Monday, 26 October 2009

1W7 The Narrator in Wim Wender's Wings of Desire

One more resource on the storytelling subject

As he climbs the library stairs and bumps into one of the angels, the narrator in Wim Wender's 'Wings of Desire' says:
'With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but apart and one doesn't know anything about the other. I am an old man with a broken voice... but the story still rises from the depths and the slowly opened mouth repeats it as clearly as it does powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated to the meaning of the words and sentences.'
'Finished with the sweeping over the centuries as in the past. Now I can only think only day by day. My heroes are no longer the warriors and kings but the things of peace, one equal to the other. The drying onions equal to the tree trunk crossing the marsh. But no one has so far succeeded in signing an epic of peace. What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn't endure and that its story is hardly told? Must I give up now? If I do give up, then mankind will lose its storyteller. And once a mankind loses its storyteller I will also lose its childhood.'

Monday, 19 October 2009

1W6 The 5 Obstructions by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier

A visual essay I have challenged myself to create inspired from and based on the film 'The 5 Obstructions' directed by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier; 'The 5 Obstructions' is a documentary based on 'The Perfect Human' (1967), Lars Von Trier's favorite film (created by Jørgen Leth), where Von Trier challenges his mentor Leth to remake this film five times, each time with a different obstruction. The documentary ends up to become a series of experimental films put together in a game of style. The importance of this film (in my opinion, regarding the subject matter I am working on), is the help it provides in choosing the style of the final artwork, meaning that there might be infinite possible ways to portray the subject, how to make the decision?

While watching the film, I could link 'The 5 Obstructions' to 'Exercice de Style' (exercises in style), written by Raymond Queneau, French poet and novelist, member of the OULIPO [], the story being a collection of 99 retelling of the same story, each time in a different style. The story would include the same character going on the same bus watching the same fight then bump into the same man few hours later in another situation at the Gare.

Monday, 12 October 2009

1W5 Hamletmachine by Heiner Müller

A visual that I have created after having read Heiner Müller's 'Hamletmachine' to exercise a style.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


I was four years old when we left Sanayeh in Beirut and moved back to our village in South Lebanon to escape the next battle zone. These were years of war, so school was dismissed early, and summer vacation that year started way ahead of time… in the middle of February.

We were two kids, my older sister and I, living with our parents and grandparents with our main entertainment being watching the plants grow and the flowers blossom. My mother’s efforts in providing us amusement included, one day, an outing to watch a football game at the only playing field in the village. Upon our arrival, one of the players kicks the ball and the ball hits me squarely in the face. As my nose starts bleeding, my mom quickly takes me into her lap and places my head on her shoulder. She runs back with me towards our house to nurse my injury.

That day, my nose bled so much it ruined the removable collar of my mom’s brown checkered dress she had bought from Carel. It was a sparkling day, that’s what I remember. The crisp colors of the green grass and the red blood still shine in my mind whenever I reconstruct the accident in my memory. After the incident, my mom’s dress lost its sublime quality as the blood stains on the collar couldn’t be removed; and the dress without its collar no longer held any of its original appeal. It was its raison d’être, the only indicator of its Bauhaus connotation. I kept seeing the dress left lying around somewhere in her bedroom. Every effort had been made to remove the stains; but unfortunately, nothing could solve this glitch.

Years later, when I was to turn 17, my mother finally declared that she was no longer able to buy any more items for her wardrobe from Carel. It was then that I realized the economic situation of my family was no longer as it was during wartime.

Fourteen years later, the accident of the football hitting my face, the nose bleed, its consequences and my mom’s subsequent declaration would become like a wake-up call for me. I would question its implications. It was so connected, like threads woven with threads, like links in a contour of an amorphous form, a timeline and a grid, a population and a country.

