jueves, 12 de mayo de 2016

62. Oberhausen Kurzfimtage: The virtual space of animation

As every year, the Oberhausen Film Festival delivers more than anyone could possibly chew or swallow. The Latin American theme screening delivered excellent insight beyond the clichés the region often loses the perspective of itself. I also missed out on the retrospective on grand Chinese animator Sun Xun. Still, I will for now focus on the animation films in the international competition.

One of the big winners of the year was Hayoun Kwon's "489 years". The film uses 3d animation to reconstruct the real testimony of a soldier on the border between South and North Korea. Of course, this reminds both of popular 1st person shooting games and of the "serious games" used for reconstruction of traumatic military situations, widely known through the work of Haroun Farocki. The director is conscious of these connections and sees it as placing her work between reality and fiction. The visions can, after all, only be true to memory and not to fact, and are mostly the imagination of an unaccessible place. Furthermore, the journey also allows itself some surreal escapes, as it dives beneath the floor or hovers above the sky. The voice of the interviewed person and its editing combine with this into stimulating storytelling.
Kwon also places her work between medial boundaries, as she in fact has developed a VR version in which the public can look around themselves freely to explore this virtual space of memory. Even so, with the shooting game as a constant reference, not a single shot is fired in the film. It is merely the tension, the sense of awe and wonder, that grows to dominate the entire situation. The film approaches the sense of the sacred as monstrous, overwhelming and fascinating: precisely because of the fear it represents, the area has also become a natural paradise. The atrocity of the untouchable space appears as necessary to the sustainment of a tense cease fire. The freedom of the animals that inhabit it is only possible at the expense of constant danger. Finally, the fear the narrator has faced also proves a toll for the intense memories he cherishes.

A very different transmedia project was Okaku Noriko's "The Interpreter". In a residence in English Derbyshire (check) the artist combined contemporary pictures of the locations with historical etchings from magazines and penny dreadfulls. Thus, she also opens a fantastic space, a reconstruction of reality in between times. The collage takes two shapes: it manifests both as film and as cards. The cards, and many of the motifs within the images, are inspired by the major arcana of tarot, although they take these forms freely to keep an open dialogue with the location and, most importantly, the viewer. The interpreter is not only central in Okaku's title but, as tarot practitioners know, also the goal in the use of cards: it is in connecting the dissimilar images and their riddles that one may achieve a meditation leading to self knowledge. In that sense, the game of tarot is a collage at a different level, one that reconfigures itself with every spread to challenge the consciousness of the interpreter anew. On the other hand, the animated film is a liquid visualization of what is commonly known as "the fool's journey". It shows the flow between and among the cards, emphasizing that there is nothing set and nothing isolated in them.

The Interpreter from Animate Projects on Vimeo.

Ohtakara Hitomi's "Omokagetayuta" was not transmedial, but mixed media in the more traditional sense. Combining techniques already has a stable position in painting, but is harder to come by in animation. Combining video, drawings, photography and stop motion requires, after all, a multitalented hand. The theme of the film, the attempt to reconstruct the memory of a long lost person, reflects in its polyphonic images, which must also be pieced together through imagination. This becomes more intense through some abstract but relatable symbols, like the sticky blot that wanders unnoticed through the house.

Another Japanese animator who was unfortunately not present but delivered a remarkable work was Okawara Ryo. His piece had the strange title 「テ゛ィス゛イス゛マイハウス」, which actually is just "This is my house" in katakana. It is precisely the problems of dysfunctional homes and families, but also its connection to even more widespread social problems, which the film addresses. The iconic pictures and strong colors contrast with the slowness and silentness of the characters. The ever present image of the burning house stands for the visible manifestations of discrimination and misdirection. In the characters of the film, however, it only brings out the indifference or cynicism that are painfully familiar to modern society. One ought to wonder if the black humor of the film is not itself, too, caught in the cynicism it represents. Be it as it may, at least it screams out the silent voices of burning problems which are more present then one likes to admit.

