Friday, March 28, 2008

The Color of Pomegranates

Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1968) is one of the most beautiful and unique films I’ve ever seen. It tells about the life of 18th Century Armenian poet Savat Nova, which recalls Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublyov, a film about the life of this 15th Century Russian icon painter. Both films bear a heavy religious and cultural theme, but in different poetic forms: Parajanov’s compact and abstract poem v.s. Tarkovsky’s long and slow-paced chaptered essay.

The narrative of The Color of Pomegranates is highly symbolic, metaphorical, fragmentary and surreal. Rather than acting in the conventional sense, the characters simply repeat slow moves against minimal background to represent an event or an inner expression, almost like a stage performance in an extremely abstract form.

There is no dialogue, only text from the poet’s writings in combination with images. The colors and compositions of each frame possess an unspeakable beauty. It definitely requires a genius mind to envision such images. After learning that Parajanov was influenced by Pasolini, I can’t wait to explore Pasolini’s works.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In the Realms of the Unreal

I just watched this awesome documentary on Henry Darger, recommended by Renee (again!). It tells the true story of this poor and solitary janitor in Chicago who did a 15,000 page novel named The Realms of the Unreal together with 300 paintings in his life. All his works were only discovered by his landlady after his death.

The film presents to us two pictures of Henry Darger: his social picture which is very limited and almost invisible; his inner picture, his private art world, which is in contrast so overwhelming and rich. His isolated way of living left the world little evidence of his physical existence, except three photos of himself, one friend and a few acquaintances. Instead of trying to create an objective biography, the film rather explores Henry’s mysterious inner world by blending in a large amount of his paintings, writings and autobiography with limited source of interviews and photographs. Through his works, we see his constant inner struggle with God, his eccentric vision of kids, his expression for peace and freedom… The strangely beautiful art world Henry created is the ultimate world he lived in.

From a presentation perspective, the animation of Henry’s original paintings is quite appealing and innovative. The juxtaposition of the blooming time images of Chicago with Henry’s fantasy characters makes sharp contrast between two different time and atmosphere which paradoxically coexisted. These imaginative techniques employed in the film simply accord with the incredible imagination inside Henry.

Worth mentioning, director Jessica Yu spent five years in making this film including extensive research on Henry’s works. I appreciate her efforts to show us the work and life of such a hidden genius.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Plastic Bottle Flowers

This is the outcome of my surgery to a plastic bottle -

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Art of Vision

My friend Renee introduced me to the amazing world of Stan Brakhage, one of the American avant-garde filmmakers. Influenced by Eisenstein's montage theory, Brakhage developed his own language of montage in almost pure visual sense. He explored different ways to make a movie, such as hand painting directly on film, filmming paintings and collages. Most of his films are silent, however, the dense montage of images creates a rhythm. After watching a few of his works, I found an interesting thing happened to me: a vague music score started forming in my head as the images flew in front of my eyes!

Besides all the new techniques and perceptions Brakhage brought to filmmaking, what I found very inspiring is that he proved the possibility of doing great films with low budget. His projects were low budget indeed, ranging from tens to hundreds of dollars. His subjects are either everyday domestic life or monther nature. His extraordinary vision led us to a whole new dimension of seeing the world.

My favorites include Mothlight, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Black Ice, Commingled Containers, Cat's Cradle...You can find most of his important works from Criterion Collection DVD By Brakhage: An Anthology.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981)

Commingled Containrs (1997)

Friday, March 14, 2008

World's Largest Ferris Wheel in Beijing

As the world's tallest building gets higher and higher, the largest Ferris wheel is catching up. The Great Wheel in Beijing will be completed in a year -

At 208 metres tall, the Great Wheel will be the world's largest ferris wheel — higher and bigger than both the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer which opens in March next year. The giant ferris wheel will have 48 air conditioned observation capsules, each of which can carry up to 40 passengers,...

Before spending so much money on this giant wheel, why can't they first spend money on reducing the terrible air pollution? What do you expect to see on that wheel with the heavy smog above Beijing?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville (2003) is the best animated feature I’ve seen after Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001). It is directed by Sylvain Chomet, my favorite French filmmaker who did segment ‘Tour Eiffel’ in Paris, je t'aime (2006).