I began deciphering the elements of my story. I thought about the strike of the football, the blood as a form of art, the reconstruction of the scene in my memory with the crispness of its colors, football practice, the implications of identity and nationalism in a game, my mother’s brown checkered dress and our financial situation pre and post war. I revisited the Bauhaus sensibility, the bread and circuses phenomena, sports in general, and the case study of Lebanon, in specific, with its public and the excitement, slogans and chants of Lebanese sports teams, the inherent sectarian and regional distribution of these teams, the representation and the aftermath of football…

Elena Bertozzi, in her paper ‘At Stake: Play, Pleasure and Power in Cyberspace’, describes playing football as a “socially permitted aggression”. In a football game, the player reads and anticipates the action of the other, never quite sure what will really happen. Mastering football is a matter of time and skill. In the aftermath of a match, the idea of restoration of dialogue between the two teams, two enemies, or two competitors is omnipresent: so much so that one can see the relation of football to politics, to rulers or governors using ‘bread and circuses’ policies to fulfill and distract the governed in their basic needs, diverting their attention away from politics and interfering in the political scene.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ‘bread and circuses’ is a terminology used to explain the offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.

Philosophers such as Theodore Adorno speak about how the removal or reduction of the ‘bread and circuses’, or what others term as ‘useful lies’ from mass culture will threaten the continued operation of the market and society, as well as higher philosophical truth.

It was therefore no accident or mere coincidence that my mother’s inability to buy her wardrobe from Carel was declared at the same period some leaders in Lebanon were buying football teams and encouraging youth to focus their attention to sports in the country. In post war Beirut, we can actually discuss the economy of football, neo-liberalism, and investments in similar institutions rather than in cultural projects.

The new economy of Beirut of the 90s, based on a credit system, was cutting its way into the shadow of football practice consumption and the consumption of football teams. Inflation was the post war fact; nevertheless Beirut had become a potential ‘winning’ project, or at least this is what the leaders wanted people to have faith in… the mere existence of the country on the map was a victory; debt was not an issue; and we should keep the game going.

Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perelman, in an article entitled ‘Football: From Ecstasy to Nightmare’, discuss the illusion big football games provide to society’s masses. It is presented as a “social elevator” for poor people. The ideology behind these big football games is the ideology of war, an apology for physical force – or a socially permitted aggression in Bertozzi’s words. Fanatic supporters encouraged and promoted by the shadow of multiculturalism – or a form of belonging in the sectarian, national, regional or ideological sense.

Marc Augé, in an article entitled ‘An Ethnologist in the World Cup’, speaks about how, during big football games, citizens (or the masses) reclaim symbols of the republic, the flag and the national anthem which otherwise are usually confiscated as the property of right wing nationalists.

Roland Barthes, in his book ‘Mythologies’ continues the case study of mass-supported sports using the boxing scene in Paris in the 1960s. In trying to understand the football scene in Beirut of 2006, one needs to question the core subject of popular games where the central event happens outside the playing field in the football sense, or the arena in boxing: The delirious crowd, the intellectuals glued to their television screens, and the public literally colonized by magical passes or punches.

In Lebanon, a major redistribution of local football teams would take place after the war ended according to the surviving sectarian and ideological alignments. I will not tackle this issue in my final outcome but researching it and putting it out there is essential to assimilate the situation.

A series of rules in the Lebanese Football League is obligatory, among which is the fact that in the Lebanese Football League, league seats are distributed according to the sects, similar to the method used in the Lebanese parliament’s distribution of seats; that is, the head of the league must be Shiite, the league secretary must be Druze, one of the head’s deputies must be a Sunnite and the other a Christian; the rest are represented by one Armenian, six Christians and six Muslims.

According to sectarian, national and ideological associations, the chants of a team’s public represent or adapt to changes or events in the domestic political scene.

As for Lebanon’s regional distribution, all the areas are represented except for the Bekaa valley.

As long as Lebanese society remains in the shadow of such delineations (such as sectarian ideology) and the neo-liberal tenets which highlight rivalry and competition, football as a metaphor for ‘friendship, solidarity, and fraternity’ will never come to pass. It will remain a paradigm of war, battle and combat and the illusion of unity will remain hanging in temporal stage, or virtual unity.

