Week 7: Reader Blogging

In the chapter “Andy Warhol: The Producer as Author”, David James presented the trajectory of Andy Warhol’s career as he transitioned from being a significant figure in pop art culture to emerging as a notable and distinctive filmmaker in the realm of Avant-Garde cinema. James commenced by pointing out the iconic characteristics of Warhol’s films— “the simultaneous interrogation and exploitation of the media and the meditation on the elusiveness of the un-media-ted presence”—and tracing their origins back to his earlier paintings (James, 58). Warhol’s paintings represented a fusion of art and advertisement and could be even considered as “components of his own marketing strategies in the art business” (James, 59). Furthermore, Warhol constructed his works in a manner that was “virtually independent of a real human body or personality” as he often “reinscribed the artifice of the public image” (James, 60-61). At the same time, he opposed the conventional understanding and approach to grant authenticity to the artists.

With his eccentric but unique perspective of art and the fame and wealth he has garnered through his artistic endeavors, Warhol began his career as a filmmaker in the 1960s. James pointed out that “a general distinction between an early Warhol and a late Warhol can be elaborated in both formal and biographical terms” (James, 63). Warhol’s cinematic works progressively assimilated to the Hollywood cinema marked by the evolution of technological components towards greater sophistication, the transition from small-scale showcases to public exhibitions, and a shift in the films’ form toward a narrative-driven structure. “Two most polemically opposed modes of production of the time—the underground and the industry” got blended and further unified in Warhol’s films (James, 63). Inevitably, the discrepancy between his creations and the contemporary Avant-Garde films and “lacked any Brechtian engagement with the political functions of the mass media” aroused criticism from the underground (James, 66). In terms of dissecting Warhol’s films, James argued that “what distinguishes Warhol from his predecessors and successors is his disinterest in moral or narrative inflection”—he drew no boundaries between high art and street art, and the mainstream and underground (James, 67).

James then went on to delve into three major themes Warhol tried to address in his works—“an investigation of the process of being photographed and of being made the object of film; the construction and fragmentation of artificial selves by means of roles appropriated from film history or metaphorically related in some other way to Hollywood; the representation of exhibitionism and spectatorship in the narratives of feature films which themselves approach Hollywood’s formal and economic terrain” and analyzed how these themes manifested in various Warhol’s famous works such as The Chelsea Girls (1966, Warhol)(James, 68).  

I perceive this article as an introductory, expository essay on Andy Warhol as James wrote in a relatively loose structure. The major takeaway for me is that different from lots of experimental filmmakers, Warhol didn’t resist mainstream art/cinema—in fact, he embraced the idea of commodity and popularity and often mingled them with his works. My questions arising from this article are: (1) James mentioned that Warhol began to delegate a substantial portion of responsibility to others in the production of some late films (James, 64). Wouldn’t this be in contrast with Camper’s idea that “an experimental film is created by one person, or occasionally a small group collectively” (Camper, 2)? What were some responses from the underground filmmaker community? (2) James described Warhol’s cinema as “his is thus a meta-cinema, an inquiry into the mechanisms of the inscription of the individual into the apparatus and into the way such inscription has been historically organized” (James, 68). How should we interpret the sentence?

Week 6 Searcher Post

The online resource I found is an interview with Kenneth Anger from 1980, right before the wide-scale distribution of his latest film, Lucifer Rising (Anger, 1972). The interview was conducted by A.L. Bardach, a respected journalist and non-fiction author. While their discussion spans from topics of Anger’s origins in the world of filmmaking to his rocky experiences with drugs, there are multiple sections that relate to and reflect some of the themes of Scorpio Rising (Anger, 1963). 

At one point in the interview, Anger explained that he viewed Scorpio Rising as a documentary. He stated, “I was filming a phenomenon that happened. I didn’t direct the phenomenon. I didn’t add anything to the scene that was not there already. The only thing I did was add my participation with the camera” (Bardach, 1980). This is a fascinating quote, but I am unsure whether or not I entirely agree with it. It might be true that Anger filmed the lives of the bikers without interfering or exerting creative control over their actions. However, one can’t deny that the filmmaker’s editing of the film (along with the inclusion of music and archival footage) recontextualizes the meanings of the documentary footage. On the other hand, it could be argued that Anger is correct in his claim that Scorpio Rising is a documentary. If the footage truly was captured without his adding anything to the scene, then who is to deny its documentary status? Though the editing and soundtrack might offer a new frame of interpreting the footage, isn’t this the case with most of the media we consume? The final film might not present the “true” lives of the bikers, but one could argue that it captures the deeper truth of America in the early 1960s, that of a rapid expansion of mass media and a growing conformity to the iconographies within popular culture. 

