Re: The Wire: Episode 55 (Agnieszka Holland)
- Forgive me for being a little slow sometimes, but now I am finally
starting to get a clue about why I so often feel like a lonely voice on
a_film_by. My post on Rossellini got a handful of level-headed replies
over a few days; Mike's attack on "The Wire" generated nearly a dozen
passionate and angry rebuttals in seven hours, none of them much
engaging with issues of form or mise en scene. Now it's clearer than
ever to me what so many in this group care most about.
Marc Raymond's post that inspired Mike to view "The Wire" read, in part:
"May be blasphemous, but I would rather people be exposed to a great
social drama like HBO's THE WIRE than listen to Bach all day and soak in
the aesthetic aura."
The replies show me which side of this argument most of us stand on!
"We" care far more about "The Wire" than about Bach's music, or the
whole of classical music, or Rossellini, or all of them combined, right?
(I do know that in Mike Grost's case, that is not the case.)
I don't have cable and don't want cable and have never seen "The Wire."
Now that I also know I have to spend over 50 hours in order to have
"seen" it, I won't! I have watched a few ongoing TV series over the last
three decades. Not counting episodes directed by known cinema auteurs, I
have never, ever, never, ever, seen anything visually or formally
expressive, but only the shapeless, mind-destroying soup of TV's visual
mud. Sometimes, I have been amused by the comedy or gotten "involved"
with the characters. The latter process has always, as I have written
before, felt regressive and backwards, offering the illusions of
substitute escapist worlds that sink me into a kind of non-living that
hurts me as a human being even as it might entertain and amuse. Frankly,
I am not really interested in reading things about film or TV that
disregard form. I've never seen one second of "The Wire," so I have no
idea about how different it might be. The content-based posts from its
defenders here don't convince me that it is.
Let me offer one final example of what I have been trying to argue for
the past few years. In John Ford's "How Green Was My Valley," there is a
moment when two sons tell their father of their intention to emigrate to
America. There is a shot in which the characters almost seem to freeze
in the frame. This is an effective way of cinematically articulating the
emotions of the moment, the sadness and the impending loss that everyone
feels. Another filmmaker might have cut into faces, or zoomed in on
them, in a way that was crudely manipulative. This Ford does not do, and
the scene is much more moving because he does not do so.
But the full meaning of this "frozen moment" lies in the way it connects
with the vision Ford expresses throughout the film, in which static,
highly-structured compositions and in some scenes darkness at the edges
and the use of constraining straight lines and enclosing curves combine
with the flashback form to give a sense that every life-filled activity
depicted in the imagery is also at that very moment being lost, being
re-recognized as located in the past. There is an "architecture" of
social tradition and memory being articulated, a particular vision of
the world being offered. Ford's formal artistry makes this vision
"beautiful," and also "true." The aware viewer is moved by the beauty
and the truth of it, and is also able, seeing how and why Ford
structures his images as he does, to argue with it, to think, for
example, that she or he wishes to more fully embrace the present --
staying with cinema for the moment, to choose, perhaps, a more
Hawks-like vision over Ford's.
It is this formal architecture, which I find in most all of the
filmmakers whose work I love, from Ford to Brakhage to Bresson to
Markopoulos to Keaton to Hou Hsiao-hsien , which makes great cinema
"worthy" of Pérotin and Bach and van Eyck and Cézanne and Brunelleschi
and Louis Sullivan and Keats and Hopkins.
If, on the other hand, all that you see is the way the style flows into
the emotions of that particular moment, you are perhaps only entering
the substitute world of characters and their feelings. You are not
thinking or feeling actively, and you are, in my view, living your own
life less rather than more fully as a result.
I recently read a few of Blake Lucas's entries in "The Little Black
Book: Movies." Now I understand much better why we were antagonists on
this board. In the entries I read, on for example "Meet Me in St. Louis"
and "Colorado Territory," he seems to me to describe style as serving
primarily or even only to feed into feelings about the characters. (Not
only that, I think he gets Walsh spectacularly wrong in describing the
ending of "Colorado Territory," which he seems to have confused with a
Borzage movie.) But my real point is that for me, in a great narrative
film, style is most significant and most interesting as an architecture
of seeing and thinking and vision, not as an enhancement of the story.
