Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The films of Adam Curtis

Kevin Adam Curtis (born 1955) is an English film maker. His best known work is The Century of the Self (2002), a film that examined how Freud's theories of the unconscious shaped the development of PR and advertising. He says, "My favourite theme is power and how it works in society", and his works explore areas of sociology, philosophy and political history.

"One of the main functions of politicians – and journalists – is to simplify the world for us. But there comes a point when – however much they try – the bits of reality, the fragments of events, won’t fit into the old frame"

He describes his work as journalism that happens to be expounded upon through the medium of film. His films have won six BAFTAs. He has been closely associated with the BBC throughout his film making career. Curtis was born in 1955 as Kevin Adam Curtis in Kent. His father was Martin Curtis (10 August 1917 - January 2002), a cinematographer from Sevenoaks in Kent who worked with Humphrey Jennings. His family had a left wing background. Curtis attended the Sevenoaks School on a county scholarship. Curtis completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Sciences at Mansfield College, Oxford, which included courses in genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, politics, anthropology and statistics. He started a Ph.D, during which he tutored in Politics, but while on the course became disillusioned with academia. He applied to the BBC, and was hired to make a film for one of the BBC training courses, comparing designer clothes in pop music videos to the design of weapons. He subsequently obtained a post on That's Life!, a programme that often placed serious and humorous content in close juxtaposition.

A selected filmography covering all major works:

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, 2011:

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is a 2011 BBC documentary series by filmmaker Adam Curtis. The series argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity and instead have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us". The title is taken from the 1967 poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan. The first of three episodes aired on Monday 23 May 2011 at 9pm on BBC2. In May 2011, Adam Curtis was interviewed about the series by Katharine Viner in The Guardian, the Register and by Little Atoms. Catherine Gee at the Daily Telegraph said that what Adam Curtis "reveals is the dangers of human beings at their most selfish and self-satisfying. Showing no compassion or consideration for your fellow human beings creates a chasm between those able to walk over others and those too considerate – or too short-sighted – to do so". John Preston also reviewed the first episode, and said that although it showed flashes of brilliance it had an "infuriating glibness too as the web of connectedness became ever more stretched. No one could dispute that Curtis has got a very big bite indeed. But what about the chewing, you ask. There wasn’t any – or nothing like enough of it to prevent a bad case of mental indigestion".

Andrew Anthony published a review in The Observer and The Guardian, and commented on the central premise that we had been made to "believe we could create a stable world that would last for ever" but that he doesn't "recall ever believing that "we" could create a stable world that would last for ever", and noted that: "For the film-maker there seems to be an objective reality that a determined individual can penetrate if he is willing to challenge the confining chimeras of markets and machines. Forget the internet tycoons. The Randian hero is Curtis himself".

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (poem), read by Richard Brautigan. Taken from the 1970 Harvest Records LP: 'Listening to Richard Brautigan'. Harvest ST-424.

It Felt Like A Kiss, 2009:

It Felt Like a Kiss is an immersive theatre production, first performed between 2 and 19 July 2009 as part of the second Manchester International Festival, co-produced with the BBC. Themed on "how power really works in the world", it is a collaboration between film-maker Adam Curtis and theatre company Punchdrunk, with original music composed by Damon Albarn and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The visitor is immersed in sets based on archive footage from Baghdad, 1963; New York, 1964; Moscow, 1959; in the Amygdala, 1959–1969; and Kinshasa, 1960. The title is taken from The Crystals' 1962 song "He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)", written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. According to Adam Curtis the production is "the story of an enchanted world that was built by American power as it became supreme...and how those living in that dream world responded to it". He has also said; "it’s trying to show to you that the way you feel about yourself and the way you feel about the world today is a political product of the ideas of that time”. "The politics of our time," according to Curtis, "are deeply embedded in the ideas of individualism...but it's not the be-all-and-end-all...the notion that you only achieve your true self if your dreams, your desires, are satisfied...it's a political idea".

Felix Barrett has stated that the production was influenced by his love of ghost trains and haunted houses, and by the idea of blurring fiction with reality: "It takes the idea of the viewer as voyeur and asks at what point are you watching, inside or even starring in the film". The development of new techniques of interrogation by "everyone over Level 7" in the CIA during the 1960s is a theme of the production, and the suggestibility of human beings is something that the production seeks to highlight.

