Monday, October 30, 2006

Kino-Pravda, Kino-Musik, Kant-Kino


The IT girl has two curious views on film, which she is more than willing to express in company in a forthright manner. One is that sound cinema was a disastrous idea, and that essentially the medium reached a total summation of all its possibilities with Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera, and should have stopped there. The other is that film (presumably in its non-Constructivist form) is nothing other than theology. These positions might be easily mocked, and I'd like to stress I do think interesting things have happened in cinema since 1928 (as does she, secretly) but there is something to them.


Particularly with reference to how the estimable Voyou Desoeuvre pokes popistesque at Adorno and Horkheimer's seemingly curmudegeonly and cantankerous views on the Talkies. The problem with extracting the likes of Adorno from their historico-aesthetic context is that views like this can seem somewhat silly. I'd suggest first reading Eisenstein/Pudovkin/Alexandrov's 'Statement on Sound-Film' and Adorno/Eisler's Composing for the Films before rushing to this conclusion, however.


The silents that were slain by Al Jolson had reached a peak of technical, emotional, formal radicalism - think of Buster Keaton, King Vidor's The Crowd, the Weimar sachlichkeit directors like Ruttmann or Pabst, and most obviously the Soviet experimentalists, Vertov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Shub, Kuleshov, Room. What is so key here is that cinema as a medium is explored to its limits, while constantly being conscious of its own construction and artificiality, and importantly, while at the same time being completely unashamed at its emotionally and aesthetically manipulative power: no arid formal experiments here. And then some racist stands up and sings for a bit and the medium is back as nothing more than filmed theatre.


The line suggested by Eisler and Adorno or the Soviet directors for dealing with this - creating a contrapuntal montage of sound and image, stressing disjunction and avoiding representation - was never quite followed up after 1930-2, a few masterpieces like Vertov's Enthusiasm, FEKS' Alone, or Brecht/Dudow's Kuhle Wampe (or for that matter Sagan's Madchen in Uniform) falling by the wayside in the US and USSR'S return to Stanislavsky.


Naturally by the time Dialectic of Enlightenment was written there had been great advances in the American sound film that they do seem oblivious to. Having said all this, and despite attempting to repudiate the rep of the Frankfurters as transcendent miserablists, the value of their critique still lies in the force of its negativity, and it seems to be this that makes people rather uncomfortable rather than being nasty about jazz or Busby Berkeley. It's also something entirely absent from another recent attempt to radicalise the discourse of film, Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy. Rather than being cf IT Theology, cf Bergman, in his cantankerous memoir The Magic Lantern, the Dreamwork, or cf early Eisenstein shock and agitation, or naturally cf Vertov or Godard, Truth, for Frampton Film is Philosophy.


Which is as maybe, and he argues convincingly and wittily against static, Cognitivist models of film-interpretation centring on the film's alleged reality, and the view of film as a director-based medium. His prose is sharp enough, though suffers somewhat in comparison with the Eisenstein quotes he uses in his section on 'Film Neominds'. What I had assumed was a long kicked-around corpse, the analysis of film via narrative, gets a few deserved kickings too. The problem comes when he employs the methodology he so carefully outlines to his own readings. If film-is-philosophy (and has he points out, a bad film is just bad thought) can really open up a new way of seeing, then why do his readings contain such trite generalities? The Dardennes and Mike Leigh don't use many camera tricks. Pulp Fiction has a structure which seems difficult but is easier on second viewing. Haneke can make you uncomfortable.


What is missing is the Critical, and the detachment that comes with it. In one passage Frampton discusses where he sits in the cinema: never at the back, so the film can be properly immersive. This seemingly innocuous observation implies why his project falls short, simply because there's no room in his schema for negation. Nor indeed is there in much film theory and discussion (hence why I felt like applauding at Sight and Sound's recent demolition of Almodovar's Volver, because it felt so bloody rare) and what is worth salvaging from the miserly old German Kino's Kultur-Kritik.

