Saturday, August 18, 2018

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Russian Cinema: Andrei Rublev


What can one make of best film lists? The critic's choices differ widely from the audience choices. What interests me most is how the top critic choices evolve over time. In rare cases, there is a film, which sits in relative obscurity for decades, that starts bubbling to the surface. In recent years, Andrei Rublev has shot up to the top of critic lists.

Wikipedia - Andrei_Rublev_(film)



...an Epic Flow

Russian films like Russian novels are difficult for Westerners to digest. They are wild, winding rivers filled with raging torrents, horseshoe bends, fords and deep wells where we are used to drinking from narrow cement lined canals. They use a poetic language that we have been conditioned to divorce ourselves from.  They require a vacant attention (trance state) where the viewer relaxes and allows their deeper faculties become immersed. They follow a dreamlike structure where chronology is unimportant and meaning is pieced together from chaotic fragments.

Synopsis...

To help make the film more accessible, here is a brief synopsis of it:

Prologue, Balloon Chase --> This scene meant more to set the atmosphere of the film rather than be a direct part of the story. The film opens with a chaotic scene of a man fleeing a mob via primitive hot air balloon. He escapes and floats over a medieval Russian landscape, eventually crashes and is captured by the mob. The part paints a picture of a nasty, brutish and short universe; one where primitive ideas reign and where visionaries are prey to tribal mobs.

Chapter 1, The Jester --> In this scene, three monks run into a large shed to escape the rain where they encounter a jester entertaining a crowd of peasants. This scene introduces us to three of the main characters in the film:

Andrei --> The protagonist.
Danill --> Close friend of Andrei.
Kirill --> Andrie's anti-social friend.

At the end of the scene, the jester is seized by local authorities and beaten further emphasizing  the primitive and brutal society.  Much of this scene focuses on comparing and contrasting the contemplative/sacred Andrei with the wordly/profane jester.

Chapter 2, Theospenes, the Greek --> Kiril is invited by the famous icon painter, Theospenes, to apprentice under him. The vain, Kiril, says he will do so, if Theospenes, sends a formal invitation to his monestary to impress others. Theospenes decides to invite Andrei instead sending Kirl into a rage.

Chapter 3, The Passion of Andrei Rublev --> Theospenes and Andrei discuss their philosophies of art. The focus is on contrasting the differing generational viewpoints of the young apprentice, Thuma, the mature Andei, and the older Theospenes.

Part of this scene involves a cutaway to a Russian peasant recreation of the Crucifixion as a way to introduce Eastern Orthodox beliefs. It also is an attempt to show how the profane (mankind) can be reconciled to the sacred (God) via Christ.

Chapter 4 Feast --> Andrei stumbles across a pagan orgy at night in the forest. He is captured by participants and tied up since they fear that he, as a Christian, will spoil their ceremony. In this scene, a pagan woman takes pity on him and tries to seduce him. He rejects her advances as bestial and she cannot comprehend his ideas of a more mature form of love.

The scene emphasizes Andrei's lack of connection to the very people, whom he as a monk, is expected to influence.

 Chapter 5, The Last Judgement --> This scene revisits the generational conflict between the pessimistic philosophy of the older Theospenes against Andrei's desire to connect with the peasants whom they are working to convert with their art. Andrei rejects calls to paint a cathedral with a Last Judgement scene with visions of fire and brimstone as he does not believe that the peasants will connect with it. At the same time, Andrei struggles to develop vision that is compelling.

In a rage, Andrei ends up splattering mud on the walls Jackson Pollock style. A Russian, holy fool, rejects this expressionistic outburst. It is through her that Andrei realizes he can connect with the people via a mature, celebratory form of art rather than stern visions or wild outbursts.

Chapter 6, the Raid  --> Massive scene depicting the raid of a city by the brother of the Prince who rules over it. Andrei suffers a crisis in faith (faith in mankind) after he kills a man who is raping a woman. It is a crisis that Andrei will struggle with for the remainder of the film.

Chapter 7, Silence --> A depiction of Andrei's life stripped of faith after the Raid.

Chapter 8, Bell --> A depiction of Andrei's redemption of faith symbolized by a young bell makers work to construct a church bell.

