Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Secret Screening! Tell All Your Friends!

This Sunday, Feb 22, 9:45 pm. We will be viewing some of Maya Deren's short films and Divine Horsemen. The host has requested that folks dress in black and white (if you want to) to get in the spirit. Hope you see you ALL there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Riefenstahl with a conscience?

In the 1993 documentary "The Wonderful Terrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" Leni Riefenstahl talks about her first film "The Blue Light":

"I played a girl who was kind of a witch. As if it were a premonition of my own life. Junta was loved and hated. It's been the same for me, I have been loved and hated. Just as Junta lost her ideal through the shattering of the crystal, in the same way I lost my ideal at the end of that terrible war. To that extent that film was a premonition of my own destiny."

"The crystal is the symbolic theme of "The Blue Crystal"...Symbolic of the ideals that are dreampt of but are never attained"

What is the ideal that Riefenstahl is speaking of? Her personal artistic ideal or the German, at her time nazi, ideal that she is forever tied to? She and the documentary leave it at that, an uncertain statement. If it is her personal, artistic ideal then why does she lose it at the end of "that terrible war". Possibly, because of her inexorable connection to the nazi ideal that was partially created by her, if we accept that nazism was essentially an aesthetic movement. The defeat of the nazi party was then the death of her ideal...but maybe more accurately, the defeat of the German Romantic aesthetic that she worked in the tradition of and that maybe she regarded the nazis as worthy partners to carry on...and by their shameful defeat she saw the end of that aesthetic ideal that she loved because it could never be worked in again without accusation of nazi association. for this reason alone she would be understandably pissed at the nazis...maybe for their bad ideas (many of which she claims to have shared, "...except for the racial ideas of course." she says) but primarily for losing the war...The "evil" association is regrettable to me too as someone who is a fan of Romantic work from Nietzsche to Mary Shelley to Jack London to The Cramps to Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler. Romanticism has it's mistakes if were concerned with talking about socially responsible (radical) artwork, with it's focus on the heroic individual amongst, to quote Nietzsche, "the herd-like masses" "the rabble". The romantic hero always has to defeat the judgment of society to achieve their pure, noble, individual aims...fine, but where does that leave the rest of society? It's the same problem existing in far right libertarianism and individualist manarchism. (the american brand of anarchism, that has so much in common with far right conservatives as to be indistinguishable sometimes, small government, no rules, etc... See Jo Freeman's "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" for a 70's feminist context to this idea: But Romanticism has it's awesome possibilities too...Maya Deren's Modernist take on it for example...that can't be discounted merely because they are stylistically, seductive and therefore persuasive. We have to trust the intelligence of the audience (the masses) enough to make their own judgments regarding the ideas within the work. If we don't trust that judgment what is the alternative? re-education camps, Only using hollywood style propaganda techniques with posters designed by Shepard Fairey? In other words are we socialists (in the most radical sense of the word)or not? And is it possible to be a feminist without being a socialist that wishes to emancipate all women not just the elect individuals who adapt to the male power structure enough to make it!? (i.e. survive)
Riefenstahl made it and survived but did she care about other women who didn't climb the heights and the ranks on their Ayn Randian journey? And if not is she a feminist or just a strong women who bought into the male power structure to benefit herself and others that would follow her example?

Coming up!.

We will be watching Maya Deren's Divine Horseman, and a few of her shorts in the next coming week. Stay tuned for times/places.

Also I have managed to track down a copy of Leontine Sagan's Maedchen in Uniform which I am extremely delighted about it. Here are some wiki notes I pulled about the film because they are relevant to what I am trying to do now, 78 years after the creation of her film.

"The film was groundbreaking in a number of ways: firstly for its all-female cast; secondly for its sympathetic portrayal of lesbian pedagogical eros and homoeroticism revolving around the passionate love of a fourteen-year-old (Thiele) for her teacher (Dorothea Wieck); and thirdly for its co-operative and profit-sharing financial arrangements."