Plakaty 81

Incidentally, Blogger has gone utterly mental at the moment, chopping off half of and obliterating a comment on the historical aberration post, so apologies if everything comes out in strange order and peculiar syntax.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Collections, Canons and 'Pedagogical Eros'


One of the moments that you can date the long death of Modernism in British Pop Culture is in the moment of retrospective canon-forming. This can also be one of the most interesting and seductive elements of what happens afterwards, however. One of the guilty culprits for this is surely the winsome end of post-punk - the Television Personalities with Steed, Geoffrey Ingram and Syd Barrett, The Smiths with their litany of Shelagh Delaney, Radclyffe Hall and John Schlesinger (Michael Bracewell anatomised these particular obsessions brilliantly in England is Mine) leading eventually to Belle and Sebastian assembling a personal canon out of Morrissey's, Lawrence from Felt's, or Dan Treacey's personal canons.


Naturally this extends into Ghost Box, only here it's seemingly Germano Facetti, Alison Smithson and Arthur Machen, which is a significantly more interesting assemblage. This came to mind recently watching for the first time Leontine Sagan's giddily wonderful Madchen in Uniform for the first time and recognising one of the scenes from the label of Cherry Red's ur-indie compilation Pillows and Prayers, which itself ranges round historically in a manner unthinkable to say, The Pop Group: Quentin Crisp monolgues, 60s garage rock, poetry readings in amongst the twitchily white bands on the label itself.


The Public Modernism evoked by K-Punk here is certainly one of the most poignant and pregnant elements of Ghost Box et al, and reminds that the important point about the Radiophonic Workshop was precisely that it was mundane, everyday, and in this it was the Workshop that were the true inheritors - rather than Darmstadt or IRCAM - of the mantle of the 1920s avant-gardes. The real project of the Bauhaus and their allies or of the Constructivists was a radicalised alltagsleben or byt. The forcible destruction of the art gallery not out of petulant nihilism but so that the disjunctively aesthetic can infuse every moment of the most prosaic elements of life, whether it be furniture, crockery, public housing, posters, book covers.


What is especially odd here is the existence of a kind of libidinising pedagogy, the state and its education system being usherers into a world of technocratic wonders, a benign hand to hold in a journey through a jarring modernity. Accordingly, the immediate postwar Modernist achievements were in schools as much as in public housing, such as in the Smithsons' Hunstanton school in these pictures, or the programme of quietly Modernist prefab Primary schools in 1940s Hertfordshire. Incidentally Nonesuch were interesting among record labels for having had this kind of pedagogical attitude to the fremde, so this Woebot collection is pertinent, not only for the fantastic artwork.


A post is on the way soon about Madchen in Uniform's presentation of 'pedagogical eros' but it'll be after I force IT to watch it, as I don't want to leave any spoilers...which are contained in this lengthy piece however.

Plakaty 80

The Clever Ones Tend to Emigrate

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

“Simple, unadorned, phony style”

There are songs to sing, there are feelings to feel, there are thoughts to think. That makes three things, and you can't do three things at the same time. The singing is easy, syrup in my mouth, and the thinking comes with the tune, so that leaves only the feelings. Am I right, or am I right? I can sing the singing. I can think the thinking. But you're not going to catch me feeling the feeling. No, sir.

An interesting adjunct to any discussions of the 'Old Weird America' (a phrase which always brings to mind the 'new weird america' and the prairies, beards and Grateful Dead records that entails) is this review of Robert Crumb's That's What I Call Sweet Music by Tom Ewing, which reminds that the pre-Pop period was completely full of its own Pop, its own functional dance music, which was just as sophisticated and nuanced as what would follow. Personally I long for the time when The Ink Spots have as much cachet as numinal disembodied folk singers awaiting Moby's sampler, although a problem with Ewing's review is that for him Pop itself is of necessity not strange. I tried a year or so ago to write an anatomising of the strange psychosexual world of the crooner, although I think it was a little botched in the last instance. But The Singing Detective could tell you all you need to know about that murky area just as well.

Plakaty 79

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Revanchist Watch

Latest building to fall to the aesthetic reactionaries is Mondial House, a gleaming zx spectrum shaped ziggurat of concrete and plastic, notable for its technocratic shininess and for being lambasted by Prince Charles, the acid test of a great work of British architecture.

Breaking open the Continuum

Is there a better model of the refusal to accept that history is closed, a better refusal of museum culture, than the events in Hungary over the last few days? Than rioters taking a Soviet tank from its embalmed state in an exhibition and driving it at riot police?