Vlada Petric Commentary

Below are some points about what makes the film special from Vlada Petric found on the Criterion Collection DVD intermixed with my own thoughts:

Non-Traditional Narrative - The film does not follow the protagonist consistently. Instead, his presence is used to like scenes connected at a metaphorical (symbolic) level. While to the conscious mind, this comes across as fragmented and episodic; this is a structure akin to how our subconscious operates, a mind that desperately strives to create piece together meaning from a chaotic world.

Non-Traditional Plot - The protagonist is often simply a witness of events not an active participant or he is missing altogether from scenes. The plot does not follow a linear progression but is full of seemingly unrelated diversions and ellipses.

Poetic Associations

Archive.Org --> Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting In Time, Reflections on Cinema

 1 find poetic links, the logic of poetry in cinema, extraordinarily pleasing. They seem to me perfectly appropriate to the potential of cinema as the most truthful and poetic of art forms. Certainly 1 am more at home with them than with traditional theatrical writing which links images through the linear rigidly logical development of the plot. That sort of fussily correct  way of linking events usually involves arbitrarily forcing them into sequence in obedience to some abstract notion of order. And even when this is not so, even when the plot is governed by the characters, one finds that the links which hold it together rest on a facile interpretation of hfe's complexities.

...but film material can be joined together in another way, which works above all to lay open the logic of a person's thought. This is the rationale that will dictate the sequence of events, and the editing which forms them into a whole. The birth and development of thought are subject to laws of their own, and sometimes demand forms of expression which are quite different from the patterns of logical speculation. In my view poetic reasoning is closer to the laws by which thought develops, and thus to life itself, than is the logic of traditional drama. And yet it is the methods of classical drama which have been regarded as the only models, and which for years have defined the form in which dramatic conflict is expressed. 

Metaphors of Inverse Domains

By use of a non traditional narrative and plot structure the director is forcing the action off screen and into our subconscious. It is the viewer that is forced to do the difficult work of taking seemingly unrelated bits (that  are actually part of an immense metaphorical structure) and piecing them together into a whole.

The main action takes place between these disjointed episodes not during them when the viewer's mind does what nature intended it to do, piece together meaning from a fragmented world. The real story takes place in the blank space between the chapters.

The best artists often take a seemingly indirect route into our psyches, one that is only recently becoming dimly understood by science:

Science Direct.com --> Understanding and appreciating metaphors

What are metaphors? How are they understood? What makes a good metaphor? We argue that metaphors correlate two systems of concepts from different domains. The best metaphors involve two diverse domains (more distance between domains making for better metaphors) and close correspondence between the terms within those domains. 

thesmartset.com --> The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Metaphor

We commonly think of metaphor as a poetic device but it is used in fiction, too, and saves miles of unnecessary words. Metaphor can leap from the desk at which you are writing to darkest Africa or Dante’s hell or your grandmother who died 50 years ago. It leaps tall buildings in a single bound. It can tie the end of the universe to the beginning of the universe. And all you have to do is compare something with something else.




A Poet of the Cinema


Monday, May 28, 2018

Lost and Found: Jung's Psychology and Its Social Meaning, Part II The Collective Unconscious


Lost and Found: L&F is a series devoted to the beauty and knowledge to be found in old books. 

The third book in this series is devoted to Jung's Psychology and Its Social meaning by Ira Progoff, Ph.D.

This is the second post on this book. Other posts include:

Part I Search for Meaning

The Collective Unconscious Defined

As mentioned in the first part of this series, Jung's idea have been hard to grasp due, in part, to his habit of borrowing terms to define his ideas. While the terms may have fairly accurately defined what Jung was trying to get across initially, Jung theories often diverge substantially from his initial thoughts without him revising his initially terminology.

Jung's idea of the collective unconscious is a good example of the imprecise use of terminology. The collective unconscious was neither collective nor unconscious according to the most common usages of these words.

Inherited not Collective...

A common misconception of the collective unconscious is that Jung is referring to some type of vulcan mind meld where groups of people are communicating unconsciously via some sort of ESP. When Jung uses the word collective, he uses in the sense of inherited like one inherits the genes of their parents. Jung is saying that we inherit patterns and archetype from our ancestors that our psyches inhabit just like we inherit physical attributes. Jung would say that certain symbols/images/myth may put people on the same wavelength because we have inherited the patterns that our psyches flow in via our ancestor not via some current group melding of psyches.

Psyche not Unconscious...

While Jung adopted the term Unconscious from Freud and originally used it in the same manner as Freud, Jung's concept of the unconscious evolved over time until it no longer resembled Freud's conception of it. In common Parlance, the definition of the unconscious closely tracks Freud's definition. If consciousness is matter, then unconsciousness the negative, dark matter. To Freud, the unconscious was where thoughts were suppressed.

