Saige Walton and Nadine Boljkovac introduce the dossier “Materializing Absence” in the new issue of Screening the Past: “We start from the central premise that absence in screen media is not ‘nothing’—that absence itself is always invested with material attributes. We ask: how is an aesthetics of absence foregrounded in film and media?” The dossier:
- Anna Backman Rogers on Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999, image above): “At its most beguiling, the film betrays its own narrative.”
- Saige Walton: “Through an analysis of Robert Eggers’s The VVitch: A New England Folktale (2015), I want to examine how the materiality of earth and air has a special role to play in folk horror.”
- Focusing on found footage horror and the films of Tony Scott, Kjetil Rødje suggests “that camera-centric images raise speculative ideas about what the world may look and feel like to technologies of (digital) reproduction and visualization.”
- With Removed (1999), Naomi Uman “performs a kind of ‘recorporealization’ of female film bodies, using haptic labor to complicate the idea of the camera as an objective optical apparatus in the pursuit of a fixed truth,” write Hilary Bergen and Sandra Huber.
- Livia Monnet: “In [Nalini] Malani’s video installations, female ghosts haunt the hollow chambers of time and the archives of history, extracting its thoughts, movements and processes. Through their haunting, they drag what is dark out into the light, represencing, reembodying and reenacting the horrors of the past in order to render those horrors visible and palpable.”
- Writing about John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses (2010), Malini Guha asks, “can filmic resurrections of archival footage assume the patina of remains, particularly within the digital economy of ‘the save’ that [Rey] Chow describes?”
- Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (2008) are “haunted by the incomplete erasure of the past and the destabilization of memory,” writes Adam Ochonicky. “Notably, Martel and Ceylan spatialize their shared concern with absence.”
- Nadine Boljkovac on Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie (2015), Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), and Philip Hoffman’s What These Ashes Wanted (2001): “Sensorially inscribed within all three films are experiences of abandonment and home, illness and mourning. And yet, poignantly persistent throughout are also transient flashes and images of enduring life and endless duration, as effected via instances of filmic (self-)portraiture and (self-)perception.”
- Davina Quinlivan focuses on “the role of the senses and to the sonic as well as audiovisual textures of Exhibition  in order to examine [Joanna] Hogg’s evocation of imagination, desire, proximity and spatiality.”
- Julian Hanich explores how a viewer’s imagination “fills in and enriches what the film’s visuals or its soundtrack both conceal and allude to at the same time.”
Tim Groves introduces a second dossier gathering papers from the 2016 conference “Sea Change: Transforming Industries, Screens, Texts”:
- Michel Rubin on the work of Phillipe Grandrieux: “Such a panoply of cries, shrieks and howls do not exist entirely in isolation: they are borne out of a wider avant-garde tendency, a decisive mode of operation that will attempt to express the unbearable trauma of the twentieth century—ravaged by war, famine and genocide—and simultaneously exploit its affirmative aesthetic potential.”
- Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows (2016) is “a case study in the terraform render of gender, myths and locations in marine adventure films,” writes Allison Craven.
- Kevin Fisher “examines the signification of the undead and the production of a supernatural ontology within the pseudo-documentary Lake Mungo (Joel Andersen, 2008).”
- Adrian Danks “revisits and reframes The Sundowners  as a key work in the ‘transnational’ phase of [Fred] Zinnemann’s career, while also re-examining the film’s production and reception, representation of place or geography, position within international film production models of the period, and direct influence on seminal works of the 1970s Australian feature-film revival such as Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975).”
- Tim Groves analyzes “the influence of Kyle Cooper’s much admired opening title sequence in Se7en (David Fincher, 1995).”
- Phoebe Macrossan argues that Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe (2007) “should not simply be dismissed as a brightly colored 1960s flick with a Beatles soundtrack.”
Also in this issue:
- “The pre-Code body is an interesting figure in the history not only of cinema, but of society and culture, because prior to the enforcement of censorship restrictions it was often taken far past the limits of transgression,” writes Eloise Ross.
- Joy McEntee argues that John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) “has affinities with equivocal representations of psychiatry in a number of American horror and thriller films: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980), The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) and Split (M. Night Shymalan, 2016).”
- Focusing on Cecil B. DeMille, Mark Steven argues “for a radical political construal of architecture as the material cognate not only to competing modes of production but also to their social structures and lived experience, together providing a theory and example of what architecture means within the art of filmmaking.”
- In Cinema’s Baroque Flesh: Film, Phenomenology and the Art of Entanglement, Saige Walton “presents a rich and deeply engaging media archaeology that finds a ‘strong sensorial continuity’ between the historical baroque’s painting, sculpture, prose, illustration, architecture and collecting traditions such as cabinets of curiosity, and twentieth and twenty-first century baroque cinema,” writes Athena Bellas.
- In Ms. 45, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas explores how the reputation of Abel Ferrara’s 1981 film “has shifted from being a critically marginalized rape-revenge film to an important feminist cult film,” writes Anna Dzenis.
Screening the Past is also running two essays from the archives, Jacques Lacan’s “Hitting the Mark (On Benoît Jacquot’s L’Assassin musicien, 1976),” which originally ran in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1976, and Adrian Martin’s “Three Ways to Exit a Building: The Cohesive Style of Jacques Becker,” which first appeared in the 2016 collection Jacques Becker, edited by Quim Casas and Ana Cristina Iriarte: “Becker’s cinema offers a quite particular impression of reality, one that arises not from the raw footage caught by the camera, but from the finest craft, skill and artifice. Jean-Pierre Gorin said it perfectly in relation to Le trou : ‘Pure filmic pleasure, more complex than it appears, because all depends on the intensity with which Becker piles details upon details.’”
Basma Alsharif’s Ouroboros (2017) “mounts an incisive examination of the panoramic necropolitical forces at work that leave a population prone to threatening physical, economic, and social realities, but it resists aestheticizing this suffering and violence,” writes Lydia Ogwang.
In a conversation between filmmakers James Benning and and Sharon Lockhart after a screening of their films L. Cohen (2017) and Rudzienko (2014), Benning starts things off with a little joke. He sets it up. Two planets. The first planet says, “I have people,” and the second responds, “Don’t worry, that will pass.” The joke is over. The audience laughs. We can derive humor from the idea (the fact?) that the human race is a blight on any environment unfortunate enough to appear bountiful before us, but I suspect that Sharon Lockhart actually kind of likes people.
Zach Blas “sits down and immediately starts speaking out against the internet,” writes Iván Zgaib. “He says it is like a big musty swamp in which our dreams of a different world are drowning. And everything that Blas is saying beats in the bright heart of Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033, the film at the centerpiece of his exhibition showing at Art in General.” Through April 21.
Looking back on the Forum’s program at this year’s Berlinale, Giovanni Marchini Camia writes about Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still, Julien Faraut’s In the Realm of Perfection, Corneliu Porumboiu’s Infinite Football, Ricky D’Ambrose’s Notes on an Appearance, and Hong Sangsoo’s Grass.
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.