EIGA ARTS March Programme and February review (long)

Joss Winn edq39077
Thu Mar 4 06:53:35 EST 1999

Here's the EIGA ARTS March Programme followed by a lengthy review of
February's programme.


			    Experimental Film
			     March Programme
Avanse 4F. Saga City, Japan.  Saturday 27/3/99. Doors open 6.30pm. Films
start at 7pm. Donations on the door

Drifting VM (1990, 16mm, Colour, Sound, 9mins)

I made this film in the same way that I would take a girl's skirt off and
remove their underwear.  I took off the skirt and the underwear but found
nothing there on which to base our existence.  Beyond the images there was
only light and darkness.  That's why I've been drifting through a dream of
life (Vida) and death (Muerte) hoping to grasp hold of the outline ahead.

Flesh (1993, 8mm, Colour, Sound, 6mins)

A portrait of a strong man.

Northern Light (1998, 8mm, Colour, Silent, 15mins)

Experiments with daylight.

The Lingering Images of Summer (1993, 8mm, Colour, Sound, 10mins)

A diary film I shot at the end of one summer.  Beautiful colours emerge out
of poetic images.


Black Sun (1997, 9m37s) Hand processed black and white as negative. A
journey through planes of consciousness.

Mysterium (1997, 10m35s) Hand processed black and white as negative. A
journey through inverted memories of reflected light.

The Demolition Men (1997, Sound, 6m53s) Rephotographed from 16mm.
Portraits of broken men. A colour film consisting of cyclic images of
destitute men, city buildings, an abandoned stock feed factory, its
destruction, and urban graffitti.

Submission (1998, 3m38s) Hand processed black and white as negative.  A
nude study involving at least 12 forms of submission in its making and
watching. The film emphasises the forms of the body of a woman, and the
sadness in the gaze following the protracted game that was the negotiation
with the subject.

2114 (1998, Colour, 2m36s) The film made as a portrait of my local area,
having the postcode in the title. This was part of a project by the
Melbourne Super 8 Film Group, where a number of filmmakers made films about
their home suburbs. The film uses the structural device of systematically
increasing and then decreasing the shot length (from single frames), which
also functions to convey the changing atmosphere in different parts of the

Nature Morte (1998, 18mins) Hand processed black and white as negative.  An
industrial landscape in the space between purpose and destruction.

Emanance [1] (1998, 12m6s) Colour tinted, hand processed.  Transformed
sunlight reflected at a phase transition.



February's EIGA ARTS ran two programmes: A guest programme from Seattle's
INDEPENDENT EXPOSURE, and a second programme featuring Onishi Kenji's home
movie/documentary, A BURNING STAR (SHOSEI). Over 50 people showed up this
month. Numbers down as I expected but still plenty.  I imagine numbers will
hover between 40-50.  Donations were consequently a lot less, but this
month's budget was low (24,000YEN) and EIGA ARTS just broke even again.
The next screening is on March 27th....a programme should be posted on the
web site in the next week. See the bottom of this post for the address.  If
you want to be put on the mailing list, just ask.  Each month you'll get an
e-poster, preview, and review.

The following comments concentrate mainly on the second programme, but
first a few remarks on the programme from INDEPENDENT EXPOSURE......

I was kindly sent two tapes to consider and after thinking about selecting
and curating my own programme from them, I decided to leave the tapes as
they were and hand half of the evening over to INDEPENDENT EXPOSURE. I was
told that the tapes were put together for a foreign audience and seeing
that some thought had gone into curating them already, I was happy to share
the evening with another venue for experimental film.  Unfortunately, I did
feel it necessary to cut two films from the programme: LOVE GODDESS and THE
OPERATION.  Both films, particularly THE OPERATION, contain very graphic
sex scenes and with EIGA ARTS still in it's youth, and audience members
(particularly Japanese) showing up mostly out of curiosity, I felt it
unwise to show the two films. Basically, it's illegal and the venue is
pretty high profile, so for now, I'm putting such films aside and waiting
for EIGA ARTS to mature a bit....I did make it clear in my opening comments
that I had cut two films and expressed my reasons and dissatisfaction
having done so.

