Sunday, October 31, 2010

Look.... Look... Look

I have said before, I rather dread October in the blog world - a solid month of horror film posts - blah... It's not that I don't like horror films, I think it might be a certain generic resentment - you don't see whole months devoted to melodramas do you? westerns, screwball comedies, the color blue? I suspect if you did, if ever February were given over the romantic comedies, say, I would soon get tired of that, too... I start here with ritual condemnation because this complaint is particularly disingenuous this year. I am positively steeped in horror related art just now. There is that vampire class - so it's a book and a movie a week about vampires. (Though we seem to have left the horror section behind - doesn't seem to be a lot of horror left by the time you get to Anita Blake or Dead Witch Walking - they seem a lot more Stan Lee than Bram Stoker.) And that aside, I keep watching horror films, and thinking about horror films when I'm watching other kinds. Did I mention that Mark Zuckerberg sometimes seems like a vampire? Who wouldn't think about vampires watching Inside Job? Or Carlos?

Though more directly - I'm certainly attentive to the overlap between vampire stories and other kinds of horror films. Questions of sympathy - watching vampire films and books pick up on the idea of the tragic monster. It's interesting that of the wave of horror classics in the early 30s, at Universal mainly, but elsewhere too, Dracula is probably the least sympathetic to its monster - Dracula is a monster, with some charm, perhaps, but not much in the way of pathos. Compare him to Frankenstein's monster - to the Mummy, or the Invisible Man - or to other studio's horror characters, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They all have their reasons - they are all, in some sense, driven to their evil, and we are made to feel the loss when they go wrong. (And in a couple of them, we are brought very close to seeing them as not evil in the least.) In Dracula, we get that with Renfield - though he's a secondary character - not so much the Count himself. But from the first sequel, it's there, even more overtly than in some of the others - Dracula's Daughter is a sympathetic, self-reflective, guilt ridden vampire who fights her legacy, her nature, her evil nature, her needs. It is a very sad film, full of ironies that you can't quite ignore - the way she keeps begging people for help and no one understands her, no one is willing to help her, and when, inevitably, she acts - they carry on like she has been a demon from hell. This is, in fact, something of a trademark for at least one strand of horror films - it obviously goes back to literary sources, Dr. Faustus or Dr. Jekyll, good men who found that evil was present with them, any number of doppelganger stories and temptation stories and stories of overreaching or too late repentance...

It's interesting in those 30s films. First - those early films seem to have been made for two sets of eyes - like there are two films in one. I mean - most of them are, on the surface, straightforward horror films, with ugly, horrible monsters, doing terrible things to pretty innocents (or not so innocents, but still pretty.) And since films, in those days, played, and then went away, never to be seen again (at least until Henri Langlois came along), this is how they were remembered. But when you see them over and over - you notices how much sympathy most of them show their monsters. Now - after decades of availability on video, DVD, etc. - this probably doesn't come as much of a surprise. But they were always made that way, weren't they? For two audiences - the one that saw them once and twice for the thrills - and the devotees, who would see them over and over and absorb as much of them as they could... And there's another element to this - the more you see these films, the more you notice the complexity of their morality. A film like Bride of Frankenstein (probably the best of the bunch) functions almost as a straightforward bildungsroman - but because the hero is a monster, the film has a surprising amount of leeway in his morality. The monsters have the ability to act out desires that the Hays code forbade - since they are monsters, they will get what's coming to them in the end - but along the way, they can act far more naturally than regular characters could, and the filmmakers usually gave us a chance to sympathize with them. At least, for those who came back, who watched them carefully, for something more than shocks and thrills.

