Summer Reading

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I tend to alternate between intensive movie watching and intensive reading. When it’s summer it’s usually the latter – I feel guilty about being inside and they’ve yet to design hats for movie watching. The summer also has the privilege of less work, and by extension, not being attached to the internet. Free of my addiction I have the attention span, by necessity, to read some of the longer, harder books I avoid throughout the year. My goal for the year was to read all the long books (400+ pages) I own (about 30 or so), and so far I’ve gotten to the resounding number of three (one of which was mostly photos of Michael Snow works). So, to publicly shame me in to actually reading them, here is my to-read list for the next few months.

Barbara G. Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

This book is not meant to be read cover to cover, so I’m not really sure why I’ve decided to be the one to do it. Still, in a lot of ways it’s my ideal long book – segmented and without plot so I can pick it up and leave it as I like. I could also read it in a sort of choose your own adventure – jumping around entry to entry as they reference each other. Though as someone who needs to finish things (though you never really finish reading a book) I won’t do that. I’m kind of stressed out by the idea. It also links with a couple of my ongoing reading projects nicely, so killing five(?) birds with one stone is preferred.

Nicole Loraux’s The Divided City and The Invention of Athens

These will probably not be the most exciting Loraux titles for me, I honestly could not come up with texts more relevant to my interests than Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman and Mothers in Mourning: Moral and Legal Issues, but my boyfriend is gone for the summer and he’s left these with me. Thanks to reading Greek tragedies a couple summers ago I’m increasingly interested in the ancient world, and there’s always that pleasure in finding another French female academic to obsess over.

Surrealist Women: An International Anthology and Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve realized that fringe Surrealist figures are by far more interesting than its key figures. I read Black, Brown and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora a year or two ago and I’m still going through the list of authors I pulled from that (forever grateful for Joyce Mansour and Suzanne Cesaire), but figured I would continue with that project with the above two titles. Surrealism is so exciting, but a lot of the French tradition felt stagnant, so seeing its manifestations, both in literature and philosophy, spread out across the world and in to actual revolution is still dazzling. Though if I ever want to get my to-read list on goodreads below 900 titles, this is not the way to go. Also, it will never not be weird to see people saying nice things about Andre Breton.

Arna Mackic’s Mortal Cities Forgotten Monuments

You probably don’t remember the listicles going around a few years ago about monuments in the former Yugoslavia because unlike me they haven’t haunted you to the point where you’ve planned trips, films and career paths around it. Well, the source for these listicles came from this book, and in order to prepare myself for the above mentioned trips, films and career paths I should probably read it. Structures as testament to what they were built for, and in turn testament to what they survived? Don’t need to tell me twice.

The Duchess of Malfi: Seven Masterpieces of Jacobean Drama

I know you’re thinking, well Madeleine, that sounds great if you like cold arch dead things, but it’s summer, where is the drama. Next to the Frances Farmer autobiography, this is definitely the most dramatic book I own, and I’ve had it for over seven years.

Edmund de Waal’s The White Road: Journey into an Obsession

My friends Anjo-mari and Johannes, who have perfect taste, recommended this. I’m generally wary of nonfiction books that are described as “detective stories,” for it’s usually code for “trying too hard to be interesting” but I trust them, and pottery is a field I’m aesthetically interested in but know nothing about. Also I don’t own this book so this shouldn’t be on the list, I’ve already failed.

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

I read The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters a few years ago because I wanted to read Pursuit and Climate. I found a copy last year at in Vancouver, and it feels like the right book to read in the evening after a drink or two (the above are all strictly morning reads). Heavily autobiographical fiction is probably my favourite kind.

You’ve read enough. Here are the other titles:

Parents and Children by Ivy Compton-Burnett, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, The Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel, Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, Love’s Work by Gillian Rose, Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, War and the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, and The Break by Katherena Vermette.

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Currently into: February, 2017

Cassie

Reading
One of the things I was most excited about when I finished my thesis last year was being able to read absolutely anything I wanted to, guilt free – my reading list no longer dictated by my studies. I forgot about the pleasure of reading fiction! I’m on my third book for 2017 already, which is Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher (I’m a few chapters in so it’s too soon to say much, though I’m well acquainted with Haneke’s take for screen). I recently finished The Notebook Trilogy by Ágota Kristóf, which is a cold knife of a novel –  Kristóf’s language is stripped back but the sentiments weigh a tonne.  It’s hard to recommend it to people because it’s such a cruel book, but I will anyway (even if only for the cover art!)

Listening to
Life Without Buildings – Any Other City
A really good friend of mine pointed in me in the direction of this album about 11 years ago when I first moved to Melbourne, and every few years I go through a phase where it’s all I want to listen to. This is one of those phases.

Watching
It’s sad to say, but I haven’t watched a film in its entirety for months. I think I’m still recovering from the last few months of last year when I’d watch whatever was available to me in a quest to take procrastination to a terrifying new level. That said, my partner has been on a mission to find things that might interest me on Netflix (the Australian offering is seriously lacking) and came up with  the documentary mini-series Shadow of Truth, knowing full well that a good true crime doco will always scratch a satisfying itch in me (and everyone, and their mothers). The documentary deals with the 2006 murder of a 13yo girl in a quiet town in Israel. The production qualities are a little shoddy but it doesn’t matter in the slightest when the story is as bizarre as this one.