To Jung, the unconscious was the most important part of one's psyche.Like an iceberg, it was the most substantial part of the psyche that was hidden just below the surface. It was a layer where patterns, images and archetypal myths were inherited from our ancestor waiting to channel our psychic energy.

Objective Psyche...

In later writings, Jung would often use the term Objective Psyche in place of the Collective Unconscious. In many ways, Objective Psyche better describes what Jung is trying to get at.

Psyche

Jung uses the term psyche to refer to the complete personality of an individual. It is the fundamental unit that Jung breaks into lower level components. It is not physical organ but a mental phenomena that Jung often describes in physical terms as the space that contains psychic energy within a human.


Libido & Principle of Opposites...

Everything human is relative, because everything rests on an inner polarity; for everything is a phenomenon of energy. Energy necessarily depends on a pre-existing polarity, without which there could be no energy. There must always be high and low, hot and cold, etc., so that the equilibrating process-which is energy can take place. Therefore the tendency to deny all previous values in favour of their opposites is just as much of an exaggeration as the earlier one-sidedness. -Carl Jung

Just as electromagnetic energy has opposing poles, Jung proposed that psychic energy/libido is powered by contrasts in ones thoughts and desires. This psychic tension between contrasting extremes is not a logic of the psyche as the psyche is not rational but more of how the lens that the psyche uses to view the outside world.

Jung got his idea of the principle of opposites from his study of culture where he saw that this was a constant idea in all cultures from the ying and yang of Taoist thought to the angels and devils of the bible.

Progression and Regression

Jung thought that psychic energy could flow forward as visible manifestations of our personality and backward into our inner self.

Depths of the Psyche

Jung believed that the psyche had three main levels. At the thinnest layer at the top resides the conscious mind. The next layer is the personal unconscious, which corresponds to Freud's unconscious mind. The personal unconscious is the repressed layer of thoughts lying between the conscious and the deepest and thickest layer, the collective unconscious.

Collective Unconscious...

To Jung, the collective unconscious was important because it was what bound us to other men. It is where our primordial psychic pathways flow, the pathways that were formed by and inherited from our ancestors. We often think of the collective unconscious in terms of inherited archetypes (images, myths) but Jung would did not posit that we inherited the actual myths in our psyches but, instead, inherited pathways that lead to common symbol formation. We are receptive to myths because we have the built in pathways to internalize them.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Lost and Found: Jung's Psychology and Its Social Meaning, Part I Search for Meaning


Lost and Found: L&F is a series devoted to the beauty and knowledge to be found in old books. 

The third book in this series is devoted to Jung's Psychology and Its Social meaning by Ira Progoff, Ph.D.

In the first chapter of the book, Dr. Progoff compares the period when Jung was developing his theories to the latter stages of ancient Rome and alludes to Jacob Burckhardt's history of the period. Like this period in ancient Rome, Jung's time was a time a searching, a time when old ways of thinking no longer worked.

It is a clever allusion because Jung learned from Burckhardt that the study of certain thing like personality could not be done in isolation but require historical and social perspective performed via a multi-disciplined approach. Jung turned the lens that Burckhardt used to analyze ancient civilizations on modern society.

Underappreciated Visionary

While Jung is the most revolutionary Psychiatrist of the modern age, his work has not entered the popular consciousness for several reasons.

One of the biggest reasons for this lack of appreciation is that his work is falsely thought to be merely an offshoot of Freud's psychoanalytic movement. While Jung was an early supporter of Freud and was seen as his heir apparent after being appointed head of his psychoanalytic association, this relationship lasted for only a few key years and, even then, Jung never fully adopted many of Freud's central ideas.

Besides being lumped together with Freud, Jung did not present his ideas in a simple manner that could be readily grasped by the public. Jung's ideas revolutionary and, as such, he had to borrow vocabulary from other source and reuse it for his own purposes. This re-purposing of terminology causes much confusion when trying to understand Jung's writing.

Jung's multifaceted approach to understanding personality was necessarily an uneven one, full of stops, starts and false leads. Jung did not hesitate to change course as he developed his theories until he found good fits. He would take up one source as a possible explanation only to abandon it latter and then pick it up again in a different context. His was a complex approach that matured over time and did not come wrapped up in a neat package.