Or is there a better illustration of the sheer bloody impotence of the European left than their refusal to support the demonstrations? The Hungarian 'Socialist' Party, like in much of the area at the spearhead of privatisation because/despite being the outgrowth of the old Communist Party, is pro-EU and professedly social democratic, so is accordingly beyond criticism, despite the (unusually honest) confession of 'lying in the morning and lying in the evening'. This article by G.M Tamas points out this depressing absurdity, akin to the silence over the banlieue Riots a year ago. There were rightwing elements in 1956- there were Communists attacked in the street, and Hungary had a pretty poor record for anti-fascism - but if that didn't stop the Left noticing a workers' revolt when it saw one then, it certainly shouldn't now.


As going along with this is a spun narrative whereby the 1956 revolution is apparently 'anti-communist', despite being led by Imre Nagy - see the memoirs of Communist police chief Sandor Kopacsi, who took the side of the revolutionaries, In the Name of the Working Class is key on this - and having in its number no more obvious a communist than Gyorgy bleedin Lukacs (who was of course also a minister in the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic, along with Bela Lugosi- with Ernst Toller leading the Bavarian Soviet Republic at the same time, this was an unusually fun time to run a revolutionary government). The propaganda of the post-56 Stalinist regime still has a pervasive effect, particularly now that it's useful for neo-liberal purposes.

Plakaty 78

Monday, October 23, 2006

'Uneasy in my Easy Chair'

Although I am UNDISPUTED winner of the inter-blog cheapskate competition for getting a limited edition tape copy of The Modern Dance by Pere Ubu for TEN PENCE, the great flaw in charity shop digging is leaving something, erroneously believing that you don't really need that book/record/trinket, do you? Well, yes you do. Still kicking myself for not buying the Edward Weston monograph for a quid, and currently, for not buying a load of records sat in the bin at the Salvation Army shop in Deptford by easy listening arranger Nelson Riddle.

As my current obsession is In the Wee Small Hours, his staggeringly bleak concept album with Frank Sinatra. According to Woebot Riddle was 'superhack', and one of the most poignant things about a consistemtly wrenching record is its tension between schlock and pain. Riddle's arrangements are phantasmagoric, maintaining a crepuscular dialogue with a singer who often sounds like his bon mots and cliches are sung through gritted teeth. Their showiness, weaving through string soaked glossy misery to mock-atonal piano plonking, makes them seem somehow anthropomorphic, grostesquely akin to some mocking commentary on Sinatra's dramatised despair. (No One Cares, without Riddle but apparently similarly grim, is discussed by k-punk here)

Hauntology and Historical Aberration

Gek-Opel over at Dissensus has a pertinent gripe with the particular mid-century model of Hauntology, viz: "Not enough absence, or memories of things which never existed, too much artfully dressed up nostalgia for middle aged kids missing their sodding bag-puss... The Hauntological project can only work if it sidesteps this nostalgia death-trap, and escapes into something more accurately tracing the edges of the present-in-its-absence (which is what? Utopia?)"

In response to which it's worth considering why exactly, other than accident of temporality: i.e, that this was the period when Jonny Trunk or Julian House were children, which naturally as someone born in 1981 has little relevance or interest, that the main fixation of this lot is 1945 to 1979, or more specifically, from the election of Clement Attlee to the election of Margaret Thatcher. Simply on a political level, this period is interestingly anomalous, representing a space of dual power between labour and capital, and as period of clarity inbetween the long, deep sleep of laissez-faire. This is nicely encapsulated by 'ant' in the Tomb comments box with ref to the collective refusal of much of the Left to see New Labour as Thatcherite:

I think the crux of the matter is that most middle-aged "liberals" genuinely believe that the "default position" of British society is the 1945-79 social-democratic consensus, since this was the Britain they were born into and in which they grew up.

For them (Toynbee et al), the fact that British society subsequently moved to the Right under Thatcher was simply an "aberration". Moreover, the fact that, by the time Labour returned to power as "NewLabour" in '97 they were successful journalists, meant that they were now insulated enough from the effects of NewLabour policies to be able to convince themselves that social democracy was back. In the comfort of your swanky Islington flat, it's much easier to convince yourself that the introduction of the Minimum Wage and SureStart really count for something, since you're not actually having to be out there in the real world depending on the success of these policies for your very survival.

