Monthly Archives: August 2014

Where is the cinema? Or, where do we watch the film? On a 3D screen, in IMAX, in UltraAVX, on a 2D screen, in a second-run theater with a 2D screen, on a plasma television, on a laptop, computer, tablet, or phone (and in any number of private and public locations for the last three in the list). We can also specify which non-theater format: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download (in a variety of sizes and compressions), illegal stream, legal stream through Netflix (not to mention the obsolete formats). I ask this question because I discovered something important about cinema-going and the film experience while watching Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013). At home, on my plasma television, I discovered that I was not actually watching Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster. What does it mean to watch the film yet not watch it?

THE GRANDMASTER_2012 James picks-thumb-630xauto-35857Despite its theatrical release as a 2D film, the intention was to craft a 3D picture. Wong Kar-wai mentions, “We had originally planned to film The Grandmaster in 3D not only for the cinematic sensation, but also for the subtlety of the expression of this beautiful story.” A conversion to 3D is in the works.

I believe the film was so thoroughly shot for 3D, therefore it demands us to watch it in a 3D theater, and therefore on the big screen. This means that any lesser consumption of the film is simply not the film. The meticulously choreographed kung-fu, the careful design of the sets, the precise framing, each element of the mise-en-scene prepared for projection in three dimensions. The slow motion shots, the precipitation, the close-ups, all seemed absurd in the 2D format. None of it made sense nor did I have an experience of sense.

Baudry was onto something when he compared the cinema to Plato’s cave: locked in and locked up in our seats – not really, but you get the analogy – we are ready for the film. Directors prepare their films, when guaranteed theater runs, with the big screen in mind. Thus the development of color, widescreen, 3D, IMAX, and so on. (Similarly lower-budget films, without theater distribution but with a deal inked with Netflix, I imagine, produce their film according to the appropriate format.) The Grandmaster reinforced my views on cinematic purity. I think the film experience demands that we be fastened to our seats; the bodily sensations we receive from the medium are most intense when we allow ourselves to become inactive. We see the film as intended.

For instance, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy (2012-2013) was originally planned as one long film; after its completion and breaking off into three separate features, Seidl recommended watching them consecutively, with a short break in between. And Béla Tarr wanted spectators of Sátántangó (1994) to view the 9 hour feature without being able to hit pause. While such an experience is impossible, even if we were to view Tarr’s film in a theater, the restlessness, boredom, and physical pain of remaining immobile for hours is part of the experience. Whether 2D or 3D then, many films, I contend, demand the attentiveness, and often discomfort, of the cinema.

I don’t wish or want home-viewing to come to an end, but I wish that we took the theater more seriously, especially with the greater number of worthwhile 3D features coming out these days. Films like Wim Wender’s Pina (2011), Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), The Grandmaster, and most recently Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language (2014), require a viewing in their proper space and with the necessary technology, silly-looking glasses and all. I tried to re-watch Gravity some weeks ago and, as expected, it simply felt flat in 2D. This affectless version of the film is unfortunately what spectators see if they missed Gravity in theaters. The Grandmaster was insufficient as well, but in a much different way: the whole picture, without the 3D, was simply ridiculous. I await the 3D conversion, although I will likely be unable to see it in its intended form.


Video: Stags, Sexploitation, and Hard Core

The link to the above video is a teaser for an exhibition I am curating on pornography up to 1972.

Thursday, August 28th – Saturday, August 30th, 12pm-6pm

Artspace, 378 Aylmer Street North, Peterborough, ON

vlcsnap-2014-07-21-21h55m04s154The 1920s was a booming decade for moving-image pornography. 10 to 20 minute films were shot and then screened at stags, thus the name, stag films. Oftentimes the players in these shorts were prostitutes and their johns, or filmmakers and their friends – the films are therefore made anonymously. What is interesting about them is the lack of differentiation between the sexual act as such, real penetration for instance, and the performance of sexual acts. We see in a number of these films that men do not get erections or cannot remain erect for the duration of the shoot. What mattered most, it seems, is sex in any shape or form; or, put differently, the reality and/or the illusion of persons doing things otherwise private. At times the mise-en-scene was elaborate – nuns, teachers – while at others a man “picks up” a woman and has sex. But even in this latter case some kind of narrative unfolds. Even anonymous sex, shot and performed for the enjoyment of a group of men, needs a story. The clips are edited from The Good Old Naughty Days, available from Strand Releasing.


Swedish Marriage Manual, aka Language of Love

The period from about 1956 to 1972 offered a number of soft-core pictures to the public. These films, from The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) to Swedish Marriage Manual (1968) and many European art films, were generally accessible. While sex was implied or, in the case of some art films, not shown with maximum visibility (as Linda Williams calls it), simple displays of nudity saturated the big screen. Even in films such as Sweetback (1971), the simulated sex is boring – Sweetback doesn’t dare use his sweetback too quickly. Stag films, even when obviously faking the sexual act, were energetic. There was something about the projection of movement that was, in itself, fascinating to watch.

Boys in the Sand

Boys in the Sand

In the early 1970s, films such as Mona (1970), Boys in the Sand (1971), Deep Throat (1972), and Behind the Green Door (1972) brought hard core sex to the screens. Explicit cinematic sex finally became a commodity in its own right, and in the case of Deep Throat, men and women began to take an interest. However, Deep Throat tried to downplay its explicitness with humor while the interracial and orgiastic Green Door used special effects and a hypnotizing score to bring sex into the realm of art.

Pornography today is a far departure from any works of the prior decades. Or, if we prefer, contemporary pornography has taken something from each of the three periods identified: the vigor and energy of the stags; the beautiful bodies of sexploitation flicks; and the explicitness and maximum visibility of 1970s hard core.

Video: Stags, Sexploitation, and Hard Core