a waxwork – probably the only person, I speculated to myself, who paid to be featured as a waxwork, so desperate is he to become light.)

Now, the desire to become light – the illness/addiction that cinema and other moving image technologies has induced in human beings such as myself – is problematic because it is based upon exceptionalism.

This is to do with speed. Those who can afford to move quickly, they are closer to becoming light. They are closer to becoming images. And when your image travels around the world faster than your body ever could, then you have become light. (This is why people are addicted to Facebook.) And what enables speed – is wealth. And wealth is the remit of the few, the seldom few, not of the many.

Furthermore, the issue with overemphasising light is that it means that all that is not brought to light is overlooked. It is forgotten, since memory has become conflated with light and the testimony of those who physically bear the scars of history are counted for nil if those wounds cannot be exposed as easy-to-consume images.

In some senses, this strikes me as the theme of the masterful Patricio Guzmán’s wonderful Nostalgia for the Light. For, this film is about precisely the role that light plays in memory.

Let us work through this. To suggest that we can have nostalgia for the light suggests that the light is no longer with us. And this is in part Guzmán’s thesis. Both much of the universe and those who were disappeared in Chile under General Pinochet remain shrouded in darkness: invisible and therefore forgotten. And we should not ignore the darkness. Indeed, at one point Guzmán asks us to look beyond the light – paradoxically to see into the darkness, to see all of reality. In my own words, to concentrate solely on the light means to lead a Luciferean existence whereby only the lit is important. God, however, is in darkness. We must remember the crucial role that darkness plays in the universe. And while we might suspect that even the darkest secret will eventually come to light (because some enlightenment takes a long time, it must wade through darkness before any actual enlightenment could ever take place), the fact remains that some things will never really come to light, some mysteries will remain – unless we start to believe in that which we cannot see. And even though the slaughter of thousands of Chileans was and perhaps always will be invisible, meaning that we must feel nostalgia for the light because of its absence, we must also learn to appreciate darkness, to believe in things – perhaps God himself – even though/precisely because there is no evidence of or light to prove him.

When we look only at the light, when we mistake the map for the terrain, then we are in the realm of the hyperreal. And yet sometimes we must travel the terrain, not at light speed, but slowly – because this is the only way in which we will ever really know the world in which we live, when we experience it physically and not as an image travelling through it in an ethereal fashion/when we only travel through ether.

This seems to be the theme of Swandown, in which director Andrew Kötting and writer Iain Sinclair travel from Hastings to Hackney via swan-shaped pedalo. To go slowly, to see all of the dark, off-the-map bits of space in between the light, the emphasised areas of the map.

It is perhaps the film’s only pity that it involves celebrity interludes from the likes of Stewart Lee, Alan Moore and others. These are not bad per se, but nor are they particularly enthralling. It is nice to see how ‘normal’ they are as people – their ‘banter’ is mildly amusing, but not electric. Nonetheless, part of the brilliance of, say, Gallivant (Andrew Kötting, UK, 1997) is that it finds magic in countless regular people up and down the land as the director travels with his mother and daughter in search of authentic British people.

Finally – and apologies for being so circumspect/suggestive/imprecise on this blog – part of the brilliance of Searching for Sugar Man is the example that the film makes of forgotten folk singer Rodriguez. Not only does the film suggest the role that music can play in bringing about social change, but it also has Rodriguez adhere (with some economy of truth, no doubt) to a principle whereby becoming light, becoming an image, is not what he chooses for himself (even though this happens simply by virtue of his being in a film and/or being a music star).

As Rodriguez’s family make beautiful statements about the fact that class cannot make a human or their hopes and dreams more beautiful (that is, they criticise the common assumption that wealth is not simply an index of itself – i.e. wealth simply demonstrates material value – but also an index of human value – i.e. rich people are better people), and as Rodriguez refuses properly to become a star/an image/light (we are told he gives away his money to charity, friends and family, preferring simply to live in his modest Detroit apartment), so we have an object lesson – set against a deprived Detroit background – of a man who refuses to become light – or whose decision to come into the light is tempered by an acknowledgement of the benefits of darkness. This is not only signalled by Rodriguez’s career trajectory (although the film glosses over tours to Australia that the performer did in the late 1970s/early 1980s – long before his South Africa comeback but also long after his early 1970s flirtation with fame), but also by the first shot we see of the man – lingering at length in shadow behind a closed window, Rodriguez is at first pure image, before finally he steps forward, opens the window, and is seen in the cold-ish Detroit light of day.

