Did You See This?

How Stories Begin

Jane Fonda in Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971)

In his influential 1970 survey Expanded Cinema,Gene Youngblood, the media theorist who passed away on Tuesday at the age of seventy-eight, presented “an integrative approach to some of the most radical nodes of moviemaking in the 1960s, bringing together bodies of work that might otherwise be understood in contradistinction—Stan Brakhage meets Bell Labs—and elucidating them with ideas drawn from communication and design theorists such as John McHale, Marshall McLuhan, and Buckminster Fuller,” wrote Thomas Beard for Artforum last year when the book was reissued. Expanded Cinema is a work “animated by the idea of standing at the threshold of a new society, yet the liberation movements blazing around the globe as it was penned—what Youngblood dubs ‘mere political revolution’—are all but elided; their absence haunts every page. Even so, its speculative imagination hits like a shot in the arm. What styles of living are still to come, and what role cinema might play in them, remains an open question. ‘Consciously or unconsciously,’ writes Youngblood, ‘we invent the future.’”

This week’s highlights:

  • The theme of the new issue of e-flux journal is “trans | fem | aesthetics,” and guest editor McKenzie Wark has turned to Isabel Sandoval for a contribution. “It’s odd to think of a 1970s American paranoia thriller triggering the gender transition and filmmaking journey of a bookish gay kid from a third-world country who came of age in the post-Marcos era,” she writes. Jane Fonda’s Bree Daniels in Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971) “became a muse and a template . . . The power of Fonda’s performance, as well as Pakula’s direction and Gordon Willis’s salacious lensing, blew through the second-class-citizen status of Bree’s character and made her a flesh-and-blood force you can’t look away from. With none of this agency apparent in Philippine films and media featuring trans characters, Klute gave me a blueprint for making a film (and writing a character) as an antidote.” We’re presenting Sandoval’s Señorita (2011) and Apparition (2012) on the Channel, and don’t miss her marvelously annotated Criterion top ten.

  • Writing for Verso Books, Andrew Key tells the story behind Pier Paolo Pasolini’s decision to make The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). Short version: He’d been stuck in a hotel room with a Bible. “His film, made from the perspective of a non-believer,” writes Key, “refuses the positivist temptation to deconsecrate the story of Christ, preferring instead to embrace the ‘terrible ambiguity’ that he found in the Gospels, restoring the power of myth to the narrative. His focus on the archaic remnants forgotten or discarded by modernity brings to the fore the lingering antagonism in Italian society between the residue of sanitized Fascism and the contemporary hegemony of liberal technocracy.”

  • Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) is a “genre-bending masterpiece of female friendship and surrealism” with “a head-scratching Russian doll of a story that is ultimately an ode to movie-watching and moviemaking itself,” writes Kristen Yoonsoo Kim in the Nation. She notes that critic Miriam Bale once called it a “persona swap” film, “a female-buddy-action archetype that operates with a nonrealist tone. She describes Céline and Julie, a key text in this genre, as a ‘freewheeling frolic’ that becomes ‘a valid alternative world.’ The creation of the characters’ interchangeability gives them freedom of authorship in whichever world they inhabit.”

  • Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s series of five features depicting Caribbean life in London from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, has arrived “in the immediate aftermath of huge antiracist demonstrations and calls to decolonize the British curricula from primary schools to universities, and with the Windrush Scandal still fresh in public memory,” writes Gary Younge in a powerful piece for the New York Review of Books. “The power of Small Axe is that it stands as proposer, seconder, and resounding voice vote for the inclusion of stories, events, and experiences too long absent from the record of British history. It presents Black Britons not as objects but as protagonists, not as heroes but as humans.”

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