Another interesting section of the interview was Anger’s harsh opinions on friendship. According to the filmmaker, “Friendship is something that I feel very strongly about because it’s a swamp. I see more people disappear with just a few little bubbles over so-called friendships. Jesus Christ learned about friends. I work alone. I’m independent” (Bardach, 1980). This quote relates to Scorpio Rising’s depiction of the dangers of collectivism and conformity to an icon or group. As we discussed in class, the film seems to assert that complete individualism is the only way for our society to avoid destruction, and it is fascinating to learn that Anger actually practiced what he preached. I find it interesting to consider whether Anger’s hate of collectivism stemmed from his inability to foster friendships/relationships with others or whether he rejected friendship due to his distrust of collectivism. 

Week 6: Viewer Blogging

Prelude: Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1961, USA)

Viewing Dog Star Man was quite an intriguing experience as I observed myself transition from complete confusion to a gradual appreciation as I shifted my focus from making meanings out of each frame to the extensiveness of the visual elements of this film. The film is heavily edited at an extremely rapid pace, making it free from the confines of traditional narrative cinema. Almost every frame is constructed with superimposition so viewers are saturated with massive information at all times. Such a design conjures a sense of hallucination, chaos, and enigma. While I was not able to identify a coherent logic throughout the piece, certain intentional repetitions in the content were rather apparent. First and the most obvious one, the images of the moon and the sun (3:10-3:14, 5:09-5:12, 7:42-7:44) which directly correspond to the theme star from its title. Secondly, the footage of the forest (11:49-12:04) which is often distorted and diluted in color. Third, a bloody, pulsating heart (14:31-14:34). Lastly, the nude female body (10:41). In addition, Brakhage also included hand-painted, tinted shapes and lines that almost served as the transition between these diverse elements.  

My questions for this piece are:

  • While the film seemed to exhibit a natural, rural atmosphere, Brakhage included footage of traffic from 10:03-10:10. What would be his purpose in doing so?
  • Why would Brakhage maintain such a rapid pace in the film? Is this a deliberate attempt to disrupt the audience’s experience in a similar manner to Dali and Bunuel’s eye-slicing scene in Un Chien Andalou?
  • What message or emotion was Brakhage aiming to convey through his unconventional approach? Does the film have/convey meanings?

Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, 1964-67, USA)

Fuses by Schneemann is an autobiographical film that captures the intimate sexual relationship between the director and her husband. Under its boldness in the content selection back in the 1960s, Schneemann aimed to break the long-existing image of women as sexualized, voyeuristic objects subjected to the male gaze in mainstream cinema by “position(ing) herself ‘not as sex object, but as willed and erotic subject, commanding her own image’” (MacDonald, 2). Her dual identities as both the subject of the film as well as the filmmaker empower her to deliberately present her body in a way that conveys her sexuality, desire, and euphoria instead of merely showing her sensuality to please the audience. In a similar manner, Schneemann extensively applied superimposition throughout the film: while the viewers are shown footage of Schneemann and her husband having sex, it is often veiled with other materials, thus cutting off the voyeuristic pleasure. Moreover, many shots are arranged in a way that makes it hard for the viewer to immediately distinguish the difference between male and female bodies, which further challenges the phenomenon in mainstream cinema that only female bodies get exposed to attract attention. I personally appreciate Schneemann’s bravery in including close-ups that capture female orgasm in the film especially considering the time her work gets created. She certainly confronted the stigma of female sexual desire and unquestionably laid the foundation for feminist cinema.

My questions for this piece are:

  • Shana MacDonald in her article considered Schneemann’s cat, which constantly appeared in the film, the actual “voyeur” of the film. What would be Schneemann’s intention to cut from a sex scene to her cat? Are we as viewers seeing the film from the perspective of a cat?
  • How should we interpret the scene in which Schneemann walks toward the sea? Does the sea here have a similar significance to the sea in Meshes of the Afternoon?

Week 6: Reader Blog.

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?

Week 5 Viewer Post: Initial questions and insights of three Maya Deren 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?

Week 4 Searcher Post: An Interview With Mikhail Kaufman

            The piece I chose for this week is an interview with Mikhail Kaufman, who appeared as the cameraman while served as the actual cinematographer for the film Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929), in terms of his intended envisagement of the film and his understanding of documentary cinema, which provided rather an insightful perspective for us to interpret the film.

