Film

Congratulations to MacArthur Fellow Wu Tsang

Congratulations to filmmaker and performance artist Wu Tsang on winning a 2018 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. Tsang is the co-author (with Fred Moten) of “Sudden Rise at a Given Tune,” the textual component of an eponymous performance by Tsang and Moten given at the Tate Modern, London on March 25, 2017. The text is featured in our journal South Atlantic Quarterly and is openly available for three months.

Tsang was the writer, director, and editor of—as well as a central character in—the 2012 feature film Wildness, which was reviewed in Transgender Studies Quarterly. Read the article here, where it is openly available for three months. She has also created a number of other films that have been exhibited or screened in many venues around the world.

The MacArthur Foundation praises Tsang for reimagining “racialized, gendered representations beyond the visible frame to encompass the multiple and shifting perspectives through which we experience the social realm.”

Watch a video of Tsang discussing her work:

New Books in October

It’s October and our fall publishing season is in full swing. Check out all the great books coming out this month.

The contributors to The Apartment Complex, edited by Pamela Robertson Wojcik, offer global perspectives on films from a diverse set of genres—from film noir and comedy to horror and musicals—that use apartment living to explore modern urbanism’s various forms and possibilities.

978-1-4780-0130-0In See It Feelingly Ralph James Savarese showcases the voices of autistic readers by sharing their unique insights into literature and their sensory experiences of the world, thereby challenging common claims that people with autism have a limited ability to understand language, to partake in imaginative play, and to generate the complex theory of mind necessary to appreciate literature.

In Channeling the State Naomi Schiller explores how community television in Venezuela created openings for the urban poor to embrace the state as a collective process with the potential for creating positive social change.

978-1-4780-0105-8.jpgJ. Lorand Matory’s The Fetish Revisited casts an Afro-Atlantic eye on European social theory to show how Marx’s and Freud’s conceptions of the fetish illuminate and misrepresent the nature of Africa’s gods while demonstrating that Afro-Atlantic gods have their own social logic that is no less rational than European social theories.

The contributors to the volume Digital Sound Studies, edited by Mary Caton Lingold, Darren Mueller, and Whitney Trettien, explore the transformative potential of digital sound studies to create rich, multisensory experiences within scholarship, building on the work of digital humanists to evaluate and historicize new technologies and forms of knowledge.

Domestication Gone Wild, a collection edited by Heather Anne Swanson, Marianne Elisabeth Lien, and Gro B. Ween, offers a revisionary exploration of domestication as a narrative, ideal, and practice that reveals how our relations with animals and plants are intertwined with the politics of human difference.

978-0-8223-7075-8.jpgIn Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty J. Kēhaulani Kauanui examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law, showing how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming land, gender, and sexual regulation in the early nineteenth century that paved the way for sovereign recognition of the kingdom complicate contemporary nationalist activism, which too often includes disavowing the indigeneity of indigenous Hawaiians.

James N. Green’s Exiles within Exiles is a biography of the Brazilian revolutionary and social activist Herbert Daniel, whose life and political commitment shaped contemporary debates about social justice, gay rights, and HIV/AIDS.

A Primer for Teaching Women, Gender, and Sexuality in World History, by Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks and Urmi Engineer Willoughby, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching women, gender, and sexuality history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate the subject into their world history classes.

978-0-938989-42-4.jpgPop América, 1965-1975, edited by Esther Gabara, is a bilingual, fully illustrated catalogue that accompanies a traveling exhibition of the same name. Pop América, 1965-1975 presents a vision of Pop art across the Americas as a whole. The exhibition appears at the McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio from October 4, 2018 until January 13, 2019 and then moves to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from February 21 to July 21, 2019. It will finally be featured at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University from September 21 to December 8, 2019.

In the still-timely twentieth anniversary edition of Written in Stone—which includes a new preface and an extensive afterword—Sanford Levinson considers the debates and conflicts surrounding controversial monuments to public figures throughout the American South and the world.