For these types, then, Britain - and especially Britain under a Labour Government - is "essentially" a fair democratic society to live in. Fortunately, those of us born into the post-1979 Thatcherite legacy that Britain is today do not have any such historical baggage romantically wedding us to the image of Britain as "essentially" a cosy social-democratic post-war welfare state. We are able to look upon history with a clearer perspective, able to understand that it was not the Thatcher years but the 1945-79 years that were the aberration. Britain has always been a society run by and for a tiny powerful rich ruling elite. The social-democratic post-war consensus was merely a convenient stop-gap employed by the ruling class in 1945 in order to stave off the threat of having to make more substantial concessions to the working class.

This 'aberration' is an open, unfinished project, in that it involved the jostling of two forces, one of which came out quite definitively on top. Accordingly, the rhetoric of the period- Wilson's 'White Heat of Technology' now appears as a smokescreen for a society already gearing up to return as quickly as possible to the past. So much rests on what didn't happen. What if Thamesmead or Cumbernauld had been welcomed as modernist communities by their inhabitants, and had provided models for the rest of the country? What if the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were more important than the Beatles?

Hence the evocation of raving at the Festival of Britain, one of the many possible beginnings that became dead-ends in the 45-79 period- a modernist utopia on the South Bank, torn down by Churchill in 1951 as 'three dimensional socialist propaganda' and replaced with the capitalist realist, proto-pomo Shell Centre. Or think of the films of Powell and Pressburger (particularly A Matter of Life and Death promising an England matter-of-fact at its own strangeness, acknowledging its imperialist past and becoming a forward-looking, European technicolour social democracy, rather than a more cramped, meaner-spirited America.

Plakaty 77

Friday, October 20, 2006

Plakaty 76

Another effort Revolutionaries, if you would be Pornographers

To a lecture yesterday by Simon Burrows on the 'pornographic interpretation' of the French Revolution. In short, this is the view that a flood of scurrilous material about the sexual predilictions of the court, and specifically that of Marie Antoinette, helped bring about the revolution. This was comrehensively refuted, albeit in a rather smug and scholastic manner, though it left another question entirely open. Viz, if all these works pornographically smearing the Bourbons actually emerged post-1789, then what does this mean for the revolution's sexual politics?

Sexpol begins with the sub-literature of enlightenment France, in works like Therese Philosophe or more obviously in De Sade. Ideas were worked out through, and alongside, titillation, with one working off the other. So the blasphemy and grandiose obscenity of the smears on the good character of the French queen (whose most conspicuous feature seems to have been, in true sloane fashion, being terribly boring) could actually have been delineating a post-revolutionary sexual ethic. In 1927, Walter Benjamin advocated, in the essay 'A State Monopoly on Pornography', that via this always in demand form, writers could find again their place in the productive process. This isn't just facetiousness- what if this form could be radicalised? Angela Carter's Sadeian Woman suggests a similar possibility, pornography in the service of women, or of the revolution. An idea that seems absurd in today's overlit porn panopticon, but which was considered unremarkable in the 18th century.

Cult Concrete

I do wonder, in the Simon Reynolds Wire piece k-discussed here- which does give a sense of an idea whose time has come, if that isn't a contradiction in terms vis-a-vis hauntology- whoever Simon might possibly be referring to as 'online 'eyesore' cultists'. While pondering this, above is a picture of the concrete megastructure of Cumbernauld New Town. Sore, you say...?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Plakaty 75

Now this is a find, from the Bolsheviks' Islam-courting period in the Civil War. But the wonky English makes it so much better-

Comrades Musclemen!
Under the green banner of Prophet you gone to conquer of yours steppes, yours auls (villages). Enemies pf the people take yours fields. Now under red banner of revolution of workers and peasants, under the star of army all of oppresseds and workings assemble from East and West, from North and South. To the saddles, comrades! Everybody to regiments of VSEOBUCH (Common Training)!