Man with a Movie Camera, according to Kaufman, was an embodiment of “Kino-theory in cinematic form” (October, 54). Kino-theory constructed by Vertov believed in the surpassing potential of the camera in capturing events that were inaccessible to human eyes. Indeed, certain sequences of the film were intentionally filmed in a way to show the power of the camera, including the railway sequence (9:07-9:09) in which the camera was positioned on the railway and was able to capture the train hurtling by. Expanding upon the theory, Kaufman proclaimed that the cinematography of the film was “infused with the particular thought that he is actually seeing the world for other people” and “observing life from the point of view of the social structure” (October, 65). While the segments of the film seemed not connected at first sight, Kaufman stated that “the accumulation of tremendous number of phenomena” would lead to the comprehension of the world (October, 69).

Another intriguing point from the interview was Kaufman’s comment on the documentary cinema. He argued that “the working method of a documentary film director does not involve components such as design, acting, or dramatic composition” (October, 54). In fact, for documentary films, “the shooting process for ‘life as it is’ required that people’s attention be distracted” (October, 64). Kaufman stated it was equally challenging to have actors perform effectively in front of a camera and to have people look into the camera without any visible reactions. A great example to back up his idea would be the sequence in which the cameraman filmed the bourgeoisie sitting in the car next to him: the passengers couldn’t help but turn to the camera and look directly into the lens (21:13-21:20).

Interestingly, Kaufman also indirectly responded to the question of why Man with a Movie Camera was the last piece that he worked on with his brother Vertov. While both Kaufman and Vertov were involved in the Kino-theory, Kaufman held an even bolder and more discrete view in terms of filming as he stated that “material was supposed to be shot which would then lead to the search for other material, so as to comprehend all shooting processes, to interpret them” (October, 69). Also, Kaufman considered the editing of the film rather redundant and intrusive and didn’t fulfill his own intent.

Overall, this interview being a primary source provides us with a quite credible and intimate perspective in interpreting the film and dissecting the goals of the filmmakers.

Week 4 Reading Response

“Surrealism and Un Chien Andalou” from Malcolm Turvey’s The Filming of Modern Life explored the philosophies of Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel along with their fusing of machinism and surrealism in making Un Chien Andalou. I was fascinated by Dali’s arguments against art and for anti-art. From my understanding of Dali’s ideas, art encompasses something that only people with education or technical training can properly understand, whereas anti-art has no educational prerequisites and can have an impact on anyone. Anti-art also frees us from having to look at something with preconceived notions or artistic prejudices, instead allowing us to see the “extraordinary nature of the ordinary world around us” (Turvey 109). While I understand Dali’s overall views of art versus anti-art, I struggle to fully grasp the contrasts between the two. Does all art fail to show the beauty of our objective world? One could argue that Un Chien Andalou benefits from education or knowledge of the filmmakers’ intentions to be truly understood, so can it be considered anti-art?

The section of the chapter discussing the process of creating Un Chien Andalou and the film’s toying with continuity/discontinuity helped me better understand my feelings towards the film itself. When creating the script, Dali and Buñuel went into it with the idea that nothing symbolizes anything. They used images from their dreams but excluded anything that could be understood through rational means of thinking. Furthermore, they utilized conventions of mainstream cinema along with a mix of continuity and discontinuity to create expectations in the viewer only to later subvert them. For example, while there is temporal continuity between the first and second scenes (through the intertitle stating that eight years have passed), there is essentially no narrative continuity. Another example would be that there is often continuity between individual shots (the woman walking from her apartment into the hallway and then outside), but there are many spatial discontinuities such as the pianos randomly appearing and then disappearing. Knowing that Dali and Buñuel’s intentions were to create and then subvert audience expectations made me feel better about my own viewing experience. When watching Un Chien Andalou, I found that I constantly tried to grasp what was happening narratively because the filmmakers introduced just enough continuity to make it seem like there might be a clear narrative throughline/meaning.

A lot of the information presented in “Luis Bunuel: Notes on the Making of Un Chien Andalou” was discussed in “Surrealism and Un Chien Andalou”, but one line that stood out to me was that the film had no intention of pleasing the spectator and instead sought to attack them. I find this interesting because the film was critically acclaimed and loved by much of its audience. What does it mean if a film that seeks to attack its audience and reject conventions of dominant culture is embraced by dominant culture? Is the film deemed a failure if it is universally loved/brought into this dominant culture?