Chomet must be a huge fan of Jacques Tati since quite a few references to Tati’s film can be found in The Triplets of Belleville. The idea of the cyclist has a direct link to Tati’s Holiday (1949) which tells about a postman’s funny bicycle journey on a holiday at a village. Footage from the film is shown on the triplets’ TV as their enjoyable evening entertainment. A poster of Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) also appears on the wall of the triplets’ apartment (see image below).

Like Tati’s films, this animation has little dialogue, while image and expressive sound do it all. Compared to Ratatouille which is a good animation in the Hollywood sense, The Triplets of Belleville presents unique charm through its idiosyncratic style and incredible imagination. The contrast between a peaceful and cozy village and an alienated metropolis is well achieved through the exaggerated building heights and camera angles.

To me, the most charming character is the dog Bruno. His typical behavior just reminds me of Rexie. The black-and-white dream sequences are graphically stunning, full of visual gags and psychological humors.

Finally I’m impressed with the jazzy soundtrack, sometimes delightful and amusing, sometimes dreamy and haunting. The theme song Belleville Rendez-Vous is simply unforgettable. Now I'm waiting for Chomet’s new animation The Illusionist (2009) based on Tati’s unpublished script.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Capturing the Fleeting Moments

I first saw South African artist William Kentridge's animation Felix in Exile at MOMA 7 years ago and was totally blown away. I got to revisit it on YouTube, although the video quality is not good.

William Kentridge's works are at once poetic, political and personal. He has a unique technique of making animation: he simply films a charcoal drawing as a key frame, then makes erasures and changes on the same drawing as the next frame. It's a process of constantly rewriting each existing moment, just like the evolution of history and memory. In Kentridge's own words: In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term ‘new South Africa’ has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new.

Compared to Marker's La jetée which is composed of frozen moments, Kentridge's work presents a different time and space that are shivering and elusive, evoking the fading memory in an hypnotically poetic way. Another artist using paintings to make experimental animation is Jeff Scher, whose work is playful and apolitical. My favorite is You Won’t Remember This:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thames Town in Shanghai

A friend in China just sent me these images: a Thames town in Shanghai. After learning about Orange County and Hollywood in Beijing, this is no longer surprising to me. Somehow it reminds me of a joke when working on a Russian project. We had a Chinese firm to do the renderings. When they sent us the semi-final works, we found all the people they photoshoped in were Chinese! The sense of place is replaced by the hot pursuit of money.

When can they stop building more and more "Disney world" in China? Or, is it a new type of colonized town in the 21st century? Can they build something meaningful instead of such luxury trash?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Orson Welles' The Trial - my favorite Zizek quotes 2

In his movie version of Kafka’s The Trial, Orson Welles accomplished an exemplary anti-obscuranist operation by way of reinterpreting the place and the function of the famous parable on ‘the door of the law’.

In the Welles version, the reason K. is killed is therefore the exact opposite of the reason implied in the novel – he presents a threat to power the moment he unmasks, ‘see through’, the fiction upon which the social link of the existing power structure is founded.

Welles’ reading of The Trial thus differs from both predominant approaches to Kafka, the obscurantist-religious as well as the naïve, enlightened humanist.

Although it may seem that Welles aligns himself with the second reading, things are by no means so unequivocal: he as it were adds another turn of the screw by raising ‘conspiracy’ to the power of two – as K. puts it in the Welles version of his final outburst, the true conspiracy of Power resides in the very notion of conspiracy, in the notion of some mysterious Agency that ‘pulls the strings’ and effectively runs the show, that is to say, in the notion that, behind the visible, public Power, there is another obscene, invisible, ‘crazy’ power structure. This other, hidden Law acts the part of the ‘Other of the Other’ in the Lacanian sense, the part of the mega-guarantee of the consistency of the big Other (the symbolic order that regulates social life).

K.’s lawyer offers him, as a desperate last resort, this role of the martyr-victim of a hidden conspiracy; K., however, turns it down, being well aware that by accepting it he would walk into the most perfidious trap of Power.

- Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real, p229-231