The last participant Japanese animator was Ogawa Iku, who adapted one of the most bizarre tales of the Grimms into stop motion animation. The base material is "Die Wunderliche Gästerei" which, as the director mentioned, was removed from later editions of the Collection for being inappropriate for children. "I think you're a little confused" plays decidedly with black humor, grotesque shapes and a somber yet hilarious atmosphere. The oddness of the nonsense tale allows for intriguing images like a scared sausage being squashed between a happy and a sad face.

One of my personal favorites was Renata Gąsiorowska's "Cipka". In a context of ever recurring misogynist conservatism, this short sets a clear radical voice for freedom and self appreciation. One might label the representation of masturbation as feminist pornography, but on the other hand the cartoonish style frees it from any conventional sexualized perspective. It is rather humor and creativity that stand in the central point, finding new forms to describe the female experience, forms that also go beyond most boundaries of what could be said and shown before. Also for men and anyone else, the film is a liberating impulse to rethink our bodies.

Another group that made itself noticed with their highly intellectual works and opinions were the heirs of Croatian avant-garde. They delivered a couple of pieces that they described as anti-animation: the images were created in programs for architecture design and had therefore no movement of their own, but consisted in the camera exploring the spaces.
Tomislav Ŝoban's "Kraj" leads from total darkness into total whiteness. In between, there are paradox images of contrasts. From the resources of architecture, Ŝoban choses one which is not such: trees. These, however, appear alternately inside and outside structures. If infinite space is circular, can something be the center and the border at the same time? As anything "post-" Ŝoban also conceives of his anti-animation as a borderline that is still part of animation. His precise mathematic contradiction reminds of a borgian meditation.
Darko Fritz draws from the same source for his work "Novi Juẑni Zagreb", which however also has a strong documentary component. Fritz represents the expansion of the city that was conceived by the Yugoslavian government as a communist utopia in the 60s. Utopia in this case has no relation to beauty, but to novelty and, especially, to that which is disconnected from all antecedents, alienating in its purity. The film superposes with great precision videos of scale models, real footage and computer models of the same locations, showing the fast and radical transformation of the area. The brutalist concrete blocks grow out of completely empty lands with a gigantic, arbitrary and dehumanizing power. Fritz's own work as he describes it is not prone to human sensitivity either: what we see is edited by mathematical algorithms which determine that the length of each image be relative to the others and form a particular progression.
This dreamed city of the future resounds strongly with another short shown right next to it: "Entretempos" by Yuri Firmeza and Federico Benevides takes on institutional animations that serve as propaganda for the constructions for the olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. The film estranges the images distorting them and focusing on their arbitrary, absurd details. The building machines dance frenziedly to the rhythm of slave songs that remind the bloody history of the ground they are building upon. Finally, the camera brings us to the fabled "family of the future". They live just next to the great stadium, but instead of looking out of the window, they watch TV. They are spectators, like us. But they are also disturbingly white and are all eating endlessly from huge bowls of popcorn with a spasmodic, compulsive drive. It's not as scary to think that this is the future that most governments try to sell as, than it is to watch ourselves buying into it. A very different question that also arises is: is this still animation? Or is it rather re-animation of images that reveal themselves as undead, the exorcism of the ghosts of the future, anti-animation?

domingo, 17 de abril de 2016

Becoming Pagan

I just translated a tale of wolves and humans, of men and women, of nature and spirituality. In it, characters all too often "find themselves" on the road. Driven by instinct, one starts doing things before knowing it. Some claim it's the subconscious or the social performance. I don't think anyone else can know what it is, it's just stuff that happens.
I happen now to find myself as a pagan, celebrating solstice and Walpurgis, trying to keep my body in touch with a cycle that should never end. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in Europe I am at last in touch with a cycle that actually makes time visible, in which nature interacts with time. You don't get much seasons in a city which is damp and cloudy all year, but in which it never rains. On the other hand, you do. I did write something about that:

