Thursday, November 05, 2009

Film / Text

Now that the comprehensive exhibition in Athens is well underway, it's time for some serious name-dropping in another direction:

What do John Ashberry, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Robert Creeley. my old undergrad teacher Harry Crews, Louise Erdich, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Norman Mailer, Ted Mooney, my old undergrad teacher Alain Robbe-Grillet, Salman Rushdie, Leslie Marmon Silko, Susan Sontag, Luisa Valenzuela, and Alice Walker all have in common?

At one point in their lives, they accepted invitations to and attended the University of North Dakota Writers Conference. The annual conference has been happening for over 40 years and in March they will host the latest edition entitled Mind the Gap. Eight new names will join that list above including yours truly. It should be an interesting mix of electronic lit / new media art, graphic novel / comix (Art Spiegelman), and Def Poetry Jam (Saul Williams).

In addition to readings, performances, and panels (my gig will take place in the North Dakota Museum of Art), each invited artist is asked to select one film for the 2010 Writers Conference Film Festival that coincides with the other events that week. It was a very difficult decision for me to make!

Like you, I can see any available film that I want to. The tendency is to see things never seen before. But that's not me. I go back to the same films again and again. Two films that have really tweaked my thinking lately, both connected to the work of Charlie Kaufman, are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York. These films speak to me because of the way they play with memory, writing, and both the literal and philosophical forms of postproduction. It's one thing to say "my life is like a movie" or "all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players." It's quite another to be alive in a time when digitally connected and self-conscious postproduction mediums are proactively scripting their role-playing performances.

But pre-digital forms of "artists as postproduction mediums" abound. Some of the names above -- Burroughs circa The Third Mind or Robbe-Grillet circa Last Year at Marienbad -- come to mind.

But what film speaks to me most today, especially in the context of a famous writer's conference? There's Cassavetes' Faces (dig the mobile camera) or even Hollis Frampton's Poetic Justice.

However, I am being asked to just choose one film and for the 2010 festival I am selecting Chris Marker's San Soleil.

From the opening of the script:
The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I'll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don't see happiness in the picture, at least they'll see the black.

He wrote: I'm just back from Hokkaido, the Northern Island. Rich and hurried Japanese take the plane, others take the ferry: waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters, small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories. He wrote: I've been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me. On this trip I've tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter. At dawn we'll be in Tokyo.

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