Anyway - these days, films are a lot more free to spell things out. And back in the day, there were films that laid out what they were doing pretty clearly. For example, the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I am ashamed to admit it, but I had not seen it until this week - needless to say, it was a revelation. The theme - the good man who does evil - is explicit of course; so is the sense of a more complex view of morality and humanity than the Hays code could handle. It's rather shocking what the film does get away with - not just the strip teases and brutality, but a pretty direct statement of Victorian hypocrisy - poor Dr. Jekyll, saintly and brilliant as he is, is going half mad from lust - he begs to be able to marry his sweetheart NOW, but her father refuses - and he, like many a good Victorian gentleman before him, turns to drugs and whores. (More or less at the urging of his respectable pal, too.) The results are all too predictable. It's interesting that this is, in a way, a reversal of the central moral issue of Dracula - there, it's the horrors of female sexuality - here, it's the horrors of male sexuality. Both the horrors that come from acting on it, and those that come from its repression. It's an exaggerated enactment of the classic Victorian hypocrisy.

Though what really gets me about this film is what a a magnificent piece of filmmaking it is. Gorgeous, and endlessly clever - look at that shot of Jekyll (post-Hyde) and his pal, under the picture of the old Queen... paintings, statues, decor are used throughout to similar effect. Rouben Mamoulian was, I won't deny it, as flashy and thrilling a director as any of his peers - and he had some very impressive peers ca. 1931 (Capra, Lang, Sternberg, Lubitsch, Renoir, etc.) He is as skillful as any of them - and probably flashier than most. This film is really a dazzling display - relentless moving camera, sophisticated sound, brilliant and showy editing, state of the art special effects, superb sense of composition, staging, set design, you name it. There's not much like it in Hollywood at the time - with its 180 degree cuts and innovative wipes and dissolves (he loves holding a transition in the middle - wipes (as below), dissolves (Ivy's swinging leg chasing Jekyll and Lanyon through London)).... It's as showy and strange as a Japanese film of the period....

Though I'll end with another general comment on horror films, especially in the 30s - this is one of their other hallmarks. They held onto a lot of the aesthetics of art films, especially German art films, longer than most of Hollywood, and further down the food chain, if you will. A fairly uninspiring production like the Murders of the Rue Morgue still looks great (see below). And at the high end, Dr. Jekyll, or the Whale horror films, they were as good as anything of the time, and worthy successors to the work of Murnau and Lang and company in the 20s.

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Series

With the local 9 on the links already (the ones who aren't still in rehab, which cuts the numbers down a bit), I haven't been all that devoted to the playoffs so far. But they have gone very interestingly, I will admit. I am not all that surprised to see Texas in the World Series, even thought hey had the worst record in the post-season, only a game ahead of the Red Sox. They are the classic case of a team that got out to a big lead and was able to coast home - in their case, with their best player hurt for the last month or so. So where teams in tight races have to scramble to win, or would get knocked out losing someone like Hamilton (as for instance, the local 9, post-Pedroia and Youk), Texas got into the post-season with a mediocre record, but - with Hamilton playing - a much better team than their record. Teams like that are dangerous. As for the Giants - I'm not so much surprised at their success as I am at the Phillies' failures - who do they think they are, the Braves?

But there you have it - a team in the series for the first time ever - a team that last won in 1954. There's plenty of history, then - though I imagine the TV people are weeping in their beers for missing the Yankees and Phillies again. Well - that would be a series I would avoid. This one - if they started the games at a reasonable hour, I might watch a couple of them! I like the Rangers, in general at least - and I like the Giants, though not so much now as in the Bonds days. (I wish old Barry were around now - if just to piss off the forces of righteousness.) I am inclined to root for the Rangers - and inclined to think they will win, since they have more pop, and Cliff Lee seems to be the money pitchers among money pitchers these days - but would be neither surprised or disappointed to see the Giants win.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Social Network

It's been another week since my last post - sorry about that. One of the problems with this schedule is when I do write about films, I do it after I have been reading about them on the web, blogs, the media, etc. for a week or more - when there is a lot of conversation about a film, sometimes the discourse around the film can start to seem more compelling that the film. The Social Network has been out a couple weeks now, and sparked lots of discussion, on film blogs, beyond film blogs, and it's been too interesting to ignore. It's a fine film, I should say up from - 12/15 in my little rating system - but I find myself thinking about all kinds of things, beyond the film itself....