La calurosa navidad debería en verdad ser una gran celebración, una bacanal que glorifique el término del ciclo junto con la aparición de las mangas y faldas cortas, las blusas blancas que transparentan los sostenes de las colegialas y los helados que succionan mientras suben en grupo a los microbuses. Me invade la sensación de un estado de erotismo universal, de que, quizá, cualquier persona que me encuentre en las calles podría venir a revolcarse entre mis sábanas sin la ropa que tanto sobra en esta estación. Definitivamente una celebración de la vida que vale un par de feriados y la renovación de varias tradiciones.
Probablemente, la valoración de lo bajo que describe Bajtin también tiene que ver con el flujo de fluidos y secreciones, sean digestivas, transpirantes o libidinosas. En cualquier caso, todo movimiento de fluidos es una disolución de los límites del cuerpo, una negación de la unidad y completitud del ser humano, que así también se afirma parte del mundo y su flujo, solo una breve articulación en el ciclo del agua que entra y sale de nosotros, que tantos rostros hemos tenido.
G.Y. Lima, Dec. 2010

A cycle of seasons that drive me, there it was, only waiting for me to accept it. However, it's probably easier to accept it if it is written in the traditions, instead of alienated by Christmas and Jesus and Whatnot. In Lima, matching the traditions to the seasons is still a task and a process, and the subtle but contrary flow of the seasons clearly deauthorizes the colonial imposition of catholicism, and thus of tradition and cycles in general.

In Europe, Walpurgis lies close at hand. It has symbols and narratives which ride on the strength of nature and not against it. In the end, however, isn't it a subject who rides those symbols?

I accepted the cycle, too, to work with my body, to put it into a longer process I call Ishtar and to achieve pleasure and enlightenment through it. Bodies are still a part of nature, and even mine, in its exceptions, responds to it. Of course, each body responds to nature differently - but they all do, somehow, respond. Of course, the yearly cycle is only a greater unit of the lunar cycle and the daily cycle, but also, most importantly, a small reflection of the life cycle. I have put my body on a telic road to achieve transcendence and have lain it on the yearly cycle to wish for its endurance. But very soon its life cycle will have crossed its peak and the body will follow its natural road of decay. It is a time of the year, it is a time of the life, that's the time it is.

Is it though? Of course, that's relative to the material conditions of my body, and it will never exist outside of them. It is also a subjective interpretation, but it is always matter that we interpret. Aristotle's matter and shape. Working with the body means working with what there is and with how others see it. Working with the body means to be conscious of other people's interpretations in order to defy them. Working with the body means to transcend my own perception of myself and thus enhance my spirit.
But the spirit is still beyond the body and does not bend to it. The spirit does not bend to time or to any master. The spirit works in many other directions and is, again, the only one who can give the body any meaning at all. Thus, above the cycling bodily level must remain a linear spiritual level. Above the waters, be them muddy, clear or troubled, the lotus always grows unsullied.

Have greater means, transcendent means. Look ahead. Write ahead. (Do I now find myself as a Buddhist?)

lunes, 14 de septiembre de 2015

Tale of Tales or the subversive potential of fairie

I believe Tale of Tales recovers the subversive potential of fairy tale. The synopsis for the movie in Germany presented it as "Fantasyfilm". It may be useful to know that the German word for fantasy is actually spelled "Fantasie", whereas the English word has come to be used by Germans what the rest of the world tries to make sense of as "high fantasy" or "swords and sorcery", thus covering the wide range from Conan to Harry Potter. But should this cover fairy tales as well? Opinions may differ. Although professor Tolkien would argue that all folk narratives, from Beowulf to Briar Rose, have a particular though anonymous author, some poet, behind them, I prefer to believe in collective creation (as posed by, for example, Levi-Strauss) that shapes a tale bit by bit like the ocean shapes a round stone.