In other news, I won an appeal case (at a hearing in Bexleyheath) today against the STATE, winning some Taxpayers' Money that I hadn't been paid earlier in the year, which at the time left me even more reliant than usual on ricecakes and the kindness of women. All messages of congratulation to the usual address.

This Fear of Gods

This -
Tack>>Head’s two best singles, ‘What’s My Mission Now?’ and ‘Mind at the End of the Tether’ uncannily foretold the direction that the American nightmare would take in the following two decades. ‘Mind at the End of the Tether’, which transmuted apocalyptic anxiety into a seething electro pulse, featured a brand of Far Right religious fundamentalism whose influence over the political mainstream in the US we now take for granted. ‘What’s My Mission Now?’, with Leblanc’s drum machine set to migraine, is an ominous audio-snapshot of the US military beginning to stir itself from its post-Vietnam nervous breakdown, bristling with expensive equipment, and itching for its next major deployment (which would turn out to be the ultra-technicized Gulf War, the first phase of what would become the War on Terror).

From colonel K's On-U-Sound piece, is the conjunction that the eventual rework of my My Life in the Bush of Ghosts piece is going to be all about, and the bizarre fact of this becoming accepted as normal- as well as the misbegotten idea of ghosts as numinal, wispy, disappearing wanly into the ether, when more likely they're vindictive, vengeful angry things, hence the sheer bloody Biblical fury of the best dub, and why eg DJ Spooky is missing the point - dub is a politico-religious hauntology. Lee Perry said 'I believe in the Bible because I live in the Bible', and this almost Benjaminian radical rearranging of history is what gives the music it's power.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Non-Objective World

A fine resource just stumbled upon is Russian Avant-Garde Gallery, a charming site which, in curious English, stresses that the author scanned all this in with the help of her daughter, and offers JPEGs of her own watercolours. (I look forward to one day having my own abilities in Russian patronised in this manner). Of particular interest is a pretty comprehensive section on the paintings, porcelain and childrens' book covers of Malevich and Lissitzky's suprematist UNOVIS school.

Plakaty 74

Frumpiness and Austerity

The rich nowadays wear plain rags so as to warn the poor that sacrifices will be necessary for everybody.
Giorgio Agamben, 'In This Exile' (1996)

It'd be interesting to trace the sartorial vagaries of late capitalism through the two poles of new money crassness and the corresponding shedding by the administrative classes of their uniform. This could be done via the lyric from Outkast's bling-baiting 'Red Velvet': ghetto ostentation vs actual, real money and power- 'Bill Gates/doesn't dangle diamonds in the face/of peasants when he's Microsofin in the place'. Hence the reaching for the suit of the MC-mogul with real delusions of grandeur (Jay-Z, the ex-Puffy) alongside the gradual abandonment of suits, ties and shirts by those whose wealth has actual consequence. The horrifying prospect of David Cameron as the first permanently dress-down prime minister. (Pending a conversion to ghetto fabulousness and the Conservative Party manifesto being designed by Pen & Pixel, this can also be seen in graphic design, such as the new Tory squiggle.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mentalist Tendency

Lenin's Tomb is on marvellous form at the moment, skewering ex-leftists like David Blunkett and Nick Cohen's allegedly liberal baiting meme of the 'dinner party' here, writing a piece on Orwell I'd always planned to write here, and on the evident psychosis of the aformentioned former home secretary here. The sheer self-delusion and brutality of Blunkett, revealed more obviously than ever in his memoirs, have been a thing to behold- it's staggering to think the man was once thought of as a 'loony left', at the helm of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Adocating machine-gunning prisoners, bombing independent news services- a rightward swing that Mussolini would have envied. But most staggering of all is that he seems to think he deserves sympathy for all this. Mussolini may have written some awful novels, but at least he never tried to make people feel his pain.

Plakaty 73

Hektor Rottweiler Revisited

Adornoite pop music: a massive, inherent contradiction in terms, obviously. But then so is anti-American pop music, and that hasn't stopped vast numbers of people attempting *that*. This is of course true. A canon of Adornoite pop music should perhaps be established, though hopefully it won't feature Level 42. Naturally there's nothing more abhorrent to Adornoists than the time frame of the 3 minute pop song, but as ever the problem with received ideas of what Adorno is 'about' is that it posits him as the 'high modernist' par excellence, forgetting that his main target was middlebrow Culture as in broadsheet Culture Section- 'the midpoint between Schoenberg and the Hollywood film' and had the (dubious in its own right, but that's another argument) leftist fetish for the circus, the demotic and so forth- see also his outrage at the lengthening of Betty Boop's skirt.

However where he's especially interesting for our purposes is actually something from his most dubious period- his late 60s sulk, where he tacitly supported the Vietnam war and sued his own students, seemingly for taking Dialectic of Enlightment seriously. His dissection of 'pseudo-activity' in 'Resignation' is pertinent for today's popculture, where activity is everything- a remnant of DIY indie, where the fact that you're producing your own culture is somehow important in itself, regardless of how utterly moribund and derivative it may be. Pseudo-activity was used by Adorno as a way of baiting the New left's belief that they could conjure up revolution out of their own action, out of their shocks and provocations, and obviously it's insulting to sundry soixante-huitards to compare them with say, 'new rave'- but a similar insistence that NOW is necessarily better than any other time, that youth is in itself a virtue, and the whine of at least they're doing something runs through both. You can see this in the currency of horrible phrases like 'pro-active'...this works better as a cultural diagnosis than for politics, naturally, hence Adorno's own paralysis in the face of imperialism isn't something to be excused, nor Zizek's 'we should do nothing' - but what we do rather than the fact we do it should be investigated.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Plakaty 72

Greyness and Glamour in Gropiusstadt

In an excellent post on addiction by Different Maps via Bad Zero, the claim is that the addict is fully aware of their blankness and abjection, and revels in it. In the case of the citing of the preposterous Requiem for a Dream this is scuppered somewhat by the sheer overblown idiocy of the film itself (his mother watches TV it is a drug too DO YOU SEE) and as Daniel implies in the case of Christiane F, by its sheer glamour- one of the few exceptions to the k-maxim that anything based on a true story will be automatically delibidinised, and a not entirely cautionary tale, as Woebot pointed out a while ago.

Not in the sense of 'oh, look they're wasted, how cool', but more seductively in the grimly fascinating cityscape the 'characters' move in. When I first saw the film as a teenager, the opening scenes- Bowie's 'V-2 Schneider' playing over footage of a neon-lit U-Bahn, beautifully dressed and cheekboned post-punk Berliners crammed along the platform- naturally didn't make me want to take heroin in Southampton, but did make Berlin look like the most exciting place in the world, and when I finally went there a few years later I was gratified to find that large swathes of the city still looked like that.

The 'real-life' and fictional Christiane F was brought up in an area that encapsulates perhaps better than anywhere else the failures of postwar modernism. In Neukolln (hymned and misspelled by Bowie on the ''Heroes'' LP) can be found, not far from Bruno Taut's utopian 1920s Hufeisensiedlung, Gropiusstadt, named after the Bauhaus' founder-director himself. Gropius drafted plans for a spacious, low-rise, utopian siedlung: and after accommodation had been provided for all the refugees from the recently built wall, it had become a series of tightly packed skyscraping blocks, with a fine view of the death strip between the walls. Interestingly, it bears many similarities with the contemporaneous Marzahn newtown on the other side of the wall, coinciding with the Situationist line that the bureaucratic and capitalist societies had co-created an architecturally integrated spectacle- something backed up by the similar monumentalism of Gropius' American skyscrapers. Naturally when the spectacle was truly integrated in the 1990s this sort of stark modernism was strictly verboten. Gropiusstadt now houses the biggest shopping centre in Berlin.

Yet the footage of it in Christiane F, alongside the catatonically sad trans-European instrumentals from Low and ''Heroes'' that soundtrack the film, make it look incredibly glamorous, all hardness, geometry and extremely stylish clothes. In the flush of fame from her cinematic form, the 'real' Christiane meanwhile released one utterly fabulous record, an icily sexy Teutonic-disko single called 'Wunderbar', as if to back up the eroticised geometry of the film's mise-en-scene. The problem at the heart of the film, as in so many dystopian modernisms, is that it looks so good. You want to live in it, much as the people in the Brazilian gated communities want to live in Alphaville.