Notes on Counter-Cinema Movement, Tree of Life and Taxi Zum Klo

Taxi Zum Klo (Taxi to the Other Side, 1980): Frank Ripploh's autobiographical masterpiece that provides a counter-intuitive, realist take on the gay life in the 80s.

I have been intensely thinking about the nature of cinema, like painting and literature, it has its own rhetorics, its own figurative language that traverses through the cross-cultural facade and the mimetic currents of our times. This month, I have witness the incredible plasticity of the film language: it is not only a language that helps construct a plot-based narrative, but can also be used in many perceptual activities transtextually or artistically motivated.

The Age of the Earth (1980): Glauber Rocha's counter-narrative political film about the hypocrisy of religion and international politics.
It never occurred to me before that politics can be best expressed in numerous perceptual assimilation of images rather than a well-knit narrative. Well, this is at least in light of the revolutionary consciousness of the artist to establish his own voice and unique attack to his adversaries. This revolutionary vision of establishing a 'counter-cinema' position can be tracked way back in film history during the birth of the Soviet Montage wherein the aesthetics of cinema, specifically in the editing department, began to change. Sergei Eisentein and Dziga Vertov were not merely artists but revolutionaries, and their constructional principles were not driven by the purpose of creating art itself but changing its form. They used this strategy to re-institute Soviet politics in the discourse of cinema as a whole.

Taxi Zum Klo (1980): A romance with a cigarette in two frames.

As with this months film, I have this sudden urge to uncover such films after watching John Torres' film Ang Ninanais (2010) last May 29 for the second time. The film or piquantly entitled in English as Ang Ninanais Refrains Like Revolutions in a Song, is a revolution itself. Its non-definitive, non-causal narrative subjects viewers into a non-conventional re-scheming of their motivations that at one point, their motivations became useless and they either surrender or resist the perplexity of its structure. The film involves two struggles of cognitive formation: that of Torres and that of the viewers perceiving his film. After the film, an open forum clarified my numerous hypothesis about its complexity. John narrates his struggle to piece together film clips taken from his journey into the Panay island. In an avant-garde fashion, John's way of shooting the film was guerrilla-style using non-professional actors. His main actress was a local girl of Panay island and the other characters were shot on location without prior consent. John's motivation for shooting was staggered and impromptu often exploring his foreign relationship with an unfamiliar place and unfamiliar people and a local language itself. There is more the film than the film itself. The film reflects purposefully about the usage and misuse of language in films as in subtitling for John admits that he improvised the translation of the Hiligaynon and resist to hire a translator in making the subtitles.

Refrains Like Revolutions in a Song (2010): A personal exploration of John Torres about the politics of language, regional culture and localized history

The process of creating a conventional film is subverted through Torres resistance to adhere to the following:

1.) Causal relations: Conventional films following an If-Then schema where the plot is a series of well-knit events that answer each other.

2.) Distinguishable Character Roles: Wherein character have a distinct role to work around the film.

3.) Motivational cues along the way: The thinking: "There is a reasonable way why this happen to this that would happen to the main character and so on and so forth."

4.) Coherent Subtitling: Approximate translation of the character's uttered words
John's opposition to work with conventional tools in cinema achieves somewhat a mode of improvisation in his part as a filmmaker. By means of improvising translation, narrative cues, representational conundrum enables him to form new paradigms in forming filmic relationship. Similar to many effort in surrealist filmmaking, such as Lynch in his masterpiece, Inland Empire (2005), the complexity of pictorial representation hinges upon its associational structure, both internal and external. External in a sense that the association comes from the editing, as in Soviet Montage, while internal, as in John Torres' inherent personal associations of the voice over and the image. Both techniques in 'associational cinema' approaches the subject differently, as though, they are not independent subjects that stand on its own. The meaning-making function are completely dependent from their associations. They are devoid of absolute referential meanings. In Ang Ninanais, numerous elements work together. Both the voiceover and the visual design compliments each other, such as in the latter parts where the voiceover describes the revolution. This is in contrast with the function of diegetic sound and the subtitle. Each are destructive of each other. The formation of meaning is subverted for those who understand both the subtitles and the local language.

The Age of the Earth (1980): Existence of multiple paradigms in one frame, techniques in visual subversion.

This struggle of meaning-formation is similar to Glauber Rocha's film The Age of the Earth (1980). While Ang Ninanais' subversion in the meaning-making process is language-based, Glauber Rocha's own technique is pictorial in nature. The Age of the Earth, unique of its penetrating critique on the hypocrisy of the Catholic religion and international politics, attempts to assimilate numerous objects in one frame. Glauber's resistance to display an anthropological claim of his own nation. The assimilation of numerous cultural elements from multiple nations forms a decoupage of destructive associations which forms a decentralized, anti-culture formation of Brazil. The film's non-narrative structure draws us the politics involved with film. Its anti-colonial and anti-culture sentiments are part of Rocha's vision of revolutionizing Brazilian film. At one point, he even wanted to display the film with its 16 reels randomly arranged.