And last but not least, I have become fully aware of the gravity of Leni Riefenstahl's relationship to the Nazi Party and realize how fucked up it is/she was and am no longer blinded by the warm romantic glow of Das Blaue Licht. It got me all fuzzy, but I've come down enough to have a reality check. Cool.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My current thoughts on "The Blue Light" by Leni Riefenstahl

Plot Spoilers. You are forewarned.

* The Female protagonist Junta, is played by Leni whom wrote and also directed this film. Impressive.

* Junta is a social outcast that relates more to the marvels of nature than to other humans. The film is set in a small Italian villa nestled at the base of an enormous, spectacular waterfall, above which is a cave that glows blue every full moon. Young men from the villa parish as they try and reach the blue light. The local towns folk blame Junta for the unfortunate events and ostracize her. Then a German sap comes to town and befriends Junta. He, without her consent, follows her up the vertical cliff, and enters the cave where the blue light glows. To Junta's dismay the German ruins everything. He leads the town folk to the stones of the blue glowing cave and the cave is soon destroyed, literally raped of every precious stone.

*The men that die in the film are following Junta to get up to the blue light, so is she also part of what they are after? Since they all give her googly eyes when she is in town, it makes me think so. Whatever it is, the men are scaling the mountain on their own accord yet Junta is blamed for the negative outcomes of their ventures. I've rarely see films that depicts this notion, a whole village of people wrongly accusing a women who is innocent. To me it provides commentary on band wagon mentality, a tool of Fascism.

* The Blue Light comes from a cave that has a vaginal shaped opening. It holds Junta and she seems safest/most content there.

* I think it's has anti-capitalist/pro-environmental themes, as well as sympathy for loner mountain woman.

* For a majority of the film there is no dialogue. I was impressed with Leni's ability to tell such a story visually.

* the moon plays a major role in this film. I find that historically interesting.

* the music was cheesy, would have been better with Thomas de Hartmann playing Gurdjeff on harmonium.

* Joaquin said Leni invented the chemical make up on the film stock for this film that emulates night. It's spectacular. Apparently this chemical method is still in use.

* I can't think of a more beautiful film shot in 1932.

* Leni is one of the finest rock climbers I have ever seen. If you are into rock climbing this is a must see.

* Leni hung out with Hitler and worked for the third Reich. If I were in her shoes would I have left my immense privilege to live outside of the regime? YES. I mean this, but I am also not faced with her situation. Neither are you. I believe that most people would not trade there power in for fairness and truth. If they did, we would not have our history or this mess we are currently in. That doesn't mean Leni's choices are okay with me, there is no excuse for Leni working with/for the thrid reich, but I also don't judge her enough to turn my back on her work. I believe she was a privileged person that danced with evil and that she was more passionate about film making then anything else.