Like - how is Facebook different than MySpace or Friendster? I never used Friendster, so I can't answer that part - I poked at MySPace, so I have some ideas there. MySpace was an ugly affair - too easy for people to doll it up with color and music and blinking text - Christ, it's the internet ca. 1997. (Ah - how is Facebook different than AOL? ca 1996 - I mean - there are all kinds of blandly factual answers to that one, but the fact is - somewhere in the mid-90s, AOL took off with much of the force that Facebook has the last 2-3 years. Enough to allow it to screw around with Time Warner before they were done. One might see the future of Facebook there - an unstoppable force! that in a year or two will be replaced by something else, which is not so much a replacement as a refinement.... Anyway - to go back a question or two - the tautological answer to how is Facebook different from MySpace or Friendster is that everyone I know who is online is on Facebook. (As one of my cousins said on the site itself - "I have an account on Facebook, I didn't on those sites.") It pushes the question along a step - why are so many people, from old hands at this internet thing (I got Prodigy and AOL in 1990, myself - well after a lot of people I know) to utter newbies, young and old. I have aunts on Facebook, the parents of friends - if my mother had been well the past few years, she might well have ended up using it. How did that happen? I've always been a bit skeptical of Facebook, but the fact (especially compared to other social networking sites) is that it is better designed, more elegant, simpler to use and navigate, more secure (you don't get the malware threats you heard about with MySpace all the time) - and also, more expandable, more flexible, better integrated with the rest of the web. It's surprising to think about it this way, but in the end, it's simplicity and elegance might be the real answer to its success.

All right then - the next question is - how would you make a film about elegant design? For that matter - how do you make a film about privacy settings? I could probably answer the second, something about some poor devil's life ruined by internet identity thieves - but that's not really the problem with Facebook's attitude toward privacy. Facebook's privacy issues are more intimate and pervasive, usually not so dramatic, more a question of what happens when your coworkers find out your opinion of Sarah Palin than when some hacker gets your social security number. And I suspect this difficulty is partly why The Social Network doesn't latch onto privacy as its main concern, but does latch on to misogyny. It's easier to show. It may even be true, to some extent (though not necessarily) - and you won't have any trouble getting audiences to accept it - everyone knows computer guys are asocial nerds who resent the jocks who get the girls, especially at Harvard, where nothing has changed since 1636 (or 1638)....

Perhaps I exaggerate. In fact, the film is perfectly believable on most of these things - maybe not "true" but certainly something like the truth (and since it's fiction, that works.) It is a film about college kids, after all - college kids certainly act up, even at Harvard. And complaints about the women in The Social Network being prizes understate the ways that everyone in the film is a prize or an obstacle, or at least, in some way, found wanting. Eduardo is out of date before he starts.... the Winklevii are inbred rich monsters with dull ideas and a clever friend... Sean Parker is an aging teen band star, trying to stay cool (and every bit as much a prize as any of the women, really).... Larry Summers is a clown, former secretary of the treasury who doesn't recognize the value of Facebook when someone lays it in his lap... the attorneys are attorneys, the girlfriends are all crazy except the One Who Got Away. Only Zuckerberg is above it all - and claims to the contrary in and out of the film, he is not so much a nerd or an asshole as he is smarter than everyone else, a visionary, who tries them all and finds them all wanting. Though of course Sorkin betrays him in the end - that final scene, while certainly admirable from a structural perspective (echoing the opening scene, a woman walking away from Zuckerberg with a variation on the same line), is completely false, a complete cliche, overwritten and pat. Sorkin wants his cake and to eat it too - to marvel at genius in all its amoral wonders, and to click his tongue...