Martin Heidegger in ‘Murder of the Body: A Jury Verdict Pending’ discusses the video game culture, saying that “our culture is fascinated with the immaterial body which knows no aging process and may overcome even death.”

In this spirit, I want to create a video (or series of loops, depending whether I want to publish the final narrative as an interactive project), based on stories – both narrative and informative – to discuss my society and culture as seen through a football match.

Marc Augé studied the football language through television screens. According to him, on small screen televisions and monitors, audiences watching a football match plunge into a so-called “voluntarism of imagination”, that is, the tendency of the spectator to go beyond the game by screaming and trying to visually force the relatively small-scale football players to get closer to the ball and score.

This phenomenon arises to the fact that the screen is small; therefore the simulacrum of the field is a field in reduction, or a micro-field. This implies that the football players and the ball appear in miniature, making the viewer imagine that the process of getting a goal is actually quite simple. At a later stage, Augé speaks about ultra big screens displayed in public spaces; here, the player appears larger than usual, and thus, the ability to imagine is reduced to zero. In this case, the spectator’s perception with regard to the scale of the football match becomes more complicated: The screen enlarges players, giving back to the audience, as in their early days of movie theaters, their childhood perceptions… a period where all adults appeared as giants.

The relation between the public and the television screen is revealed at the end of the match; suddenly the event is no longer inside the screen, but totally outside it. The screen is, in this case, reduced to its modest role as witness, or substitute with the mere task of giving older and sick people a reflection of what is happening elsewhere.

The remarkable fact, at game end, becomes the urge instantly felt by each viewer to meet the crowd. There’s something to share, something that doesn’t exist outside the sharing process; and that is the object that the screen cannot contain. It is at the same time the victory and the limits of the media… the moment when television screens become abandoned by all those who rush to the streets to congratulate each other.

I will be researching throughout my project the football language and technical terms, with elements or techniques such as ‘replay’ and ‘slow motion’ that allow for a more clinical decipherment of an arbitrary decision, or the exploration of a detail that otherwise could not be seen. In a way, these visual techniques used to present a football match to TV screen viewers, teach us how to see. It urges the viewer to encourage, to be inside the event. After all, a football game is half-carnival, half manifestation; it is a feast to re-conquer something that resembles reality.

At this point, I have a vague idea of the type of imagery, but I was thinking of the video game type as a possibility to include icons representing players and football teams, the ambassadors of this intense sport’s event; an event which becomes, for mere mortals, an occasion to measure one’s history to the larger history, or to history simply.

More than any other sport, football remains one etched into our memory: It possesses, to a high degree, the force of souvenir, incomparable mixes, a rare aroma provoking drunkenness that blends the past with the present, myth and ritual.

It is not by accident that, twenty years later, I still recall the football hitting my face that day in my parent’s village. It has become the alarm that wakes me up every morning.

I am intending to proceed by interviewing a leftist economist ‘Kamal Hamdan’ regarding the issue of the economical situation in 90s Beirut, since I think I have some kind of a lack in this area. Then I will continue doing my readings on the narrative in the cyberspace, for that I have to start from earlier theoreticians who wrote about structuralism and narration, to include Roland Barthes’ ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’ and contemporary practitioners to include Mark Amerika’s way of describing the novel in the digital realm. For the style, I will be going through a whole range of narrative approaches from animation series (for instance Beavis and Butt-head) to comic artists (David Shrigley per se), television shows (the MTV Jackass world) and other forms of art that included narration. Then, I will start writing a script, using both personal stories, and trying to link them to the economical, social, and national aspects of the Football and political practice and aftermath. I will have to research potential visual elements, potential style (deconstruction style so far) and location hunting for the filming spots. Once I decide on the final outcome, I will have access to a tutorial to the relative software needed to start the actual realization of the project.