The Trap — What Happened to our Dream of Freedom, 2007:

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is a BBC documentary series by English filmmaker Adam Curtis, well known for other documentaries including The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares. It began airing in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on 11 March 2007. The series consists of three one-hour programmes which explore the concept and definition of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom".

The series was originally entitled Cold Cold Heart and was scheduled for transmission in Autumn 2006. Although it is not known what caused the delay in transmission, nor the change in title, it is known that the DVD release of Curtis's previous series The Power of Nightmares had been delayed due to problems with copyright clearance, caused by the high volume of archive soundtrack and film used in Curtis's characteristic montage technique. Another documentary series (title unknown) based on very similar lines—"examining the world economy during the 1990s"—was to have been Curtis's first BBC TV project on moving to the BBC's Current Affairs Unit in 2002, shortly after producing Century of the Self.

The Power Of Nightmares, 2004:

The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC documentary film series, written and produced by Adam Curtis. Its three one-hour parts consist mostly of a montage of archive footage with Curtis's narration. The series was first broadcast in the United Kingdom in late 2004 and has subsequently been broadcast in multiple countries and shown in several film festivals, including the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The films compare the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and claiming similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

The Power of Nightmares has been praised by film critics in both Britain and the United States. Its message and content have also been the subject of various critiques and criticisms from conservatives and progressives. The Power of Nightmares received generally favourable reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 86% of critics gave the film positive write-ups, with an average score of 8.1/10, based upon a sample of seven reviews. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 78, based on six reviews. Entertainment Weekly described the film as "a fluid cinematic essay, rooted in painstakingly assembled evidence, that heightens and cleanses your perceptions" while Variety called it "a superb, eye-opening and often absurdly funny deconstruction of the myths and realities of global terrorism". The San Francisco Chronicle had an equally enthusiastic view of the film and likened it to "a brilliant piece in the Atlantic Monthly that's (thankfully) come to cinematic life".

The Century Of The Self, 2002:

The Century of the Self is an award-winning British television documentary series by Adam Curtis. It focuses on how the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, and Edward Bernays influenced the way corporations and governments have analyzed,‭ dealt with, and controlled ‬people.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, changed the perception of the human mind and its workings. The series describes the propaganda that Western governments and corporations have utilized stemming from Freud's theories. Freud himself and his nephew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use psychological techniques in public relations, are discussed. Freud's daughter Anna Freud, a pioneer of child psychology, is mentioned in the second part, as is one of the main opponents of Freud's theories, Wilhelm Reich, in the third part. In Episode 4 the main subjects are Philip Gould and Matthew Freud, the great-grandson of Sigmund, a PR consultant. They were part of the efforts during the nineties to bring the Democrats in the US and New Labour in the United Kingdom back into power.

Along these general themes, The Century of the Self asks deeper questions about the roots and methods of modern consumerism, representative democracy, commodification and its implications. It also questions the modern way we see ourselves, the attitudes to fashion and superficiality. The business and political world uses psychological techniques to read, create and fulfill our desires, to make their products or speeches as pleasing as possible to us. Curtis raises the question of the intentions and roots of this fact. Where once the political process was about engaging people's rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population. Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers, is cited as declaring: "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs".

The Mayfair Set, 1999:

The Mayfair Set is a series of programmes produced by Adam Curtis for the BBC, first broadcast in the summer of 1999. The programme looked at how buccaneer capitalists of hot money were allowed to shape the climate of the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, James Goldsmith, and Tiny Rowland, all members of London's Clermont Club in the 1960s. It received the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Series or Strand in 2000.

Part 1: Who Pays Wins. The opening episode, Who Pays Wins, focuses on Colonel David Stirling. Part 2: Entrepreneur Spelt S.P.I.V. The rise of Jim Slater who became famous for writing an investment column in The Sunday Telegraph under the nom de plume of The Capitalist. Part 3: Destroy the Technostructure. This episode recounts the story of how James Goldsmith became one of the richest men in the world. Part 4: Twilight of the Dogs. By the 1980s, the day of the buccaneering tycoons was over. Tiny Rowland, James Goldsmith, and Mohamed Al-Fayed were the only ones who were not finished.