All right - that's what I mean about the discourse overcoming the film. The film itself is a thing of beauty. It does have issues - almost all of them from the script, I'd say. Given the script, what Fincher does with it is remarkable. The film is fast moving and slick, yet always clear, what is going on, who is saying and doing what, the performances tight and exciting, the words and visuals all made to pop out at you. I'll refer you to Jim Emerson for more comment on the filmmaking - I particularly like his remark about how Zuckerberg is "out-of-synch with his physical environment." It's true - Zuckerberg is consistently pulled out of his environment, consistently separated from the people around him - physically as well as emotionally, socially, intellectually. (Physical isolation standing in for the inner states. Expressionism lives!) The phenomenon extends to the partying, too - there is lots of it around him, but other than a couple scenes where he is drunk, Zuckerberg is apart from it, watching - thinking...) It's a superbly made film. There was a time when David Fincher's films drove me mad - he had obvious chops, but they were so inane, his talent in the service of such obvious claptrap (I mean, Fight Club, in particular.) But now, I am convinced - he has become something extraordinary. He benefits, as he usually does, from superb work by the actors. All the principals are wonderful - Eisenberg completely sells this portrayal of Zuckerberg - he plays intelligence as well as anyone, especially slightly dishonest intelligence... And the others - Garfield, Hammer, Timberlake - more than hold their own. Yes - a treat.

Though I can't let go of the script - and maybe, just maybe - the overall conception of the film. It is striking - going back to Emerson, talking about the credit sequence, and Zuckerberg's alienation from his environment - it is worth noting that the film has cut Somerville (and residential Cambridge) out of the picture. The Thirsty Scholar (which is clearly seen and named in the film) is a mile away from Harvard Square (and nowhere near BU - Zuckerberg really blew it there, that girl must have really liked him, to go all the way to Inman Square - nowhere near the subway and on the opposite side of Cambridge from BU - for a drink with him), but that mile disappears. I tend to think the film (Sorkin?) is a bit too enamored with Harvard - impressed by the fact that this was a Harvard kid - not another MIT or Stanford nerd - inventing Facebook. (Or Northeastern - that's where Shawn Fanning invented Napster.) So we get constant reminders that it's Harvard, 370 years of History... which I'm not sure is really there, except when they're giving tours. (Which rather undermines the Final Club initiation scene - every tourist and prospective student who goes through there knows that's the Statue of Three Lies.) I don't know if this is Sorkin, or maybe Saverin (who seems to be the source for the book it was based on) - either way, it feels a bit off. Especially when taken as being about Zuckerberg - it makes it seem to be more about Saverin, or Sorkin....

Anyway - it is a fine film - it is not history, but over time, I'd guess its worth as a film will take precedence over the historical questions.

Friday, October 08, 2010

September Films Roundup

Here are a month of films seen in the theater (less A Film Unfinished, which I couldn't stop writing about in a paragraph...)

Room in Rome (9/15) - latest film from Julio Medem, who I really like, and don't quite understand why he doesn't have a bigger following, and better distribution. Though this is not the film to see to make the case for that praise. It is a chamber piece - literally - the title is accurate - a room in Rome - one of those films, 2 people in a room, talking, etc.... Here, the people are two women, a Spaniard and a Russian, both due to fly home the next day - they have met and had a couple drinks and the film starts with the Spanish woman begging the Russian to come up to her room, for obvious reasons... we se this from above, from the window, it turns out - they pull in opposite directions for a while, then they come up to the room.... And - what? talk, flirt, the Russian undresses, then the Spaniard, they start making out, but the Spanish woman falls asleep and the Russian leaves - except she's left her phone. She comes back and they talk some more and, etc. They fuck. Then they start talking - telling tales - and here, we move into Medem's territory, as they tell rather tall tales - a sex slave in Saudi Arabia? a tennis star? movie actress? renaissance scholar? all this plays off the decor, big paintings or Greece and Rome, and Cupid... the stories get deeper, maybe more true or at least more believable, and maybe they fall in love. That's what generally happens in these films. As it happens, the women stay naked through most of the film, have sex what? 1, 2, 3, 4 times? send mixed messages to the waiter, spy on one another on Bing, and such - in the end? they don't want to stop, but... end up on the street, pulling apart like at the beginning... I don't know. It almost gets past the mix of soft-core soap opera and Richard Linklater it threatens to be, but not quite.... Still - Medem is too good not to keep things intereting.

