This is the official music video (shot on Jan.26.2002) of the song Sleep Now In The Fire (from 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles) by Rage Against the Machine.
Although this looks different from what we have studied, I still want to write about this, not only because I see it as an experimental short film, but also because the shooting process itself is an experiment.
Michael Moore, the famous documentary filmmaker, and political activist collaborated with the band to make this music video by asking the band to perform in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Before the shoot, Moore got the permission to use steps of Federal Hall National Memorial, but did not have permit to shoot the streets, or creating loud noise. In the video, we can see Michael Moore taken away by the police, but he did not let the camera stop rolling. Indeed, he told the band to continue playing no matter what happens.
After learning about the transition from film to digital, I started to think about the content of this music video as a product of digitalization. First of all, Rudy Giuliani’s smiling face was playing and rewinding on repeat, reminding me of Ballet Mécanique (1924). It is surprising to see that experimental expression like repetition still being applied after 80 years. The mass entertainment and TV element reminds me of Nam Jun Paik’s Global Groove (1973). Of course, after 27 years, we are all aware of the rapid development of technology which brings the world together, but different in its ideology, this music video is displaying mass ignorance and the influence of capitalism (in USA). For example, the constant footages from Who Wants to Be Filthy F#&%ing Rich? (The parody of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) intertwined with the band’s performance imposing on backgrounds like gigantic green US dollars, nuclear explosion, and TV commercials (mostly capitalist items). The experimental expression in the film is very simple, but the symbolization is successful and powerful, like when Zack sings in front of puppet faces of Al Gore, George W. Buch, and John McCain.
Gary Bauer’s voice appeared at last, “A band called The Machine Rages On… er… Rage Against the Machine, that band is anti-family and is pro-terrorist.” Note here, Bauer was once appointed by Trump to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and a person holding a board that supports Trump as president appeared in the music video. Nobody would have thought that would come true after 20 years. Going back to the point we have discussed in class about if a film can make people act, my answer is not sure, but they certainly have the potential. In this video, the riot of people storming into the hall happened during the film shoot.
And who would have thought Limp Bizkit’s music video of Break Stuff won that year, instead of this one… I seriously, seriously, DO NOT understand how that happened.
This is the more recent video. It is the official music video of Depeche Mode’s song My Favorite Stranger, in their latest album Memento Mori (2023).
I have a fascination with music videos. Most rock band music videos seem very experimental to me. I picked this one because this looks exactly like what I wanted to film. Just a black and white visually great cool guy/woman walking in places that you cannot tell if it is modern or not. I forgot to mention that my first homework film was also inspired by this video.
The cinematography creates a clear contrast in this black and white world. The black outfit, especially hat, symbolizes mystery. The stranger looks like to be pissing on a tree, but after the stranger moves away, what we see are blood stains. The picture is black and white, so you cannot tell what the liquid really is. However, you just know it is blood.
Throughout the video, the stranger walks in slow motion, so the high quality camera captures every little detail of the cool walking style and the movement of the long coat, creating a dream-like quality that resembles Maya Deren’s works. What makes the scene even more like a dream is the fact that the stranger walks along forest and streets (a contrast between primitive and modern) that not a single person can be seen. It seems like the whole world is muted and dead, and the stranger is the only one alive.
At one point, the stranger stops in front of a shopping window to see self-reflection. Not only the clear window, but also multiple vintage television sets on display reflect the figure. Like the lyrics say, the perfect stranger might just be ourselves. The figure in the video is a reality encapsulation of the dark side of our personality that we never reveal in real life.
In the end, we finally get a good frontal look at the stranger’s face, and guess what? The mustache is fake. This is an androgynous figure.
The Aesthetics of Narcissism
The article starts with, “It was a common place of criticism in the 1960s that a strict application of symmetry allowed a painter to ‘point to the center of the canvas’.” (Krauss, 50)
It reminds me of the passage Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus Jean-Louis Baudry wrote. Both that passage and this one mention painting traditions. In fact, all art forms tend to position towards the center. In paintings, we usually see the main subject matter in the center, something like this (that I randomly found and drew):
That reflects the self-centered narcissism, which “describes a psychological rather than a physical condition.” (Krauss, 50)
Video art is indeed a mutual process. When the filming apparatus works, the body that is recorded also has to respond to this process, creating a feedback loop, which connects to the artwork Boomerang (1974) in which the performer experiences a weird self-awareness when she hears her own voice keep getting send back to her earphones instantly after she speaks, like a “mirror” experience.