Due to its brilliance, Jung's work has influenced many other intellectuals but, due to its complexity, this influence has been piecemeal not comprehensive. Progoff gives the examples of Mumford, Tillich and Toynbee as being influence by Jung in this scattered fashion.

Mumford , a Life - Jung's Influence
Speaking of Jung Podcast - Speaking with theologian who became interested in Jung via his study of Tillich
A Jungian psychohistory: A. J. Toynbee's use of analytical psychology in his theory of civilizations

Jungian Influences

Schopenhauer...

Jung's interest in medicine and philosophy led him to specialized in psychiatry since it was the one field of medicine where he felt philosophy might have some application. Early on Jung looks to Schopenhauer's (and Hartmann's more modern) theories on will to explain the unconscious drives of his patients. Later, Jung moved  beyond Schopenhauer to other explanations for will/libido.

Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science - On schopenhauer's Influence

Freud...

As mentioned, Jung was influenced by Freud but not to the extent that many believe. Early on, Jung was a supporter of Freud's theories when they were unfashionable. It took Jung getting some clinical experience and a second reading of Freud's Interpretation of Dream's to finally appreciate Freud's theories such a repression. At the same time, Jung never fully accepted Freud's focus on sexuality and animalistic/biological impulses as the basis for human behavior. Jung officially broke with Freud in 1911 with his publication of the Psychology of the Unconscious where he introduced his concepts of the collective unconscious and his school of Analytical Psychology.

Freud and Jung had asked many of the same questions but their differing approaches led to differing conclusions. Freud approached things from a medical perspective one that was deterministic and biological in its focus. Jung picked off where Freud's approach left off and focused an a broader system that took into account the creative, spiritual and purposeful side of human nature.

Freud believed that the unconscious mind with its physic energy could be rationally explained and the mental ills of the modern world cured in the same way. Jung believed that the cure for illnesses caused by modern focus of the rational over the spiritual was not more rationality. Jung focused on reorienting from a strictly rational perspective to restoring a healthy balance (synthesis) between the spiritual and rational sides of man.

Harley Therapy - Freud vs Jung – Similarities and Differences

J.J. Bachofen...

When Jung turned to studying symbolism, his main source of inspiration was J.J. Bachofen. Bachofen has been credited with influencing many of Jung's foundational theories such a his thoughts on matriarchy/anima and archetype. It was from Bachofen that Jung learned to analyze myths and symbols via an ethnographic approach.

Spiritualism and the Foundations of C. G. Jung's Psychology - On Bachofen's Influence of Jung

Neitzsche...

Neitszcsche had a profound influence on Jung particularly his thoughts regarding Apollonian and Dionysian societies/personality types.

Depth Insights - Jung’s Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Roadmap for the Uninitiated by Dr. Ritske Rensma

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Funny Games 1997

Spoiler Alert - This post is meant to enhance ones viewing of the movie but it does contain some sections that one may consider spoilers. If you want to be totally surprised by the movie, please do not read this until after viewing.

Michael Haneke's films take on the central question of our time, man's sense of alienation in modern society. In his 1997 film, Funny Games, he explores this theme in terms of modern media's exploitation of violence for the titillation of audiences.



Origins - Benny's Video.

The idea for the film started as a wider discussion in society about apparently random violence committed by young people from good, middle class families. These crimes are not committed for gain like revenge or money but for the thrill of it. This disturbing thought is what lies behind the film particularly in the fact that media generally treat violence in the same manner, as thrill kills.

The director expanded upon ideas originally contained in his film Benny's Video. It was an inside joke that a couple actors in Funny Games also had large roles in Benny's Video.



White Clown, Auguste Clown


The perpetrators of the violence in Funny Games are represented by the white clown and Auguste Clown archetypes. The white clown being the serious, wiser of the pair and the Auguste clown being the bumbler that is trying to follow along.

The clowns go by the names of several classic pairs or buddies in the film:
Peter and Paul - The father's of the Catholic Church
Beavis and Butthead
Tom and Jerry

Wikipeida - Clown

The white clown, or clown blanc from the original French, is a sophisticated character, as opposed to the clumsy auguste.[8] They are also distinguished as the "sad clown" (blanc) and "happy clown" (auguste).[9]

The Auguste face base makeup color is a variation of pink, red, or tan rather than white. Features are exaggerated in size, and are typically red and black in color. The mouth is thickly outlined with white (called the muzzle) as are the eyes. Appropriate to the character, the auguste can be dressed in either well-fitted garb or in a costume that does not fit — either oversize or too small is appropriate. Bold colors, large prints or patterns, and suspenders often characterize Auguste costumes.

