From the editor and writers of Bright Lights Film Journal
Action! Interviews with Directors from Classical Hollywood to Contemporary Iran
(Anthem Art and Culture), by Gary Morris (Editor), Bert Cardullo (Introduction), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Foreword). London and New York: Anthem Press, 2009.
"I dare anyone to squeeze between two covers a more varied, useful and flat out entertaining sampling of the personalities that make the seventh art the liveliest."
David Hudson,
Samurai Cop
Nine Techniques for the Bad Viewer
A Manifesto
"Immerse yourself: you should never exist outside a movie."
Michael T. Smith
Why Leave a Film?
Philosophers as far back as Thales of Miletus had notions of the conservation of universal building blocks. In 1638, Galileo advanced the physics of motion with his publication on the "interrupted pendulum" and other situations, described in modern usage as the conservation of energy (E = T + V, where E is energy, T is kinetic energy, V is potential energy). Science progressed to Noether's theorem, Einstein's famous E=mc2, and eventually similar concepts in quantum theory, all stating the basic principle of the conservation of energy — that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Why not apply this concept to film? What is/was filmed is a "live" portion of energy (acting, dialogue, camera movement, even written ideas), imprinted on celluloid as a type of potential energy. Strung through a projector, a film turns kinetic, showcasing its power through the movement frame by frame. All films must obey the law of conserving energy and transferring it to the viewer — even (if not especially) bad films. Consider the case of Amir Shervan's Samurai Cop, a treasure chest of B-movie gold. For all its flaws, it contains a divine energy. Why would one leave this movie then? Or sleep during it? To do either is to let energy pass from the movie without using it.
Boredom is not benign. We need to change our concept of it as innocent, a waste of time, a minor state, ignorable, small or insignificant. It is dire, heavy, severe; it is Nero burning Rome, James Dean without a cause, a wasteful delusion of nothingness; it is not a matter of small potatoes. Boredom is a time-bomb, an uncontrolled catalyst, a solar event that cannot be bottled; it cannot be sold, and it would not be bought. It is the fall of an economic system, a flux in an otherwise operable machine.
Re-signify it: understand boredom is not a state but a potential. It is the awareness of energy but not the use. Let the screen be a fuel, a rocket, a hypnotist. Access your mind through a different door (if you can find it). A film is topological, it maps a route to an unknown destination (even a cliché picture can be viewed differently each time it is seen). Carpe diem. The energy is there. You are there. We are the children of images, of dancing lights and shuffling frames.
Thus, I implore you, never leave a movie. Instead:
1. Internalize it!
NostradamusImagine the movie screen produces an answer to all of (your) life's questions. Let it be the orb at Delphi, the priests of Ra, and/or Nostradamus: Like the French Surrealists, play a game of "Question/Answer" — think whatever image follows your question contains the answer. Decode it. Behind every image is a latent mind. Find it. Ado Kyrou states in the essay "The Film and I," "when watching a film I inevitably perform an act of will on it, hence I transform it, and from its given elements make it my thing, draw snippets of knowledge from it and see better into myself" (130). You can bring together the "interpretation and re-creation of a new film from disparate elements," for you and the film share energy — Qi and Prana, a Gordian knot of life-force (131). The you is a joint venture; as Kyrou states, let the images "make love" in your mind to form some new offspring (132).
Imagine the movie consists entirely of scenes from your life. Who are you? Are you the same? Is anyone static? Not with the flow of energy — from a point infinitely small, a unique singularity to an equally divine summation of the empirical, define the "I," define your "I" to the screen. Why do you (re)act as you do? Has your knowledge of Japanese jaded you? Do you know jujitsu? What if you did — who would you be, a samurai cop yourself? Take your right angles until you move outside the Cartesian self, to a multiplex of being; bum a ride on a Technicolor carpet to the world inside.
Imagine a collapse — of time — of reality — of images. Ask what would happen if these characters were the historical, a tricky word of semantic glue. What if: A) Joe Marshall was the first president. B) Yamashita discovered the printing press. C) Peggy discovered Euler's formula (which, I suppose, would make it Peggy's formula). D) Okamura fought for civil rights. And E) Fujiyama was the first sashimi chef. Enter this possible-world as man and superman, and take your energy from its sun.
2. Be a psychic.
Criswell in a coffinLook into your crystal ball. Turn Cayce and Criswell — guess the action and dialogue; get into the mind of the film. Nora Mitrani states: "It pleases us that from time to time characters live according to their will, obeying their imagination more than the director's intelligence. A sticky problem, perhaps, for the latter to reckon with the imagination of his own characters" (148).
In a "bad film," understand that the characters are beings, too. Get into their heads (know their energy); if you can't, if it is unexpected — good. A bad film will always get the last laugh. We don't "consume" art; art will consume you, change you, take an absence away. If you can't predict the lines "keep it warm for me," "bingo," or "this gift . . . this black gift," this film will be your sensei. Praise its randomness, sing a hymn to its chance, its characters' meta-coup. A film like this is better at predicting your reaction than you predicting its lines. Thus, learn it. If a film is unexpected, let its powerful energy penetrate your mind. Absorb it or be lost.
3. Change your viewing experience.
Citizen Kane in 3DDo anything. Watch through a straw, or hold your hands up to your face and watch through the shadowed bars of your fingers (even if you might be kicked off the police force of canon and good taste). Rapidly move your hand in front of your face to break up the progression of the frames — your mind will provide the energy needed to connect the frames and therefore "access" the film. Smear your glasses — if you have glasses — with your popcorn butter. Watch a non-3-D movie in 3-D glasses. If you have hair like Joe, brush it over your face (otherwise buy a bad female '80s wig) and imagine you are watching from his first-person perspective. Any film can be "accessed" by you if you try; its energy can be assumed. If you cannot appreciate this level (whatever level) of love, search for another way in with your eye, with your gaze (and are those different routes of access themselves).
