After all these grim films on voyeurism and surveillance, let us finish this very series with a light-weight Hollywood comedy: Little Black Book (2004). Acknowledging the numerous negative reviews of the film, we shall not do injustice to the natural flow of its story and the original approach to spying on/intervening people’s personal matters.
Stacy clumsily pursues a life without much self-involvement. She starts a new job in the TV, becoming the assistant of an associate producer (Barb) of a wicked talk show, where any controversial or personal matter can be abused for the sake of reckless spectacle. One day she gets curious about her boyfriend’s past with other women. Barb tempts Stacy to take advantage of the available resources, namely the boyfriend’s palm handheld and the status of working for the TV itself. So Stacy begins to find the ex-girlfriends and pretends that she’s interviewing them for the show.
December 16, Friday, at 18:00, Zrinyi 14/Room 412
And, as I said before, we’re giving a break after this, meeting again on Jan 20.
What we’re having today (at 18h, Zrinyi 14, Room 412) is one of these films that first comes to mind when you utter the word “voyeur”: Blow-Up (1966), by Antonioni.
The first English language film by the Italian director is loosely based on a short story by Julio Cortazar. (*) The unnamed protagonist of the film is a professional photographer, apparently making a living in the fashion world. He also relishes taking spontaneous pictures of people. In one of these occasions, he captures a romantic couple by spying on them from a distance. He gets caught by the woman, who insists on his giving the negatives. Upon this he first thinks that an illegitimate affair is the issue, yet a very detailed observation of the photos suggests him that something more dreadful is involved.
[Blow-Up] is an influential, stylish study of paranoid intrigue and disorientation. It is also a time capsule of mod London, a mindscape of the era’s fashions, free love parties, music (Herbie Hancock wrote the score and The Yardbirds riff at a club) and hip langour.
— from the backcover of the DVD relased by Warner Bros.
(*) The story can be found in this edition. After reading it you may want to take a look at this analysis of the story.
Today we’re watching a Russian classic, which is
CHELOVEK’S KINO-APPARATOM (1929)
The Man With a Movie Camera
by Dziga Vertov
Silent film, with added music by The Cinematic Orchestra
Chelovek’s Kino-Apparatom starts with this warning:
“ATTENTION VIEWERS! This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events without the help of intertitles, the help of a story or the help of theatre. This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature.”
“Cinema-Eyes” were a group of Soviet filmmakers in the 1920’s, who held that the camera was superior to the human eye with regards to (re)producing the dynamic visual motley — that is, the world before us. Dziga Vertov was the central figure of Cinema-Eyes in terms of both theory and practice, and in this highly-acclaimed exemplar of the group’s manifesto we are presented the ordinary yet chaotic life in the Soviet Russia back in those days: or, the amazement in virtue of recording and editing, the fascination with being able to give an order to the jumble of imageries.
*The next film (Dec 9) in the series is going to be Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. One more will be screened on December 16, then the Club will give a break for a month.
This week on Friday (November 25) we’re gonna watch:
Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others)
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2006)
in German (with English subtitles), 137 min
One of the five Best Foreign Film nominees for this year’s Oscars, The Lives of Others essays life under the Stasi secret police in 1984 East Germany. With 100,000 employees and twice as many civilian informers, the Stasi strangled free expression and spread fear or recrimination. Under constant surveillance, all the world truly is a stage. Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck paints a glumly absurd landscape, and if the story of a stodgy but conflicted Stasi captain gives sympathy to a historical devil, it also allows for an intriguing angle on the evergreen cinematic theme of voyeurism. <GrouchoReviews.Com>
Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the recent Academy Awards, writer-director Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others is one of the most accomplished feature film debuts in recent memory. Set in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film revolves around Stasi captain Weisler entrusted with the job of spying on a successful playwright Dreyman suspected of anti-party activities. Gradually, as Weisler becomes increasingly vested in the lives of Dreyman and his performer-girlfriend, Christa-Maria, he begins to question his own affiliation with the GDR.