1W4 Tokyo! A Film by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon Ho

Tokyo! is a compilation of 3 short films freely inspired by Tokyo and shot in the heart of the city. ‘Interior Design’, the short by Michel Gondry is briefly the story of a young couple who move to Tokyo in search of a future. Both of them will be drowned in the immensity until the girl, feeling alone, discovers something strange. She starts alternating, an actual hole perforates her bust, she’s in a process of mutation. Her human leg becomes a wooden leg, her arm becomes a wooden arm… she becomes a wooden chair with the ability to switch back to the human mode, she would live in a stranger’s house, the stranger that picked up the chair from the street, without him noticing, disguised in a chair when he’s around and functioning as a human when he leaves.

The poetic of the material is what triggers this little post; flesh to wood then a floating soul that roams in the city, hides in the ‘in betweens’ of the buildings, in the cavities… Just today the idea of a couple was occurring to my mind, I thought how, when you’re around someone you love, you have the tendency to ‘fill the gaps’ in his/her body with your own body, the space between the head and the shoulder would become a space for the other to occupy, you embrace the other’s ‘in betweens’ exactly the same way an annex is adjusted to a building. Michel Gondry’s fairy tale treatment of the theme (man/architecture) generates a sparkle, a phantom chill (to be discussed. The theme suits Melanie’s proposal, a great example for the ghost houses research.

In an interview with the director asked about whether Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ was the main inspiration of the film, Gondry answers: Gabrielle wrote the story. I think that was her friend Sadie who was the main character, who felt more and more useless. Now I know Sadie, and she's very quiet and always feels like she's removed from the scene, from the room. I guess she was complaining about something, and she had this idea that she wished she'd just be a chair. There's something quite self-deprecating about that. My contribution was to make the transformation slow and painful, 'cause in the book it's just sort of a morph, two or three frames. It's not very much Kafka because in "Metamorphosis" the guy wakes up and he's a cockroach. Of course, it's a masterpiece. I always avoided reading it because I'd heard of it too much, but finally I said, "Okay I have to read it," and I just realized how much you get a different idea from what the piece actually is. It's very witty and funny and surprising. Basically, I think the Kafka story takes the most extreme situation and puts it in a normal context. It's genius. This is different. I was mostly thinking of the Polanski film "Repulsion," this sort of slow deterioration. I wanted the audience to not see it coming that she would become a chair. So it starts with a hole in the chest and there are two slots of wood, but it looks like she has lost her heart. It is misleading. The feet are in wood, and I thought about the "Pinocchio" from 1973 by Comencini where they switch back-and-forth between a piece of wood and the real boy's flesh. As a kid when I watched that I was terrified. Like when he tried to cut the log of wood and the log of wood has this little nose and he hears the little boy's voice and he jumps! That was enough to scare me to death.’

Friday, 2 October 2009

1W3 Virtual and Actual

In Arcade Fire’s video ‘black mirror’ (directed by Oliver Groulx and Tracey Maurice, director of photography Jean-François Lord) a giant head appears in one of the scenes, in the middle of the water, beautifully composited, a little bit à la Theo Angelopoulos ‘Ulysses’ gaze’ scene of the famous Lenin sculpture being transported in the still river.

Check the Arcade Fire video on:

The giant head in the Arcade fire video is a virtual sculpture while the Lenin sculpture is an actual cement based traditional monument, both appear in a digital format, that of film or video that could be watched on a screen.

It is an example for the introductory question that I have been reading about lately, technology as a tool or a medium? Till what extent can video be considered digital art? Does digital art require the presence of the ‘interactive’, the ‘user’s manipulation of the artwork’? or could it simply be an all set video that has been shot, edited, and finalized, so that the viewer can do nothing but watch it?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

1W3 Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's film: 'Zidane a 21st century portrait'

‘From the first kick of the ball until the final whistle.’