Of course, such unconscious processes can't be considered to be fantastic. I'd rather follow Stephan Frings, who claims that fantasy as such is only visible as a reaction against an established, rational frame, thus starting with romanticism, which spawns its own form: the Kunstmärchen. A fairytale as such, therefore, is not fantastic. A film about fairy tales, on the other hand, might have to be.

Frings points out that the probably greatest visible difference between fairy tale and the fantasy story, is that fantasy tends to create a secondary world and enrich it with detail, history and diversity. Fairytale, on the other hand, works in big chunks, all of them rather imprecise. In the land "far far away" there is only "the castle" and "the wood", none of them have names, and nobody wonders whether there could be more than one wood. The same thing applies to characters who, in the best of cases, have generic names but no individual traits or development.

When transporting tales into visuals, Garrone cannot be generic or unspecific. Characters have faces, and these even tend to express emotions and consciousness. Instead of trying to evade the evident, the director choses the richness in detail, the colorful and diverse which outsports the imagination of anyone hearing an oral tale and rather underscores the awe and wonder that the plot of those tales achieves with so much less. It would still be unfair to group these images with those produced by Peter Jackson or Guillermo del Toro. The bizarre and grotesque is ever present in both extreme and subtle ways, in the unusual bodytypes, in the proximity of the animal and the human, which flow into each other. Garrone is no doubt still within line of Italian cinema with Fellini and Pasolini.

I have not come across much analysis on the role of animals in the fairy tale, but I believe to observe that the general absence of speaking animals from high fantasy is one more thing that sets it apart from fairy tales, achieving a more evident seriousness, but losing a dimension of meaning which Garrone ably exploits. Actually, animals don't talk in Tale of Tales either, but they transform, as the witch that subtly takes the shape of the black hog. The sea monster is, in a magical way, mate to two human women, who give birth to two almost human boys. Are these boys human? Are they animals? They swim without breathing like their animal father and act driven by instinct (as every fairytale hero somehow does). They are often seen in proximity of animals, Elias is close to his horse, but Jonas appears among dead animals when death follows on his heels within the pantry. Even the giant flea is metonymically replaced by the ogre, who becomes the outgrowth of the monster the moment he touches its dead skin. For a common fantasy film, the ogre looks quite human. For a human, he looks quite bestial. His primitive lifestyle also suggests animality. All this reminds us but the fact, forgotten by rationalism, that humans are but another animal, mostly undistinguished from other species.

Garrone's film thus approaches the forgotten, lower region of consciousness, that have kept expressing through the impersonal, collective tale. Levi-Strauss concludes that fairy tales have a common structure with myths, but cannot be a transformation of these since they coexist simultaneously within every society. The actual difference between the two is the circumstance in which they are told. Fairy tales are not told in temples and sacred books. They are by and about the dispossessed, the women and children, the orphans and handicapped. True fairy tales look up to kings and princesses from the view of those who suffer their consequences. They are low mythology not because they are less important, but because they come from below: subverting, denouncing, revealing.

This has too long been forgotten, especially in film. If one is to blame a particular person, it's obviously Walt Disney, but trends don't happen if the whole of society doesn't participate, and Disney's heirs have certainly complicated the matter even more. Even now, as Disney Studios and other fairy tale films are desperately trying to be "modern" more than thirty years overdue, they do it by further disrupting the structure of the oral folklore, producing disasters like Maleficent, among many others. Not only do these films try ridiculously hard and kill the magic and wisdom in the process, they also fail to tackle the themes they attempt to criticize, representing woman as someone whose best possible role is that of a martyr.

