Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Hammer Out Book of Ghosts

A short ghost story I wrote last year called The Widow and the Deserter has been published in The Hammer Out Book of Ghosts. 100% of the profits go to the Hammer Out Charity, which provides support for people suffering from brain tumours. You can order the book direct from the publishers, or from The book's full contents is as follows:

Foreword by Tracey Childs
Immortal Monster by Sam Stone
The Widow and the Deserter by Alex Barrett
Sleeping Lions by Niall Boyce
Orbyting by Jan Edwards
The Noise from the Flat Upstairs by S.E. Branson
Tower Song by Richard Howard
Deadline by Paul W.T. Ballard
The Attic Nursery by Raven Dane
Chillers and Breathers by Sam Stone
We Attract that which we Fear the Most by Louise Jameson
Last Rites by Simon Guerrier

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Truth versus Reality

A recent conversation with a work colleague reminded me of a blog post that I'd half started writing in the first half of last year. Around that time I was working my way through Patrick Rumble and Bart Testa's book Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives. There's an excellent essay in it by David Ward called A Genial Analytic Mind: 'Film' and 'Cinema' in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Film Theory, in which Ward discusses Pasolini's ideas of 'the tape-recorder' and 'the mirror'. Essentially, in Pasolini's usage, 'tape-recorder' refers to 'a realism that limits itself to recording the events of reality', while 'mirror' refers to 'a qualitatively different engagement with reality that aims at intensifying our perception of its essence' (the quotes are from Ward, pp131-132).

The reason why I was so taken with Pasolini's ideas is that they are consistent with my own approach to filmmaking. More specifically, Pasolini's terms could be used almost interchangeably with what I have often referred to as 'reality' and 'truth', though I suspect I've never elucidated my ideas quite as eloquently as Pasolini. This might have something to do with my over-reliance on quasi-religious terminology, such as the word 'soul', which, though I use it in a secular and somewhat symbolic way, can never quite be shaken free from its Christian connotations. But perhaps, with reference to Pasolini, I can help explain what I really mean when I use these terms.

Much of cinema today is concerned with 'realism' – whatever that may be. At best a slippery term, let's assume, for our purposes here, that by 'realism' we mean the recreation (or the recording) of the concrete world around us; or, to borrow from Ward, the production of a 'literal translation', a 'double of reality'. So far, so good.

But so what?

What can an out and out recreation of life tell us about...well, life?

For Pasolini, such an aesthetic provides only a hollow 'replica of things, one in which essence, here identified as mystery, gets lost or misrepresented' (p132).

The implication, then, is that while the use of the 'tape-recorder', or 'reality', may please the anorak brigade, it's never going to equate to anything of substance or help us explore an existential conundrum. Furthermore, it's never going to amount to a completely satisfactory artistic whole for, as Carl Th. Dreyer has said, 'realism in itself is not art' (see p184, Dreyer in Double Reflection).

Dreyer, it's worth noting, has also spoken of the 'reality'/'truth' dichotomy in expressing his idea of 'psychological realism'. As Acquarello puts it, Dreyer saw cinema 'not as a medium for capturing absolute reality, but as a means of articulating perceived reality' and in his work does 'not seek to document reality, but to capture the ephemeral essence of its underlying truth'.

It is precisely this 'ephemeral essence' that I mean when I say 'truth', and that Pasolini believes is lost through the 'tape-recorder' aesthetic, as outlined above. It is also precisely this term that I have always struggled to explain in a fully understandable, tangible way. Perhaps this is because it is, by definition, something intangible (even Dreyer reverts to religious terminology to describe it: 'It is not the things in reality that the director should be interested in but, rather, the spirit in and behind the things' p184, Dreyer in Double Reflection).

But whatever this 'essence' ultimately is, or however we label it ('truth', 'mirror', 'psychological realism'), it is surely this which gives substance to our work, and allows it to go beyond mere representation. Pasolini, for example, believed his 'mirror' was able to reflect life back to us in a way which revealed 'expressive qualities that we otherwise might have missed' (p132, Contemporary Perspectives).

The divergent ways in which Dreyer and Pasolini achieved their goals (Dreyer through an aesthetic of 'simplification and abbreviation', Pasolini through one of enhancement and 'intensification of perception') prove that there is no one route to reach the 'truth', but I believe their arguments against 'reality' are enough to send us all in search of it.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

My Top Films of 2011

As always, I thought I'd wait until early January to post up my films of the year but, as with last year, my list has already appeared elsewhere: this year on Cinetalk, here. The Cinetalk version of the list contains comments on all the films, so if you're interested in my reasons for choosing this particular batch of films I suggest you stop by there and take a look. What you won't find there, however, is my list of The Best Films from Previous Years that I Saw for the First Time in 2011, which I've included below.

I have to say, 2011 has been an incredibly strong viewing year for me, and many of the films below have excited me a great deal (and also make me realise how right I was when bemoaning the weakness of 2010 around this time last year). As strong as it was, though, there were, of course, many films that I missed. It's very possible that Jan Svankmajer's Surviving Life, the Dardenne Brother's The Kid with a Bike and Alexander Payne's The Descendants would all be included here if I'd managed to catch them. Luckily, the last two are only getting their official UK releases in 2012, so perhaps they'll be included here next year.

On a related note: seeing as it's topped so many end of year lists, I feel that I should mention that I have seen The Tree of Life, it just didn't chart (it was my 30th favourite film of the year, if anyone's interested).

Anyway, without any further ado, here are my lists. All director names link to their IMDb profiles while, where applicable, titles link to reviews I've written on the films (not including my comments on Cinetalk, which you can find here).

My Top Films of 2011
02) Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
05) Biutiful (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
06) Meek's Cutoff (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
07) Concrete Walls (dir. Michael Higgins)
09) Le Quattro Volte (dir. Michelangelo Frammartino)
10) Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Bubbling under: Cold Weather (dir. Aaron Katz), Wild Bill (dir. Dexter Fletcher), Weekend (Andrew Haigh), Two Years at Sea (dir. Ben Rivers).

Special mention: Correspondence: Jonas Mekas –JL Guerin, for having one of the most powerful sequences of the year, even if it didn't quite satisfy as a whole.

The Best Films from Previous Years that I Saw for the First Time in 2011
01) A City of Sadness (1989, dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou)
02) Cría cuervos (1976, dir. Carlos Saura)
03) Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, dir. Marcel Carné)
04) Die Gezeichneten (1922, dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer)
05) A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929, dir. Anthony Asquith)
06) The Old and the New (1929, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
07) Our Mother's House (1967, dir. Jack Clayton)
08) A Brighter Summer Day (1991, dir. Edward Yang)
10) Passion (1988, dir. György Fehér)

Bubbling under: The Cranes Are Flying (1957, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov), The Burning Plain (2008, dir. Guillermo Arriaga), The Machine that Kills Bad People (1952, dir. Roberto Rossellini), The Edge of the World (1937, dir. Michael Powell).