Chelsea

Reading
Already I feel as though I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like this year, but Maddy lent me two Leonora Carrington books, Down Below and The Hearing Trumpet, which I love.  Carrington’s physicality and transference of the intellectual or emotional into the body is moving and relatable, and the calmness of her tone, despite describing surrealistically traumatic events, is so soothing and beautiful.

Listening to
I alternate between a couple sad songs:
Pain in My Heart – Otis Redding
Hurt – Johnny Cash
No One Will Ever Love You – The Magnetic Fields
and
La Vie en Rose – Grace Jones

Watching
I watch an unhealthy amount of films right now, like at least three a day.  I will watch anything, since it’s more like gluttony than anything else.  But what I’m really into right now is 1940’s-1950’s technicolor Hollywood films, and anything with Gene Kelly involved.  One of the best films I watched recently was Invitation to the Dance (1956) directed by and starring Kelly, which is a perfect use of colour, dance, and spectacle.  Also Goodbye, Again (Anatole Litvak, 1961), which has immediately become one of my favourite sad melodramas.

Hannah

Reading
I’ve been in a book-accumulating fervor in the past month, buying somewhere in the realm of 30ish new volumes which I just had to possess (and hopefully will read this year.) My instagram account documents all these book hauls of late. Recently finished Barbara Comyns’s The Vet’s Daughter for book club, which was haunting and eerily familiar,  like a half-remembered fever dream. After reading it, I added the remainder of her work to my collection, having only read Our Spoons Came from Woolworth’s previously; most excited about The Skin Chairs! Currently I’m just dipping into Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, for which I have high hopes.

Listening to
I joined an as-yet-unnamed musical project/band this past fall, and we’re currently recording our first album. I’m singing & shakily learning the bass, and it’s kind of overwhelming but fun. Any band name suggestions are generously welcome, since we can’t come to a consensus yet. I think we sound kind of like NZ’s The 3Ds, but not really? Otherwise, I’ve weirdly been listening to very little music as of late. At work, I tend to listen to hours of podcasts all day; lately bingeing You Must Remember This, as I’m super excited to catch up to the newest series, “Dead Blondes.”

Watching
I’ve been a pretty terrible film-watcher lately. The Wailing (Na Hong-Jin, 2016) was the latest new film seen, and its intensity and heartfelt horror hit me rather hard. I have a giant watchlist gathering dust, but find time to watch the Charles Bronson vehicle Kinjite (1989) with my s.o. on VHS. Actually, I recommend watching it as a true oddity, and it’s available on youtube! I rewatched all of Hannibal around the new year, and it’s still the loveliest. & I’m excited that my local film society is hosting a free half-day screening of Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2015), The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016), and XX (2017) next Saturday.

Madeleine W

Despite trying very hard to maintain good sleep hygiene, lately I’ve been looking at my phone for an hour before bed reading reddit relationships. Though I’d say overall I’m satisfied with my personal life, I still love drama, and this sub thread gives me everything I want with the added guise of offering advice and council. People’s lives are crazy and they make terrible, selfish decisions! At it’s best it feels like communal therapy, at it’s worst I get to look at a bunch of people tear someone terrible apart.

I am not, by any means, a TV person. The idea of watching 6 seasons of 20 episodes of 40 minute show just seems like an unbearable amount of time to commit to anything. I’m also impatient, so I’ll inevitably google what happens and with my curiosity satisfied, give up. I was two episodes in to Twin Peaks when I looked up who killed Laura Palmer. However, maybe because things have been hard and frightening lately, I have gone through three seasons of Pretty Little Liars, averaging about one a week. And despite constantly looking up spoilers, and already knowing who A is (well, one of them) before starting the show, I’m still watching. Maybe it’s the melodrama, or the absurd stakes, or a scene where a Lana Del Rey song plays when two lovers are united, I just really like it. It also knows when to up the ante, ie someone falls down an elevator shaft and survives, every few episodes so I don’t lose interest. There’s also a ton of film references, which satiates any desire I have to feel smart.

Julia

Reading

My favourite thing about my maternity leave (other than, you know, getting to know this amazing human I made) has been reading. I’ve been exploring all the incredible librairies in my city, and reading all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, unrelated to my work. Less newspapers, more fiction. What a joy. I just finished Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, which I enjoyed. I feel even luckier to have also gotten my hands on new books that feel as though they were written for me, as a new mother. I find myself slowing down, stopping myself from finishing them because I never want them to end. Erin Wunker’s brilliant Notes From a Feminist Killjoy punched me in the gut, pushing me to devour the first hundred or so pages in one fevered go. I have stopped and re-read those passages, but I can’t bring myself to go further, knowing that it will end.

Also, my long-time Internet Friend Anaïs has started a tinyletter, which I have been devouring and recommending.

Listening To

This winter has gotten me down, mainly because of violence and white supremacy in my own city and in the world at large. Sometimes I find the best comfort for me is listening to music that will make me cry, so I can get out some of that sadness. And damn, Phil Elverum’s new record is the definition of heartbreaking. I pre-ordered the record, but the first two songs he has released – Ravens and Real Death – brought me to tears instantly.

