A Few Words on Essential Killing
The first time we see blood in the quantity small enough to be identified as such, it drips from a prisoner. A few drops follow before we cut away. This is not the first time we have seen acts of violence in Essential Killing. Only a few minutes before this scene, Mohammed (Vincent Gallo) waits in a cave for a soldier and two contractors to pass by. When the moment presents itself, he pulls the trigger on an RPG launcher and kills all three. Knowing backup will come, he flees, but is ultimately caught. Mohammed is forced into the notorious orange jumpsuits and black hoods that have come to symbolize the treatment of prisoners in America’s war on terror. They demand information, but his eardrums have ruptured and he cannot hear them. They torture him, but he has nothing to say. Skolimowski does not linger over any of these facts, but nor does he leave much to the imagination. Waterboarding, kicks, shoves - it is all presented clearly.
But clarity and neutrality are not the same thing.
The Strong, Silent Type
Bullitt is most famous for its well-edited 10 minute car chase scene. Unfortunately, that scene has become so famous as to obscure the rest of the film. I’ve had a copy of the film for awhile, but never got around to actually watching it. What shocked most was how quiet the movie is in general, and Steve McQueen in particular. Between Peter Yates and (DP) William Fraker, McQueen becomes a kinetic sculpture. I don’t mean this to insult the star’s work, because it doesn’t feel like bad acting so much as the production of, or reduction to, an object.
In a particularly telling scene, Bullitt is ordered to reveal the location of the man he was paid to protect. The camera cuts back to his face, he glances over towards his boss who confirms that it’s an order. There’s a beat and then he reveals the information. This film is filled with “beats” that fill up more space than action films typically allow. It’s what causes such a focus on Bullitt’s body, on the way his mass moves around. But the camera rarely gives us completely clear shots. Telephone cords cut across the frame, car seats obscure views through windows, legs come down in front of a corpse. But even when the image is cluttered, Bullitt trudges on. It isn’t until the end, when faced with himself, that the sculpture comes to rest.
Class as Readymade: Notes towards Post Tenebras Lux
Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness, Light) sounds at first like the kind of optimistic catch-alls dispensed liberally by those who try to sympathize with hardship. It’s always darkest before the dawn and It’ll all come out in the wash and don’t stop, believing. I don’t think those words really inspire anybody when the world is blurring at the edges and everything that appears steady and firm in the center is still crumbling. In different iterations, the phrase has been popular for quite a long time: Chile used it, the Calvinists use it as their motto and so do several universities around the world. But post tenebras lux has a cousin in the Latin vulgate version of the Bible. Job, in the midst of beseeching God to save him, says “after darkness, I hope for light again.” This is what all these little proverbs are really saying: we hope it will get better.
Double Exposure: Letting Go Of Malick
“When I first saw Badlands, it felt like a promise.”
- A better, edited version of a post on Badlands, To The Wonder and Malick is up at Double Exposure and in print if you’re resourceful.
Notes and Shots: Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Boards”
Pusha T’s new video “Numbers on the Boards” was recently released. There are a few strange things about this video:
1. It was filmed in Paris, but the city isn’t used as a symbol of foreign glamour. The most obvious markers of being in France are the out of focus roofs seen in the background of a few shots and the screenshot above - Pusha T standing in front of the neon storefront of a porn shop.
Late Notes on Amour
One of the striking things about Amour was that it generated a critical discourse around the idea that Haneke had somehow moved away from his typical ‘cruelty’ and toward ‘love,’ as though these two ideas were somehow mutually exclusive. Amour seems no less cruel to me than any of his other films, but it does seem to violate the notion of bourgeois norms more directly than any of his previous films. Haneke is known for his cold, sterile violence, but you can only kill someone in a long take so many times before it becomes mere style.
Amour is painful not because it engages in a typical long-shot imbued art house assault upon predetermined patterns of thinking about violence, but because it reveals these patterns by sneaking in through the physical structures that solidify an imagined sense of pride, satisfaction and security. The name tells us this is a film about love and promises us the faces of an elderly couple as portrayed by some of the most illustrious names in French cinema.
All of these things carry with them great cultural cache. So does the expensive apartment complete with figurative painting and visits from world-class pianists. Hell takes up stake in this world not in the traditional dens of criminality, but in the bourgeois home, overloaded with primly arranged significations of class (in whichever sense of that word you like). Yet the locked in property starts to terrorize its inhabitants at precisely the moment that the illusion is shattered - people can still break in and death, uninvited, might still take up residence. We begin with a terror that is visited upon certain groups of people more frequently than others - police breaking down the doors and violating private space. The false security of property that is “ours” is made brutally apparent. When the police break the seal and flood inside, all they find is a corpse.
Note: The image above, courtesy of Interiors Journal, details the floor plan in Haneke’s Amour.
“After all, you could not remake the movie Red Dawn after the Berlin Wall had fallen; you had to wait until after the fall of the Twin Towers and the rise of China and the ‘Axis of Evil’ made an attack on America thinkable again. Not plausible, of course, but Red Dawn was never actually plausible.” - Aaron Bady, ‘Zero Dark Geronimo’
“Baudelairean spleen - or disgust as a poetic channel - was always connected to an idea of modern beauty, was maybe even its preferred medium. Any channeling of beauty today would have to occur in relation to crisis and the sublime of viral insecurity.” - John Kelsey, ‘Next Level Spleen’
“Aside from the possibility of having better sex with one’s husband after he has assisted with household chores (work makes everything better, including sex!), Sandberg does not mention pleasure. Sandberg assumes instead that the feminist question is simply, how can I be a more succesful worker?” - Kate Losse, ’ Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins From Leaning In?’
”’If the question of the 19th century in the U.S. and in many places is the problem of the colour line, as DuBois writes, ‘what does it mean to be a problem?’ – the problem of contemporary austerity politics comes from the state saying that the public is itself a problem, too expensive to be borne by the state that represents it.” - Interview with Lauren Berlant
“Be it blacksites or other militarized spaces, mobile tracking units and helicopters, or even bin Laden’s compound, the West reaches any space where their familiar bodies exert control and identify otherness.” - Lindsay Jensen “It’s Biology,” Zero Dark Thirty and the Politics of the Body