Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Healthy Cinematic Nourishment

David Bordwell has written a perfect response in defense of slow & nourishing cinema. Bordwell's entire article is an essential read but the final line in this paragraph is a fact that most film critics and film magazines regularly ignore:

Still, Kois’ complaint touches on something important about film history. We have a polarized film culture: fast, aggressive cinema for the mass market and slow, more austere cinema for festivals and arthouses. That’s not to say that every foreign film is the seven-and-a-half hour Sátántangó, only that demanding works like Tarr’s find their homes in museums, cinematheques, and other specialized venues. Interestingly for Kois’ case, many of the most valuable movies in this vein don’t get any commercial distribution. The major works of Hou, Tarr, and others didn’t play the US theatre market. Sátántangó is just coming out on DVD here, nearly twenty years after its original appearance. Most of us can’t get access to the most vitamin-rich cultural vegetables, and they’re in no danger of overrunning our diet.

In New York on any given night a film lover has atleast half a dozen worthy healthy cinematic options but the average cinephile living outside of New York has limited access to seeing rich cinema in theaters. So it is not a surprize that a put down of slow cinema would originate in a New York publication. The rest of North America, including Canada, has mostly cinematic junk food options.

The foreign film theatrical & DVD rental options in Calgary have gotten worse in 2011 when compared to 2007-08. The city still has three art house cinemas but the selections are not as diverse as a few years ago. The three cinemas have to regularly program Hollywood fare as the foreign distribution of films in Canada appears to have slowed down, especially outside of Toronto. On top of that, Calgary now only has one DVD store (Casablanca Video) where one can rent foreign/indie films. A few years ago, there were 3 excellent DVD stores (Video & Sound, Bird Dog Video and Casablanca) which carried the newest foreign films from around the world. Also, VHQ (owned by Movie Gallery) carried some foreign films titles as did Blockbuster & Rogers Video. However, all VHQ stores shut down as of last year and a handful of Blockbuster & Rogers Video stores have closed as well. Elsewhere in Canada, things are not that optimistic for DVD rentals either. In Edmonton, Sneak Preview closed up shop after nearly 30 years in business and Vancouver's Videomatica also announced plans to close up at the end of summer. Videomatica is still one of the best DVD stores in Canada and their DVD mail rental service is exceptional (majority of my film spotlights from my 2007-08 were possibly only because of Videomatica). Plus,'s foreign DVD rental selection has drastically gone down in the last few months leading one to question how long they will be able to hold on.

However, there is no shortage of Hollywood films in any Canadian or American city. If one wanted to gorge on the latest robot transformation exercise, then one can stumble into a multiplex near one's residence. If the off chance that someone missed the theatrical release of this Hollywood film, then the DVD, special edition Blu-Ray, special special director's cut with more noise edition DVD/Blu-Ray combo of the film will be available in every big chain grocery story in every city. Basically, one can never be short of junk food. And one cannot go too long before someone defends the virtues of cinematic junk, both here in North America and in India as well. Last week's tragic news of Mani Kaul's passing brought out plenty of remarks from a few Indians who said Kaul's films were difficult to follow. In fact, the late Manmohan Desai, famous for his Bollywood action/revenge films with Amitabh Bachchan, once remarked that it was harder to make "masala films" (popular commercial films) but anyone cold make an art film like Mani Kaul's debut feature Uski Roti. A variation of those words were repeated online last week when some people defended the junk of Bollywood over Indian art cinema.

Too much junk food is not good for the human body. Neither is too much cinematic junk. But of course, the argument is that one person's junk is another person's sophisticated taste.

Slow cinema in two takes in everyday life

1) Man Shaving his face

No matter how many blades get added to a razor, shaving is an activity that cannot be done in an instant. Certain portions of a man's face (especially around the chin) require one to slow down and carefully shave lest one cut oneself. Shaving is also a boring task. I am sure no man wakes up every morning and looks forward to shaving his face. Yet, it is also an essential task. Some people do get tired of shaving and grow a beard or variations of a beard to avoid cutting their facial hair. However, the men that shave everyday are heroes in their own slow cinema.

2) Ultrasound

Every parent will talk of the thrill in watching their baby's ultrasound video. The images are not the clearest nor is there any sound but the black and white grainy video is one of the most riveting set of images that a parent can see. In fact, parents will be patient and watch carefully for the slightest movement of the baby. Sometimes, the baby moves and sometimes he/she does not. An ultrasound video might offer much slower images than any of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's or Béla Tarr's films but no parent will ever describe their baby's ultrasound in the following manner:

"It was boring. Too slow. There was not enough action. The baby just sat there not doing anything."

Emotional interest --> visual cues

So why are ultrasound videos so enchanting for parents? Because the parents have an emotional stake in the ultrasound video. They are emotionally hooked and they will automatically adjust their eyes to look only at the baby and nowhere else. They do not need any cues to help them through the video. The same can apply for cinema as well. If cinema viewers have an emotional interest in the film, they will be able to adjust their eyes automatically to pick up objects of interest. By default, most audience have no emotional interest in robots or ogres but Hollywood assists film viewers by tacking on an emotional layer to their stories. Hollywood wants audience to care for a CGI generated image so dialogues are carefully written to incite support and even some humor is added to give personality to non-humans. Bollywood is another example of cinema overloaded with emotional manipulation. On the other hand, art cinema does not generate artificial emotion so that can leave some viewers lost and they would have no idea where to look.

When tourists walk out on a foreign street for the first time, some have a map and check for directions while some just follow any path in front of them. Cinema can be tackled in the same manner, either with a map or a complete dive into the unknown. Some effort is required on behalf of the cinematic tourist but the rewards are worth it. The problem is access to foreign cinematic roads is getting limited each year and maybe in the future (say next year), the only way to access rich foreign cinematic paths might be through hidden underground portals, lurking underneath some treasure bay.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...
truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD through
Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal
Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange
("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic
(director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk
tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark
orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
before..." Film Threat
"A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
"Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
version of David Lynch. " IFC News
"Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque