The Secret Protest Screening Ethnographic Project — Part 3

September 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

We are almost there, and I’m thinking: it’s all about immersion, as usual with SC. That is what they do best.
The whole dilemma, for the SC people, is that the more organized the evening, the creepier it will feel; the more spontaneous it will feel, the more humanitarian. It’s a challenge SC usually does well: see customers who can’t tell the difference between SC actors and costumed customers at Star Wars show this summer. Immersion requires masking signs of organization,  the feeling of the organic.
How will they fare here?

The Secret Protest Screening ethnographic project – part 2

September 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

Secret Cinema presents LoveRefugees  A Secret Cultural Protest  InformationI finally got the email. Still no idea what the film is going to be–and the way the message is worded, it does seem like a complete afterthought. It will start in Sloane Square, that much is certain. Beyond that, what to expect?

Budapest train station, Syrian children watching Tom and Jerry battling it out, Sept. 2015

This is an invitation to a protest, not a screening. And it is a good thing, the emphasis on the donations. I also like the idea of building cinemas in refugee camps around the world to bring; it speaks to a (nostalgic?) vision of cinema to enchant, make people dream, and unite that I can relate to.  Secret Cinema, the new Hollywood?

This is definitely part of the message–even if the event remains elitist and anything but mainstream, more expensive than an evening at the movies, secretive, and so on. It plays, self-consciously, on the image of an event for the lucky few (tell no one!)–but it sells itself as cinema for the masses.

There are worrying signs, too, that the commercialization will intrude, that this corporate endeavour at being good citizen is just that, a corporate endeavour. #bandwagon? “To harness the greatest movement of displaced people since the Second World War by standing a global screening protest” is cringe-worthy, as is the metaphor of “the sea of activists”, considering the thousands of refugees dead at sea. And the grammar in “to send a message of solidarity to those that need to listen” is obscure, to say the least. These are signs of potential incoherence.

In the end, we did pay for a screening. Is the protest stance then make-believe? Is SC’s attempt at communicating activism just setting the mood, in the same way that they do with their other shows?

So, for now, I am left with issues that I will be looking out for at the event/screening/protest tonight:

  • activist vs. commercial
  • solidarity through watching a film??
  • the film vs. the event
  • audience involvement–in what? Participation –to what? To what fiction?

Complete report tomorrow. In the meantime,

“Barbaric, primitive man” — white man condescending, the 2015 model

September 8, 2015 § 2 Comments

I had not heard such stories in a long time, and I did not even think they would be possible. But Ballyhoo’s on the rise again, and there’s no headline big enough. Still, I was surprised to stumble upon this story this morning, regarding the soon-to-be-released cannibal horror flick by Eli Roth, The Green Inferno. Roth is here talking about the production in Peru:

“So when we shot it, I wanted to film somewhere that was really, really, really in the Amazon. Really, authentically off the grid. We scouted in the summer-time and went up the river for hours and hours and found this village where there was no electricity, no running water, grass huts. Ten people in a shack. And it looked incredible; it looked like a village from another time, so we asked if we could film there. But I was told that we have to tell them what a movie is because they have no idea. They’ve never seen one. They’ve never even seen a television. So they went back with a television and a generator and showed the village Cannibal Holocaust, which I couldn’t believe. And the villagers – thank god – thought it was a comedy. The funniest thing that they’d ever seen. And they wanted to play cannibals in the movie. So we had the entire village acting in the film. And they speak Quechua – which is like another language from another time.” (from a 2013 interview with Roth)

I have right now no way of knowing where Roth actually filmed (though his admission that “they call the river Aguirre because the last film to  shoot there was Aguirre The Wrath God” would indicate that he was in the Ucayali region), or indeed whether the story is true or spurious. As usual, with Ballyhoo, it is probably both. And Roth’s own words in his tale are small comfort for anyone trying to take him seriously: either the shoot is genuinely dangerous (“we could have died any number of times — there were floods, and there were rock-slides, there were tarantulas, snakes, animals walking through shots. It was crazy…it was brutal”) or it is really a merry “jungle adventure — we had cameras and everyone was just so up for it”. Either the village has not made contact and the tribe lives in complete isolation (“no electricity, no running water, grass huts”), or there is enough electricity to play with iPads (“you became friends with all the kids and all the old people. And then by the end they were all playing with iPhones and iPads. We’ve completely polluted the social system and f*cked them up”). Ballyhoo, of course, can have it both ways.

But what attracted me to this story is that I had read it before–in fact, I had read it all (including the bit where villagers are shown a movie “for the first time”, and were then induced to act out as cannibals in a movie) in an account of Edward Salisbury’s expedition to shoot a “documentary” entitled Black Shadows (1922) in the Solomon islands. The excerpt is from “Eighteen Months on the Trail of Cannibals”, ostensibly written by Edward Salisbury himself, published in The Atlanta Constitution, 5 nov. 1922, pg. F9 [which is available, I believe, through Proquest]:

“In the meantime I had to teach the natives, like children, that they were in a play when going through their usual avocations and amusements before the motion picture camera, for I wanted to make pictures of all their life and pursuits as well as of their warlike proclivities.
It proved impossible for the islanders to understand what the small box which stood on three legs had to do with recording their history, so I decided upon taking the risk of showing them a motion picture of themselves by way of convincing them.
Swarthy forms filled the Wisdom’s deck before a curtain strung across it on the night when Vella Lavella saw its first motion picture. The shock of its appearance was greeted with a yell of terror. Up sprang the warriors in a confusion of struggling limbs. Those nearest the rail jumped overboard and swam ashore. Others pressed behind, remembered their record for bravery, hesitated and stood their ground.
“Oh, oh!” howled Buli. “Devil-devil!”
“See!” I shouted, clapping my friend Buli on the shoulder, “he is alive. He is not hurt!” I made them feel each other to prove that no one was dead or injured.
Meantime this new devil-devil, whose spirit was in the beam of light which shone upon the curtain, awakened all manner of fears in their startled minds. They found their voices. A panic of cries and pointing fingers broke loose. Here and there Berche-la-mer asserted itself.
“Oh, him no b’long here! Him no b’long here.”
How could Buli be sitting among them the while his spirit danced upon the curtain?
Although still badly frightened, a number of them were induced to touch the sheet and convince themselves that the devil-devil was novel [?], making pictures of their acts while they, themselves, were unharmed.
The savages examined first one side of the screen, then the other. How was it possible for a man suddenly to become so thin! The projection machine stopped. The figures on the sheet disappeared. I had to quell another panic. “Where had the warriors gone?”
Through Buli I explained that in my box was a magic eye which saw everything they did and several days afterwards this eye would tell on a sheet what it had seen them do. I told them that when I returned to my own island the magic eye would tell my people what a brave nation of warriors they were, and how they lived and danced and fought.
“Great medicine!” they responded, and told one another that this box of the magic eye was white man’s big medicine, which could drive the ills out of a sick body and do many wonderful things.”

I’m just putting this out-there, but there would be other stories from the colonial past that would be similar. In fact, there’s another example available on Picturegoing, and Tom Gunning wrote an entire article about this figure of the “(in)credulous spectator”, ranging from the myth of the “first” audience running away from the Lumière film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, to

“the state usually attributed to savages in their primal encounter with the advanced technology of Western colonialists, howling and feeling in impotent terror before the power of the machine”. (Gunning Tom. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator.” Art and Text 34 (Spring 1989): 31-45.)

I think the onus is on Roth to explain how he squares the contradictions, also obvious in the 1922 text, between the pretense of “discovery” of an uncontacted tribe — the pretense, to be more precise, that this status as “uncontacted” truly matters — and the “corruption” that he makes light of (or, in Salibury’s text, the pretense that the film is a “documentary”, and the grooming of villagers as actors via film).  At least in Roth’s story the tribe is so media-savvy that they immediately recognise that the cannibal horror film is a joke–and so we are led to think that the on-film portrayal of the tribe as “barbaric, primitive” (Roth’s words!!) is also just a joke.

I have my doubts as to whether Roth’s film itself will endanger uncontacted tribes, as AmazonWatch, for instance, and other such NGOs that do tremendous work protecting these tribes, have argued. And I certainly don’t think censoring the film is a solution. But what is for me very clear is that the whole trope of the “primitive” tribe being “cannibal” and learning about “modern” civilisation through watching movies but remaining somewhat “primitive” has a long and disgusting history. Maybe, as Roth argues, it’s all a joke–but it’s a sad, tired joke, and surely we can do better.

Or, in an even more disquieting way, does it speak about some sort of on-going Western panic attack about all these Others knocking on our rich world’s doors, in a way that No Escape, apparently, also does?

Ghosts of silent films

September 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Not that I am necessarily a great believer in the metaphor of the ghosts of the silent screen, but

a) there is enough evidence to make the links between spiritism and silent cinema (see Valentino’s séances for one) quite intriguing — how much reality was/is there, then, in images of silent films?

b) turning a film studio into an art installation, and film shooting into performance art, is a rather seductive idea that would deserve more work;

and c) i haven’t posted anything on this blog for quite a while :-).

But I had missed this back in 2012: Guy Maddin’s installation of silent studio shoot / spiritism / art installation / chasing after films that have vanished at the Centre Pompidou:

and it seems the film Maddin has managed to piece together from these experiences will open at the London Film Festival next month: The Forbidden Room.

Enough serendipity to drive one mad!

The Football World Cup for Smart People – 3 – Bernard-Henry Lévy, 2006

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

  • Bernard Henry-Lévy, “Zidane”Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2006

really shouldn’t be in here: this is a straight red card for grandiose use of metaphors and for name-dropping (Abbé Pierre!  Mother Theresa! Mandela! Machiavelli! Dostoyevsky!) over the 2006 World Cup Final and Zidane’s head-butt. But Zidane as Achilles, Domenech as Agamemnon, Makelele as a Myrmidon — this is irresistible. Also, as a reading of the football hero as convoking narrative tropes of the mythical figure of the Homeric Hero (is Zidane Achilles or Ulysses now?). Mostly, though, this piece deserves to be on our list for proposing to read Zidane as the media icon that rebels against mediatisation (“I am not this idiotic, empty hologram”) — maybe a uniquely French perspective on global media (resist!)?

On the take that the headbutt is in anyway good as it shows resistance to the powers of marketing (end of the post), hmm, excuse-me? However symbolic you want it to be, a head-butt is a head-butt. Even a semiotically-charged head-butt has got to hurt…

On our list, then, with BHL at his usual best with good dribbling skills, excellent vision of the game, and some good on-goal opportunities —  but a red card in the end.

The Football World Cup for Smart People – 2 – Umberto Eco, 1978

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

  • Umberto Eco, “The World Cup and Its Pomps”, an essay written in 1978 but most easily available in the collection Faith in Fakes: travels in Hyperreality, Vintage, 1995.

a variation on the “panem et circenses” tradition, football as offering easy mediated reconciliation for traumatised nations (written at the time of the Red Brigades in Italy and dictatorship in Argentina, hosts of the 1978 World Cup), and revolving around the intriguing question : “is revolution possible on a football sunday?”

A good question, to which common intellectual sense would have us answer a resounding NO, but it turns out that in West Africa, at least, football sunday made the revolution possible

— with a whiff of Swiftian irony in the celebration of the deaths and injuries football may inflict on fans and players alike (“I consider the passion for football providential…”).

Football as “everyday unreality… the absence of purpose…the vanity of all things” — it doesn’t get more Virilio-Baudrillard post-modern than this.

Also, if you are looking for the source of the comparison between football fans and “sex maniacs regularly going to see couples making love”, look no further.

On Eco’s essay, there is by the way a nice collection of visual essays by artists from Liverpool who think, with Eco, that “soccer has never loved me” (come play with us on Sundays, there is no love lost there !)


The Football World Cup for Smart People – 1

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Now that the serious fun starts at the World Cup, with qualifying groups almost over (at least for England!) and “win or go home” games about to start, I’ll be compiling here a list of “serious” (but fun!) readings about the World Cup for people who want to sound smart while enjoying their football (hint: don’t scream “what a shot!” at the TV screen, but remark snidely “this is like watching porn!”). I will be looking, you’ve guessed it, for scholarly writing with bite.