Watching

Since having a baby, I’ve been very particular about what kind of films I watch – mainly due to the running times and depending on baby’s mood. I hate being interrupted, or having the tension of a scene fall flat because I’m distracted by my baby, but not watching anything isn’t an option. This past month I’ve settled on old movies! I recently signed up for MUBI in an attempt to add more variety to what films I watch and it has been pretty successful. I loved watching a young Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage (1935) and an older, even more brilliant Bette Davis in Another Man’s Poison (1951). I also just finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith and a friend lent me her box set of Fred & Ginger movies which has been just lovely.

Seen and Unseen: The Films of Marie Louise Alemann

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MADDY: The pleasure of discovery is always dampened when you realize that what you’ve discovered was dismissed from the canon in the first place. Such is almost always the case with female experimental filmmakers, as if the initial medium weren’t niche enough. Luckily, Emily and I had to chance to watch a screening of the films of Argentinian filmmaker Marie Louise Alemann. A significant figure in the Argentinian experimental film scene of the 1970s and 1980s, she is all but unheard of here in North America. Shifting between documenting happenings with her fellow artists Narcisa Hirsch, Claudio Caldini, and others, Butoh performance, criticisms of the dictatorship, and razor sharp depictions of female experience, the handful of Alemann’s films we saw were of a considerable talent. What really struck me was how each of her films were so different from each other, and yet they still made up a consistent whole. The programmer, Federico Windhausen, lamented after the screening that they were not in the order he wanted, but still managed to work. Because of this I made some assumptions about the work – who she collaborated with, how the collaborations worked, when she made it, what her focus was, etc., only to realize that they probably weren’t the right assumptions to make.

EMILY: Yes, one thing I really loved about the scrambled order was that it confused those assumptions. Windhausen mentioned in his introductory remarks that many of the films Alemann directed were filmed by her friends and collaborators, such as Claudio Caldini and Narcisa Hirsch, presumably because so much of Alemann’s work draws on her own embodiment and performance. The last film that we ended up seeing was an untitled one by Juan Jose Mugni, which the program notes inform us was made as a “tribute to Alemann’s face, which she sought to use as an enigmatic and multi-purpose mask in many of her films.” To me this film so clearly showed how Alemann was in control of its image of herself. It did not seem to me to be a series of passive representations of her (something we have been taught to expect in a structure of film production organized around the objectification of women) but rather a vital creative act she directed.* It was to this power that Mugni paid tribute. Maybe I especially liked this because it brought together the site at which I am habitually restricted to searching for women’s creative power in film (the female performance as both enabled and constrained by the conditions of film production) and a host of radical possibilites for that power in an experimental space of collaboration, through which film is given direction and force from both behind and in front of the camera.

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*To direct (per the Oxford English Dictionary)
To write (a letter or message) expressly to.
To address (spoken words) to any one; to utter (speech) so that it may directly reach a person.
To impart, communicate expressly, give in charge to a person.
To keep in right order; to regulate, control, govern the actions of.
To give authoritative instructions to; to ordain, order, or appoint (a person) to do a thing, (a thing) to be done.
To supervise and control the making of a film or the production of a play, etc.; to guide or train (an actor, etc.) in his performance.

How interesting that in the contemporary and classical film industry “direction” is about organizing objects, people, images in ways that collect at the authoritative end of this spectrum of control (think Griffith with his megaphone or, my favourite, Abel Gance directing with a revolver–images of masculine power) while the sense of communication–direction in service of transmitting a message to someone–is subdued, even though that is ostensibly the point of making a movie. Even in movies she does not “direct,” Alemann’s (silent) face and body still direct messages to the viewer and so send viewers in particular directions. Alemann’s wider artistic practice disrupted film direction’s model of gendered authority in other ways, too. I loved the story Windhausen told about how she would teach all of the housewives she met on the beach during her summer vacations how to use their super 8 cameras: she acted as a mentor for films and directors not recognized as “real” films or directors.

MADDY: The close-up of a woman’s face is one of those key cinematic images that just keeps recurring (lately it seems to be thriving in music videos). I’m reminded of early cinema, and Munsterberg’s writings on the close-up. Generally a close-up is a shot that’s used to direct and focus the viewer’s attention on one spot, but is still tied up in ideas of truth and authenticity. If we see the close-up on the face, there is nothing that can hide from us, and there’s the impression that we’re seeing some kind of truth here. But Alemann is much too smart for that. Her close-ups are interspersed with filters (which she controls), paint dripping, and other means of distortion. The rapid cuts, instead of a long take (as is the norm with the close up of the female face) also challenge any passive looking, or any chance of suture. As you’ve said so well already, she is not an object of our gaze, but rather a very stark reminder of who is in control of what we are watching, and by extension how we understand it.

