Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"One Upon a Time in the West" (1968)

Sweep, but also slowness. Landscape, but also proximity, clock-turn, and velocity. The slowness of knowing where your place is (nowhere); the speed that comes with knowing your death comes in threes (at a train station). The myth of the West, after it's passed through the requisite motions of law-making, constitution-forming; you are watching the West directly from the perspective of the Mythical, the time-elapsed, the time-enshrined. Not a western but the Western of westerns; an archetype whose volubility represents its irrepressible duration. A crossroads where men die because they choose to die the only way they know how: by evolutionary selection. To declare, wordlessly: I am faster than you. (Quickness is the state of grace which they call "keeping alive," or the force impressed in the figure of one who remains standing in the midst of gunsmoke; but quickness is also cleverness, sleight-of-hand, country wit.) All of Tarantino is in the final section, when we learn why Bronson seeks revenge, why he is selfish with his gunfire; why he protects Fonda from dying at the hands of his own men. Revenge, such as we understand it, in the mythos of the West, fuels an economy from the remnants of bad speculation; an economy of death that begets townships, train stations, mining prospects, the gold trade, and so forth. The harmonica and harmonica-playing is what you call a man's vigor when he's got no words to express his outgrown, overbearing virility.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Amer" (2010)

Proximity, rapidity. To the body, of the face. Parted lips, secretive tongue, undisclosed sections of the skin. Limbs, fingers. Tense vein-impressed hands. Night, a rusty creaky villa on the coast. Moonlight; then shadow. (A man's black figure.) Then moonlight again. (A building up of rhythm which is also a building up of the Sensorium.) Glinting on the edge of a switchblade suddenly released from its dark enfolding. "A woman in danger." A beautiful woman (of course). Bath water, warm water. Naked, smooth legs. Running faucet. Candles, candlelight. Bare feet, leaf-littered linoleum floor. An unswept floor, chill to the touch. Footsteps.

The wind which plays on the heavy shutters; which plays on the loose flowing skirt; which flows up into her and opens her, carefully, analytically. In the car, in sunlight. Heat inside, passenger sidewindows that do not open. She asks to open them. He does not hear her. A driver wearing black leather gloves. Black leather jacket. Dark denim jeans. Dust-straddled crocodile boots. Toothpick in his mouth, his concealed teeth biting down. Hard. Hands pressed strongly on the steering wheel. "Open, please!" Sudden panic. His eyes in the rearview mirror, watching her. "Please..." Suffocation, as if hands were around her neck, warm rough hands. She shouts, unconsciously, fearfully, waking up from a dream. But she is still in the backseat of a car, her thighs burning. He opens the automatic window. A wind rushes again into her, her skirt rippling. His eyes in the rearview. Watching.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" (1994)

The atmospheric pressure of an environment presses from all sides the subtextual space of a single chronology. The chronology of chance, as Haneke calls it, but with sarcasm. Yes, chance events of a violent nature occur, alongside events of a decidedly nonviolent nature. But the mystery of a violent event ("A young student shoots and kills a group of people at a bank. No motive has been given.") resolves itself, or at least, produces a chronology, if we pay attention to the nonviolence of events. For instance, the news. The television. The television which is the primary actor in Haneke's tableaux. Even when it is absent, when it is turned off, it is playing in the background; it is speaking. But television isn't merely the medium, or the event, in question; it is an environment produced in and through its proliferation in all (necessarily postmodern) states. It is simultaneously the radio, the newspaper, the shopping mall, the advertisements you find on the streets while walking or driving your car. It is a way of life, and one which pervades western civilization: a society of the spectacle if you will, in which "spectacle" gradually becomes the absence of the bearable. Haneke selectively chooses to highlight events which occur in nonwestern states, nonwestern countries, that are in fact affected by the political and social malaise of the West. However differentiated and culturally insulated we feel we are from the rest of the world (the world which we access, sometimes unbearably, always helplessly, through media) we are actually deeply embedded in the problems of the Rest of the World, the Marginal, the Peripheral, the Subaltern (which, because we see so much of it on the news, we never outrightly see; suffering is so much in our face that it becomes invisible, an absence that suddenly encroaches on the ordinary.) The problem, Haneke theorizes, is the isolation, which we call, euphemistically, chance. But it is not chance, nor is it fate or fatalism; it is, rather, Environment. The environment of violence which we call the news, which we (along with Haneke) call indifference. And nothing is more violent, nothing is crueler, than indifference.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"The Castle" (1997)

A thought struck me while watching Haneke's version of Kafka's The Castle, a thought which passed through me with the strange clarity that K. received the import of Brugel's harangue, even on the verge of collapsing into sleep (K. I mean, but only barely myself, not out of boredom with the film, but out of a calm quiet satisfaction with the fidelity of the film's nearly word-for-word adaptation of K.'s text). The thought was this: a film that adapts K.'s novel in a major hollywoodish way, in a stylish, mega-budget production not dissimilar from De Palma's Mission: Impossible. The title would be: The Bureau. The adaptation would go as follows: a recently promoted covert ops agent (who works undercover as a "land surveyor" as a means of avoiding detection while still retaining the right of "surveying") arrives in a nondescript eastern european country for his new assignment. The agent, code-named K., has two months to infiltrate a mysterious counter-intelligence organization by the name of "the Bureau," suspected to have its head base of operations in a small provincial town (chosen by the Bureau specifically for its provincialism, for the zeal and superstitious fear of the residents, and for the unassuming, therefore unsuspicious, location). K. befriends and eventually seduces an agent rumored to have been recently ousted from a low rank position in the Bureau: her name is Frieda. As K. gets more intimate with Frieda, he wonders whether his cover will be blown, whether Frieda is not herself a mole. Other characters, some of them suspected to be agents sent in to spy on K., emerge from the woodwork (for instance, the sudden appearance of his incompetent "assistants.") K. is forced to perform guesswork in his pursuit of the firm's objective: he does not know who to trust, who to sleep with, who to pay off, who to snuff out. In the meantime, he performs land surveying, as a way of gathering intelligence. He takes long walks in the town; he studies the buildings, the architecture, the bizarrely designed tract homes that lie on the outskirts of the town; he attempts to single out the building or buildings where the Bureau could be located. Perhaps the Bureau is a combination of random buildings scattered all over town; perhaps it is hidden underground in a bunker; perhaps it is on a high level floor unreachable by elevator, for which expensive equipment would be necessary to access, technology that K. does not have at his disposal. He is temporarily placed on the Bureau's payroll, but he remains, secretly, on the payroll of the firm that employs him; soon enough, K. loses sense of which company he works for, the original firm, or the Bureau? Are they one and the same? Is he being tested for a secret, malicious purpose? When he finds a crack in the wall, a crack which, architecturally speaking, makes no sense in the surface structure of the building, he begins to hear the whirring of a camera, a camera he is unable to locate, but which has probably been watching him the entire time...