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (10/15) - an odd project, Zhang Yimou remaking Blood Simple - though played more like Raising Arizona, to be honest - a cartoon version of the blood simple story. Slight, but effective - a very simple story, an old tyrant with a pretty feisty young wife who has a weakling lover, a pair of clowns (a bucktoothed noodle maker and his peasant girl co-worker), and one outsider - a cold eyed cop... The woman buys a gun, the cop reveals her adultury and the tyrant hires him to kill them - as in the Coen's film, he doesn't - he is after the big score, and kills the boss and tries to rob the safe - but he can't open it - and keeps getting interrupted when he tries. Meanwhile the lover finds the boss' body and buries him, though I'm sure everyone has seen Blood SImple by now... It plays out fast and efficiently, returning now and again to the Coen brothers for scenes straight from their film - though not all is like that. Overall, though it is a somewhat pointless seeming film (rather like the Coen Brothers' remake of the Lady Killers - amusing enough on its own, but why bother?), but very easy to look at - strange and fantastic looking, Zhang's usual hyperbolic aestheticization in full flower...

Catfish (10/15) - possibly a documentary. The story - a photographer in NYC gets email from a kid in Michigan who has painted one of his photographs. Soon he is corresponding with her, mostly on facebook, though some real world stuff - shipping packages of paintings, etc. Through the kid, he starts communicating with her family - mother, and sister, who turns out to be 19, beautiful, long haired, a musician and dancer or some such... Before long, he and she are talking on the phone, carrying on a kind of affair by proxy, complete with sexy talk/text.... Well - she posts songs she's recorded, and our hero employs google and discovers something very interesting - that she's copying her songs from youtube videos. Well then - a bit more investigation, and most of the story starts to come apart - so they head out to Middle of Nowhere Michigan to learn the Truth. Which turns out to be - something rather unexpected. It's not the exposure of the facebook fakery that matters so much as what emerges instead.

It's not quite possible to talk about it without giving away the story, so I'm not going to pretent - if SPOILERS matter, try to skip this paragraph... The film itself is a pedestrian affair - though that's a quality of the way its made - shot on the fly, on cheap cameras, it's video, all the way. What invention there is (in the film) is in the editing - the film makers do make good use of computer screens, pixels, apps and web sites and modern technology - facebook and google and GPS and the like. (It shares this, actually, with the very very slick Room in Rome, which also plays a lot with satellite imagery, map sites, etc...) What makes the film is the story. The woman behind the facebook crew - Angela, a 40ish housewife with a husband, daughter, 2 retarded stepsons - proves to be a fascinating character, and a rather imaginative artist. She's got a new medium, I think - she invents a host of characters, enough for a novel, enough to draw Nev in - if this is real (an open question), it makes you wonder who else she drew in? if you inject this kind of fiction into the real world - and Facebook, like it or not, is the real world - what kinds of effects can it have? Now true - it might all be fiction - but it still works as a story, and this is a very effective way of telling the story. It raises interesting points of course - if the film is true, then she made up a bunch of people and stories, and played them out as if they were real, on the internet. If the film is not real, if it is fiction - then the film makers are doing exactly what they show her doing... Either way - you get a fascinating examination of imagination, play acting your life and so on... It's fascinating and quite enjoyable - and Angela, whether character or author - is a truly great character...

The American (9/15) - stylish artsy mopey killer film... George Clooney as a hit man of some kind, who starts banging a girl in Sweden, is almost killed, goes to Rome to meet a friend, hides out, gets a job (building a gun for a mysterious woman), and deals with a guy with blond hair and a whore with a heart of gold. Not much happens in a beautiful place (making this almost a remake of Limits of Control - as Jim Emerson notes), then he delivers the gun, the woman tries to kill him, but he has anticipated it, and the boss - but they shoot each other and he dies in the car like Sterling Hayden. (No spoilers here because, well, if any of this surprises you, you need to see more movies.) It's a lovely film, slow and existential, completely predictabe (of course he's building a gun to kill himself with - geez!), and maybe not as important as it makes out. (Though I take it, from Emerson's comments, that the general public was terribly confused and distressed, and did not appreciate it's very real beauty.) Overall - it's more Melville than Suzuki (despite a few Suzuki references - the butterfly, the rival assassins), which is probably the main reason Jarmusch's version is that much better - Limits of Control was at least as much Suzuki as Melville (with a dose of Costa in there too...) I like Melville, but I love Suzuki.