Garrone, on the other hand, returns to the gruesome tales that can't be told to children, but are a crucial part of the lore. Like all evil queens, the queen does away with the patriarch, but is still an even more radical expression of patriarchal law. She cannot value her own happiness but only sees her own realization in motherhood. The sisters that betray each other for following a womanizer end up destroyed. Of course it is unfair that the man will not suffer any form of punishment - but has the punishment of Don Giovanni not been staged again and again in so many cultures? This is not poetic justice, but a cautionary tale. Finally, it is the irresponsibility of one more patriarch, one more king, that lets a flea grow enough to become a monster, that lets all matters get out of hand, and is quite indifferent when this means he has to sacrifice his daughter. In the end, it is the responsibility of the lowly to right the wrong of the high and mighty. However, before coming to action, they need to believe in themselves, and this may not happen until the moment when they find themselves in the face of death.

The happy ending is not whole and sound. It is dredged in the memory of those who didn't make it and full of open questions. It is reopening the play to a tradition that was never about giving a single moral, but about uttering the many impersonal voices of rebellion.


Antonsen, Jan Erik. Poetik des Unmöglichen. Paderborn, Mentis, 2007.
Frings, Stephan. Alte Götter, neue Welten; Religion und Magie in der deutschsprachigen Fantasy-Literatur. Wetzlar, Phantastische Bibliothek, 2010.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. "Le structure et la forme" in Antropologie Structurale. Paris, Plon, 1985.
Lüthi, Max. Es war einmal. Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008.
Tolkien, James Ronald Reuel. The Monsters and the Critics. London, Allen & Unwin, 1983.

viernes, 8 de mayo de 2015

61. Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen - Ito Takashi

Last weekend, the Short Film Festival in Oberhausen took place for the 61st time. In this case it had clearly a central figure: Ito Takashi was featured not only as a special guest presenting a long retrospective of his masterpieces; he was also included in the special program about 3d film and space, and even participated in the competition with his new film "Saigo no Tenshi". He also won two major prizes. This first post, therefore, will be mainly about his work. I hope to get to write about the many other amazing experiences of the festivals in a later entry.

A frame is a frame is a frame: The works of Takashi Ito 1977-1985

It is hard to believe that a movie can be so shocking without anything happening in it: Flashes, intersected pictures, a wildly, frantically moving camera - is the camera moving, or is movement but a composition of static, separate images? All of Ito's works are clearly modern art in the sense of Ortega y Gasset's dehumanization: they don't represent anything but themselves, merely self-referentially bringing their means of representation to their limits. His early works are entirely dehumanized, also in the sense that there is not a single human being visible in them, only large rooms, empty streets, the sky, drawings that reveal their flatness in being painted.
In films like "Spacy", is space the protagonist, or is it rather the film itself? The staggering fast movement created by photography animation seizes the posibillities of a film constructed frame by frame; or a film conscious that it is constructed, made out of frames. Only thus do viewers realize how fast in fact every film moves, how vertiginously the eye is bombarded with changing images. The filming of projected film on flat surfaces stretches this even further, questioning both sequence and volume. Now I realize what the festival text means by the uncanny of film: film that deconstructs itself in its construction. Film in which frames are revealed as masks, as ghosts, insubstantial in their flatness, as the grand illusion.

(Interlude) Space & Bodies: A 3d program featuring Ito

Contrasting with Ito's "Box" which enhances the flatness of virtual filmic space, the theme section entitled "Space Scan" also features various pieces focused on dance rather than empty locations. Furthermore, the background of both featured dance videos is entirely black, removing architectural or geographic boundaries and leaving bodie on their own to define space. Are bodies necesary to define space? Ito and other artists featured in the segment prove the contrary. To them, it is perspective that (un)creates the depth. But space is not only "in the eye of the beholder". Space, as time, amplifies by events, by movement, and only the moving eye of the film camera can enhance it in a way comparable to what the presence of the body does.
Bodies themselves are also interestingly enhanced by visual effects in these shorts. Andristyák Marcell's "Skizm" multiplies a single dancer, but the choreography creates intersections rather than paralells. The dancer Ida Szücs Dóra appears to be disputing space with her own replicas, as bold spins are either closely dodged by each other or explode into flowering shapes with a common axis.
Philippe Baylaucq's "ORA", on the other hand, features several dancers reproduced as digital characters and merging into each other. The initial scene even shows them as cells, as blots of light that generate each other. Even after being diferentiated as bodies, they move as a coordinated unity after José Navas's choreography. The space is not only enhanced by their movement, it is also literally iluminated, since the animation allows to turn the virtual bodies into glowing lamps, thus expressly creating their surroundings in the darkness. The mutual creation and coordinated reproduction of the bodies continues, as space finally shapes into mirrors in different directions, thus creating reflections and inversions, seemingly infinite loops and towers of bodies that make space abysmal.

