Re: beauty to a world hell-bent on insanity

From: Madison Brookshire (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Feb 02 2006 - 10:27:13 PST

Dear Gregg,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. CROSSROADS is a difficult film in
this context, I agree. I too wonder to what extent this film in particular
is informing me. For me, the question is several fold: am I learning
anything? is this a valuable aesthetic experience? or is this a twisted
tabloid: tragic imagery being turned into decoration (like, say 2-D Warhol
or CNN)? Put simply: am I being rewarded by my experience of this footage
assembled in this manner or am I being desensitized to something that I need
to remain alert to and critical of?

I have no easy answers in regards to CROSSROADS. I can, however, name a few
things that I admire about this film. I admire the duration. If nothing
else, this is 35 minutes reserved solely for the contemplation of this
momentous... I wanted to say "event," but part of what the film educates the
viewer to is a _history_, a pattern, a duration, so to speak. There is no
voiceover to distract one from one's own musings on the subject. In fact,
there is strikingly little in the of way directing one's response. So I also
admire the bravery of using the footage without alteration. It is a
document. Things get a little more complicated for me when the Terry Riley
kicks in. But, then again, I have a complicated relationship to Terry Riley,
anyway. Does the score trivialize the imagery? I would've preferred to have
seen it all silent, but we silent film enthusiasts are few and far between.

Also, there is a disorienting quality to the presentation of the imagery
with so little context. For me, at least, it was unclear at first which
images were filmed in slow motion. So you have a distorted view of distended
time. And there IS something horrific in the beautiful terribleness of it.
But for me the terror is not that I find it beautiful, but that the world is
so often both at the same time. That things are irreducibly complicated and
that it is impossible to maintain any position any idea without
qualification, lest one is willing to be an ideologue or dogmatist.

But as I said, CROSSROADS doesn't sit easily with me. For one, I detect a
kind of acceptance in the film, a sort of c'est la vie quietism that I can't
abide. No, it's not life, it's fucked up. And we need to stop it. But I
appreciate the opportunity to come to that conclusion myself, during the
film, both times that I've seen it. This is an experience that is available
during CROSSROADS. I was presented with information (visual and emotional as
distinct from verbal and intellectual) and came to my own opinions about it.
For me, this is a very important political (and I don't use the word
lightly) gesture. We are so battered by information directing our attention
this way and that--look here so I can sucker punch you there--buy me, not
him--on and on, that to see something willingly distancing itself from the
'join my team' tactics is refreshing. More than that, it's an oasis in a
desert of ill-will.

All that aside, AIRSHAFT is a film of an entirely different stripe. It is
anti-war in that its subject matter is without war. Nothing is made in a
vacuum, and this 1967 film made by highly political Ken especially not. Deep
in the Vietnam War, amid all the other social unrest pervading the country
during the late sixties, Ken has a few movies about the beauty of home, of
family, of people caring for one another. Seen in context of films like
NISSAN ARIANA WINDOW, AIRSHAFT represents an alternative to war, not just a
railing against it. And after all, what good is criticism without
alternatives? Furthermore, at the risk of repeating myself, I think it is
instructive. It shows us how to look, how to appreciate that which is around
us. It is neither escapist nor illusionistic. It doesn't exaggerate or
aggrandize for entertainment or vanity. It simply says, let's pay attention
to this. Let's see this. Let's feel what's available here, in this stuff.
These images. This light. This screening. For Ken, "feeling is a heightened
form of intelligence." Help people be in the world, and they won't need to
go destroy another one. That's a little simplistic, but you get my drift, I

In essence, AIRSHAFT (I single this one out because it was shown in an
explicitly anti-war context, but we could cite many other examples) is not
just a criticism, it is a rejection. And instead of verbalizing its
rejection, it embodies it. We can criticize, it certainly has its place and
usefulness, but we can also live our opposition. The latter is perhaps the
more difficult of the two.

Finally, a word on the distinction between radical form and so-called
radical content. The form of your film, including the way in which it is
produced (funding, organization and division of labor, etc.), will affect
the content, to put it lightly. A film that purports to be
anti-establishment, yet which upholds every authoritarian tactic of the
established cinema in fact enforces the establishment. Put simply, political
films must be made politically. There is no cookie-cutter, manifesto-esque
answer I can offer as to what this means, what it entails. Only that our
protest, if we do desire to protest, must be total. We must embody the
change we wish to engender. This is precisely why the non-violent resistance
of the civil-rights movement remains so powerful, so promising. They
actually did what they said! The content of their ideas were manifest in
their activities. Let us be so bold.


On 2/2/06, gregg biermann <email suppressed> wrote:
> Madison,
> I remember being at a screening a few years ago of Bruce Conner's
> "Crossroads" and I happened to be sitting near Ricky Leacock. He seemed
> a bit agitated by the movie but I was impressed that he stayed through
> the entire thing. His quarrel with the movie was precisely with what it
> doesn't say or do about the content. He said that he thought the film
> was a failure-- for example because he wanted to know what happened to
> the people on the boats and the film never got around to letting him
> know. And after 35 minutes of watching these mushroom clouds you don't
> really know anything more about the facts of the atomic test (or
> Hiroshima for that matter) than you did before. Aside from the issue of
> objective facts it doesn't really lead us down a political road either.
> How many times can you think the thought: "it is so beautiful and so
> terrible that I think so"? You can think politics during this movie but
> eventually through radical form you get to a point where the movie seems
> to be stripped its potential for political interpretation or historical
> content. We might almost look at this atomic explosion from a not-human
> perspective. In that sense it might be almost ambivalent about human
> beings destroying themselves.
> GB

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.