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Top Latin American Studies Titles Adopted for Course Use

cuba readerOur Latin American Studies authors are well known for their work in anthropology, art, cultural studies, Caribbean studies, Chicanx and Latinx studies, history, literature, film and media, and politics.

Our Latin American studies e-book collection includes over 500 titles in these subject areas. Many of our journals also cover Latin America. If you’re interested in gaining access to these resources, have your librarian contact our Library Relations team to get more information.

Here are the top 8 Latin American studies titles adopted for course use:

View the title list for the Latin American Studies collection, which features more than 500 e-books.

Black Fashion

Nka_37_00_CoverIn the most recent issue of Nka entitled “Black fashion: Art. Pleasure. Politics.,” special issue editor Noliwe Rooks argues that black fashion is a key, though underexplored, facet of black history, culture, and identity in the African diaspora. Contributors to the issue include academics, artists, journalists and writers, and a filmmaker. From the introduction: “While it is not an encyclopedic compilation of thinking about race, art, politics, or fashion, each contribution functions as an individual lens, so to speak, capturing crucial snapshots of particular moments, figures, and events that are central to understanding the whole. Taken together, the texts in this volume explore various definitions and meanings of black fashion as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, politics, power, and class.”

Included in this issue are articles on topics such as Josephine Baker and skin fashion, a conversation with Anthony Barboza and Bill Gaskins, Janelle Monáe and fashion as art, fashion and black masculinity, the “afro look,” and #TeamNatural, examining the relationship between black hair and community in digital media. Read the introduction, made freely available, and browse the table-of-contents to learn more about this special issue of Nka.

Lewis cover image, 5934-0If you are looking for further reading that explores the intersection of fashion with race, politics, and class, consider Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures by Reina Lewis. In the shops of London’s Oxford Street, girls wear patterned scarves over their hair as they cluster around makeup counters. Alongside them, hip twenty-somethings style their head-wraps in high black topknots to match their black boot-cut trousers. Participating in the world of popular mainstream fashion—often thought to be the domain of the West—these young Muslim women are part of an emergent cross-faith transnational youth subculture of modest fashion. In treating hijab and other forms of modest clothing as fashion, Reina Lewis counters the overuse of images of veiled women as “evidence” in the prevalent suggestion that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with Western modernity. Muslim Fashion contextualizes modest wardrobe styling within Islamic and global consumer cultures, interviewing key players including designers, bloggers, shoppers, store clerks, and shop owners. Focusing on Britain, North America, and Turkey, Lewis provides insights into the ways young Muslim women use multiple fashion systems to negotiate religion, identity, and ethnicity.

Pham cover image, 6030-8In Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging the first ever book devoted to a critical investigation of the personal style blogosphere, Minh-Ha T. Pham examines the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the Internet. Pham understands their online activities as “taste work” practices that generate myriad forms of capital for superbloggers and the brands they feature. A multifaceted and detailed analysis, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet addresses questions concerning the status and meaning of “Asian taste” in the early twenty-first century, the kinds of cultural and economic work Asian tastes do, and the fashion public and industry’s appetite for certain kinds of racialized eliteness. Situating blogging within the historical context of gendered and racialized fashion work while being attentive to the broader cultural, technological, and economic shifts in global consumer capitalism, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet has profound implications for understanding the changing and enduring dynamics of race, gender, and class in shaping some of the most popular work practices and spaces of the digital fashion media economy.

978-0-8223-4603-6Monica L. Miller’s Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora.

Crowston cover image, 5528-1Continuing in this historical vein, Credit, Fashion, Sex: Economies of Regard in Old Regime France by Clare Haru Crowston examines the concept of credit and fashion in Old Regime France. At that time in France, credit was both a central part of economic exchange and a crucial concept for explaining dynamics of influence and power in all spheres of life. Contemporaries used the term credit to describe reputation and the currency it provided in court politics, literary production, religion, and commerce. Moving beyond Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of capital, this book establishes credit as a key matrix through which French men and women perceived their world. As Crowston demonstrates, credit unveils the personal character of market transactions, the unequal yet reciprocal ties binding society, and the hidden mechanisms of political power.

