A. O. Scott’s article on the Abraham Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination captures something of the 50-year transition from the first cinéma vérité president (Kennedy) to a world in which everyone is their own cinéma vérité celebrity — stars and legends in our own minds.
The Zapruder film in a sense predates all that — it comes just before the era of seamless televisual (ir)reality (which Scott describes well) and puts a boundary around it. Somewhere buried in it is the firstness of that primal trauma: the shot (and the secondness of Kennedy’s death).
Yet its many afterlives become part of that (ir)reality, in which proliferating meanings are woven into the phantasmagoric televisual texture of we-no-longer-know-what.
“The Zapruder film remains powerful partly because it seems to dwell in a zone of ambiguity that has become, over the years, a more and more familiar place. We accept it as true, without knowing what it means.”
The following is reblogged, excerpted and modified, from e²mc.
How do films deal with historical atrocities? And how might they enable them in the first place?
The Act of Killing is Joshua Oppenheimer’s chilling documentary about the perpetrators of the mass murders committed by the Suharto regime’s paramilitary death squads in mid-1960s Indonesia. The filmmakers interview some of the worst of the perpetrators and — controversially — invite them to re-enact the killings for the camera, filming these scenes in the style of their favorite film genres. This interplay between mass murder and Hollywood movies — gangsters, westerns, and musicals — is a focus of the film.
Here are my introductory comments to the 2010 documentary Waste Land, delivered yesterday at the Fleming Museum in Burlington and shown in connection with the exhibition High Trash, which runs until May 19.
The following is an article I originally wrote in 1989, or maybe 1988, after seeing three films by Ukrainian poetic cinema master Yuri Illienko (a.k.a. Iurii/Yurij/Jurij Ilyenko/Ilienko/Illyenko/Il’yenko). Two of the films — A Well for the Thirsty and Eve of Kupalo Night, or St. John’s Eve — had languished unseen under Soviet censorship for some twenty years. They are screening this coming week at New York’s Lincoln Center.
These are some of my favorite films of all time. “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” was groundbreaking and the 3 Illienko films rarely get shown anywhere. (“Eve of Ivan Kupalo” is one of the wildest rides on celluloid.)
See them on the big screen — at the Lincoln Center this coming week — if you’re in the New York City area.
James Steffen has a useful write-up on the series. And see my obit for Illienko here, with a couple of clips. I promised there that I would try to make available an old article in which I analyze three of Illienko’s films — all of which are showing at the Lincoln Center. I will do that shortly.
Here’s the abstract for the keynote I will be giving at Nature and the Popular Imagination in Malibu this August. It builds on my recent talk at Bucks College, but without the nod to pop-cultural interest in Avatar.
THE AGE OF THE WORLD MOTION PICTURE
starring the Cinematic Earth, with cameo appearances by Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Martin Heidegger, C. S. Peirce, Gilles Deleuze, Lynn Margulis, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, Donna Haraway, and Koko the Gorilla
My paper for this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, coming up next month in Boston, will focus on the two films that got a lot of side-by-side attention at last year’s Cannes festival, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Since a few of my favorite bloggers have also discussed them side by side, I thought I’d share my preliminary thoughts about them here.
The two films play a key role in the final chapter of my (forthcoming) Ecologies of the Moving Image, but as I’m still thinking these themes through, I will be interested in responses I get at the SCMS (or here).