Film is dead: The works of Takashi Ito 1997-2014

From a certain point on, human beings do integrate into Ito's images. The natural movement of the human body does call for a slightly more continuous mode of capture, and thus he starts working not only with photographed, but also with filmed images. Still, most of the films show the combination of both forms of capture, and the filmed sequences are not precisely fluid or continuous, but a composition of several short takes that force the strangeness of stop motion animation onto human movement.
Film does not only remain a protagonist of itself by calling attention to its createdness: the second image in "Monochrome head" is a camera in the mirror, which turns to find another cameraman behind itself. The eye thus starts to search its own intraceability, the impossible representation of representation. "Memai" shows two girls secretly taking pictures of each other, in a cycle of mutual voyeurism. "Shizuka na Ichinichi" contains photographies and a storyboard that remixes the images of the film and end up becoming a film within a film. One might say that the camera uses the presence of the cameraman to become its own subject.
But film goes further: it not only transcends the human presence but destroys it. Especially the character of "Shizuka na Ichinichi" uses (or is used by film) to constantly represent herself in thanatic situations. She scratches herself out of photographies, photographs her own drowning in the bathtub, stages a film in which she and her reflection stab each other. Could this be what Roland Barthes called the death of the author, the punctum of photogtaphy? A further unacnnyness of film: ghostly images of absent people, a medium that separates people from their image; but in itself, film is just flat image, just mater, only lifeless celuloid that takes its life from our baffled eyes.

Behind the mask of film: Ito on Ito

Ito himself was kind enough to give us a short interview.* There and also in various Q&A sections, he talked about film as a means of personal expression, more precisely as a therapeutic process of reflecting on the darker sides of his life. In fact his life is not as dark as his films (although even his wife sometimes worries). His life is not as dark precisely because through film he can externalize crises, representing their worst possible turn and thereby preventing it. If it wasn't for film, he might be a violent person, but nowadays, he claims, he's a pretty calm guy. It is also for that reason that he prefers to use female characters in his human pictures, to gain certain distance from the action.

*The interview was filmed, but the film of it is lost. The dying of the film prevents the dead replica of Ito's presence, talking about film and death. I offer you his patent absence.

Barthes, Roland. "La mort de l'auteur". 1967.
Barthes, Roland. La chambre claire. 1980.
Ortega y Gasset, José. La deshumanización del arte. 1925.

jueves, 30 de abril de 2015

Notizen über Tanz/Performance

Lihito Kamiya - "Travelogue" Preformancevideo

Ein nackter Körper durchwandert karge Landschaften und sucht Schutz in
instabilen, beweglichen Behausungen. Doch trotz seiner langsamen,
tastenden Bewegungen, steht er zu den Elementen, die ihn umgeben, in
einem ständigen Kampf. Karten sind der Versuch, sich vor dem Chaos der
Umgebung zu bewahren, sich in einer vermeintlichen Ordnung zu bergen,
die doch nur das Äußere und Innere invertiert. Obwohl nichts ihn
fassen kann, trägt er doch endlich einen Anzug und Schuhe in den
Händen: der Weg selbst wird zum Zeichen der Person, das Laufen ist
etwas, was man sichtbar mit sich trägt. Und dann, nach dem langen Weg,
wieder ein nackter Körper: trotz allem, was er auf sich nimmt, ist in
seiner Mitte nicht eins der durchwanderten Orte und Begebenheiten,
sondern die Abwesenheit davon. Der Körper, in seiner Trennung vom
Raum, in seiner Heimatlosigkeit, bleibt, in sich selbst, nackt.