Allison McCracken on Sinatra and the Romantic Crooner Persona

AllisonMcCrackenDecember 12 is the centennial of Frank Sinatra’s birth. In Ol’ Blue Eyes’s honor, we offer a guest post by Allison McCracken, author of Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture. McCracken is Associate Professor of American Studies at DePaul University.

 

Frank Sinatra: “Why do you run after girls all the time?”

Gene Kelly: “I’ll tell you when your voice changes, Junior.”

–MGM’s On The Town, 1950

McCracken cover image, 5936-4In my book Real Men Don’t Sing, I detail the birth of the first American romantic crooning idol in 1929, Rudy Vallée, whose stardom established the affective structures and behavior we still associate with pop idols (the devoted microphoned lover, the swooning female crowds), and whose popularity provoked the cultural backlash that established the reception framework for  every pop idol to follow: his commercial success and influence had to be contained through his artistic devaluation, the ridicule of his “hysterical” female audiences, and his perceived emasculation. During these early years of pop music, the 1930s and 1940s, only romantic crooner Bing Crosby attained sufficient masculine bona fides to ensure a long and respectable pop singing career, which he did through diversifying his singing portfolio, embracing normative family life and religious affiliation, and projecting a “cool” attitude that largely erased the romantic crooner’s emotional vulnerability and sensitivity.

Part of the reason Crosby was unrivaled as “America’s Crooner” for so long was that no one else could successfully combine current codes of masculinity with a crooning voice. From the late 1930s well through the early 1960s, young men who sang romantic songs to women in films or pop music were almost always constructed as arrested, earnest, sexless, often simple-minded young men (Dick Haymes, Eddie Fisher, Frankie Avalon) who would presumably grow out of their childish crooning phase. In the meantime, their daydreaming and their music were jokes readily available for commercial exploitation but never to be taken seriously, and their audiences were constructed as entirely female, young, and mindless.

23-gene-kelly-theredlistSinatra is the most obvious case in point. As the above exchange between Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra suggests, a crooner needed to wait until “his voice changed” before he could attain adult masculinity, which is defined in that film (and others) as the desire to aggressively “chase after” women – as Kelly does — rather than passively adore them. Sinatra’s immature, asexual early crooner is most conspicuous in his MGM films with Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh (directed by George Sidney, 1945), Take Me Out to The Ballgame (directed by Busby Berkely, 1949), and On the Town (directed by Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly, 1950).  The fact that Sinatra could be portrayed as an unsuitable mate because of his immaturity at the very moment in which he was the “swooner crooner” idol of millions of adoring young women is evidence of how well established these conventions had become by the mid-late 1940s. Notably, he is paired in the latter two films with comedian Betty Garrett, who avidly pursues him. Garrett’s character functions as a comment on the inappropriate sexual assertiveness and gender deviance of the swooner-crooner fan.

swooner_crooner_by_lanilioness-d4l4xdy.jpgOne of the best examples of the cultural distinction between the young romantic crooner Sinatra, and the fully, appropriately masculine crooner Bing Crosby is the brilliant animated cartoon Swooner Crooner, directed by Frank Tashlin. In this cartoon, crooning fans are portrayed as hens who need to produce eggs for the war effort. The hens are so besotted with Sinatra’s voice that they leave their workplaces to follow his voice, swooning in pleasure. The despairing farmer, Porky Pig, auditions several singers to try and lure the hens back to work, but only Bing Crosby can get them to return to the nest and do their domestic duty. The Sinatra crooner and his fans fit the crooner paradigm of social deviance (vulnerable masculinity, feminine aggression and self-pleasure), while Crosby’s masculine normativity lures women back to their assigned feminine roles as social subordinates and domestic producers. Ultimately, the short ends as Sinatra joins Crosby and egg production soars.

