28 February 2009

On posterity

Let's just take posterity out of the equation. We're facing a major extinction on the scale that wiped out the dinosaurs. These have happened a several times in the history of life on Earth, but this is first one created by an animal species that's part of the system it's destroying, i.e. us.

It's pretty clear it's way too late to stop the process. There's no point in recycling, carbon off-setting, alternative energy, saving for your retirement, or any of that. If anything, we should be preparing to move to Antarctica. Either that or just enjoying the last days as best we can.

We're the first generation of artists in history who can't rely on posterity. We're making art for our time, and only our time.

25 February 2009

Some first impressions

So I mentioned in the last post that I've been finding the other students a little annoying. Today and yesterday at my classes I got to spend the first 10 or 15 minutes listening to these whinging cunts whinging about how they are so hard done by by the university not indulging their every whim and not revolving around them. It's unbelievable.

So far there's only one tutor I've been unimpressed with, but the others seem to be pretty good.

I'm doing a grad diploma. As I explained to someone tonight, this means I've been parachute dropped behind enemy lines in the middle of third year. There are some other mature students, but I'm the only one who's already had an actual practice. Speaking of which, the tutor for my tutorial today seemed very suspicious of me, and my motivation. This may well be my paranoia, but I did get that impression.

Fucking hell, it should be obvious what my motivation is.

23 February 2009

First day

Last night at dinner, Rose's son Jules told me what I must do to be a proper mature student: sit up the front, put my hand up first for every question, and relate everything I say back to the cool job my wife has.

I replied that I liked the the term, with its clear implication all the other students are immature.

And, Jesus fuck, they are annoying.

17 February 2009

Last week of the day job

I’m in my last week of the day job. Varsity starts next week.

The office where I work has after-work drinks every second Friday. Different floors host it each time, and Friday 13 was our turn. As it was kind of my farewell, I insisted on a Malevich scheme:

04 February 2009

Surmount all obstacles

I watched Werner Herzog’s Signs of life the other day. It’s his first feature film, made when he was 24 from a screenplay he wrote when 15 or 16. Herzog claimed that at 15 he’d had a vision of what he wanted to do, and that that vision sustained him still.

As the film started, I realised that the opening shot was very much like that of Aguirre. In Signs of life, a fixed camera follows an army truck winding its way down a mountain road. In Aguirre, a fixed camera follows the Spanish army winding its way down a track in the Andes.

The similarities don’t end there. Signs of life is set during World War II and is about a soldier named Stroszek (not to be confused with another Herzog film of the same name) who has been wounded and is recuperating on Crete, and who descends into madness.

Like Aguirre, Stroszek stages a grand rebellion. He declares war on everyone (always a good start) and wants to vanquish the sun by firing fireworks at it. Similarly, towards the end of his grand rebellion, Aguirre declares that if he commands the birds to drop dead from the trees they will drop dead from the trees. Both rebels end as failures, as the narrator in Signs of life says ‘like all of their kind’.

One of the enjoyable things about looking at someone’s early works is seeing the echoes of their future work in it. There’re the themes of course, but also the documentary-style realism contrasted with stylisation, the incidental cut-aways that don’t advance the story but contribute to the psychological effect of the film, the importance of music. The scene where Stroszek fires off his fireworks at dawn is amazing, and the music is a crucial part of it.

Another commonality with later films is the production difficulties and Herzog’s dedication to surmounting them. There’d been a military coup in Greece just before the film was shot, and the authorities wouldn’t allow Herzog to fire off his fireworks in the historic fort where a lot of the film was shot. It’s a crucial scene. Herzog reckoned that it was the image around which the screenplay was built. He told them he was going to do it anyway and that he’d shoot and kill anyone who tried to stop him. No-one tried to stop him.

In the commentary, the interviewer asked Herzog what it was that made him want to make films. He told of how as a teenager he’d gone to see a Fu Manchu film with some friends. An extra on a cliff gets shot and falls. As he falls, he gives a distinctive kick. Later in the film, the same thing happens, and Herzog recognised the kick and realised they’ve simply used the same shot again. Talking with his friends afterwards, none of them had noticed and wouldn’t believe him. They all (including Herzog up till then) had thought what they were watching was real. After that, Herzog started paying attention to how a film was put together.

Addendum: I should also probably mention the setting for Signs of life. It's on a Greek island untouched by the war. They leave their lights on at night. The soldiers (Stroszek and two others) live in an old fort where their only duties are to guard an ammunuition dump, even though the ammunition doesn't fit anyone's weapons. They're living in unreality and engaged in an absurd task.
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