This list will attempt to round up the scholarly market on writings dealing with the Football World Cup as media event, in line with my interest in media ethnography and cultural history, ancient and current. Is there, then, a way out of the postmodern domination of the ‘image’ that media scholarship of sports events warns against at regular episodes (more on this below)? Anything else happening in the mediatisation of the World Cup but a shallow pre-fabricated hollowed-out consumption spectacle? Where is the power of the game in all this media analysis?

In the spirit of fair play and competition, I will attempt to produce as complete a list as possible by the time it takes this World Cup to reach the Final on July 13 (which will be Brazil vs. Argentina, as you probably know UPDATE JULY 9: Oops, 7-1..). Think of this post, then, as an on-going, though very short-term, bibliographic enquiry.

Think of it, too, if you wish, as a game:

  • the pitch: the football World Cup in media studies;
  • the time: play will take place during the next 2 weeks and a half — and no water break every 30-minute sort of nonsense, no sirree;
  • rules: anything not on the World Cup of football is offside (sorry no general studies on football–for more smart readings on football and the World Cup, check issue 13 of The Blizzard, h/t Put Niels in Goal);  any lazy intellectualising is a straight red card, so is jargonizing;
  • a referee: me!
  • number of players: hmm, potentially, limitless.

And, yes, contributions, as usual, are most welcome :-).

To build this list, I have notably used Steve Redhead, Post-Fandom and the Millenial Blues: The Transformation of Soccer Culture, and his list of scholarly writings (as of 1997 then), John Turnbull, The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (2009) ; The Guardian in 2008, and the blog The global game: football as second language maintained by John Turnbull of Columbia University between 2003 and 2010.

First up: Umberto Eco’s 1978 essay on “The World Cup and Its Pomp”, and who better than a French philosopher to make sense of a French football player losing his head at a World Cup Final?

Still to come…:

John Williams, “Sport, Postmodernism and Global TV”, Postmodern Studies no. 9, 1993 — Edward Buscombe ed. Football on Television London: BFI, 1975 (TV programs as not so much records of events but rather as social constructs) — Nowell-Smith, “Television-Football-the World”, Screen 19.4, 1978/9 — Umberto Eco (again), “How Not To Talk Football”, 1990 — Alan Clarke, Justin Wren-Lewis, “The World Cup–a political football”, Theory, Culture and Society 1.3, 1983 — Tomlinson, Whannel, Off the Ball: The Football World Cup, London: Pluto Press, 1986, notably Christine Geraghty, Philip Simpson, “Tunnel Vision: television’s World Cup” — Chris Berry, on watching the Korea World Cup on public screens in China…

In Quest of Sunken Treasure: Decorative TItles

May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment


from The Submarine Eye (Williamson, 1917)


A short analysis on this most forgotten art form of the not-quite silent movies, the decorated intertitle card, from The Moving Picture World, 26 May 1917 — proving, to boot, that not everyone in movie land was busy thinking about the war even then 😉


Five silent films to avoid … and five to seek out

April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

An interesting exercise by John Sweeney — I’m happy someone at last has the guts to move Vertov’s dreary “Mr West” to the worst film list.

Silent London

Silents by numbers This is a guest post for Silent London by John Sweeney. John Sweeney is one of London’s favourite accompanists, composing and playing for silent film and accompanying ballet and contemporary classes. He researched and compiled the music for the Phono Cinéma-Théatre project and is one of the brains behind the wonderful fortnightly Kennington Bioscope at the Cinema Museum. The Silents by Numbers strand celebrates some very personal top 10s by silent film enthusiasts and experts.   When Silent London started with these lists I joked with a friend that what was needed was a list of silent films to avoid: no sooner had I spoken than films started coming to mind, but I also started thinking of the opposite list, of films that aren’t anything like as well known as I think they should be. So, I’ve settled for five films that you might think would be good but really aren’t, and…

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lost, alas

March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

A sad reminder of how much film history, and just plain good movies, have been and are still lost: this post by David Cairn, which also makes the point of how utterly illogical the operations of fate have been in regards to the disappearance of silent films…

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