Like Crosby, however, Sinatra would eventually be able to attain “adult” masculinity, but only by winning over straight men in the 1950s. In order to artistically legitimize his sensitive, emotionally raw performances, he drew on method acting discourses of the time (associated with James Dean and Marlon Brando) and “authentic” Italian bel canto art singing; he also worked with respected musicians and arrangers. At the same time, his persona changed to reflect hyper-masculine behavior: womanizing, drinking, gambling, and possible mafia ties. Like Crosby, Sinatra needed to prove his adherence to 1950s standards of cultural legitimacy and white masculinity to ensure career longevity as a romantic singer.

To order Allison McCracken’s Real Men Don’t Sing at a 30% discount, enter coupon code E15MCCRA at checkout.

 

100 Years of The Birth of a Nation, or, The Persistence of Cinematic Resistance

The film The Birth of a Nation premiered in Los Angeles on February 8, 1915. In this guest post, Allyson Nadia Field, author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity (June 2015) considers its legacy.

birth of a nation posterOn the centennial of D.W. Griffith’s epic film The Birth of a Nation, two things are striking—how egregious the film’s racism is and how its racism resonates a hundred years later. The first blockbuster of American cinema has long been a flashpoint for film scholars who have recognized the aesthetic, industrial and cultural significance of the film while lamenting its portrayal of African Americans. Some have argued that the fact that its technical mastery is in the service of the subjugation of a people indicates the inseparability of the film’s content from its form. The film then serves as an object lesson in film form and ideology—a reminder that the very language of cinema, as it would develop into a codified practice in the ensuing years, is deeply imbricated in exclusionary politics, racial slander, and the worst kind of fear mongering.

Yet The Birth of a Nation resonates today in the most insidious ways. The film’s portrayal of African Americans (both in blackface and with Black actors) and its imagination of Black excesses, violence, sexual predatory behavior, and the justified white response of violence, voter intimidation, and forceful assertion of supremacy are all prevalent in our society and today’s media landscape. A hundred years later, they might have (slightly) different iterations, but they are ever present. And visual media are just as central to the way the nation understands itself, its citizens, and its sense of self-definition. Sadly, The Birth of a Nation has as much to teach us about our own time as it does about the racial paranoia of 1915.

Depressing, to be sure. However, there’s a story of resistance that parallels this haunting legacy of The Birth of a Nation.

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux

From its first appearance in February 1915, The Birth of a Nation catalyzed mobilized responses from African American groups and their allies. The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, Oscar Micheaux, and other Black filmmaking enterprises refuted the claims of The Birth of a Nation through filmic counterimages aimed at Black audiences. These efforts were not just on the level of image but represented a rethinking of film form.  As such, Race cinema can be understood as an oppositional cinema.  Yet, prior to these early Black filmmaking ventures—and even prior to The Birth of a Nation—African American filmmakers and institutions mobilized motion picture technology in the service of the uplift of Black citizens in innovative and creative ways. The Birth of a Nation might have brought the issue of the (mis)representation of African Americans to the national stage, but Black filmmakers had long been attuned to the power of the cinema to perpetuate—and challenge—racism. Black filmmaking entrepreneurs like George Broome (Boston), William Foster (Chicago), and Hunter Haynes (New York) used film as a tool of African American self-representation, resistance to the pervasive and demeaning media portrayals of Black people, and for the social, economic, and political uplift of the race. (This is the subject of Uplift Cinema).

If visual culture and the media at large perpetuated a dehumanizing image of Black people in the early 20th century, the message from African Americans then, as now, was a resounding “Black Lives Matter!” The incongruence between how they mattered in screen representations like those of The Birth of a Nation and through the lens of African American filmmakers would become a central concern of Black filmmakers, audiences, and scholars of Black cinema for a century to come. A historical epic, The Birth of a Nation cannot be relegated to history as long as the issues it portrays, the rhetoric it employs, and the ideology it espouses continue to resonate in 2015 with the shrill determination of the most pernicious of national myths. The voices of resistance to this representational hegemony might not have the platform of the blockbuster, but their persistence marks a century of struggle over image, form, and narrative that has continued to meet the challenges posed by a mass media representationally hostile to African Americans.