Monday, February 23, 2009

meshes of the afternoon

myth as empowerment

After reading Ruby Rich's pieces on Triumph of the Will and Divine Horseman in Chick Flicks, I noticed a contradiction in the two essays. Given the fact that Rich is a really good writer and that Chick Flicks is autobiographical, I can't help but think that she placed those essays right next to each other intentionally to spotlight the contradiction, maybe to show examples of early mistakes she made as a writer, although she doesn't say so.
The difference that the essays assign to the filmmakers, are of Riefenstahl as the token powerful woman amongst male power and whose entire career should be regarded as a feminist cautionary fable and Deren as the under-appreciated master of her craft and early example of a true avant garde filmmaker.(in the 60's sense of the term) The contradiction, more of and exclusion really, of Deren from the canon of the cinema of Romantic "Hypnotic manipulation" that she uses to condemn Riefenstahl is of course totally fine given the often denied or ignored historical importance she appropriately assigns to both filmmakers.
I feel like Rich discredits Riefenstahl while lauding Deren for work that uses very similar methods to convey the message of their films. Both use mysticism as well as a formalistic and technical bag of tricks to convey the cinema hypnosis that pulls you into the world of their movies. The difference of course being that Riefenstahl's work aided in mythologizing nazi idealogy and Deren's Voundoun. After watching "The Blue Light" again the other night and comparing it to Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon" as I read Rich's essay, I thought of how similar rather than dissimilar Riefenstahl and Deren are as filmmakers and "The Blue Light" and "Meshes..." are as movies...
Although the moralizing is more blatant in "Blue Light" as the frame for the mystical sequences of the movie in which we are shown the singular desire of main character, Junta. Her obsession perils all that follow her to the mountain top until her source of magical joy is literally stolen from her and used as a natural resource for the betterment of her town...although the story reads like parable for the economic benefits of the age of reason, the substantial scenes in the movie are the dream-like sequences during the full moon mountain climbing expeditions to the crystal grotto...scenes that rival the most surreal and ritualistic of Maya Deren's films.
In "Meshes of the Afternoon" Deren, as the main character is out of the moralizing context of "The Blue Light" and free to go on her journey down the rabbit hole of her individual mysticism. On that journey, as she walks, crawls and climbs through a reality that transforms as she goes. Similar to the scenes of Junta's mountain climbs. With Deren, Doors, keys and windows no longer act as barriers or limitations but have a different kind of function in "Meshes..." and contain their own kind of dream logic. The logic with which she has escaped reality for the realm of art and mysticism.
The other major films that Rich discusses by these directors are "Triumph of the Will" and "Divine Horsemen", are also very similar in that they are documentaries that employ the Romantic, formalistic and technical prowess of the filmmakers to mythologize thier subjects, the third Riech and Voudoun. Though Deren is considered a modernist (Tobi says) in the context of art and film history she employs much of the individual mystical journey of Romanticism that Rich places Riefenstal in the context of.
I think if Rich has different feeling about one director or the other it has more to do with her preference for a personal style of Romanticism...she says that she consults a voudoun priestess, sees a psychic and throws the I-ching or we don't have to guess where her loyalties lie.
The fact remains that both Riefenstahl and Deren are powerful directors that transcend the status second class citizenship of being female filmmakers by employing their power to boldly mythologize their subjects and themselves. But if the aim of feminist film making is to find an alternative to as Rich Says "the hypnotic manipulation of the audience, encouraging identification with the distorted characters within the world of the film and manipulate that identification for ideologically potent ends...the cinema of latent fascism...that dominates our screens today" and to find "a new radical cinema of deconstruction, dedicated to demythologizing the film process and reintegrating intellectual respones, so the the audiences active participation and full-aware distanciation become requisite to the viewing/understanding of a film." (think "postmodernism") then we have to keep looking past both Deren and Riefenstahl to find it. maybe next chapter!

Das Blaue Licht

here's what i thought of the film initially:

-it reminded me of Lassie but i really didn't think that this is a useful analysis and to try to figure out why is probably not worth my time. (I reconsidered and now think this is interesting)

-it also reminded me of Maya Deren, but i thought perhaps this was superficial based on a fleeting emotion or impression rather than anything concrete (joaquin said it isn't superficial, so maybe i'll explore this more)

-it reminded me of lectures i had on 18th & 19th century ideas of Beauty: the mountains and the Sublime--Nature replacing God... German philosophy about "the Spirit" (in particular Hegel, who I've never understood but also Heidigger, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who I don't want to like but kind of do)...also the emotionalism of German literature and Opera. Wagner. Goethe. The Sorrow's of Young Werther. I even thought of Narcissus and Goldman at one point. (I don't like any of this writing) All these associations run in my head in a swirl of "German Romanticism" and just sort of leave an impression, it's not very analytical...more of just a reference of a culture I don't know much about, but am a product of...Germany.

-I also thought about the scene in Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) when the monster lives in the forest alone and learns to talk by watching the girl interact with her family through the window. The father is blind and not afraid...etc.

-I absolutely hated the soundtrack and found it distracting (terrible music! reminded me of German club and family reunions: ja wohl!)