Not to be a gender essentialist, but this feels like a very female understanding of the world. It’s a fact at this point that by constantly being considered objects to be looked at, first and foremost, women’s humanity has become secondary. To take on a project where what one sees is clearly constructed, and constantly being altered, is a very clear challenge to those norms. She has a similar project in Autobiografico 2 (1974), with her face spray painted silver and her body tied up to trees with a coarse rope. There are rapid cuts here as well, but here they slowly reveal information, for example, that she is tied up to trees is only gradually shown to the audience. The initial shots are of her face, and then parts of her body, and then the trees tied up with parts of the rope. As the cuts show more and more, the rope begins to untie itself, and eventually it becomes completely untied. The rapid cutting loosens the ropes that bind her, and also gives and takes from the audience. The pleasure of seeing is postponed, and when we are finally able to see “the whole picture” of her entrapment, she is freed. Though Alemann is tied up, she is control of the camera, and by extension in control of her own experience.

self defense

EMILY: This interplay between performance, direction, and the camera is important in all of the work that we saw from Alemann but I’m thinking of it right now particularly in the context of Legitima defensa (Self-defense, 1980), which was my favourite of all of the films shown that night. In this black and white short, the camera slowly follows Alemann as she circles around a room in an indeterminate location. Alemann’s hair is hidden beneath a white cap and her face is covered with white paint. She confronts the camera with aggressive facial expressions (smiles? grimaces? threats?) and holds a long wooden staff at the ready, presumably for attack. The soundtrack is screams and groans – at least I think so. All I remember is being profoundly unsettled. I loved this movie, first of all, because the intensity of Alemann’s performance in it gave me literal goosebumps. As well, the film was such an incredible exploration of the relationship between the camera and its subject. The camera follows Alemann around, documenting her–this surveillance evoking at once the traditional position of women as the object of the camera’s gaze and the specific political context of Alemann’s life under a repressive and violent dictatorship in Argentina during the Dirty War. In this film Alemann flips the experience of being watched. Her eyes never leave the camera and never blink. With the staff in her hand she could easily break the lens but doesn’t, and the camera follows her direction as it is forced to keep this danger in its sight. She controls its movement. She is flagrantly visible and will not be disappeared, but even though her face is the camera’s obsessive focus it cannot be deciphered under her layers of paint and performance. It was so interesting to see this film in juxtaposition with Sensasion 77: Mimetismo (Sensation 77: Mimicry, 1977) which is about hiding from sight/the camera.

MADDY: I remember being so struck by her eyes in Self-Defense. Wide-open and aggressive, a stark contrast to her white face. She circles around the room challenging the camera, and at times is clearly seen, but against some walls she almost disappears. Still, her eyes remain. Which I think is the key element to both of her explicitly political works: When a corrupt government tries to disappear its subjects, nothing can truly be disappeared. Something always remains, whether it be the person or the actions of the government. In Sensasion 77 Alemann is trying to disguise herself amongst foliage, but also failing. For me, to film someone trying to hide, is a very conscious decision that is inherently critical. I’m trying to hide, but I’m filming it, so there will always be a record of this act. So it is a false hiding, or rather, hiding to show something else.

Windhausen mentioned that Alemann’s group was visited by the fascist government over concerns of subversive works, and after watching these films the artists were left to continue as they were. He noted that the government was afraid of militant works, those that would inspire an uprising. These works, though deeply subversive and critical, weren’t about challenging the government. They’re more insidious, more intelligent. I can see why they weren’t arrested over them, but I think that’s their merit. They’re more about life under dictatorship, the everyday quality of fear and desperation. But both are radical challenges, both in what they depict, and in their very existence.

And I think a woman depicting her everyday existence, under any form of oppression, is inherently radical.

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Carol’s ghost: Chantal Akerman, Todd Haynes, and the problem of representation

Like so many people, we at Femina Ridens have been grieving the loss of Chantal Akerman since her death at the beginning of October. A conversation that Maddy, Chelsea, and I had this morning  foregrounded how much this loss requires us to grapple not only with Akerman’s incredible body of work, but also with the work that she didn’t do: that is, with the conditions of possibility under which her films were completed or left unfinished. Our conversation was sparked by an interview with Eric de Kuyper, Akerman’s friend and collaborator, which was posted online by the European Journal of Media Studies. Among many other topics, he shares information about some of Akerman’s unrealized projects:

de Kuyper: In a filmography there are always these blind spots: written scenarios which were never shot, projects which never materialised. For instance, after working on La Captive (2000), we wrote a wonderful adaptation of Chéri and La fin de Chéri by Colette. Too late, we discovered that all the rights for the French writer were blocked by Stephan Frears, who made a rather mediocre film on Colette some years later. Our next project was the adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, which was later published under the title Carol. Again, our work had to be interrupted because of film rights. We had learned our lesson. Carol is coming out now, but by Todd Haynes, not by Chantal Akerman.

We were all stunned by the thought of these never-to-be-made films, and had the following exchange (here edited and expanded) about what knowing this means for us:

Chelsea:  I am so sad we’ll never see Akerman’s Carol.

Maddy: My interest in the film has almost entirely evaporated now that I know this, no offense Haynes.

Chelsea: Same… He can’t even compete with hypothetical, incomplete Akerman.

Emily: The fact that the project was abandoned because they couldn’t get the rights is messing me up.

Chelsea: ARE WE BLAMING TODD? I’M BLAMING TODD…

Emily: I love Haynes but this is so painful. It really shows how women’s stories are taken away from women — in this case, if not by Haynes specifically, then by the system that allows him to have a career and be funded for a film like Carol.