4. Cheer: Be emotional.
In "The Lights Go Up," Jacques Brunius provides the following story:
The rotten meat of PotemkinPotemkin was presented at the Cine-Club de France sometime in 1925 or 1926. At the moment the sailors throw into the sea the officers who tried to make them eat rotten meat, applause breaks out. The lights go up. The guilty ones are denounced by their neighbors: It's the Surrealist Group. They are thrown out by the police. Nobody dares openly complain that they had applauded, since cheering can hardly pass for disturbing public order, or even that they had applauded a sequence for any but aesthetic reasons, but some are indignant that they had, it is claimed, got in without invitations (82).
You should tiptoe into a giant spotlight. Be guilty during every scene, an accomplice to the travesty that is a "bad film." Cheer for a character; start a fan club for a flubbed line, or holey script. For instance, write the line "I will bring you his head, and I will place it on your piano" in stone. Immortalize Frank's eyebrow control. When a young Yakuza swings a baseball bat above his head, yell praise for his technique. Throw a small party for the small things — the objects in the background (doors, tombstones, books, peanut butter . . . whatever). Root for the lion's head in Peggy's living room. Play Defender in the Yakuza's hideout. Look at the flags in the restaurant, and reestablish cultural definition. Don't sleep; make your throat sore by meeting a bad film with sound waves.
5. Change your senses.
Samurai CopExpand on Kyrou's notion from above. Make a monster: let every film be a horror film. Close your eyes (but only briefly) and relocate the dialogue; make your own image. Use your energy. Graft your image to the film's image; compare them. How has your mind understood the film? How does the film (mis)understand itself? In your mind (but again, only briefly), play different music — let Bach, or Pink Floyd, or the Boswell Sisters reset a Samurai Cop's Speedo. How does a mash-up reveal more of your perception of the film at hand? But don't stop at sight and sound. What does Joe Marshall's (the Samurai Cop) hair feel like? What do his and Peggy's bronzer smell like on the beach? And can you taste Peggy's restaurant's food as you watch? Immerse yourself: you should never exist outside a movie.
6. Don't be idle.
A cop in Virginia trains to crawl through a windowEnergy! That is the key. In the field of your minds, harvest what you see. If your mind wanders, use your body. Mimic the physical activity of those on screen; pantomime yourself through the fist-fights of Samurai Cop. When Joe's house is invaded, run as much as he does. Jump over your ottoman. Crawl through your windows. Duck behind your furniture (or theater seat) as if it's inadequately shaped hedges. Put a sleeper hold on your companions if they dare to sleep during the film; a person should only step out of this film if they are knocked out. Do tai chi prior to every on-screen scuffle. Channel energy that way. Focus yourself to the keyhole of the film.
7. Change your location.
Contortionist Vanessa RiosBe the mad-hatter from the Alice books; change your seat every five minutes in a mercurial coin toss; moreover, invent new seats, define what it means to be a "seat," or a "state": stand, duck, bend, run. Join a circus as a contortionist, channel the Ross sisters, bend your body until your mind follows. Watch upside-down. Watch from an awkward angle or in Joe's crouched spy posture — and sneak into the film.
If possible, change your location, watch on the outside of a train, watch in Central Park (and imagine the world your fellow audience). Watch your neighbors' TVs through binoculars; instead of being a voyeur to your neighbors, be a voyeur to their TV set — it might be more intimate. Use this love.
Bernard Roger, for one, advocated building a cinema at the "bottom of Lake Pavin." Build your cinema on the moon, in Lake Champlain (monster in tow), in Shangri-La. Project your cinema in Samurai Cop's L.A. We exist in a minimum of two realms, always adding more as cinema's energy is given to us, and you should position yourself to receive this energy.
8. Expand the concept of "yourself."
Ichi the Killer
Join a diaspora of filth, lose the "I," become the Lacanian "Other," the capital "O" instead. With Jung, dance in the jungle, but have no fear; become the collective that is you as me as we are he and we are all together: let the collective aesthetical un-conscience. Outside of yourself is yourself. Be Kraepelin: (un)cover the genetic malfunctions of the celluloid as a scientific discourse of energy. Why? To "understand" that you and the film are the same constituting a shared experience on different planes, on a string theory of energy. You are the Yakuza gang — the drug trafficker of the eyeing masses, an endless stream Yamashita summons with the wave of a hand. You will be shot, punched, kicked. If you leave a film, you are the one committing hara-kiri. In a film, you can produce all within it.
9. Justify your own insanity
the porn theater scene from John Waters' PolyesterDon't judge a film, because a film cannot judge you.
Don't leave a film, because a film will not leave you.
Don't miss a film, because a film must be seen by you.
Works Cited
Brunius, Jacques. "The Lights Go Up." The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema. Ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. 82-83.
Kyrou, Ado. "The Film and I." The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema. Ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. 130-32.
Mitrani, Nora. "Intention and Surprise." The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema. Ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. 147-48.
Roger, Bernard. "Plan for a Cinema at the Bottom of a Lake." The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema. Ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. 80-81.
Michael T. Smith is a doctorate candidate in literary theory and cultural studies at Purdue University. His work is forthcoming next year in Studies in Documentary Film and Sonus. He has also been published in the Midwest Literary Review and the Asahi Network.
November 2012 | Issue 78
Michael T. Smith

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