However, while the film is, on the surface, a historical-political drama, the narrative gives much greater weight to the human dimension that lies at its core. Raising questions about power, responsibility and morality, Weisler, who is initially established as the film’s antagonist, increasingly becomes the audience’s point of identification within the drama that unfolds. And it is the very stage of human drama that serves as an allegory for the interactions between the characters as Weisler’s surveillance transcripts start to resemble Dreyman’s plays. Josh Nelson, <Philmology.Com>
The Conversation (1974)
by Francis Ford Coppola
starring Gene Hackman
Friday, November 18, at 18:00
Zrinyi 14 / Room 412
“The Conversation is the slowly-gripping, bleak study of electronic surveillance and threat of new technologies that is examined through the private, internalized life of a lonely and detached expert ‘bugger.’ (…) The timely, low-budget cinematic masterpiece of the 1970s was written, produced and released by director Francis Ford Coppola before and during the Watergate era (and between his two Godfather films) – a time of heightened concern over the violation of civil liberties. Its claustrophobic themes of the destruction of privacy, alienation, guilt, voyeurism, justified paranoia, unprincipled corporate power and personal responsibility effectively responded to growing, ominous 20th century threats of eavesdropping to personal liberties.” Tim Dirk, filmsite.org (1)
“Harry Caul (Hackman) is a surveillance expert. His job is to collect confidential information for clients without asking any questions. The film opens with his latest challenging job: capturing the conversation of a couple as they weave through crowds and street performers in Union Square, San Francisco, at noon. As he clarifies and pieces together their conversation, a sense of dire threat to the young man and woman grows on him, and –haunted by a previous job that resulted in the death of a family– he becomes emotionally involved in the task.” David Loftus, allwatchers.com (2)
This week (Friday, November 11, at 18h as usual) we will watch Caché (Hidden) by the Austrian director Michael Haneke.
Associating today’s France with the bleak country during the Algerian War (i.e. early 60’s), Caché is deliberately a “disturbing” film: For it is about how discomforting it gets when you cannot substantiate an injustice against yourself, and accordingly, how such a wrongdoing resists redemption. “[A] successful bourgeois couple is harassed by an unknown perpetrator who delivers surveillance videos of their home to them. By allegorizing the dilemma of postcolonial France through an Oedipal drama of suspicion, betrayal, and deception, Haneke sets the stage for a taut thriller that pivots upon the return of the barely repressed.” (*)
Those of us who’d like to discuss the film afterwards may benefit more if they have this review by Ara Osterweil
at hand. Despite its shortness, it’s a paper which can guide us in forming a proper perspective to tackle with the idiosnycratic use of surveillance in Caché.
Taken from VertigoMagazine.Co.Uk
P.S. The next film in the series will be The Conversation (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola. In one sense it’ll be a different film in our Gaze and Surveillance / Voyeurs and Intruders series, as it highlights the situation of the person spied on.
The series will continue with Das Leben Der Anderen (2006), Blow-Up (1966) and probably Lovely & Amazing (2001) as well. (The order is amenable to change.)
(*) Taken from the Abstract of Ara Osterweil’s review of the film: “Caché”, Film Quarterly Vol. 59, No. 4 (Summer 2006)
The Italian drama by Paolo Franchi (2004) is about unfulfilled and asymmetrical love affairs between three people. The main character, Valeria, is a simultaneous translator in Turin who lives a somewhat alienated life. She watches her neighbour Massimo secretly, seemingly without conscious or ready enough to admit herself that she is in love with him. When the man moves to Rome unexpectedly, Valeria abruptly takes the bold step to go after him. There she finds out that Massimo is flirting with Flavia, a widow in her 50’s. Through some inept and deceitful deeds, Valeria ends up working with Flavia, and later meets Massimo. Hence a love triangle is formed.
The screening will be on the 4th of November (this friday), in Room 412 in the Zrinyi 14 building, at 18h.