Krauss also states the difference between “reflection”, which means external symmetry and “reflexiveness”, which is asymmetry from within. Reflection usually involves the use of mirrors, and it produces the exact same symmetrical image in the outside world. Reflexiveness in the context of video art is like the feedback from the artist’s inner mind and creates an interaction with the art medium itself.
My question: A clearer explanation of the relationship between the projection on screen and the projection of oneself?
The Rio Experience:
Video’s New Architecture Meets Corporate Sponsorship
The content in this reading got me thinking that I have the gradual feeling that larger art projects involving using a large wall or a building’s exterior are becoming more and more prevalent all over the world. Coming from China myself, there are some buildings used for 3D animation artwork at major shopping malls in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.
The cost is usually very high, so it poses challenges to artists who wants to achieve this kind of art. Another issue also lies in the uncertainty of whether these arts can make profits. An imbalance and conflict between major corporations and independent artist thus forms. Unless the artists are extremely rich themselves, it is impossible to do without sponsorship. It is probable that these artists are respected better and have lesser difficulty in acquiring the funds they need nowadays. In future media landscape, there should be less conflict between the commercial and artistic value in order for video arts to thrive.
“This is a glimpse of the video landscape of tomorrow, when you will be able to switch to any TV station on the earth, and TV guide will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book.”
What follows this sentence is a video of woman dancing dressed in fashion of the time the film came out. The image has been altered with electronic methods I am not familiar with.
What follows the dancing are television clips or other videos with celebrities in them. I believe this urges us to reflect on the presence of media in our lives (of course, when this film came out it was still in the 70s in last century). I am not an expert on the female music performer, but I do connect Allen Ginsberg with the hippie movement that is in its prosperity then, and his relationship with the Beat Generation. When audiences watch this video now, this information might not be immediate to people who are not acquainted with this culture, but at the time, it should be obvious. I assume it is the same reason why John Cage appears in the film as well — public figures on media platforms, delivered by the medium of a video.
I have some reflection on the film’s name: Global Groove. “Groove” is a term specifically associated with African American music, but the adjective “global” is added before it. It might indicate the period in which the film is made is a time of globalization. To state that, there are clips of performances derived from different cultures juxtaposed together. The video itself is also a manifestation of how technology connects people of different races, from different places, and with different believes, together.
Anyways, the whole film is a mashup of all sorts of videos. I guess that is also one of the reasons it is called “video art”.
Above are unfortunately all I can interpret from this film.
Questions I have:
1, The clips selected must have some significance. Two are music performers, one is a literature representative. They all appear in the same film. What does that mean?
2, What is the relationship of this film with commercials?
The film was produced by what seems to me like a groundbreaking technique at the time. Brakhage did not use a camera but pressed all the items he collected between two strips of 16mm Mylar tapes. The images seen are leaves, grass, and dead moth wings. According to Brakhage himself, the dead moths were brought back to life by the filmic machine when the film was played through the projector. That also reinforces the title of this film.
The basic principle of how film works is the projection of light on a screen. When the light reflection of the dead moths is presented on the screen, they seem to be brought back to life in another way to the audiences. It is the re-representation of life by inanimate objects.
The other interesting aspect of the film is how it focuses on the matter that is non-human. While normal films all have a primary focus on human and a narrative, Brakhage took elements of nature into consideration and presented an abstract expression short film about the life (or death) of plants and moths.
I find this film somehow similar in some sense to Mothlight. It also departs from the human-centered filmmaking we are used to.
The soundtrack is not pre-recorded but happens synchronously while the film is being played. Because McLaren assigned certain colors and shapes a corresponding note, audiences hear the sounds simultaneously while seeing the color when these images are projected. This concept is named as “graphical sound”, which particularly interests me.
Notes on (nostalgia) :
The film’s name is very suitable for the content. The whole film shows what happened in Frampton’s past by photographs and the narration by Michael Snow. What struck me is the act of burning photographs while telling each story. It seems to me that the slowly burning of each photo symbolizes the fading of each period of time that photo represents. By burning the photos while telling the story, Frampton creates a sense of nostalgia while actively recalling the past.
The photos bring me to recall one of the issues we discuss in class — index. The photos serve as an indirect existential bond between the real past, Frampton, and audiences (in this case also Snow). Before the next photo is shown, audiences see the previous (relatively) photo still in the process of completely turning to ashes while actively imagining the next story because the narrator already goes on telling the next one.