The Way of All Flesh, 1997:

In 1951, a woman died in Baltimore, America. She was called Henrietta Lacks. Cells from her body were taken from her just before she died. They have been growing and multiplying ever since. There are now billions of these cells in laboratories around the world. If massed together, they would weigh 400 times her original weight. These cells have transformed modern medicine, but they also became caught up in the politics of our age. They shape the policies of countries and of presidents. They even became involved in the cold war because scientists were convinced that in her cells lay the secret to how to conquer death.

"I have always been fascinated by the story of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was an African American woman from Baltimore who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Before she died some of her cancerous tissue was taken - without her permission - and the cells have been reproducing in laboratories around the world ever since. Henrietta Lacks' cells are immortal. They are known as the HeLa cell line, and they have become deeply involved in all sorts of medical and genetic research - sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Back in 1997 I made a film for the BBC - called The Way of All Flesh - which told the story of Henrietta and her cells. A new book about Henrietta Lacks has just been published, and it has become a best-seller in America. And Oprah Winfrey is planning to make a film about it. I thought I would put the film up as a background to the history and the sciences involved. It is a really odd story - and the film also has in it members of Henrietta's family including the wonderful Deborah Lacks who is Henrietta's daughter".

The Living Dead, 1995:

The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past was the second major documentary series made by British film-maker Adam Curtis. This series investigated the way that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used by politicians and others. It was transmitted on BBC Two in the spring of 1995.

On the Desperate Edge of Now (30 May 1995): This episode examined how the various national ideals and memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period, only to violently resurface later with events such as the Protests of 1968, the emergence of Red Army Faction, and the turmoil of the Yugoslav Wars. You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough (6 June 1995): In this episode, the early history of the CIA's use of brainwashing and mind control was examined. Its thesis was that a search for control over the past, via medical intervention, had to be abandoned and that, in modern times, control over the past is more effectively exercised by the manipulation of history. It concluded that despite successful attempts to remove memories of the past, doing so often left an emotive void that was difficult to refill. The Attic (13 June 1995): In this episode, the national aspirations of Margaret Thatcher were examined, particularly the way in which she used public sentiment in an attempt to capture the national spirit embodied in the famous speeches and writings of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. By harking back, or summoning the spirit of Britain's "glorious past" (to fulfil short-term political or national ends), it is revealed that the process invariably backfired in the long run, entrapping the invoker in the societal maladies of the present.

Pandora's Box, 1992:

Pandora's Box, subtitled A fable from the age of science, is a six-part 1992 BBC documentary television series written and produced by Adam Curtis, which examines the consequences of political and technocratic rationalism. The episodes deal, in order, with communism in The Soviet Union, systems analysis and game theory during the Cold War, economy in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, the insecticide DDT, Kwame Nkrumah's leadership in Ghana during the 1950s and 1960s and the history of nuclear power. Curtis' later series The Century of the Self and The Trap had similar themes. The title sequence made extensive use of clips from the short film Design for Dreaming, as well as other similar archive footage.

The Engineers' Plot: This episode details how the Bolshevik revolutionaries who came into power in 1917 attempted to industrialise and control the Soviet Union with rational scientific methods. The Bolsheviks wanted to turn the Soviet people into scientific beings. Aleksei Gastev used social engineering, including a social engineering machine, to make people more rational. To The Brink of Eternity: This episode outlines how the United States government and its departments attempted to use systems analysis and game theory to develop strategies to control the nuclear threat and nuclear arms race during the Cold War, and, more specifically, to manage the "loss of control" crises encountered during events such as the Space Race, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. The League of Gentlemen: This film focuses on how both the Conservative and Labour governments of the 1960s attempted to use economists to engineer economic growth to specific targets, as well as programme post-war economic management in the United Kingdom, and attempts to prevent relative economic decline and the perception of the 1960s Wilson governments that devaluation would jeopardise against national self-esteem. Goodbye Mrs. Ant: This part focuses on attitudes to nature and tells the story of the insecticide DDT, which was first seen as a savior to humankind in the 1940s, only to be claimed as a part of the destruction of the entire ecosystem in the late 1960s. It also outlines how the sciences of entomology and ecology were transformed by political and economic pressures.

