Essay film after submission

I’ll be short, as I delayed this post for a while now. I wanted to share post-essay film impression, but that “post” extended itself util it became “a few weeks later”.

It was a journey, an experience, a challenge, which now seems to have been also a success. It is not a beautiful piece, but a meaningful one. 

Essay films?! Twelve of them?!

I love films. Cinema and all the rest. Weird films, films which aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I will watch them gladly and there are chances to like them, but I have to admit that I had a few problems wrapping my mind around what an essay film is.

Descriptive, but not literal. Metaphoric, but not too cryptic. With a narrative line, but not a narrative story. Based on theory, but with an artistic effect. Experimental, but still understandable. Words, Image, Moving Image Sound, Music, Silence, Voice all combined in a powerful representation of theoretical ideas with a solid factional base. Half documentary, half art piece, with a bit of dada madness the essay film is not something we see on our TVs but is a genre in itself, and it has been out there for quite a while now.

BFI 12 best essay films:

  • essay films as a genre seem to take shape in the context of the WW2.
  1. À propos de Nice, Jean Vigo, 1930- as early as my beloved expressionist films, the difference is visible at a first sight. The realism specific to the french cinema, which Andre Bazin regarded as “the true” cinema due to the break of the cinema from the theatrical methods is present in the short fragment, depicting life on the Côte d’Azur. It does convey a sense relaxation, a festive feeling, a carnivalesque joy. The music sets the pace and is in total harmony with the vibrant images. It does have the specific awkwardness of old films, even though it is realistic in comparison to expressionist films, the movement is still somewhat either rushed or a bit theatrical, which gives diminish the naturalism. There is no language except for that of images and music. Being a part of the silent films era, the lack of words does not come as surprise.
  2. A Diary for Timothy, Humphrey Jennings, 1945
    – a story within a story, a double screen, which is an inventive way of transmitting the message and show the reaction of a public in the same time. It sets an educative tone, by addressing children in regards to the war an imminent danger. By having a narrator the narrative is better structured. The sounds are naturalistic, interposed with moments of silence wich enhance the atmosphere and at times even create suspense.
  3. Toute la mémoire du monde, Alain Resnais, 195- the iconic image of the library used in other essay films as well. The naturalism is diminished here, not because there is a painted background or the movement is exaggerated, but because of the shots, which work with the sound effects to create a feeling, following a book in its journey through the shelves. And this is exactly what it is, a journey, a sense of grandeur, but lacking luxurious features, the feeling of a long road in an overwhelming space under the gaze of the books.
  4.  The House is Black, Forough Farrokhzad, 1963- a film from far away. Poetry combined with shocking visuals of crippled people, and a pace wich gives the whole experience a sense of anxiety, the viewer ending by identifying himself with the little girl, in an attempt to cover his eyes from the reality and
  5. Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a StillJean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972
    – the images are on a second plan. Even though the photograph is the topic of discussion, there is no movement, only the zooming in and out of the camera. This film is not about images is about words, and the lack of visual distraction is exactly what makes the viewer more attentive to the words, and the ideas they shape, the events they appeal.
  6.  F for Fake, Orson Welles, 1973

    – words, image, footage, narrative, montage, Picasso, this film has it all. It combines personal footage with others’ footage, with painting, and with storytelling. The repetitive images, the pace, Picasso’s black and white gaze gives the film an ambiguous feeling of uneasiness and curiosity.