‘Madrid, Saturday 23rd, 2005, who could have imagined that in the future, an ordinary day like this, might be forgotten or remembered as anything more or less significant than a walk in the park. Face to face, as close as it lasts, for as long as it takes’ These are the words that release the football match filmed by the two directors, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno with their super quality cameras. The film starts with an extreme close up on the field and the match, a zoom in to the extent that the only visible material the spectator gets is the digitized coloured bits, changing from green to red then yellow and so on, depending on what the camera is rolling over. 17 cameras around the set with magnificent zoom lenses, the longest, for the first time in the commercial use, all the cameras are following the football player Zinédine Zidane, the icon of the national French football team, playing for Real Madrid.

The directors manage to scrutinize Zidane’s movements, his sweat is so close to the film viewer, and so are his spits, the movement of his eyes, his sight’s fields, the scratch of his nose, having researched the techniques of filming a football match, Gordon and Parreno add their artistic practice on that layer to create a football related cinematic language with moments of abstraction or gazing in a another world, could be a detail of the green grass, a projector emitting heat, a digital clock hanging on a banner, a kellogg’s frosties advertising in motion… Immersion is definitely part of the viewing experience, and at moments, I started thinking that it is actually becoming awkward not to film the actual ball but a star player, it was playing on the ‘ordinary’, the one they mention in the beginning of the film. A fall on the ground would become a poetic landscape, using the same technique of replaying the scene but with a slower pace, and played against Mogwai’s music, created for the original soundtrack of the film. Football never seemed so lonely for me, it was no longer a collective play, it was Zidane, alone, the football field as a deserted place, with the whole ‘ghost like’ ambiance that is out there but that we - the film’s spectators - cannot reach or see.

In the ‘following Zidane’ trip, the directors are looking closely and lovingly to him, Zidane would look up to the sky, and the cameramen follow his sight field, only to show us what is on his mind at this specific brief second, they show us the heat emitted by the light projectors and carry on by a narrative, in Zidane’s words, that takes us backwards to his early childhood years, yet giving a backup for the directors’ way of working; ‘As a child, I had a running commentary in my head when I was playing. It wasn’t really my own voice; it was the voice of Pierre Cangioni, a television anchor of the 1970s. Every time I heard his voice, I would run towards the TV as close as I could get, for as long as I could. It wasn’t that his words were so important, but the tone, the accent, the atmosphere was everything…’

I was taken by Zidane t-shirt’s number 5, for me when I was 5 years old, I thought I looked like number 5, very thin on the top with a big belly, and this is practically the age that as far as I know, is the limit of when I remember myself in my childhood years.

‘When you step into the field, you can hear and feel, the presence of the crowd. There is sound, the sound of noise.’ Zidane follows the appearance of these words, standing alone in the frame, applauding, but we - film’s spectators – did not see what happened on the field to deserve applause, while the field spectators did. ‘When you are immersed in the game, you don’t really hear the crowd, you can almost decide for yourself what you want to hear, you are never alone, I can hear someone shift around in their chair, I can hear someone coughing, I can hear someone whisper in the ear of the person next to him, I can imagine that I can hear the ticking of a watch. Maybe if things are going badly, you become conscious of people’s reaction. When it is not going well, you feel less involved and more likely to hear the insults, the whistles. You start to have negative thoughts sometimes you want to forget.’

‘The game, the event, is not necessarily experienced or remembered in ‘real time’, my memories of games and events are fragmented, sometimes when you arrive in the stadium, you feel that everything has already been decided, the script has already been written’.

It is a whole match, one whole match for Real Madrid, Zidane manages to do it all, he helps Ronaldinho score, Ronaldinho kisses Zidane on the cheek, Zidane fights with the other team’s player, he is penalized, the jury’s red card forces him to leave the field, the directors zoom out from the player to the football field, the whole architecture of the playing field, and it is in Zidane’s words that the film ends: ‘magic is sometimes close to nothing at all, when I retire I will miss the green of the field, ‘le carré vert’’.