Allyson Nadia Field is Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

New Books in February

It’s hard to believe how fast January flew by, and February’s already here! We have a lot of great new books coming out this month, on a variety of subjects. Check them out below!

Okeke Agulu cover image, 5746-9Written by one of the foremost scholars of African art, Chika Okeke-Agulu, and featuring more than 125 color images, Postcolonial Modernism chronicles the emergence of artistic modernism in Nigeria in the heady years surrounding political independence in 1960.

Recycled Stars, by Mary R. Desjardins, considers the how female stars’ images and persona acquire multiple meanings as they circulate across media. Focusing on the rise of television and gossip magazines in the 1950s, and on stars like Lucille Ball and Gloria Swanson, the book explores the play between familiarity and novelty that new media use to appeal to audiences.

Thompson cover image, 5807-7In Shine, art historian Krista Thompson analyzes photographic practices in the Caribbean and the United States to show how African diasporic youth use the process of creating images to represent themselves in the public sphere and to communicate with other Afro-diasporic communities.

Hagar Kotef’s book, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces.

In The Color of Modernity, Barbara Weinstein focuses on race, gender, and regionalism in the formation of national identities in Brazil.

Zhang cover image, 5856-5The Impotence Epidemic, by Everett Yuehong Zhang, is an ethnography of impotence as a medical and social phenomenon, in which the author argues that the recent increase in Chinese men seeking treatment for impotence represents a shift in changing sexual attitudes in capitalist China.

In Loneliness and Its Opposite, Don Kulick and Jens Rydström argue that for people with disabilities, being able to explore their sexuality is an issue of fundamental social justice. The authors analyze how Sweden and Denmark engage with the sexuality of people with disabilities; whereas Sweden hinders sexuality, Denmark supports it through the work of third-party sexual helpers.

 

 

Duke Authors on the Movie Selma

The highly-praised movie Selma opens in wide release today. Already nominated for 4 Golden Globes and numerous other awards, most people also expect it to be nominated for an Oscar. The movie has been universally praised for its acting and for finally bringing a biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the public. But what about the history in the movie?

Bending Toward JusticeGary May, author of Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (new in paper this month), thinks director Ava DuVernay could have been truer to the historical record. Writing in The Daily Beast, May says he admires DuVernay’s casting choices and her decision to feature many civil rights activists whose contributions have mostly gone unrecognized in film in the past. But he believes she could have gone much further in highlighting the work of ordinary Selma residents. He also criticizes the movie for a number of historical errors, in particular her omission of what lead King to stop halfway onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge and kneel to pray, rather than continuing across the bridge. In the New York Times, May weighed in about the portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in the film, saying he was unsurprised by the heated discussions taking place. “’Here you have the first film about King, and some people are coming in and saying, ‘The story is really about the white people,’ he said. “In historical truth, the story was really about everybody.”

Sites of SlaverySalamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post–Civil Rights Imagination praises Selma for overcoming the obstacles that have kept most big screen portrayals of Martin Luther King Jr. from ever being produced. Both opposition from the King family and Hollywood’s frequent unwillingness to feature black characters as the center of stories have kept King’s story from the screen. Writing in Time, Tillet says, “Contrastingly, DuVernay’s Selma not only redirects our attention to the myriad of African Americans – organizers, students, and everyday citizens – who pushed the demands of the Civil Rights movement, but in the process, rescues King from the tomb of American memory.”

Thanks to our authors for making us think more deeply about popular culture!

Linda Williams on The Wire

In today’s guest post, Linda Williams, Professor of Film Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, writes about why she loves the HBO series The Wire. Her new book is On The Wire, the latest installment in our Spin Offs series.