  7. How to Live in the German Federal Republic, Harun Farocki, 1990 – a satire of the German Federal Republic, executed by an Eastern German director, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The style is austere, simple. A camera more or less in a fixed point, filming nothing more than exactly what is in front of it. It has an amateur feeling, which actually gives the impression of being a witness, an unseen witness to some everyday life scenes. The scenes have an absurdity, enhanced especially through the dialogue sequences. This, accompanied by the camera’s minimal moving shapes a feeling of anxiety, even claustrophobic.
  8. One Man’s War,  Edgardo Cozarinsky, 1982- a hard film to find. Images with no words, talking for themselves, a proof that visuals do have a voice and a “language”
  9. Sans soleil, Chris Marker, 1982- a dissonance between word and images. They both go parallel ways, but don’t seem to really ever encounter one another. This space between the 2 ways of conveying ideas and emotions is the space of the viewer, the link between the mediums is his choice, according to his own imagination, knowledge, and experiences. His mind can wander through the images and discourse, even appropriating parts which are spoken in the first person.
  10. Handsworth Songs, Black Audio Film Collective, 1986- it starts as a documentary, with raw footage, explained by the voiceover, which points out dates and events (the riots in Birmingham), but which then gains a poetic dimension, by asking some rhetorical questions, and enacting a dialogue which makes it seem as if the voice is directly addressing the viewer, engaging him/her in the film’s narrative. The camera movement is in slow motion allowing the viewer enough time to see the outcomes of the events.
  11. Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen, 2003
    –  modern architecture vs gangsters. The film explains in a documentary way the relationship between L.A.’s modern architecture and its depiction in famous films. The modern houses become the settlements of the most infamous villains and are absorbed in the common conscience as being a characteristic of these type of characters. The film juxtaposes the vocal commentary with shots from films.
  12.  La Morte RougeVíctor Erice, 2006
    – still images transitioning between themselves.  The lack of moving regarding the images makes the viewer focus on the voiceover, which comes in harmony with the black and white photos and newspaper extracts. The narrator’s voice is monotone, thus contrasting to its actual discourse which is about fear.


Essay film notes, part 3

Who?… Who am I?

You are a product. A product of your environment. A product of society. A product of religion. A product of some one’s desires. A product of your desires.  A product of experience. A product of some expectations. A product of what you have seen, of what you have read, of what you have heard, of what you have lived. You are a product of what you never saw, of what you never heard, of what you never read, of what you never lived. You are a product of what you will never live. Your world, my world, our world is a construct, a huge mechanism, a never resting factory. You are a part of it. You are a number between 7.8 billion other numbers, not a face, not a name. You might have drawn a lucky one. You might have been born in the right part of the globe. You might have been given the role of the buyer on this grandiose scene. It might not be the starring role, not even the secondary, but the scene is better than what hides behind the curtains. The tears, the grief, the pain, the exhaustion, the desperation are outshined by the spectacle. The lights, the comfort, the commodity, the luxury. Feelings are only seen when they are on the right side of the curtains, that is the only time they count. What’s behind them is only valuable as long as the show’s running, and only what keeps the show running matters. We have different worlds which only go along in some heads.

Buy. Buy more. Buy all. Buy what you need, along with what you think you need and what you never needed. You are what you buy. Spend money, and make more money just to spend more money on things you might already have. The more we need, the more they bleed.

Liver failure…kidney failure… pulmonary dysfunction… heart palpitations… b-b-b-brain failure. Irreversible damage. The buyers benefit the best possible medical care. Their health is in the hands of awards winning doctors and monitored by groundbreaking technology. The lowest your purchase power the unimportant you are. Not even cancer is the same for everyone. Your health is not a right, is an indulgence.

Made in China. Made in Bangladesh. Made in Indonesia. Made in Pakistan. Through the hands of the ones who fabric, assemble, take apart what you buy go by things you might have never had the chance to touch, yet they are the least powerful. No power. No rights. No freedom. No health. Their hands held your iPhone, their hands held millions of iPhones, yet, the “i” in iPhone is still for you and not for them. They create things they’ll never use, for people they’ll never meet, for money which will never be enough, living a life which you would never consider a life.

Essay film, notes part 2

What is your favourite colour? White. But white isn’t even a colour. You’re right, you cannot even see it anymore.

Time has lost his patience. We run around in circles, repeating the same mistakes over and over and over and over and over and over again. And over again. Until mistakes are not even seen as mistakes anymore. We use new slogans for old matters. We run from our past just to end up in the same spot. There is no greater truth than history, but we reinvent it, forgetting to reinvent ourselves as well in the process. We don’t see slavery anymore. Slavery has no place in our modern little bubble. With our eyes closed, we follow our dreams. White American dreams. Wealthy American dreams. Freedom is a ride in a convertible polished car, not a state of mind, not a state of being. We preach happiness, freedom, individuality in #nofilter filtered photos.