-I have no idea what was happening in the story of the movie, at all, but i kind of didn't care as it was nice to feel like it was a dream (similar to Maya Deren, but whose films I like better) I could follow the conflict/device of Junta and the guy not being able to speak to each other but still communicate pretty easily. That was the center of the film for me I guess, as I couldn't fully grasp what was happening beyond, villagers vs. mountain lady and crystals/the moon.

-The shots were cool looking and it seems like an amazingly shot, edited and well put together film, with a lot to grapple with technically and artistically (if I was a film maker or more interested in visual art than storytelling via film I imagine I'd actually care about this quite a bit)

-the Nazi/Aryan aesthetic was in full effect, i could see why hitler liked this movie (seriously, it was messed up and frightening. it scared me and i am almost half German)

-it was a lot different than Triumph of the Will, which i saw in class and kind of blew my mind not only as a document, but as a propaganda film (has anyone seen it? it was controversial that we saw it in school)

-the whole time i was thinking about Leni Riefenstahl's relationship with the Third Reich, particularly in her film Tiefland, where she supposedly hand picked Roma concentration camp victims to use as extras who were then sent to Auschwitz when the movie was over (I have not seen it and don't want to after reading this)

I was left with these questions:

What is the role of the artist under fascism?

What is the role of politics in art making?

Are there any ideas in the film and if not, is it fascist to make a work of art purely aesthetic and mythic?

How do the aesthetic/formalist elements of Riefenstahl's film relate to the Weimar republic?

Is it significant that Junta the "wild" one spoke Italian rather than German?

Clearly it is a Romantic work, but she also seems to be a Modernist. Or is she a Romantic artist using Modernist tools? Is this style particular to Germany (high Romantic art/culture) at this time period (Modernism) or was this just particular to her work?

I have a lot of problems with Romanticism, but am also drawn to it. I think that it is still the dominant "art" paradigm in a lot of ways, despite what people say they are doing, and that there's a lot of ideological manipulation that comes with the territory.

I quickly skimmed Chick Flicks on Riefenstahl but didn't take notes and I don't have my own copy. I know the author addresses this somewhat, but I found her dismissive remarks on Susan Sontag's analysis of Riefenstahl to be catty and glaringly reductionist, so she was kind of getting on my nerves.

As far as feminism goes: I don't think Riefenstahl is a feminist filmmaker, I don't think this is a particularly feminist film, nor do I think that feminists need to claim all female filmmakers as their own. I admittedly don't know a huge amount of biographical material and am not familiar with the rest of her work, but my impression is that she was a filmmaker who happened to be a woman who was a greatly skilled artist and crafts-person with access to resources and power. I also think she was a Nazi, and not someone who happened to hang out with Hitler or whatever it is that people claim. So that impacts my reading of her work. I think all of her work should be viewed in this context.

I think it's valid for feminists to investigate Riefenstahl as an early innovator of film as an art form and to explore her work looking for a record of what a truly capable filmmaker (who happened to be female) expressed via film. But I think it is mistake to confuse "filmmaker who happened to be a woman" with "feminist filmmaker". Maybe B. Ruby Rich disagrees with me, I haven't really read her that closely. Anyhow, I'd be interested in what other people think on this last point, as it begs the question:

What is feminist film?

Olympia library display

My awesome co-worker Kelsey has got a great book display up at the Olympia Timberland Library right now. The theme is "Women Authors in the Independent Press." Come check it out!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Welcome All!

A group of us are reading Chick Flicks, Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement by B. Ruby Rich. This is a place to post notes from our discussions on the reading, thoughts on films we are watching related to the book and other wise, and also announcements. If you would like to join us in reading the material (it's quite juicy) please do so. You can order the book locally (olympia) through Browser's Books or Orca. The more folks reading the better. Writing on feminist film history is very limited in my opinion and I'm reading this book in hopes of expanding my own knowledge on the subject. If you would like to make a post here and are not in the group, please email me,