Chelsea: I’m kind of indifferent to Haynes, though I loved Safe… but yeah.

Maddy: What if Akerman had done Safe, though?

Chelsea: You’re killing me!!!

Emily:  (To be clear I fully support blaming Haynes.)

Maddy: Fuck Todd.

Chelsea:  He works in a system that allows him to succeed and put up barriers for Akerman. And she was much more skilled! I feel like if anyone could do this story justice it would be her.

Maddy: Cinema is a history of possibilities taken away from directors who aren’t white men.

Emily: Also, if I’m not mistaken, Haynes dedicated Carol to Akerman at a screening … knowing this that feels so cruel.

Chelsea: Was this before she died?

Emily: It was after. [And I was wrong: he didn’t dedicate the film itself to her, but rather that night’s screening of the film.]

Chelsea: This is gross… The story is like, made for Akerman. We’ll never get films for queer women by queer women.

Emily: This really brings home for me how fucked everything is for women, queer women, and so many other marginalized people in film. Even the amazing representations we cherish were so often made in place of the shadow ghost versions that could have been made by the people they represent.

Maddy: Often I feel like the “female canon” is us making do with what little we’ve been offered. Representation has always been middling, so we have to build from what little there is. Everything could have been better, works should have been done by others. Especially since there are so many filmmakers who are better suited.

Emily: Yes, we’re so hungry for any scraps….

Chelsea: I’m sick of all representation being mediated by white men, then praising these white men for ANY sensitivity.

Emily: I’m thinking again of that Facebook thread where Akerman said, “everyone inspired by me should pay me.”

Maddy: It was Annelise who pointed out that now it’s just heartbreaking:

Annelise: I thought this was funny once, now it breaks my heart. Why didn’t she get the money, or even the respect she deserved?

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Chelsea: Everyone wants to cite Akerman as an influence for cred, but no one wants to actually support women artists.

“I think the weight of that loss is still being understood,” Haynes began, revealing he was still reeling from Akerman’s death. He called Jeanne Dielman “so inspiring as a filmmaker and as someone thinking about female subjects and how they’re depicted and what we’ve come to expect is occupied onscreen when we’re dealt the story of women’s lives and what is important and what is not important.” – THR

Emily: It’s upsetting to me that the takeway from Akerman’s work here is “be inspired.” I think her work is inspiring for women and other people who have been largely barred from the opportunity to make films or to see films that represent them.  And it’s not that it can’t be meaningful for someone like Haynes… but it’s different for him to see an Akerman film and then, by using it as an “inspiration,” mine it for his own work (which, because of his social location, is more commercially viable, more widely seen, and more lauded).

Chelsea: And it’s almost absurd that men making films about women must learn that women are people in college. “Not until adulthood did I realize that women are misrepresented!” And then: “Have I done anything to help women artists represent themselves? Ummm… But I gotta work too…”

Maddy: Remember how Spielberg has the rights to Martin Luther King’s speeches, so they couldn’t be used in Selma?

Emily: The systems in place mean that your story isn’t your own anymore, and you are left hoping that it will be sold back to you in a form that you can still recognize.

Fireworks (Archives): Impressions

Madeleine Wall: After some time, I’m quite certain the best thing I saw at TIFF was Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation Fireworks (Archives). I saw a lot, and, to be honest, too much, but this was the only piece that I was excited by.

After being told by the ticket vendor that it was “very dark, very scary, and that people are going to get hurt,” I met up with Maddie, and knowing only that warning, entered the installation. The vendor wasn’t wrong — we had trouble orienting ourselves in the space, and only after some time did we realize there were chairs, and that they already had people in them. This difficulty in situating ourselves didn’t change in regard to the video piece. An inaccurate summary of it would be a man and a woman wander around a statue garden, which is sporadically illuminated by fireworks or the flash of a camera. The subjects, whether the moving people or the many statues, are only ever seen briefly and partially by these lights, and the sound of fireworks turns into the sound of gunfire.

For me, this piece is very much engaged with the sleight of hand that is inherent to cinema. We believe, when watching a film, we can see it all, that we are presented with an authentic, as close to reality as possible, picture, and that sound functions to reinforce that illusion of reality. In actuality, light, darkness and sound are three separate parts that work together, in ways that are not perceptible to the human eye, to create the illusion of the moving picture. Light becomes something we take for granted, and we trust in its abilities completely.

Here, on the other hand, the light only partially illuminates, and is meant to function as such. Fireworks are a spectacle, meant to distract rather than illuminate. The flash of the camera and the click of its shutter only provides a brief glimpse of what is going on, and the image it takes the audience does not see. It is a film of mostly darkness, with the light adding to the disorientation rather than clarity. When we see fireworks going off as they should, there is silence, and the sound we expect is replaced with gunfire, but at times it is difficult to tell the difference.

On a technical and aesthetic level I loved it, but lacking any context, I knew this was (pun not intended but I’m keeping it) only part of the picture. The statues in the garden were such a mishmash of figures that its reason for existence remained unclear. If this is an archive with gunfire, there’s a history and politics here that I’m missing.