In Sans Soleil, Marker repeatedly shows us shots of people. They are just images of people but, to paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, to show images of people is also just. That is, Marker creates something like a democratic cinema, not based upon the individual, not one that reaffirms the desire to become light, but which instead looks at people who live in a world without light.

People here are not stars; we may see their images, but they are not stars, not images of people whose image is already moving at light speed, ubiquitous, disembodied, individualised, privileged.

Swandown asks us to move slowly, to appreciate the terrain itself (despite being a film that of course elides terrain in order to become a map/film of sorts). Its use of (admittedly minor) stars is problematic, in that it creates tension between Kötting’s otherwise democratic cinema and his film that, through collaborator Sinclair, seems to want to protest the London 2012 Olympics for precisely bringing light to a Hackney area that by definition casts into shadow those who are not Olympian heroes (even if I do not personally invest in sports stars as I do in film stars, as my MT experiences told me).

Nostalgia for the Light, meanwhile, also shows the importance of darkness in the contemporary world – and its insistent and beautiful shots of night skies and swirling galaxies demonstrate this: while we tend to fixate on the stars, they only stand out in such a beautiful fashion because of the darkness that surrounds them. Read socially, the 1 per cent needs the 99 per cent, even if it believes somehow that it can do without them.

Indeed,I am anticipating finding The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, USA/UK, 2012) problematic in what seems from the trailer to be a defence of the 1 per cent against the 99 per cent, but the jury is out since I am yet to see it.

But perhaps giving attention to Nolan’s film also runs counter to the way in which this blog tries to being attention to three far less glamourous and widely covered documentaries, all of which are worth watching, not necessarily instead of Batman (I can’t stop people from wanting to see a movie as hyped as this one), but certainly in addition to Batman (don’t forget the 99 per cent of movies).

Although it is slickly made and has some nicely visceral effects (as well as some uncomfortable ones, such as a rod being shoved into your back and some 3D shots that force you to look at eye-splitting flying objects), Marvel Super Heroes 4D (Joshua Wexler, USA, 2010) takes place in what at MT used to be a planetarium.

It would seem, therefore, that the museum – and its myriad visitors – prefer not to edify us about mysteries of the universe, the universe being so mysterious because so much of it is in darkness, but rather to transport into the fully lit world of Marvel’s superheroes, where whatever darkness there is, is simply dismissed in a Manichaean fashion as ‘bad.’

The love of cinema is not just based upon the light that shines on the screen, but also the darkness of the room that accompanies it, the darkness of the leader, the darkness of the frames between frames that are onscreen for 50 per cent of our viewing time, the darkness of our blinks, the darkness that the phi effect covers over as we saccade.

Darkness is key to life, or certainly key to the kind of dignified life that Rodriguez exemplifies/is made to exemplify in Searching for Sugar Man. The Luciferean enlightenment project is not necessarily entirely beneficial, accelerating us in general as it does towards an individualistic world in which only the chosen few get to be stars, while the abandoned rest are left to flounder in poverty.

We dream of becoming stars – this dream itself being a major obstacle in liberating us, because the dream of stardom promises to free us from poverty, when freedom will only arrive when we liberate ourselves from the dream of stardom. Indeed, the dream of stardom is what imprisons us in a world in which we are in fact already free, since all humans are born free, but they place themselves in chains, seeking to divest themselves of their bodies and to become light because we are force fed images, brought up on them, addicted and dependent on them, from the very earliest age.

It is paradoxical that Nostalgia for the Light, Swandown (which Kötting describes at one point as an anti-narrative – read mainstream – film in a world dominated by narrative/mainstream cinema), and Searching for Sugar Man are, of course, films that show light and darkness.

But they are films that each – in their own way – seek to emphasise the importance of darkness and not the surimportance of light. With this perhaps they share something that Chris Marker understood.

Chris Marker the alien is perhaps now only in darkness, a mystery we will no more see express himself. Nonetheless, as far as his films are concerned, with Sans Soleil standing in here as their figurehead, he was a truly dignified ambassador for making us remember darkness.

Now it is up to all of us to try to remember that we do not need to become light.

Leading the embodied life that we have to the best of our abilities, moving at whatever speed we want or need to, existing in our own time and not in the uniform speed of light – this is what we can learn from recent documentary film read in the shadow of Marker’s most sad passing.