Further information here, here & here.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Timothy Morton

“Dark ecology has the potential to be the punk rock or experimental pop of ecological thinking” — Kasino

Blade Runner is the best contemporary reading of Frankenstein. In a version of Romantic irony, the detective Deckard becomes implicated in his analysis of the replicant femme fatale, realizing that he may be (may be) a replicant himself.

The story has a pervasive atmosphere of undigested grief. Does this atmosphere have anything to benefit ecological critique? In 2019, what makes you human is your emotional response to animal suffering ("boiled dog, "an upturned crab"), while humanoid replicants are exploited and "retired" (killed) if they resist. This illusion of psychological depth, extracted in face-to-face interviews, is almost an ecomimetic ethics, like the eighteenth-century cult of sensibility. The replicants cannot identify with this sensibility, cannot put themselves into a crab's shoes. Yet they weep like little children because their emotional age is far younger than their implanted memories would suggest. But Deckard profoundly puts himself into the replicants' shoes. Deckard's uncanny dream, which makes us suspect that it is an implanted memory (and hence that he is not a human but a replicant) is of a fantasy animal, a unicorn. Society assumes the replicants are "evil." Animals are respected, but when the stranger is too close for comfort, he or she becomes threatening. But in the story, the replicants turn out to be protagonists, fired with a revolutionary politics.

Frankenstein and Blade Runner enjoin us to love people even when they are not people. Far from being rational self-interest, ecological thought is shot through with desire.

The task is to love the automatic as automatic. In order to mean anything at all, this love must be more excessive, exuberant, and risky than a bland extension of humanitarianism to the environment. Humanitarianism would leave the environment just as it is, as an Other "over there", a victim. In Blade Runner Deckard orders the femme fatale to say that she loves him and to ask him to kiss her. This could be a violation. Or perhaps it respects the fact that she is a doll, that to go on and on about how much he loves her would not convince her, but that to stage the love as a perverse script would speak the truth. It would acknowledge the objectal quality of the beloved, and thus to love her for herself rather than as a copy of a human. Nature and the body have become Donna Haraway's cyborg, and Frankenstein and Blade Runner are allegories for how to carry on in a cyborg world.

It is time to modify Donna Haraway's cyborg manifesto, which still brilliantly articulates the paradoxes of politicized identity. "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess," she writes. I'd rather be a zombie than a tree hugger. Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead is a vast chronicle of the undead Native Americans that refuses to become a work of mourning for them. Deep Ecology buries the dead too fast (reducing everything to an expression of Gaia), while modernity tries to torch them in a familiar story of a war against matter. Meanwhile clouds of radioactive waste haunt the world. So while we campaign to make our world "cleaner" and less toxic, less harmful to sentient beings, our philosophical adventure should in some ways be quite the reverse. We should be finding ways to stick around with the sticky mess that we're in and that we are, making thinking dirtier, identifying with ugliness, practicing "hauntology" (Derrida's phrase) rather than ontology.

Extract from - Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England 2007.

Further information here, here and here.

Many thanks to Timothy Morton, without whom...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The films of Stanley Kubrick

"I have always enjoyed dealing with a slightly surrealistic situation and presenting it in a realistic manner. I've always liked fairy tales and myths, magical stories. I think they are somehow closer to the sense of reality one feels today than the equally stylized "realistic" story in which a great deal of selectivity and omission has to occur in order to preserve its "realist" style"

As one of the most universally acclaimed and influential directors of the postwar era, Stanley Kubrick enjoyed a reputation and a standing unique among the filmmakers of his day.

A perennial outsider, he worked far beyond the confines of Hollywood, maintaining complete artistic control and making movies according to the whims and time constraints of no one but himself, but with the rare advantage of studio financial support for all of his endeavors. Working in a vast range of styles and genres spanning from black comedy to horror to crime drama, Kubrick was an enigma, living and creating in almost total seclusion, far away from the watchful eye of the media. His films were a reflection of his obsessive nature, perfectionist masterpieces which remain among the most provocative and visionary motion pictures ever made.