Madeleine Lee: A few hours before I met Maddy, I went a few floors down from where Fireworks (Archives) was playing to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul in conversation with critic Dennis Lim, where they discussed both Fireworks and Apichatpong’s new film, Cemetery of Splendour. I hadn’t yet seen Fireworks in motion, so my initial contact with it was the opposite of Maddy’s — I only had the context.

Fireworks (Archives) is an offshoot of Cemetery of Splendour in that both works were shot in the northeast of Thailand, the area where Apichatpong was born, and the two actors who appear in Fireworks are also the main actors in Cemetery of Splendour, more or less as they appear in the full-length feature. The major context of Fireworks, however, is the location: the Sala Keoku Temple, founded by a handsome, charismatic mystic who had fled from Laos and established himself as a guru of sorts back in Thailand. He covered the walls of the temple with his portrait, and designed all of the sculptures in its garden. The sculptures draw on images from multiple religions (including Buddhism and Hinduism) as well as contemporary culture, giving them a primal, pantheistic look.

Apichatpong also explained that the northeast of Thailand has been traditionally a marginal area of the country both economically and politically. An audience member who had seen the piece asked about the photographs of people that are shown at the beginning and end of the film without commentary or labels. The filmmaker identified them as people who had been executed in uprisings against the government. He had included their images in the work so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Given all this context, I couldn’t help but come to Fireworks already viewing it as a heavily political and intellectual work.

At the same time, I kept thinking of one of my favourite moments in the Q&A session earlier: An audience member had asked Apichatpong about his intent in using black and white versus colour in a different short film, and what kind of statement he was trying to make by choosing one or the other (for instance, evoking a certain sense of time). The filmmaker’s response was, “I choose according to what looks right to me” – not an evasive answer, just a simple one.

From its historical context alone, Fireworks is a political work. But it is also a very visually and aurally striking one, and by its creator’s own admission born as much of experiments with capturing different sources of light on camera as it was of historical research into the location. In Fireworks, the political and the aesthetic are not two different layers or different readings of the piece, because both are located in one place, in one person: the work’s creator, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. If Fireworks has a political viewpoint, it is the political viewpoint he expresses; if it has aesthetic value, it is the value of the creator’s instinctive choices, “what looks right” to him. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his aesthetic choices are subconsciously informed by his politics, because he is the one person making both decisions. And I don’t think it’s much more of a stretch to say that his taste for formal experimentation and fascination with the images found at the Sala Keoku Temple might come from a similar place as his political leanings.

MW: It’s interesting, because without the context I assumed that the photos of the men were those of the perpetrators. There is an overwhelming sense that something is not right in this garden, and beginning the film with the photos of men does alert one to some historical event. (Though since we walked in half way through the film, we didn’t see their photos until the end, so our time line was off, or at least mine was.)

I suppose it was a kind of Act of Killing syndrome, where I assumed the only evidence we have of any crime in the non Western world is only of the perpetrator, and most certainly they were not punished. Here, these men become part of this archive, and though what happened is never explicitly stated, we still understand it, predominantly because of the aesthetic/political alignment you were talking about.

ML: I think your initial impulse raises an interesting point, which is that despite designating this work as “Archives”, the photos are not labelled, and there’s no designation given to the exact location within the work itself. In the Q&A, his insistence that his purely aesthetic choices be recognized as such also leaves them open for alternative interpretations (or shuts out the possibility, depending on how much authorial intent matters to you).

I think the ambiguous identities of the people in the work for anyone unfamiliar with them works into the overall theme of ambiguity in the piece that you mentioned in your initial impression — the firework noises that become gunshots, the parallel drawn between the flash of a camera and the lights given off by fireworks, the part where the two actors hold hands and are conflated with a statue in the temple of two skeletons holding hands. Even just the fact of all the lighting being done by a single source in each shot confuses the concept of an archive: rather than preserving these things in their whole form, only their impression is preserved, if that makes any sense. I think this plays into the photography as well, then: the people in the photographs are presented not with biographies and history, but only as impressions.

The artist’s statement is here:
fireworks (Archives) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

THINGS WE CURRENTLY LOVE SEPTEMBER

Dana

Lady Lamb – After

Lady Lamb’s (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) new album After is one of my favorite little gems from 2015. I had never heard her music before this album, so this album fell into my lap as a fully formed treasure. The strength of Lady Lamb’s lyrics – about love and loss and modern anxieties – are bolstered by the sometimes sweet, sometimes surprisingly hard rocking tunes she crafts around her words. It’s definitely not the “young woman makes quiet folk record” cliché, but instead, young woman takes the world around her as she experiences it and creates a moving record of her truth.