It’s time to be who you really are! To embrace your white soul and make it spark through your western condition. Ride! Travel! Run in the rain! Deam! Fall in love! Love! Hate! Suffer! Be true to yourself! Be happy! Find yourself. Go back to work. Real workers have no time for feelings. Real workers have no tears. Real workers have no right to live… or to die. The broken hearts love the deepest. Real hearts beat only in privileged chests. White hearts, white love, white mind, white life. True workers never stop being workers. True workers are workers first of all, and whatever they might be second.

All blood is red, but some is purer. Some minds are great, but some are greater. Some hearts beat in colours, some hearts beat right.

Tic-Tac. Tic-Tac. Tic-white-Tac.

There is one colour no one sees anymore. And this colour isn’t even a colour.

Link to link, after link, from link, hyperlink. Linking, being linked, unliked. Friend. Unfriend. Follow. Unfollow. Like. Unlike. Dislike. Heart it. Distribute it. Redistributed. Share. Double share. Reshare. Post. Edit. Delete. Repost. We are all linked, interlinked. We are all connected.

Error. No internet access. Network not find. Enable network access. Troubleshoot problems. No internet. No iPhones. No Macs. No laptops. No computers. To mobiles. No phones. No electricity. No current water. No water.

You were online 10 minutes ago, you are online now, you are always online. And you are not the only one. But not all of us were ever online. Our voices are as powerful as the number of our likes. OUR VOICE IS ANGRY IN CAPS LOCKS. Our voice is determined in bold. When we don’t want to see, to know anymore and any more, we unfollow. We change the channel. We close our eyes. We only see what we want. We only see what some want. What some show. Some see what we do not see. Some do not see what we see.

We built a new world, like little gods playing with our powers. We offered ourselves a clean slate and stained it all over again. We are trapped in our pursuit of power, in our money quest, in our own desire for attention.

A click is less than a glass of water. A like is less than a warm glance. A post is less than a helpful hand. But a voice is a voice nevertheless. Is it? When it’s not online. Is a voice crying in the desert still a voice if it does not reach the Internet? Does it have volume when it does not have any hypes?

Conscience corrupted. Viruses in our systems. Bugs in our minds. We are connected in our disconnection. We understand faster than any system and we react slower than Internet Explorer.

Film essay notes – group assignment

Me. The Others. You. Us. Them. Freedom. Power. Silence. Fear. Light. Fame. Shame. Difference. Indifference. Work. Travel. Slavery. Lux. Love. Charade. Laughter. Distance. Money. Noise. Black. Good. Evil. Scream. Need. Loyalty. History. Forgiveness. Emptiness. Happiness. Crave. Hunger. Joy. Lack. Futility. Desperation. Calm. Faith. Guns. Gods. Words. Adaptability. Cries. Blindness. Equality. Quality. Debauchery. Dirth. Meaning. Status. Class. Grief. Death. Pain. Birth. Rebirth. Identity. Courage. Lie. Sin. Loss. Loneliness. Crowds. Man. Life. Ideas. Ideals. Illusions. Miracles. Mirages. Memories. Sadness. Knowledge. Future. Unknown. Unspoken. Discontentment. Hope. Unseen. Insecurity. Arrogance. Nowness. Terror. Order. Pleasure. Dreams. Duality. Signification. Anthem. Signs. Paths. Scratches. Scars. Tears. Smiles. Colours. Wounds. Tyrants. Martyrs. Chaos. Children. Innocence. Ferocity. Strenght. Guilt. Passion.

The dog whose leash was longer than his life. We’re tracking meaning, search for identity, fear our limitations. We’ve globalized one’s thoughts. We’re seeing through a pile of different lenses, which are not our own. We don’t have an “own”. We understand difference but don’t accept it. We accept difference but do not understand it. We demand freedom but avoid it. We hear but not listen. We watch but do not see. We scream, forget, and move on. We love and press “enter”. We hate and click “delete”. We shine in our selfies, they die in our factories. She sells her soul, he buys commodity. Some grow apples, some make Apple. Some drown, some swim. Some play, others get played with. Some know the rules, some follow, some change the rules. Some get money, others get diseases. Some want to escape, a few succeed, others are deceived. We don’t see skin, only colours. We don’t wear masks, we own them.