Tanzfuchs: "Dis_Order - eine objektive Feldstudie"

Ein Geflecht aus Stimmen, die Reihengolge ihrer Wörter verworren in diversen Lautsprechern, die sie vom Körper und voneinander Trennen.
Ein Geflecht aus Kabeln, die methodisch, koordiniert verlegt und rekombiniert werden.
Der menschliche Körper als Schnittstelle des Mediengeflechts, wird unter Lautsprechern begraben, taucht in sie ein, aber Tanzt auch freudig zwischen den Kabeln hinweg.
Ein Geflecht aus Körpern die mit unerwarteter Leichtigkeit aufeinander treffen, ineinander passen und zähflüssig gemeinsam dahintreiben - zueinander, voneinander, immer wieder mit Leichtigkeit und Wunder.
Dann aber bleibt eine der Figuren regungslos, die anderen bewegen, behandeln sie, und klemmen dabei steif aneinander.

Einerseits ist diese "objektive Feldstudie" ein Stück Performance Art, in dem die Bedeutung aus der Gegenüberstellung seiner Elemente Springt. Anderseits zeigen die Figuren auch stellenweise ausgepregte Persönlichkeiten und Beziehungen, womit das Drama ihrer Interaktion auch viel von Tanztheater hat. Ob es nun theatralische Szenen oder poetische Bilder sind, in denen das Stück aufgeteilt ist, lässt sich beliebig lesen, doch jeder Moment hat einen distinktiven Charakter, der visuell vom Lichtspiel unterstrichen wird.

Als Soundpreformance entwickelt das Stück besondere Beziehungen zwischen Tanz und Musik, denn es ist nicht nur die Bewegung, die dem Klang folgt, sondern der Klang, der durch Bewegung von Tänzer/Sprecher, Mikrophonen und Lautsprechern verändert wird. Dabei wird auch die Räumlichkeit des Klangs manifest.

domingo, 17 de noviembre de 2013

Thoughts on Pacific Rim

I know I'm late to the party, and probably most of what I'm saying has already been said anyways. I just want to get it off my chest.

I think it is only fair to judge a work by the goals it declares itself to have. Pacific Rim declares through the voices of its narrators and heroes, to attempt to unite the different peoples of the earth against the disasters that are threatening to destroy its planet. Disasters that take the shape of giant monsters, but which are a product of pollution and environmental destruction.

The first half hour of the film also seems to step towards its goal in a quite exciting way. The very fact that characteristically Japanese genres as kaiju, mecha and tokusatsu is being respawned by a Mexican director in Hollywood into such a self-conscious tribute is already of notice. Whereas other productions would turn it into a cheap parody, Del Toro treats the topic with unusual detail. Even in Japan tokusatsu and kaiju have always had a certain "B-Series" style and quality, and only animated mecha has achieved to give the genre self-respect and seriousness. In any case, the question whether it even makes any sense to give giant war machines anthropomorphic shape is a necessary suspension of disbelief for every story in the genre.

The consequence of this first cultural crossing is that the action has to relate both to its Japanese referrals and to US public, and therefore actually unites both fronts, inside the story and in its aesthetics. But it even goes further, since the connection has already decentered the action, and thus immediately China, Australia and Russia are also drawn into focus. In fact, the scene is set neither in NY nor in LA. It is in Hong Kong where the world comes together after the central governments have decided that the salvation of humanity is too expensive and that they cannot change their standpoint, even if it is evidently absurd. Thus the resistance unites the most diverse people against the established center, which would rather keep them apart and deliver them to pointless destruction. The psychic connection which takes place between the Jaeger pilots (evidently a heritage from Shin Seiki Evangelion), only takes this cross-cultural connection a step further, especially in the case of Raleigh and Mako.