I showed seven of the INDEPENDENT EXPOSURE films from one tape. Highlights
of the programme for me were, Robert Arnold's MORPHOLOGY OF DESIRE and
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 0116643225059.  I had seen Arnold's film last
year at Ann Arbor and remember checking it off as 'one that I liked'.  It's
basically a digital manipulation of the covers of trashy romance novels.
Couples in the midst of an embrace are 'morphed' into yet another embracing
couple.  It's well paced and regularly broken up by intertitles using
quotes from the same trashy novels.  The comments I received with the
programme were similar to the AAFF programme comment: "Using digital
morphing technolgy to animate romance novel cover figures, the filmmaker
challenges commercial representations of gender, desire in popular culture
and the relationship between still and moving images."  The film is six
minutes long and formally, very repetitive, passing beyond a merely amusing
manipulation of popular culture, into an absurd and insightful critique of
the images that pervade the world we live in, not only in airport book
shops but on TV, the cinema, advertising and our own thoughts and dreams.

0116643225059  depicts a telephone conversation between the filmmaker and
presumably his mother living in Thailand.  The film is not subtitled, which
isolates us from the conversation and also suggests the distance between
the filmmaker, living in Chicago, and his mother, in Thailand.  The film is
black and white with a lot of contrast, quite beautiful and finely edited
into a rapid succession of shots in sync with the rhythm of the voices. For
me, it presents a portrait of modern life where people are often far from
home, relationships are no longer tangible and bonds between individuals
are quickly being replaced by nothing but 'communication'. It reminded me
that the 'global village' is a corporate farce. We are all still miles
apart. (but having lived away from the UK ('home') now for almost three
years, I would say that, wouldn't I...).

I want to thank INDEPENDENT EXPOSURE for the chance to show the tape and
congratulate Joel on putting together a good programme.

The second programme was a screening of Onishi Kenji's A BURNING STAR

First things first....I was originally supposed to show the 16mm print of
the DS8 film but, upon my recommendation, Onishi sent it to the Ann Arbor
film festival.  Before it left Japan, it was stopped (together with several
other films) at customs in Tokyo.  Having no 16mm print, Onishi said he'd
send the 8mm film and his GS1200 projector.  Unfortunately, the post office
wouldn't take it because it was too heavy, so two days before the
screening, Onishi said he would make the 7 hour trip down to me and deliver
it himself.  The day he was to arrive, he called to say he would soon leave
Tokyo as soon as he could finish work.  He called again at 11.30pm but only
managed a 'hello' before his cellular phone went dead (did you know that 1
in 3 Japanese people-including all ages-have mobile phones?).  I had no
idea where he was and fell asleep.  Firt thing on Saturday morning, the day
of the screening, I called him to find he was still at work in Tokyo
(preparing for the screening of his first 35mm film) but was still hoping
to get down in time for the 8pm screening.  I reminded him it was a seven
hour ride on the train and we both agreed he wouldn't be able to make it.
He'll come down soon with the projector, in time for next month's show. I
would show the video copy I have.  We'd done all we could. Never mind.  It
made a good story to tell everyone on the night.

A BURNING STAR is a feature length home movie/documentary depicting an
intimate portrait of the filmmaker and his dead father. The film
purposefully employs very long and underexposed images. Occaionally we
catch a glimpse of the sky, of the sun, but Onishi's hand reaches out to
hide it, play with it between his fingers, letting light slip through
occasionally but not for very long.  For the first 30 minutes or so of the
film, we sit (some people figit) trying to make out the objects hidden on
screen.  Occasionally, the camera's aperture is opened up, but quickly
closed again to leave us quietly lost in the dim images on screen. Slowly,
the film lights up.  We are taken outside to see the family making
preparation for the wake, Onishi squats on the roof of the house filming
people arriving.  A camera is set up to film Onishi in the act of filming.
There are people wandering around but much of the edited footage is of
Onishi alone with his father's body.

One very moving scene, shows Onishi removing the bedding covering his
father, then, after forcing open his father's clasped hands, he removes the
kimono, then the underwear.  Onishi moves the camera to his father's
genitals to reveal a white strip of cloth tied around the penis.  He
removes this too.  With his father's naked body exhausted of air and
completely stiff, Onishi taps the torso to reveal a 'plastic' sound,
completely lifeless.  He rests his head on the stomach looking down to the
penis; he gets up to move to the head where he opens his father's
eyes-again lifeless, already decomposing. By this time, one wonders what
the hell Onishi is doing with the body and why?  Who is he doing all this
for?  Why film it?  Then, the shot of his father's feet and Onishi lying
beside him- a shot of three feet-  and we realise Onishi is doing this for
himself.  He is filming his own death, comparing his father's body to his
own. We can never see ourselves in this way, but Onishi is as close as he
could ever get. He is like a child making an innocent investigation.

He was 21 years old when he made the film.  His father had died (like many)
of overexhaustion while helping the victims of the Kobe earthquake.