Some scream, some cry, some fight, some sight, some watch, some change the channel.

The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments – Laura Rascaroli

  • unorthodox, personal, reflexive “new” documentaries
  • widely used, but under-theorized, even more so than other forms of nonfiction
  • hybrid form that crosses boundaries and rests somewhere in between fiction and nonfiction cinema
  • it is self-reflective and self-reflexive (Nora Alter)
  • Theodor Adorno and Georg Lukács – foremost theorists
  • Jean-Luc Godard is widely considered to be an essayistic director; –  stresses the importance of the reflective component of the essay form

Continue reading “The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments – Laura Rascaroli”


No human is an isle. But it is probably a human feature to find a scapegoat, to throw the blame in someone else’s garden. It’s easy. It’s simple. It absolves YOU and ME of any responsibility. Indifference, ignorance, silence, comfort, numbness. We hide from the dark side of the world. We hide from atrocities because they do not happen to us, we pity the “unfortunate” one, as long as they do not violate our borders.

When put front in front with the grotesque, revolting, shameful truth, one has no alternative but looking “this monster” right in its hideous eye, in an unmediated and quiet confrontation. And when the confrontation is over, when one admits oneself defeated, and the monster closes its horrid eye, one is left with nothing else but its own image projected in the world one always has been a part of, and taking refuge in one’s imagination of a utopia is not the solution. The only solution is shouldering the creation of “this monster”, not necessarily directly, but by not knowing, by not admitting, by turning one’s eye from its existence, by not making one step to prevent it, stop it, or to raise awareness… and responsibility is the worst, with it comes guilt, shame, it breaks comfort into pieces, but it brings change, little by little, step by step, day by day, human by human.

This being said I have no intention for my short video montage to be beautiful. It cannot be beautiful because the reality which it has to contain isn’t beautiful. It will be exaggerated, dramatically grotesque, or extremely austere. It will not be easy to watch, it does not have to be digestible, it will be neither fluent nor narrative. It needs to be as the facts themselves, bothersome, uneasy, ugly and painful at some moments, antithetic in itself.

It will be subjective, deeply personal; it will be a part of me. I will use stills from films that I’ve watched, and which lingered in my memory, music that impressed me. I want it to be more of an emotion than a story.

I wish the viewer not to watch this montage, but to feel it.

Writing Desire

She is loving and traditional… yet, no matter her traditionalism, she sets herself up on the world wide web to find a husband, most likely from the West as she is from the “dark, undeveloped, barbaric” part of the earth.

Ursula Biemann’s film, “Writing Desire”, confused me, as in fact, does the whole process of ordering women online. I just watched “Birthday Girl” a few days ago, but still, when thinking about this phenomenon, the first film which comes to my mind is “Lilya 4-ever”, which might actually be one of the most tragic films I ever saw. It saddens and revolts me not the idea of putting yourself out for sale on the internet, but the motives and lack of options behind it. In Romania, there was this phenomenon a few years ago which I kind of associated this whole process of online wives, when people, qualified people, left the country to work in other countries in places where the locals would never think of working and for a petty salary which was anyway more than they would have earned in Romania. These people weren’t just some unemployed young people, they were mostly parents, who saw their children once a year, if lucky because they thought that for their kids the money they sent was more important than their presence.

I think the video’s lack o narrative is replaced by suggestive images, running at a fast pace because of the sound background. And even though it blitz you with all these images, some of them representing just cities at night, and with the rhythmic melody which resembles the song from Holiday’s advertising, you still get the feeling that this is not a promotional advert for your perfect vacation. Something in the monotony of the sound background, the blurry images, their changing speed gives the viewer, meaning me, the feeling that what it represents is awfully wrong. Of course, the silence moments, the black moments, and the verbal discourse come to reinforce this feeling, to confirm it. And the title, “Writing desire” is ambiguous. Whose desire? How can you write a desire? The desire for writing? Well, the desire these women are writing is not actually written but can be read between the lines, it is their desire for a better life, their desire to escape from the place and the life they are forced to live.