This is how the first half hour of the movie appears brilliant, even without requiring an elaborate or original plot. However, in the first centrally staged combat, everything changes. Non-US characters are butchered off instantly, rendering their lifes worthless. Now, again, the only ones who can save the world are the American kid Raleigh, and his American Marshall Pentecost, and the American hero Chuck and his American daddy, with their American dog, and the couple of awkward but American scientists, assisted by the (strangely enough) American born triad leader Chau. The only remaining character that would give this vista a little diversity would be Mako, still in a central point, after all.

The case of Mako, however, is actually since her first appearance a typical Butterfly-Pocahontas situation. Not only has this exotic girl been tutored by an American officer, but it is her destiny to get, mentally and physically, saved and exploited by the young American colonist. As typically oriental she is represented as shy, needy and submissive, an image which has since colonial times worked as a synecdoche, projecting upon an individual what is expected of the entire culture.

This situation taints the Pentecost's speech for the final battle in an entirely different colour. He still speaks about humanity getting together to confront its daemons, although this "humanity" is now only represented by the USA. It is once again the US (and its most submissive vassal) who can represent the whole of humanity and act in its name. The peoples of the earth are united, although under American banner and command.

I have the slight feeling that some of the work and investment rumored to have been prepared decades ago for an Hollywood movie on Evangelion ended up going into this. This would be the lesser evil, since the creator's own Rebuild movies have already wasted the name of the original Evangelion anyway. Making a tribute which is at least partially enjoyable is still easier to digest than an appropriative remake which could never stand up to the original. It is precisely a love-hate relationship towards Del Toro's movie which makes it most urgent to me to write about it.

martes, 15 de mayo de 2012


Introductory paragraph to an assignment in a class about "Transnational Literature" whith a professor who is also keen in discussing "Ethnic Literatures" as opposed to non-ethnic, "normal" literature.

When addressing the question whether a writer does or not present colonial traits, we must at all times remember to be open to either of the possible answers. Deterministic materialism very often assumes that all writers born in a first world country will necessarily be doomed to write in the name of the empire, even if they claim the opposite. If this was so, we would already have the answer to the quality of an author's work before reading it. Any literary discussion on the contents of his writing would be pointless, since the outcome is already predefined. In the best of cases, we would only look for details that confirm what we already know - but we would not be open to whatever the text might actually bring forth itself. This attitude is frequent within cultural studies and shows contempt towards literature and art itself.

Even in spite of this, I had a fruitfull discussion with the professor and it was particularly fun how we both kept switching back and forth between German and English. However, my interlocutor also came back to state again, even after reading and discussing this, that there is no way a person in America would not be limited and reabsorbed by their context, no matter what they did, they still remained white males and this was what made up the whole of their discourse.

It's amazing how passionate determinists can be in defending what in the end is their own impotence as humans. They smile greatly while stating that they'll never really make any difference because they are predestined by race, gender, class and nationality. Everything is determine, everything is political, everything is sex, whence everything is acording to my theory and I've won before we start talking, cause I never meant to let you talk in the first place. They trust in those determining concepts aprioristically more than in their own eyes as if they were some positivist "concrete base". Positivism is a dogma, it has never proved anything but its own ignorance. Maybe determinists entertain the belief that no matter how wrong they act, things will always be the same. That might make some lifes easier.

As for me, I now see myself much clearer on the side of idealism, starting from the infinite relativity of perspectives, out of which my own is in the first place the only acces I have to the universe and other relatives perspectives of it. Every mind is so complex it can hardly understand itself. How would someone else attempt to understand me any better from without? At best, he has just another perspective, one with less information. Concepts, too, are a matter of perspectives, and every mind is creating new definitions through the act of speech. But there cannot be all-encompassing concepts, as they would in themselves be meaningless by having no delimitation, no definition. A concept is something that splits posibilities in two or more, just as I split idealism from materialist determinism.