Born July 26, 1928 in New York City, Kubrick initially earned renown as a photographer, selling his first free-lance pictures to Look magazine while still in high school. By the age of 17 he was working as a Look staff photographer, travelling the world in their employ for several years. He subsequently enrolled as a non-matriculating student at Columbia University, attending classes taught by the likes of Calvin Trillin and Mark Van Doren.

In the late 1940s Kubrick became enamored of filmmaking, attending Museum of Modern Art showings regularly. To supplement his income, he also played chess for money in Greenwich Village. In 1951, Kubrick used his life savings to finance his first film, Day of the Fight, a 16-minute documentary profiling boxer Walter Cartier. The piece was later purchased by RKO for its 'This Is America' series and played at the Paramount Theatre in New York. Encouraged by his success, Kubrick quit his post at Look to pursue filmmaking full-time.

Soon, RKO assigned him to helm a short for their documentary series 'Pathe Screenliner'. Titled Flying Padre, the nine-minute work spotlighted Fred Stadtmueller, a priest who piloted a Piper Cub around his 400-mile New Mexico parish. In 1953 the Atlantic and Gulf Coast District of the Seafarers International Union commissioned Kubrick to direct a half-hour industrial documentary called The Seafarers, his first color film.

With the aid of relatives, Kubrick raised some $13,000 in order to finance his feature debut, the war story Fear and Desire. Filmed in the San Gabrielle mountains near Los Angeles with a crew of less than ten people (including Kubrick's then-wife Toba Metz), the picture was filmed silently, with its dialogue dubbed-in later (a measure which ultimately added $20,000 to the final cost). Shown only briefly on the New York arthouse circuit, Fear and Desire failed to earn back its initial investment and was later disowned by its creator. His sophomore feature, the gangland melodrama Killer's Kiss, followed in 1955. A more successful effort, it was sold to United Artists and received worldwide distribution, playing primarily as a second feature.

In 1956 Kubrick directed his first studio picture, The Killing. A heist film told via an ambitious overlapping time structure, the film starred Sterling Hayden, with dialogue from the legendary hard-boiled crime novelist Jim Thompson. The result was the director's first artistic triumph, and it brought him to the attention of MGM production head Dore Share, where Kubrick was teamed with novelist Calder Willingham to develop future projects. After preparing a screenplay based on Steven Zweig's story "The Burning Secret" which went unproduced, Thompson joined the duo to adapt the Humphrey Cobb war novel Paths of Glory. Studio after studio rejected the project until Kirk Douglas agreed to star, resulting in a financing deal with United Artists. Shot in Germany, the 1957 film won considerable critical acclaim, and further cemented Kubrick's reputation as a rising talent.

However, the next two years left him in a state of limbo, as a pair of proposed projects -- I Stole 16 Million Dollars, a planned vehicle for Kirk Douglas based on the life of safecracker Herbert Emmerson Wilson, and an untitled film about Mosby's Rangers, a southern guerilla force active during the U.S. Civil War -- both failed to come to fruition.

Kubrick then spent some six months on pre-production work for the Marlon Brando western One-Eyed Jacks, only to look on helplessly as Brando decided at the eleventh hour to direct the picture himself.

Finally, in 1959 he replaced Anthony Mann on Spartacus, a lavish historical epic starring Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Tony Curtis. The most costly film produced in Hollywood to date, with a budget of over $12 million, it proved to be a major hit, winning the Golden Globe Award for "Best Picture". In 1962 Kubrick resurfaced with the controversial Lolita, based on the infamous Nabokov novel about a man's infatuation with his teenaged stepdaughter. Due to a number of financial and legal difficulties, the film was shot in England, where Kubrick continued to live and work after the project's completion.

He next turned to his first undisputed masterpiece, the 1964 Cold War-era black comedy Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a brilliant adaptation of the Peter George novel {Red Alert} starring Peter Sellers in three different roles.

In December of 1965 Kubrick began production on what was to become his crowning achievement, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke story {The Sentinel}, the 1968 film -- a complex meditation on man's instinctive desire for violence, set against a backdrop of an American spacecraft's contact with extraterrestrial intelligence -- quickly emerged as a landmark in motion picture history, growing in status to become recognized as one of the greatest and most thought-provoking movies ever released.