At last, I keep asking myself two questions: 1, Why are the photos burnt on a stove? 2, Why is the story narrated by another artist instead of Frampton himself?
The topic this week is Perception and Psychedelia. I gained a better understanding after reading all the assigned readings. However, at first, I just associate these two concepts closely and simply with patterns we see. Patterns have the visual power to affect our senses, creating possible uneasy feelings or even hallucinations. For example, everyone has seen those pictures with lines that trick your eyes. You might see curved lines when they are straight or see a still pattern with a swirl slowly spinning when it is in fact completely still. Some other patterns make you dizzy. If you stare long enough, you might see dots and circles coming out in your vision.
“Hallucinations are directly related to states of excitation and arousal of the central nervous system, which are coupled with a functional disorganization of the part of the brain that regulates incoming stimuli.” (Ronald Siegel) Brakhage pointed out that hallucinations do not come from external stimuli. This view is in sync with the definition of the act of “seeing”, which is receptive, generating images internally, rather than actively “looking”.
I believe that Harry Smith (whose early abstraction works from 1946-1957 I linked above) is closely related to this week’s topic. First of all, Harry Everett Smith is an artist who was involved in a wide range of fields, an important influence in the Beat Generation, and an active figure in the Hippie movement. Like lots of artists at the time, Smith advocated the use of drugs like weed, LSD, and mushrooms to aid sensory enhancement and achieve stimulation to create art. He described seeing and hearing things in drug experiences. The sounds he heard also became a major inspiration for the music he composed for his films.
Smith’s artwork style resembles many of the films we are watching this week. His films involve lots of abstract geometrical patterns. There are simple lines, shapes, and images like light dots, curves, and close-eye visions. Occasionally, solid items are presented in a weird dimension of color and space.
p.s. Smith was an acquaintance of Jordan Belson and the Whitney brothers (James Whitney and John Whitney), whose works we deal with in class.
This is Man Ray’s Emak-Bakia (1926). This film contains a lot of mechanical repetitive motions that reminds me of the patterns in Le Retour à la Raison (1923). The sculptures that appear are by Pablo Picasso. In addition, the film’s cinematography style is precisely how Man Ray would shoot still objects and people.
Man Ray and the other artists’ films we watched in class have many aspects in common, like the fascination with machines, abstract patterns or visual repetition. Man Ray is also an influential figure for Surrealism movement. He worked as the cinematographer of René Clair’s Entr’acte (1924) and left a notable signature on the film’s visuals. It should be interesting to explore another film by him.
Since we are going to explore Dali’s work, it should be evident that the video I linked is a piece of work from his hand. This is a sequence from his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock in the film Spellbound (1945). I believe this video holds value in understanding Dali’s artistic and aesthetic tendencies. The film is deemed a psychoanalytic thriller that delves into the subconscious and how it affects real life. Generally, the film’s significance lies in psychoanalysis, which is what we need to use to comprehend Dali’s films.
Dali’s artistic endeavors, encompassing paintings and films, exhibit profound connections to the subconscious and dreams. The film sequence can provide a fundamental view of his distinct artistic style that resembles his paintings. Numerous visual elements also repetitive in his paintings appear in the film. For example, eyes, wheels, and distortion. Interestingly, different from in Un Chien Andalou (1929) Dali decides to cut the eyeball with scissors instead of “slicing” it up. This film sequence losses some of Dali’s sharp and shocking approach utilized in Un Chien Andalou but takes on a milder method to embrace the irrational dream.
At last, there is an anecdote: Hitchcock was hoping for vividness for dreams, however, as he told François Truffaut in 1962, “But Dalí had some strange ideas; he wanted a statue to crack like a shell falling apart, with ants crawling all over it, and underneath, there would be Ingrid Bergman, covered by the ants! It just wasn’t possible”.
1, Fuses as Erotic Self-portraiture
Throughout the history of cinema, the concept of male-gaze has been vastly criticized. Laura Mulvey points out that to enjoy a Hollywood film, all spectators must take on the perspective of a white male, which basically means we all impose our male gaze to the films and the female characters. However, as Shana claims, the danger objectification might be a threat of removing female imagery from screen (Shana, 3). She also states that the gaze that Mulvey refers to fails to recognize the aspect of the director “physically altering the image” (Shana, 4), which is important to me. Editing is not a neutral process but conveys the director’s ideology. People criticize Schneemann for her self-sex portrait, but fails to realize the difference between a “sex object” and “willed and erotic subject” (Schneemann, 2).