WilliamsCoverSmallIn the fall of 2007, I was laid up in bed. For the first time in my life since childhood I had time to watch television. A friend had brought me an inspired gift: bootlegs of the first three seasons of The Wire. I proceeded to watch an episode each evening until I ran out. As soon as I could I purchased the last two seasons and continued to steadily feed a growing habit. The series ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008, but ran in a more concentrated time on my bedroom TV from 2007 to 2008. By the time I finished watching I was more than a fan, I was a convert. The project of my book, On The Wire, has been to understand to what I had been converted.

Through the microcosm of one decaying American city, The Wire reveals the interconnected truths of many institutional failures: a rampant drug trade that police cannot curtail, the devaluation of work measured in declining unions, a cynical city government that raises and then crushes the hope of reform, the poignant waste of schools and the failure of education and, finally, a media that cannot report on the truth of any of the above, let alone see the connections among them, although The Wire itself does. The series digs deeply into character without making private virtue or evil the final cause of narrative outcomes, thus putting an unusual spin on melodramatic conventions. I have never seen anything so absorbing, so complex, so simultaneously challenging and gratifying coming from either the big or little screen.

Subtle nuances of race, class and language are made possible by a locale in which blacks are the majority of the citizens, yet fixing things is not a matter of simply electing more black politicians. The usual racial melodramas of black vs. white are thus not the crude affairs they have tended to be in most movies and television. Race, for example, cannot be reduced to a problem of “racism.” It is inseparable from class, the plague of drugs, the decline of work and the failures of government, education and media. Nevertheless, the series tantalizingly holds out the hope of change, the hope of a better social justice. Indeed, it is simultaneously animated by the quest for this justice and deeply cynical about its achievement. A profound understanding of education both in and out of school makes learning, as it should be, the key to change while a distinctive rootedness in the specific locality of Baltimore gives the series a social solidity lacking in any other work on television.

Journalist Joe Klein claims in the DVD features on the final episode that “The Wire should win the Nobel Prize for literature!” Simon himself calls the work a “visual novel” (though sometimes also a Greek tragedy). Literary critics, such as Walter Benn Michaels, have followed suit. In a lament about the failure of the American novel to tell stories that matter to the neoliberal present, Michaels has claimed that The Wire is the “most serious and ambitious fictional narrative of the twenty-first century.” Sociologists Anmol Chaddha and William Julius Wilson also see the series as literature, arguing that it “is part of a long line of literary works that are often able to capture the complexity of urban life in ways that have eluded many social scientists.”
The series has the ability, like Dickens, Wright, Zola and Dreiser, to give dramatic resonance to a wide range of interconnected social strata, and the different behaviors and speech of these strata over broad swaths of world and time. Yet at the same time it seems feeble to describe The Wire as our greatest novel (never written), or, as Fredric Jameson does, to extol its “refusal to be ‘realist’ in the traditional mimetic and replicative sense.” Like the comparison to Greek tragedy, much of this praise borrows a literary prestige that corresponds to the series’ excellence but not closely enough to its actual serial television cultural form. Instead, I argue that we should attend to how The Wire grew and what it grew out of—first as a form of journalism, then out of the conventional melodrama of crime genre. In seeking to articulate what is so exceptional about The Wire, I believe it is first necessary to appreciate what is conventional about it: seriality, televisuality and melodrama.

The Inconsolable, Insoluble Memory of Alain Resnais (June 3, 1922 – March 1, 2014)

978-0-8223-5271-6_prA guest post by Carol Mavor, author of Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil and Hiroshima mon amour (2012).

 

Alain Resnais has died, has vanished from the earth. The French filmmaker is known for his documentaries (including his 1955 Night and Fog on Nazi concentration camps) and feature films (including his 1959 Hiroshima mon amour, a film about making a film about Hiroshima, which is also a love story).  Resnais has died on the heels of his friend and sometimes film collaborator Chris Marker (July 29, 1921-July 30, 2012). Resnias's documentary film All the Memory of the World (1956), which turns the pages of memory as collected in the Bibliothèque Nationale, received assistance from Marker. All the Memory of the World follows a book, like the life of a man, like the telling of a story, from A to B: from its arrival at the great library, to its imprisonment on the shelf, to its release when checked out.