A biography of Napoleon was projected as the follow-up, but when expected costs proved too prohibitive, the film never moved beyond the planning stages. Instead, Kubrick turned to another controversial novel, Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. A satiric 1971 essay on crime and punishment set in a violent future world, the film initially scored an "X" rating in the U.S. but proved surprisingly popular regardless, even netting several Oscar nominations.

In Britain, A Clockwork Orange played theatrically for a year without incident, but was pulled after a number of copy-cat crimes which authorities blamed on the picture's influence, including a brutal gang-rape mirroring a scene in the film. Moving from the future to the past, in 1975 Kubrick adapted William Makepeace Thackery's 19th century novel Barry Lyndon, a lavish costume drama detailing the rise and fall of an Irish rogue (Ryan O'Neal) during the 1700s. In 1980, Kubrick helmed The Shining, an adaptation of a horror novel by author Stephen King. While one of the director's greatest popular successes, critical notice was less kind, and he spent the early half of the decade away from the camera, plotting his next move. The result was 1987's Full Metal Jacket, a Vietnam War drama which scored with both audiences and critics. Despite the film's success, Kubrick again went into hibernation.

Finally, in late 1996 Kubrick began work on Eyes Wide Shut, starring husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In 1997, Kubrick was given two of the film world's highest honors, winning the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild of America as well as the Golden Lion Award at the 54th Venice International Film Festival. Two years later, Eyes Wide Shut was released to extremely mixed reviews; a dreamlike erotic odyssey, it proved to be Kubrick's last film. He died of natural causes on March 7 of that year, leaving behind one of the cinema's most provocative, varied, and altogether brilliant legacies.

Biography by Jason Ankeny.

Director: Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Full Metal Jacket (1987), The Shining (1980), Barry Lyndon (1975), A Clockwork Orange (1971), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Paths of Glory (1957), The Killing (1956), Killer's Kiss (1955), Fear and Desire (1953), The Seafarers (1952), Day of the Fight (1951), Flying Padre (1951).

Further information here, here and here.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Jacques Derrida — There is nothing outside the text.

"In Algeria, I had begun to get into literature and philosophy. I dreamed of writing-and already models were instructing the dream, a certain language governed it"

Jacques Derrida was one of the most original and influential French philosophers in the contemporary world. He was born in Algeria on July 15, 1931, to a Sephardic Jewish family.

He moved to France in 1949 and studied in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure, where he wrote his dissertation on Edmund Husserl’s genetic phenomenology (Le Problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl [The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy], 1953-1954).

In the 1960s Derrida published major works concerned with the limitations of phenomenological and structuralist thought in the human sciences. Prior to his death, he was the director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Socialies in Paris and professor of humanities at the University of California, Irvine. Derrida died on October 8, 2004.

"Without disappearing, use-value becomes, then, a sort of limit, the correlative of a limit-concept, of a pure beginning to which no object can or should correspond, and which therefore must be complicated in a general (in any case more general) theory of capital. We will draw from this only one consequence here, among all the many other possible ones: if it itself retains some use-value (namely, of permitting one to orient an analysis of the "phantasmagoric" process beginning at an origin that is itself fictive or ideal, thus already purified by a certain fantastics), this limit-concept of use-value is in advance contaminated, that is, pre-occupied, inhabited, haunted by its other, namely, what will be born from the wooden head of the table, the commodity-form, and its ghost dance. The commodity-form, to be sure, is not use-value, we must grant this to Marx and take account of the analytic power this distinction gives us. But if the commodity-form is not, presently, use-value, and even if it is not actually present, it affects in advance the use-value of the wooden table. It affects and bereaves it in advance, like the ghost it will become, but this is precisely where haunting begins. And its time, and the untimeliness of its present, of its being "out of joint."

To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time. That is what we would be calling here a hauntology. Ontology opposes it only in a movement of exorcism. Ontology is a conjuration.

The "mystical character" of the commodity is inscribed before being inscribed, traced before being written out letter for letter on the forehead or the screen of the commodity. Everything begins before it begins. Marx wants to know and make known where, at what precise moment, at what instant the ghost comes on stage, and this is a manner of exorcism, a way of keeping it at bay: before this limit, it was not there, it was powerless. We are suggesting on the contrary that, before the coup de théâtre of this instant, before the "as soon as it comes on stage as commodity, it changes into a sensuous supersensible thing," the ghost had made its apparition, without appearing in person, of course and by definition, but having already hollowed out in use-value, in the hardheaded wood of the headstrong table, the repetition (therefore substitution, exchangeability, iterability, the loss of Singularity as the experience of singularity itself, the possibility of capital) without which a use could never even be determined. This haunting is not an empirical hypothesis..." Extract from: Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International.