Machete (9/15) - silly mexploitation film, full of overdone pseudo political references, plenty of ultraviolence, tis and ass - Machete is a federale in Mexico, attacks a gangster named Torres, double crossed rescuing a girl, his family killed, and blown up - though he ain't dead. He's in Texas three years later doing yard work. He's offered a job killing an evil senator - but that's a double cross - but he's Machete, and escapes. Soon all the bad guys are looking for him, while the women are trying to help him, in more ways than one (It's a mystery he can still walk, given the amount of tail he gets in the course of the film.) Meanwhile, everyone shoots at everyone else. It's all a series of gags and set pieces, but all of it quite entertaining, on a couple levels. You get assassination - an escape from a hospital - an escape from a house - a priest (Cheech) fighting off a gang of villains - all the ladies naked, including Lindsey Lohan - Danny Trejo, cool as shit, DeNiro and Jeff Fahey and Steven Seagal and Don Johnson trying to out villain each other - a huge shootout at the end.... What are you gonna do? a guiltless guilty pleasure...

And - wrap it up with another documentary - Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (10/15). It's nothing special as a doc, but a strong, clear telling of Basquiat's story, making the case for his art, partly by showing it. There is a nice selection of footage of Basquiat, which is sharply edited, musically edited. I think it does make a good case for his art, too - looking at Basquiat, now, he really does look like what they thought he was - his paintings grab you, visually - they are so strong, so arresting - and then they hold you, intellectually, with their references and structure, the blend of text and image, color, design, their relentless intertextuality, their relentless multiplicity. He was the real deal, I think, despite the myth. The problem, of course, is that he died after the first flush of success - he never turned the corner from flashy, brilliant work, to sustaining a mature, inteligent style. The biggest problem with the film, as history anyway, is missing this - it praises him as though he were accomplished and complete, romanticizing him, letting all his fans romanticize him. It plays up the genius child destroyed by evil society, rather than the stupid carelessness and bad luck that in fact killed him. Lots of dope fiends have gotten around the corner and gone on to have real careers - lots haven't - the ones who do are not always the ones you wish would... he left a good body of work, but it's a shame he wasn't still around to do more.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


I am in awe.

I suppose I should go on record thinking the Phils are going to win it again this year. They've been a rolling along, have three great starters and a ton of offense, the rest of the NL is nothing special, and even the AL teams are imperfect. It's true they all start from zero, but it doesn't look like nerves or experience or anything like that are going to cause problems.


Monday, October 04, 2010

A Film Unfinished

Sorry, again, oh readers mine, for taking another week and more to post anything. I shall try to make it up to you by running through a whole month of films at a go - though already I find myself derailed from that project. Some of the films have proven too interesting to leave in a roundup post. And so? Let's start with one film, and go from there...

A Film Unfinished - (13/15) - a fairly remarkable documentary, directed by Yael Hersonski, about a film shot by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1942. The Nazis shot it, edited it, but never put a sound track, or words to it - it was found after the war in a bunker, and studied through the years. A Film Unfinished examines this film - shows it, but does so with the heavy annotation of its soundtrack. The Nazi film is a strange mixture of scenes of luxury and comfort alongside utter despair - starvation, death, degradation... Without a soundtrack, without documentation, it was not clear what the film was meant as, what the Germans had in mind - as more information appeared, some of the intentions could be guessed at, and the accuracy and nature of the footage itself was better understood.

Hersonski's film, in essence, annotates the Nazi film - we see the German film, and hear a variety of voices copmmenting on it, as well as seeing other footage that helps clarify it. The commentary follows a couple main themes. One is a correction of the Nazi film, accomplished in a couple ways. Hersonski seeks to expose the reality behind the staging of the footage - quoting diaries, showing survivors commenting on the film's deceptions, showing clips from an outtake reel, etc. We learn about the logistics of the shoot- what was staged and how, who was involved, in some cases. At the same time, the soundtrack corrects the Nazis use of the imagery. It's not certain what they would have done with this footage - but it's possible to imagine. Going on the way other anti-semitic propaganda films were put together, we can guess what might have been said, Some of the scenes seem to be directly referencing, repeating, imagery from films like The Eternal Jew - there are scenes of Jewish customs, including a circumcision, that seems aimed at the same effect as the kosher slaughter house in The Eternal Jew - there's a passage showing well off (and very western European) Jews standing next to beggars (many of them seemingly chosen for their more stereotypical appearance) - which seems to echo the dissolves in The Eternal Jew between men shown in traditional Jewish costumes and then western European clothing.