“The Blood of a Poet” Viewing Response

“The Blood of a Poet” is a challenging yet captivating film told in four interrelated chapters. While I struggle to grasp the meanings of the film itself (if there are in fact concrete meanings), the beautiful imagery and visual ingenuity kept me enthralled throughout its runtime. Made in 1930, Jean Cocteau’s innovative filmmaking techniques feel miles ahead of its time. Rather than using the medium to tell a concrete story that follows the rules of reality, Cocteau made the most of the visual wonder possible in film, creating a surreal, dreamlike experience for viewers. Moments such as the artist falling through the mirror into a dark abyss, the hallway of doors that defies the laws of gravity, and the angel’s arrival in the final chapter are just a few of the many scenes that exemplify the creativity and otherworldly nature of the film. By abandoning the rules of conventional cinema and failing to adhere to the laws of reality, the film allows us to appreciate the pure spectacle of its imagery.

While there isn’t a clear story, the opening sections of “The Blood of a Poet” seemed to focus on a struggling artist seeking inspiration. The statue tells him to travel through a mirror, and once he does so he is transported into an alternate world, possibly a visualization of his subconscious. A central motif that stood out to me was the idea of destruction and rebuilding. One of the first and final shots of the film shows a smokestack collapsing. Inside one of the rooms in the gravity-defying hallway, a man is shot to death, then the scene reverses and he comes back to life. Later, the artist shoots himself in the head, then comes back to life, exits the world within the mirror, and destroys the statue. In the third chapter, a boy is killed, then is seemingly salvaged by an angel. All of these moments depict destruction and rebuilding, or death and rebirth. I find it difficult to relate this motif to the story itself, but maybe it has something to do with the beauty of creating art despite the struggles the artist must face to do so. Were there other moments in the film that showcased the motif of destruction and rebuilding? How do you think this motif relates to the themes/meanings of the film? Were there other meanings you found within the film?

Blogging Example

The cycle of natural decay is both materially enacted and mirrored in the making of Jennifer Reeves’s Landfill 16 (2011), which takes up the idea of recycling, waste management, and the death of film. Reeves buried 16mm outtakes from her double-projection celebration of the natural world, When It Was Blue (2008), in a homemade landfill in Elkhart, Indiana. She then gave the exhumed film new purpose, hand-painting the corroded and soil-stained frames. The resultant imagery scans as densely textured terraforms, like pebbled plastic covered in mold. No photography was required to re-animate this celluloid originally consigned to the literal scrap heap. Images of animals briefly appear—a deer, an eagle, an ominous black widow—all barely recognizable through the garbage-battered frames, and seemingly buried under the decaying and dirty film. With its foreboding score, which mixes bulldozers, nature sounds, factory noise, and a trapped bird tweeting in pain, Reeves addresses not only the ways in which the media of analog moving images is literally and metaphorically being disposed as it approaches its industrial obsolescence, but also the disastrous environmental consequences of modern life.

Brimming with alternatively mottled and lapidary images, Landfill 16 pulses like living thing, a horror film about, to use Jussi Parikka’s phrase, “zombie media”—here, discarded moving images coming back to life, deformed. And while she never conceived the work as a collaboration per se, Reeves acknowledges the way the project represents a conjoining of forces that includes, she says, “the world, her thinking mind, and her spiritual muse….I had a feeling it wasn’t all me…that something else was at work.”

Furthermore, Reeves’ work illuminates a politics of process. It does not merely exhibit political engagement through content, but also describes a mode of deeper philosophical inquiry regarding the role and positioning of humanity vis-a-vis the world through methods of production. Landfill 16 demonstrates that how things are made matters, and that making carries ramifications for how we think about and conduct ourselves in relation to other people, objects, and things. Art therefore provides a useful model for broadening our approach to thinking about the nonhuman, about the limits of authorship, and about attributions of agency. Works like Landfill 16 show that when we decenter the human, that when ego gives way to an “at-oneness with whatever,” we ironically gain a better sense of humanity’s place in the world.

Plants, insects, and people all die, but cinema lives, every time it is played. Is dead/is dying.; a reversal of time, a reversal of nature itself. This is what cinema can do—change time, change the way things look or appear, open us up to new kinds of sight, new kinds of visions.

All photographs carry an indexical relationship to their referents—Roland Barthes notes that he “can never deny that the thing has been there.There is a superimposition here: of reality and of the past” (Camera Lucida, 76.  Emphasis in original).  Barthes labels this persistent presence of the referent the essence of photography and the “That-has-been.”  How does this change when there is not a camera?