This is why I might sometimes choose to describe style a bit separately
from the story, because it can seem deeply true to do so, an act that
Blake chose to call "ridiculous" here.
I'm not saying that mind-numbing entertainments should never have a
place in anyone's life. I've had my share of idle moments spent thinking
about what some character in a TV show I saw last night "should" have
done. I just don't prefer such thoughts to listening to Bach.
I would like to once again implore members and the moderators to change
the group's Statement of Purpose. Placed alongside the current posts on
TV, together they make no more sense than a chance meeting of a
sewing-machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table -- but are far less
poetic. One line would suffice, "A group for the serious discussion of
film and television, from an auteurist perspective; flames and personal
insults are banned." That would be nicely true to the present discussion
(Mike did mention the director, after all, and there's a good discussion
about how important the director is in a TV series). I would also like
to insist to the moderators that the Kubelka images I provided some time
ago for the group's home page be completely removed from the site of
a_film_by. It is now clearer than ever how totally inappropriate they are.
And with that, I take my leave from this group that Peter Tonguette and
I founded five years ago, as a "safe space" for people to discuss film
from an auteurist perspective, and which was apparently not "safe" from
ridicule for those who wished to discuss Raoul Walsh as a visual stylist
rather than as a "born storyteller." Indeed, I realize now that I should
have left much earlier. Most of my time lately has gone into making my
own art (http://www.fredcamper.com/A/ ), which will I hope be my primary
focus for the remainder of my life. I did start a totally inactive group
that's at http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/filmart/ Perhaps, if a
few people are interested in discussing Bach's cantatas alongside the
films of Douglas Sirk and Stan Brakhage, I will get it started, but
there is no way I'll let it become anything like another a_film_by
In truth, despite my tone, I do wish everyone here well, and wish to
begrudge no one their pleasures. I hope the group continues to flourish.
I do expect to read it from time to time. Best wishes to all.
- I am just a terribly lazy and inapt internet searcher/buyer, so could
someone point me to a way to order this book on the web?
sorry for sending something so personally useful to the list.
On 2/13/08, Blake Lucas <lukethedealer@...> wrote:
> --- In email@example.com <a_film_by%40yahoogroups.com>, Brandon
> <groups@...> wrote:
> > I've been reading "The Little Black Book: Movies" (if you guys
> > heard, it was actually retitled "Defining Moments In Movies" before
> > release to stores) since it came out.
> Just to clarify this, Brandon, it is called "The Little Black Book:
> Movies" in U.K. and Australia and perhaps a few other places, while
> it is called "Defining Moments in Movies" in U.S. and most other
> places. Don't ask me why. It's kind of confusing I know, but that's
> the way it is for some reason. Same book with same cover and
> identical contents.
> As one of the contribtors, your comments were very gratifying to me
> and I'm sure others in the group who are contributors will feel
> the same way. You are plainly the kind of reader we all hope the
> book will have have. Thanks for your post.
> Blake Lucas
> I meant to say something about it
> > here after I finished reading, but now Camper and Ehrenstein are
> > and I'm not done yet (up to the early 1990's), so quickly before
> > list disintegrates over this episode of "The Wire," I wanted to
> > everyone involved for GREATLY expanding my auteurist list of must-
> > films and for giving me plenty to think about with regards to
> > I've already seen. It's an excellent book, far greater than its
> > and cover art would suggest. My favorite new discovery so far has
> > the writer Paolo Cherchi Usai, though I suspect I'll never get to
> > most of the titles he writes about.
> > It's nice to find trustworthy sources of film recommendations and
> > I've got this book, Jonathan Rosenbaum's mighty list at the end of
> > "Essential Cinema" (I finally photocopied it so I'd stop wearing
> out the
> > book spine) and the mathematically-calculated composite list at
> > theyshootpictures.com, along with the stream of enthusiastic new
> > in "Film Comment" and "Cinema Scope" and some brilliant posts on
> > a_film_by (loved cjsuttree's post on Wong Kar-Wai two weeks ago).
> > quiet on-list 'cause my critical and analytical skills are crap and
> > intimidated by you guys, but I *love* many of the same films as
> > without quite being able to put my finger on what makes them so
> > Just a word of respect and thanks, then.
> > List-lurker, cinephile, Atlanta resident, Chavez fan,
> > Brandon
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