Shortly after this pivotal scene, the coffin is taken to the crematorium.
As it enters the fire, a white gloved attendant clasps his hands together
and gestures a small bow.  The next shot is from the back of the fire, the
furnace room is a world away from the formalities of the front room.  We
see Onishi move infront of the camera with another in hand and quickly
remove his suit jacket because of the heat and throw it aside onto some
pipes. The next 20 minutes, through a small glass window in the furnace, we
watch the power of the fire throw the coffin apart, the bones slowly
dissolve and flesh turns to liquid, seemingly swimming in the heat.  Many
people expressed their surprise at seeing how a body reacts to heat, how
seemingly dry bones can still produce fluids.  What was that?  The scene is
riveting.  Again, we see Onishi's hand in front of the lens, reaching out
to his father and clearly making reference to the way he blocked out the
sun earlier.  This time, he removes his hand quickly and let's the burning
body (not just burning but raging) be the burning star/sun illuminating an
otherwise black screen.  The circle of fire on screen indeed reminds us of
the surface of the sun.

The third notable scene for me was immediately after the cremation.  After
the intensity of the furnace room (which can be seen as a still on the EIGA
ARTS web site), the film cuts to a wide, external shot of the car park.
The sky is blue and from a distance, we see Onishi move in slow motion into
the shot.  He stands alone, again throws off his jacket, and stretches.
The shot lasts for several minutes.  It is a beautiful shot, full of colour
and life.  Indeed Onishi too, by stretching and pacing across the screen in
slow motion, seems to be coming to a realisation that he is alive.  Really
alive. The relief I felt while watching this scene was overwhelming.

The film ends, with everyday shots of kids playing, birds flying, his
mother? smiling.  Life goes on.....

A BURNING STAR pays little regard to existing social and documentary
conventions.  In that it breaks social 'rules', it is a very personal
documentary, and indeed difficult. Onishi's relationship with the dead body
is always very intimate and this forces us to question our own socially
constructed conceptions of death and the 'appropriate' actions to perform
after the loss of someone.  When we can't understand why Onishi is doing
something, when the film becomes so personal as to exlude the viewer, the
viewer is at once invited to relate in their own way to the intimate images
of death on the screen.

Coping with death is one of the most ritually elaborate, socially inscribed
and culturally specific processes we can experience, yet when alone with
his father, Onishi rarely shows any concern for maintaining the 'rules'
which we live by.  One might say that he is disrespectful, that he is
exploiting his father's body and humiliating not only his father but also
the relatives that continue to organise the cremation in the socially
inscribed manner.  Yet, he does demonstrate an enormous amount of
tenderness towards the body and the pace of the film could be understood as
respectfully quiet and patient. I understood this act of filming as perhaps
the greatest display of affection and respect possible for Onishi.  It was
a painfully long goodbye and more personal and seemingly more meaningful
than any preordained ritual could have offered.

My only quibble over the film would be that by breaking the social
conventions and personalising the image of his father to such a degree,
Onishi perhaps paid disrespect to the relatives who were also mourning in
the more traditional way. One has to understand that a funeral is, like
most rituals, primarily a social event, and one which requires that
everybody understand their roles.  In the film at least, Onishi seems to
disregard these roles and thus the 'mechanics' of the ritual itself.
Consequently, he was criticized by some family members.

Onishi has said that the camera is "the most important aspect of the
absolute process of expression".  In A BURNING STAR, this is very apparent,
for when one expects him to stop filming and express himself in the manner
that other people are doing, he continues to film in what seems initially,
a cruel and thoughtless manner.  Only after some time, do we realise that
Onishi _is_ expressing the grief, loss, respect and confusion that one
would expect, only that it is not being represented in front of us on
screen (Onishi certainly doesn't shed tears infront of the camera) but
rather with the camera.  His father's death is his own and we are being
forced to experience his loss as our own also, with Onishi, through his
'camera eye'. (The reference to Vertov is Onishi's own).

When I first agreed to show the film, I had only seen a 20 preview version
which, in my opinion, does not come close to comparing to the full length
version.  It was a combination of seeing the preview and a comment from
Takahiko Iimura that he thought it was Onishi's best film, that I
programmed it for February.  Many people have expressed how they liked it a
lot, everyone has their own reasons.  Some people said that it was way too
long and needs to be cut down to a half hour; that he should learn how to
edit, etc. etc.  I think they missed the point.  But clearly, it's a film
that people will love and hate. One guy said he hated it, but he thinks he
was supposed to hate it, that he found himself questioning his own views on
death and that made him uncomfortable.

It does make you uncomfortable.

Joss Winn

EIGA ARTS		Tel. (81)-(0)-(952)68-4722
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Kubota-cho		<edq39077 at saga-ed.go.jp>
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