Works of note:

Derrida, Jacques. 1962. L’Origine de la géométrie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. English trans.: 1978. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. Trans. John P. Leavey. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. De la Grammatologie. Paris: Minuit. English trans.: 1974. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. La Voix et le phénomène: Introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. English trans.: [1973] 1979. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allinson and Newton Garver. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. L’Écriture et la différence. Paris: Seuil. English. trans.: 1978. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1969. The Politics of Friendship. Trans. George Collins. London: Verso.

Derrida, Jacques. [1972] 1982. Marges de la philosophie. Paris: Minuit. English trans.: 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Brighton, U.K.: Harvester.

Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Truth in Painting. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1989. Mémoires: For Paul de Man. Trans. Eduardo Cadava, Jonathan Culler, and Cecile Lindsay. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1992. Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1992. The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1998. Monolingualism of the Other, or, The Prosthesis of Origin. Trans. Patrick Mensah. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2000. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2001. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 2001. The Work of Mourning, ed. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Further information here, here, here & here.

Friday, 20 May 2011

There Are Non-Times As Well As Non-Places: Reflections On Hauntology – A post by Mark Fisher

“Through their generic and transient qualities – workstations devoid of personal effects, relations with colleagues as fleeting as those with passengers on a commuter journey – many workplaces now resemble non-places, either literally, as in the case of a hotel, corporate coffee chain or out-of-town supermarket, or symbolically, in the form of temporary assignments for faceless employers (dis)located in anonymous buildings, where the worker-commuter then follows the same global timetables, navigates the same software applications and experiences the same sense of placelessness, the feeling of being mere data in the mainframe”

So writes Ivor Southwood in his analysis of precarious labour, ‘Non-Stop Inertia’ (2011). In the last decade, the proliferation of corporate non-places has been accompanied by the spread of cyberspace-time, or Itime, a distributed or unpunctuated temporality. It’s no coincidence that, as this unmarked time increasingly came to dominate cultural and psychic space, Derrida’s concept hauntology (re)emerged as the name for a paradoxical zeitgeist. In ‘Specters of Marx’, Derrida argued that the hauntological was characterised by “a time out of joint”, and this broken time has been expressed in cultural objects that return to a wounded or distorted version of the past in flight from a waning sense of the present. Sometimes accused of nostalgia, the most powerful examples of hauntological culture actually show that nostalgia is no longer possible. In conditions where pastiche has become normalised, the question has to be: nostalgia compared to what? James Bridle has recently argued that “the opposite of hauntology ... [is] to demand the radically new”, but hauntology in fact operates as a kind of thwarted preservation of such demands in conditions where - for the moment at least - they cannot be met. Whereas cyberspace-time tends towards the generation of cultural moments that are as interchangeable as transnational franchise outlets, hauntology involves the staining of particular places with time - albeit a time that is out of joint.

Mark Fisher, images by Laura Oldfield Ford.

What follows is audio from the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture & NYU's Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program event: There Are Non-Times As Well As Non-Places: Reflections On Hauntology, a talk by Mark Fisher. Wednesday 4th of May 2011, 6:30pm, Room 471, 20 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003.

Non-Times/Non-Places: Excerpt 1:

Non-Times/Non-Places: Excerpt 2:

Non-Times/Non-Places: Excerpt 3:

Further information here, here and here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Silent Hill サイレントヒル

In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday, but you never did. Well I'm alone there now... in our 'special place'... waiting for you...

Harry Mason and his daughter Cheryl are on their way to a family vacation in the resort town of Silent Hill when a mysterious figure walks into the road. Startled by the dark figure suddenly silhouetted in his headlights Harry panics, jerking the steering wheel, and sends his jeep careening through a guardrail and off the road. Harry wakes to find his jeep has come to rest just inside the town of Silent Hill and Cheryl is missing from the passenger seat. Worried for his daughter’s safety, Harry heads into the town to find her; instead he finds a deep rooted evil that pervades the misty town of Silent Hill and somehow ties to his daughter’s disturbing past.