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Marjorie Cameron

One of the biggest experiences of cultural FOMO I have suffered in the last few years was the Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman exhibit at Los Angeles’ MOCA last last year. The more I read about Cameron, her relationship to Jack Parsons and other male occultists of her day, and her art, the more I am just in awe of this incredibly powerful woman. Finally, the Deitch Gallery brought an expanded version of the MOCA show to their gallery in New York, and I was lucky enough to be able to check it out this past week. It’s in a beautiful, sunlight space with bare white walls, belying the dark imagery in Cameron’s art. Dark, yet incredibly compelling and, to me, remarkably inspiring. I am strongly considering getting the sketch pictured above, from the Songs for the Witch Woman series, tattooed on my leg or side, as a reminder of the power of witch women, and also because of how plain beautiful it is. Taking Cameron’s inspiration to heart for future projects!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes 😦

Fall is incontrovertibly the best season (sorry to one of my favorite writers, Jia Tolentino, who is just totally wrong on this), and, being really real with you all, it’s partially because of pumpkin spice flavors!! Especially Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes! I am one of those basic bitches who love a PSL; I got the pre-release coupon for an early cup, I even think the PSL promoted tweets are cute? But really, fall is the best, cinnamon-y flavors are the best, and now I will be enjoying pumpkin spice fever until after Christmas.

Emily

Knitting

I’m an anxious person generally, and I’m currently going through a stressful professional time. Knitting has become at once hobby, coping mechanism, and bulwark against despair. I had attempted to learn to knit about 4 times previously (efforts going back 10 years), and gave up each time, frustrated that my hands couldn’t or wouldn’t make the right figures. This time something clicked, and I immediately felt like a witch. Making objects out of yarn is extraordinarily satisfying and grounding, combining precision, attention, and a long process of learning with a sense of provisionality and play, while offering me material evidence of my competence. It’s a joy, and I’m grateful it’s part of my life right now.

The Ocean

ocean emily

My boyfriend and I recently made a trip to Prince Edward Island for our friends’ wedding. I grew up on the Island between the ages of 8 and 18, but, for various reasons, I haven’t visited in almost a decade, and haven’t seen the Atlantic Ocean in nearly as long. I didn’t realize how important it was to me, how viscerally I’d missed it, until we arrived at Greenwich Dunes and I immediately ran into the waves and started crying. It’s already been too long since I’ve been back.

Hot toddies

Cut up a whole hunk of ginger root into pieces (you don’t need to peel it) and put it in a pot with a cinnamon stick, some whole cloves, and a few pieces of lemon peel. Add 5 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about half an hour. Strain the liquid, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a mug, then top the mug up with some of the ginger mixture you’ve made. Add honey generously and, if you wish, the alcoholic spirit of your choice. Drink and feel cozy as fuck.

Julia

Summer lingered long through September here, and I am grateful. The month ended with a supermoon and an eclipse, so I stared long and hard at the shadows of the moon trying to make sense of space, time, light and darkness. Something tells me I won’t find the solution overnight.

Nicolas Provost – Papillon d’Amour

I watched more short films in September 2015 than I have in the past year. Quebec City’s Film Festival has hit its stride this year in its 5th edition, and my favourites were the local short films screened in all kinds of contexts – in shipping containers, in decadent moldy theatres, in gorgeous palaces. Simultaneously, the first Quebec City edition of Cinédanse took place at the Musée de la Civilisation. I could list off the gorgeous shorts I had the chance to see screened, but the one that struck me the most and that translates best onto screens of any size is this piece by Nicholas Provost, from 2010. Simple, short, and fucking intense. Also now I need to rewatch Rashomon.

Reading poetry and shit

I’ve been making a real effort to read more fiction in French these days but I keep getting sidetracked by badass poets. Namely,

Warsan Shire
Elaine Kahn
Louise Glück
Anne Boyer
Alice Notley

Also people can you stop posting Warsan’s work without crediting her? That would be great. That happened a lot this month with her poem  “Home” and it pissed me off.

Wide-brimmed hats

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For years and years and years, I have lusted for cloche hats. They look so good. I love pretending I am a modern-day flapper when I wear the ones I have. As my hair grows long, and longer, I am confronted with the reality that cloche hats look best on chin-length hair – or shorter. Well guess what. Wide-brimmed hats look fucking awesome when your hair is longer. So here are some selfies of me with wide-brimmed hats, including a fancy-ass French one I wish I could afford.

P.S. YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE WAS AWESOME ABOUT SEPTEMBER? Meeting Emily. That was pretty awesome. [Emily interjects virtually: YES, IT WAS AMAZING <3<3<3]

Madeleine W

I’m a sucker for anything involving trees in the title, which occasionally leads me astray (I’m avoiding watching The Place Beyond The Pines even though it has the best title of all time??) but lately I’ve been rewarded by pine trees, specifically in Alice Notley’s Into The Pines and AroarA’s Into The Pines.

The latter is a sort of adaptation of the former, taking Notley’s already experimental book of poetry, and writing a song for each of the poems. Having listened to the album to the point of memorization before reading the book, I had a really weird reading experience. The book of poems is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, and I’m not sure why it took me years to finally get around to reading it. I often write down or post on tumblr my favourite lines, but it got to the point where the entire book was my favourite line. I resisted posting more, feeling like each line was reduced when outside of the poem it is part of. Which is a weird thing to feel, considering the album takes a few lines and writes a song about it. I experienced it in the wrong order, and I wonder if I would like the album as much if I’d read the poems first. Initially I want to say I now have context for these lines, but rather I have a linguistic context within the book versus the musical context of the song. Both are complete works, with their own world and wholeness. Both ache with a long sadness, and have the haunted shiver you can only find in the dark woods. The lines from the poems, “I was born to be your poet,” “I am a dead man’s eyes and I haven’t seen anything for eternity,” “I’m going to find your soul,” aren’t missing anything in the songs. They have a new home, with just as much meaning. A really remarkable project, I wonder if it could work with others.