It isn't hard to imagine what might have been said. You can see the same themes appearing - the Nazi's way of depicting Jews as both all powerful and degenerate, of being both a distinct, unmistakeable race, and chameleons, blending into their surroundings... there's a kind of shamelessness to the Nazi's logic in those films - they will say anything about their enemies that will make them sound bad. They would take any imagery, no matter how it might contradict the other imagery in the film, and find a way to add an interpretation to it that makes their targets evil. Though maybe worse than that - many of their propaganda films worked by showing something very close to reality, that is altered - and the altered reality injected into the real world, as if it were already there. That method is on display here - this film shows Jewish rituals, prayers, schools, a funeral, a theater, a bath, a circumcision, a chicken being slaughtered - all "real", but many of the incidents altered, faked. It is shot to give it the appearance of reality - but is warped. One of the main function of the comments on the film is to highlight these moments - almost incidental remarks, that indicate the ways the Nazis slipped things into reality. A woman says that Jewish people don't use coffins; others note that the films shows a circumcision taking place in a home, when in fact it would have taken place in a hospital. Details - but this kind of approach is too common to ignore.

This is something that the Nazis did, constantly, systematically. They were constantly trying to inject their version of reality into the real world. They liked to act out their fictions, to live them - to treat them as real, to make them real. They had a way of staging real life as a spectacle to be watched - and to try, very hard, to act on their fictions as though they were real... I think this appears in their anti-Semitic propaganda films - they try to create an image of Jews that justifies their hatred - they do it by insinuating their fictions into the real world. These propaganda documentaries serve that end - by creating the appearance of reality, by including enough actual reality - and then twisting the reality, adding to it, and treating the inventions as reality, as utterly continuous with reality. There's a project, in Nazi Germany, that certain includes its anti-semitism, but goes beyond it, to reinvent the world, to make the world a different world - to obliterate, in doing so, the objective world, substituting a very close copy, but one consisting of what the Nazis wanted to be true... And - getting back to the film at hand - I think the filmmakers are able to bring this tendency out - not explicitly, in my terms, but by carefully working through the material, showing (when possible) what was real, what was not, and where the seams are. Because part of the danger is to forget that the Nazis were starting with real people, real places, real lives and events - and that those people and places and events have their own stories as well, have existence beyond the imagination of the Nazis. This film does bring some of that out - through the words of the people involved - diaries and survivors' accounts and reports and testimony by one of the cameramen at a war crime trial many years later - by showing the outtakes and retakes, by showing color home movies one of the cameramen took - by freezing on the fleeting shots of the German filmmakers themselves. It highlights the ways the images we see are constructions of the filmmakers, while bringing forward the independent reality of the things and people in the films. To break the tendency to either accept what you see as absolute truth, or to give up the notion of truth - to treat everything as constructions, subjectivity, imagination.

I think - watching Nazi films in particular brings this very point home: that you can not ever forget that what is in the world is in the world, regardless of what someone may do with it. The imagery in this film - in one sense, it is very fragile - at the mercy of what someone might say about it. If the Nazis had completed a soundtrack for this film - it would have twisted what is there, made something terrible of it. Hersonski's soundtrack - also adds to the imagery, changes it, though it succeeds, I'd say, for two simple reasons. First - because it is, as far as it can be, true; second, because it never lets the process of interpreting these images get too far out of sight. Yet - at the same time - this imagery, in fact, almost any imagery, however wrapped in illusions it may be - is very strong - it resists what can be said. There is this - that the people we see in this film lived, in a time and a place - and most of them died, in a time and a place (and that fact is never far from anyone's mind here...) But whatever use might be made of them - they were there.