Conceived by game designer, Keiichiro Toyama, Silent Hill was released in 1999 for the Sony Playstation as a third-person adventure game. Told from Harry’s perspective, it starts with his arrival to Silent Hill and follows him as he searches for his missing daughter.

Despite the initial thoughts by gamers and critics alike that Konami’s Silent Hill was just another Resident Evil clone it was obvious after its release that Silent Hill embodied a very different kind of horror. While Capcom’s Resident Evil relied heavily on action and visual scares that usually startled the player, Silent Hill relied more on an unnerving atmosphere built up with subtle visuals and nerve racking sounds to fill the player with a constant dread. The game’s music composed by Akira Yamaoka in particular had a big hand in helping Silent Hill stand from the crowd. The game’s use of real-time 3D environments, the fog, grain and darkness used to hide the Playstation’s limitations not only gave Silent Hill its signature look but also enhanced the town’s look of dilapidation and decay.

Even though Silent Hill’s sound and visuals were well received many felt the game’s voice acting and clunky controls brought down the mood of the overall game experience. Unfortunately all the game’s dialogue was recorded line by line which resulted in awkward pauses during character conversations. This not only made the character’s speech come across as rather halting but the lack of natural flow in their speech made many serious scenes come off as rather comical and spoiled the creepy atmosphere built up by the visuals and ambient music.

Years after its initial release Silent Hill is not only still wildly popular but still often recognized as a leading horror title.

It has made several “best of lists” these past couple years placing 14th in IGN’s “best PlayStation games of all time” list in 2000, named 15th “best” in a 2005 article by GameSpy and earned the top spot in Gametrailers.com video feature in 2006 for the top ten scariest games of all time. With the title’s enduring popularity it’s no wonder Konami decided to revisit the original plot for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Hopefully this re-imagining will also stand the test of time.

Genres: Survival horror. Developers: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, Creature Labs, Climax Studios, Double Helix Games, Vatra Games, WayForward Technologies. Publishers: Konami, Konami Digital Entertainment. Creator: Keiichiro Toyama. Composers: Akira Yamaoka, Daniel Licht. Platform of origin: PlayStation. First release: Silent Hill, January 31, 1999.

Further information here, here and here.

Silent Hill is a 2006 horror film directed by Christophe Gans and written by Roger Avary. The film is an adaptation of Konami's survival horror video game series Silent Hill. The film, particularly its emotional, religious, and aesthetic content, includes elements from the first, second, third and fourth game in the series. It stars Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland, Alice Krige, Sean Bean and Deborah Kara Unger.

The film follows Rose, who takes her adopted daughter Sharon to the town of Silent Hill, for which Sharon cries while sleepwalking. Arriving at Silent Hill, Rose is involved in a car accident and awakens to find Sharon missing; while searching for her daughter, she fights a local cult while uncovering Sharon's connection to the town's past.

Development of Silent Hill began in the early 2000s. After attempting to gain the film rights to Silent Hill for five years, Gans sent a video interview to them explaining his plans for adapting Silent Hill and how important the games are to him. Konami awarded him the film rights as a result. Gans and Avary began working on the script in 2004. Avary used Centralia, Pennsylvania as an inspiration for the town. Filming began in February 2005 with an estimated $50 million budget and was shot on sound sets and on location in Canada.

Silent Hill was released on April 21, 2006, grossing nearly $100 million. Film critics praised the film's visuals, set designs, and atmosphere, but criticized the film for its dialogue, plot and runtime. A sequel titled Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, was released on October 26, 2012.

Directed by Christophe Gans. Produced by Samuel Hadida, Don Carmody & Akira Yamaoka. Written by Roger Avary, Christophe Gans (uncredited) & Nicolas Boukhrief (uncredited). Based on Silent Hill by Konami. Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, Tanya Allen, Alice Krige & Jodelle Ferland. Music by Akira Yamaoka. Cinematography by Dan Laustsen. Editing by Sébastien Prangère. Studio: Davis Films. Distributed by TriStar Pictures. Release date: April 21, 2006. Running time: 127 minutes.