The auguste character-type is often an anarchist, a joker, or a fool. He is clever and has much lower status than the whiteface. Classically the whiteface character instructs the auguste character to perform his bidding. The auguste has a hard time performing a given task, which leads to funny situations. Sometimes the auguste plays the role of an anarchist and purposefully has trouble following the whiteface's directions. Sometimes the auguste is confused or is foolish and makes errors less deliberately.

The Shock

These two clowns play by their own rules and do not respect the normal rules that hold society together. Normal people do not stand a chance against these characters and this is what gives the film its shock value. Anxiety is generated when normal people have to interact with characters who do not behave as one is supposed to in society. They cross the boundaries of trust and untouchability  and without those boundaries normal people are lost.

Hot or Cold

The film condemns the viewer as an accomplice to the violence, one who is also getting a thrill out of it. Films often present violence in a consumable way for the pleasure of the audience. Funny Games wants you to question violence as entertainment.

It first raises this specter when the white clown is playing a game of hot or cold with the wife. During this game the white clown unexpectedly turns and winks to the camera. This is designed to create a sense of irritation in the viewer and cause them to question whom is being winked at, when it is the viewer that is the target of  the wink.

Alienation  and Manipulation

Films let viewers vicariously get their thrills from gratuitous violence in guilt free as viewers not participants. Funny Games does not let the viewers off the hook as it makes them participants. It does this by breaking the cinematic illusion at several levels.

The top level is where the film is rewound after the wife gets control of the gun and kills one of the evil clown figures. This wife killing is acceptable to the viewer but this is rewound to allow an alternative ending, one that is not acceptable to the viewer.

There are other, lower levels, used to draw the viewer into this conspiracy like where the clown characters turn to speak to the audience.

These devices are meant  to show viewers how easily they are being manipulated by breaking the spell of the film.

Escape

Each time the director uses a device to break the film's spell with the audience; he is inviting them to "get it" and leave, to walk away. Films are seen as an escape from reality but this film actively invites the viewer to escape from the film. The director does not accept criticism against the film for its anti-social content because the film attempts to inform and cautions viewers to reject these views. If viewers do not accept these invitations to tune out, they have some need to seek such thrills.

Devices used to Grip The Viewer:

There are several devices that the director employs to entrance viewers:

Three Dimensional  Evil -  The clowns are not one dimensional. Plots are often written from a God perspective where the writer is God and the characters are flawed beings to be moved about like pawns. Funny Games seeks to portray everyone as fully functional human beings even the bad guys.

Confrontation of Genres - Another area that makes the films gripping is that it pits two genres against each other, a comedy and a tragedy. The two clowns are playing a classic comedic role while at the same time destroying a family, a tragic role.

Emotionally Drained - The family's suffering is not melodramatic by emotionally draining. Scenes were often filmed over a dozen takes to the point where the actors were physically exhausted and emotionally drained similar to how a true victim would be such as the wife in the prayer scene.

According to director Michael Haneke, star Susanne Lothar would often have to force herself to cry for nearly 20 minutes before her takes. He said the scene in which she is forced to pray required 28 takes and Lothar was tremendously drained by the ordeal. It was the weakened reaction that Haneke wanted from her for the scene. - IMDB Funny Games Trivia

Slap in the Face

The film is not simply intended to provoke the viewer but to awaken them. To make them question what they normally watch for entertainment, to question violence portrayed in media.

Fan Theories - Prequel to Purge Theory

Reddit Fan Theories - Funny Games as Prequel to The Purge

This theory came to me after a while of seeing Funny Games, which is probably the most fucked up thing I've ever saw. First, The Purge is justified because it brings peace and harmony to America all year long. This is the first similarity I saw with Funny Games. The sadistic young men in this movie appear rather calm and easygoing, even though what they do. What if this guys had a double life of being model sons of politicians and fucked up murderers? If this assumption is correct, maybe the guys of Funny Games are not the only ones practicing this kind of games. As a whole generation of wealthy children, they inherit their parents estatus into politics and make their way up to the top, having in their mind their twisted desires of turning their "sport" into a national holiday. Basically, these guys form part of a much larger group of young men that have the same desires. They access politics and instaure The Purge as their legacy.