THINGS WE CURRENTLY LOVE SUMMER EDITION

We’re all out enjoying summer, so here’s a short edition of Things We Currently Love for August!

Madeleine W

So, as everyone who has spoken to me, even this passing, knows, I just finished a run of four weddings in six weeks. Two of which I was some kind of maid of honour, one of which I helped make an elaborate dragon cake, and the last where I was (thankfully) just a guest. Everything went well and the couples were lovely, but I am very tired. Since this has been the lens of my summer so far (all the time spent at not-wedding related events involved working overtime to help pay for my expenses) my Things I Currently Love will be somewhat themed.

Get Lucky – Daft Punk

I remember when this song first came out, and the waves of meta-ness and internet think pieces that followed. Now the song exists where it always belonged – on the dance floor of a wedding. This song played at every wedding. And each time I danced, and each time I danced with someone’s mom. At the last two weddings I left mid-conversation in order to dance to it. And there was always a mom on the dance floor. Wedding playlists are all very similar, I learned, whether programmed by the punk rock groom, the personal trainer bride or a DJ named AJ who is probably 14. I would also like to add that my brilliant idea of letting the dogs run around the dance floor and then playing “Who Let The Dogs Out” did not happen, but I’ll elaborate more in an upcoming entry “Ways I Which I Have Been Slighted At Weddings.” Heel Cushions I have oddly shaped feet. They’re small, but the heel is narrow and the toes are wide, which means that I don’t have a pair of shoes without blood in them. I’ll be 26 in less than a month, so I’ve come to terms with that always being the case. However, before my first wedding my mother handed me a packet of gel pads to put on your shoes. Figure out where the friction is, stick it on, and you’re set. They worked! My feet were sore, and I ended up ditching my shoes at every wedding at some point (and was scolded by the staff of Chateau Laurier for doing so) but they’re been in the best shape I’ve seen them after a night out. Obviously I’d rather have beauty norms for women which actually comply with women’s bodies, but this feels like a step in the right direction.

Running After A Bride Through The Woods

This is less of a thing and more of a favourite memory, but my first wedding involved my bride and I running through the woods of her parent’s property (where the wedding took place). Have you ever run behind a woman in a long flowing white dress in the early evening? And seen how it floated behind her in the wind? And since it was grass everywhere there was no fear of damage? I’d recommend it, but it’s not common circumstances. I will also add that the poutine truck that we were running towards was not there when we arrived.

Former Embassies

The second wedding was for my boyfriend’s brother, so I came up to Ottawa with him and his family a few days before, but most of this trip involved making a very elaborate dragon cake. His family included his extended family, so we ended up finding a place through airbnb. The house was massive, but decidedly past its former glory. The first floor had enough room for two living rooms and a dining room in the large open concept space, and then multiple bedrooms and bathrooms to the side. The basement was the same, though with two dining rooms and two living rooms. The whole house felt off, and not just because of the strange layout, or the Ikea kitchen that was falling apart. Maybe haunted? Maybe a murder? Who knows what secrets Ottawa hides. But with some redecorating it could have been a house in a Duras film.

Cashew the Squirrel

Rather than wedding related, this is more wedding adjacent. A month or so ago I woke up to find a squirrel in my kitchen. I don’t have air conditioning, so I keep the windows open, but I also don’t have screens. I’ve been expecting an animal to come in, though I’d always pictured a raccoon. The squirrel ate my cashews, which is truly a tragedy, so he’s been since named Cashew. And he keeps coming back. And keeps getting in. I’ve seen him trying to open the windows. I wish I could strike a deal with him, where I leave food for him on the ledge but still have the windows open without him coming in. I have confidence in him, not simply because of his bravery and stubbornness. Who knows what our relationship can bring

Dana

Trusting my gut

I’ve never been a particularly confident person – I’m often second-guessing myself in even the smallest, most inconsequential decisions. This summer, however, I’ve made two big life changes, both of which took a lot of soul-searching and actually, you know, being an adult about things. This is new for me. It’s awesome! And hard! And I am starting to trust in what I know about who I am and what I want. Plus, my favorite horoscope says August is going to be an amazing month for me.

Magic Mike XXL

I already wrote about Magic Mike XXL here, and in all over the place tweets, but I just wanted to say for the FR record that I think everyone should see this movie. Plus, Channing Tatum says that he believes God is a woman. Let that sink in.

Rollercoasters?

I took a work trip in February with a group of foreign exchange students to California, where we visited both Disneyland and Universal Studios. I had a surprisingly great time! Despite being too timid for rollercoasters most of my life, I went on everything there was to offer, and I…loved them. The last few weeks, I’ve gotten rollercoaster fever, so in preparation for a Six Flags trip my husband and I are going to take in the next few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot about rollercoasters as well as watching POV videos of each of the rides I want to go on. Pretty weird, I’m not gonna lie, but I am so into it.