Resnais received a movie camera from his parents for his twelfth birthday and discovered Marcel Proust when he was fourteen: with these tools in hand, he would spend a lifetime making work on not forgetting. What does it mean to forget? As Harald Weinrich has written in his fine Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting (1997): "The verb 'forget' is composed of the verb 'get' and the prefix 'for'. The prefix converts the movement toward implicit in 'get' into a movement away, so that one might paraphrase the meaning of 'forget' as 'to get rid (of something)."

Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour (with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras) is a devastatingly beautiful film of skin, pleasure, pain and never forgetting. As I write in Black and Blue:

The opening scene of Hiroshima mon amour is a scene of skin as both pleasure and pain. As Goethe writes of Pompeii in his Italian Journey:  “There have been many disasters in this world, but few which have given so much delight to posterity, and I have seldom seen anything so interest opening, which, when watched, has the curious effect of slowness. Hiroshima mon amour is a double circle, taking place over a period of twenty- four hours: it is the clock going round to twelve o’clock once, and then round again to twelve o’clock one more time. The film moves round and round through one day and one night. As Jacques Rivette has noted: “At the end of the last reel you can easily move back to the first, and so on . . . It is an idea of the infinite but contained within a very short interval, since ultimately the ‘time’ of Hiroshima can just as well last twenty- four hours as one second." Hiroshima mon amour is ostensibly the story of a love affair between a Japanese architect (or engineer), who lives in Hiroshima, and a French actress, who lives in Nevers, France. The actress has come to Hiroshima to star in a film about peace. (Just as Proust’s Recherche is a novel about writing a novel, Hiroshima mon amour is a film about making a film.) Never do we get the Japanese architect’s actual name. Never do we get the French actress’s actual name. He is just lui from Hiroshima. She is just elle from Nevers. “The time is summer, 1957—August.” Resnais chose the setting of Nevers because he liked the sound of the name, which, of course, has a special, if foreboding, resonance in English. (Black and Blue, pages 117-118)

 

Fig_67

Fig_68

places for the fingers and eyes to slip into, as if the body were nothing more, nothing less, than a lavishly photographed, sexual/erotic bell pepper, seashell, cabbage, artichoke, or mushroom

I will never forget Resnais. I have an inconsolable memory of Resnais. My memory is circular, refuses to go from A to B, will not be imprisoned or checked out. My memory of Resnais remains insoluble, untouched by Lethe: the twisting stream of forgetfulness.  My memory is as round and as warm and as insoluble as the marble, hot with summer, that rolls into the dark cellar that imprisons the captured woman (ELLE), who comes from Nevers (France). 

In Gaston Bachelard’s famed work The Poetics of Space, we learn that “images of full roundness help us to collect ourselves, permit us to confer an initial constitution on ourselves, and to confirm our being intimately inside . . . being cannot be otherwise than round.” It is the earth, the pregnant belly, the nest, the pupil of the eye, the open mouth, the circle of time. In a round cry of the round, Bachelard echoes that roundness is “like a walnut that becomes round in its shell.” The marble, then, in the hands and eyes of Bachelard’s poetics, becomes the image of life itself. As Duras writes about the marble in Hiroshima mon amour: “So much roundness, so much perfection, posed an insoluble problem.” The marble rolls on. The marble resists. It carries summer past, present, and future. (Black and Blue, pages 131-132)

Fig_75

Her head mirrors the heads of those left bald by the bomb's atomic radiation, the shaven heads of concentration camps, the smooth head of Joan of Arc (who is from a town not far from Nevers): mirroring the world, the marble, the circularity of the non-linear story of Hiroshima mon amour