This thirst for convolutions in form of Rocha and Torres brought about a common thrust: to create new forms of expressing thoughts. Both of their characters do not serve narrative purposes but are vehicles to express the filmmakers thoughts. It is systemic rather than novelistic that Sarah, in Ang Ninanais, becomes a point-one-to-point-two character, similar to Rocha's usage of his characters. Systemic meaning the case point of their existence is to adhere to the narrative system the filmmaker treated them. Rocha's characters divulge angst, sentiments, information, rhetorical contortions, while Torres' characters functions as carriers of historical information, rhetorics in anthropological origins and representations of Torres' alienation to the geopolitical landscape of Panay. They are, by conventional wisdom, false and empty characters, although at one point Torres romanticized his characters at the end of the Ang Ninanais, they lack emphatic cues to conform upon. This may have provided a difficulty in the viewers because of their nonconformist functions as opposed to conventional cinema wherein the characters have richly humane/inhumane characterization.

This brought us to another film I'm interested about, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). Winning the Palme d'Or for this year's Cannes Film Festival has a simple premise: to narrate the origins of life with Genesis parallelism as in "In the beginning, there was light." And ends in Revelations parallelism, "All souls meet in heaven." In between, which is its core, is a story of a family from its origins to the their projected extinction. Malick's pictorial composition per frame is has somewhat a precision most of people might observe. It's tonality adjusted to the right amount of emotion. We can say that The Tree of Life's frame compositions has a piquantly emotional quality that originates from the careful positioning of the elements in the film. When properly placed, as in the distance of characters to each other, it projects a resonance to its viewers. As in the picture below, we see the mother, Mrs. O'Brien, hugging her son while the eldest son watches from afar. It describes human dynamics at its very core: the territorial politics within oneself and others.

The Tree of Life (2011): "The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine." - Robert Bresson

The diegetic space and time Malick use in the film provides us the scope to which our analysis might lead us. But the understanding of Malick's work isn't that difficult. One might approach it as a philosophical, compartmentalized world full of associational cues and the system of narrative is oblique and unapproachable at one glance. I do admit that at first viewing, my motivations where primarily philosophical, and at second viewing, it became clear that Malick's affinity to biblical teachings has mostly solve many perceptual problems I have had at first glance. This may lead to less overwhelming response at second viewing. The perceptual complexity of Malick's feature is not actually solely by the way the film was piece together. The complexity was mainly due the acclimating and detach, i often describe it, "Magellanic" voice over. It doesn't tell something or provide an information but it asks difficult questions to the viewers. It demands comprehension and intervention. And it asks about faith, specifically, Catholic faith. The voice over is carried over vast spaces often unconnected to its point of inflection.

If The Tree of Life have showed us both the veracity and strangeness of life, Frank Ripploh's Taxi Zum Klo (Taxi to the Other Side, 1980) narrates life as it is. Strangely, I do love Frank Zipploh's autobiographical account of his sexual life. It reminds me how such vision of reality and self-introspection affect our constructional principles as artists. Ripploh's self-exposition in the light of gay activism around the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s is historically tangent to gay liberation. As opposed to one-act self-expositions of today's filmmakers such as Vincent Gallo in Brown Bunny (2003), Ripploh's version is less self-absorbed and more honest. It has a well-adjusted, well-balance politics of the external-internal voice of the filmmaker. He narrates the sequences linearly and follows a routine. Momentarily, non-diegetic insertions of select silent films connotes Ripploh's admiration to film history as an extension of the mind or in a general sense, film as an extension of the mind of its characters. This may intuitively lead to the personla view that Ripploh is he, himself, a cinephile. He only created two film in his life, Taxi Zum Klo and Taxi nach Kairo, which was the continuation of Taxi Zum Klo. He died of cancer last 2002.

Taxi Zum Klo (1980): Measuring your own life-tense within the gay political arena of 1980s.

Les Rendez-vous d'Anna (1978): Anna went to the pharmacy to get medications for her partner's headache.

o end this note
, I would like to say a few words about the my recent plans for this blog. I have been intensely searching myself as a film writer. I have been to processing filmic experiences into my own political and mental constitution. There is so much beautiful films out there and I have favorited only few. I started digging into the avant-garde collection thru this's beautiful list of suggestions entitled Avant-Garde Film by Grey Daisies. As urged by a special someone, I started building my MUBI profile. I made a list of my all-time favorite movies here which I am willing to give reviews for this blog. I am also having a back-log at my contributions for the beautiful Canadian webizine I'm still figuring out how to sew my viewpoint at the limit of 700 words. I am intensely excited about the upcoming Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2011 and will be watching a handful of films. The University of the Philippines Film Institute has a very pleasing film program for the month of July, films like Livingston's Paris is Burning, Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema and Celluloid Closet will be shown at the Videoteque. Some Hou Hsiao Hsien's too and also some Tsai Ming-Liang. See you. More notes to come on world cinema.