From my understanding, a “sex object” is usually a woman (of course might be a man as well) who is consumed in a film or other media primarily due to their sexual appearances or sexual acts. Their purpose is to arouse the audiences. Their own desires are secondary. A “willed and erotic subject” is a willed individual who actively, not passively, chooses to participate in the sexual acts. Schneemann produces her own films with her performing sexual acts in it and alters the images by her own filmic reproduction. Obviously, Scheemann’s films should be placed in the latter category according to herself and Shana.
P.s. I understand sexual behavior as usually private, and intimate between two or a group of people. When films (not pornos, which are meant to be seen) present sex, the aim is to arouse a voyeuristic pleasure between audiences, because they enjoy, unconsciously, the fact that they are watching something that they should not have access to. When Sheemann made her film, she precisely has total control of the ability to be seen.
2, Metaphors on Vision
All the signifiers of signified are consisted of social conventions that developed through time. As a parallel, humans develop cognitives by conforming to conventions and copying other people’s preconceived notion. It is hard to imagine observing the world without any previous knowledge of what everything is.
Question: What is the main argument of this article?
3, Pop, Queer, or Fascist?
Scorpio Rising is closely related to death drive, just like Anger’s first film Fireworks. The motorcycle gang has a rejection of conformity and the will to form their own dangerous and rebellious underground culture. As Suarez explains, there are risky behaviors, fascination towards violence and destruction.
The reading provides a profound understanding of the music utilized in the film. The pop songs, usually about love, forms a contrast with the butch images of the men, forming an ironic sensory. It also provides a layered implication to queer culture, which also shows in the S&M style aesthetics.
Question: The reading did not let me fully understand why the film is called “Scorpio Rising”.
The Nazi signs, the crosscutting of motorcycle gang masquerade and Jesus’s preaching group in Scorpio Rising, and the sex portrayed in Scheemann’s films, are all proof that images in film are by the hand of filmmaker. They are the product of firsthand image alteration, which means editing and adding special effects. Therefore, they convey the ideology of the filmmaker. However, reading Brakhage’s article, the question in my mind is, how will a person with no previous knowledge of social norms interpret these films, or rather, how will a kid interpret these films?
1, Meshes of the Afternoon
The film is a repetitive loop that happens to the main female character. We see three same females doing the same thing at one point, only in different time orders. As P. Adams Sitney states in his book Visionary, The American Avant-Garde 1943-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2002), “The transitions between cycles are subtly achieved” (Sitney, 11). A lot of match cuts, the traditional editing used by Hollywood cinema to hide the cuts, were utilized to help create a sense of continuity and repetition.
There are four major elements in this film that serve as symbols although it is still not certain to me what they symbolize. The first one is flower. What comes to mind is virginity, innocence, female beauty, and seduction. The second one is mirror. This is an easy one — self-reflection and reflection of others. Sitney claims, “Deren, with her hands lightly pressed against the window pane, embodies the reflective experience, which is emphasized by the consistent imagery of mirrors in the film” (Sitney, 11). This is a heavily reflective film, as in this scene, window is another reflective element. The third one is key. Key symbolizes the idea of leading to something. This key unlocks confusion, sex, horror, and death. Keys can not only open a door, but also close it. It symbolizes the self-entrapment. At last, the knife. It is self-defense and feminine power. It shatters the mirror.
Questions: How does the protagonist die? / Why does it mean when the key and the knife changes into each other? / Is the mirror related to Lacan’s theory? / Most importantly, what exactly does this film tries to convey, beneath the surface of a dreamy drama?
2, At Land
This film’s scene transition to allude to space change is innovative at the time. The landscape of setting transition always follows a close shot of Deren’s body part. Her feminine soft body is a contrast to the harsh landscape, the hard table, or the mysterious architecture.
She seems to me to derive from the ocean and come to land with curiosity. It is an Odyssey for her. The chessboard was the role. She rebels and breaks the rule. However, she has to return to the cycle by returning that piece she loses during her journey.
Questions: Does the chess playing of The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) has anything to do with this film? / What does the scene transitions symbol? Is it related to nature and modern life? / Sitney mentions in his book that “No one seems to notice her” (Sitney, 18). Why is that, and what does it mean?
3, Ritual in Transfigured Time
I have no idea what this piece is about, but one element I noticed is the “stopping” of time in framed scenes that create photos. It is also an interesting frame at first when the whole screen is split in two by the wall in middle.
Questions: What do the deaths mean in this film? / What does the yarn symbolize?