Lav Diaz Official Website

This is a short blog post to promote the new, official website of slow-film director Lav Diaz from the Philippines. If you’re interested in his work, there’s quite a bit on the website already, but there will be more in future.

Via the website, it is now possible to buy copies of his films. You can also financially support his work.

Another important news in the same context is the set-up of a Twitter account, which collects everything that is written or reported on Lav Diaz and his films. It is extremely difficult to keep an overview, and I was thinking a while ago of splitting my Twitter account into one for general Slow (Cinema) stuff and one for Lav Diaz because there’s a lot out there somehow.

In agreement with Hazel Orencio, this Twitter account (@lavdiazofficial), which I will maintain, runs in connection with his website. It makes things a lot easier, and should be more up-to-date for the website user as it is difficult to maintain the website itself in between film production, post-production, festivals, etc etc This Twitter account is meant to help.

Please check out Lav’s website, and follow lavdiazofficial on Twitter if you want to be up-to-date about what’s going on.

Southcliffe is Slow

Is it really?

The new four-part drama on Channel 4 received substantial attention before the first episode went on air. This was not only due to the rather sensitive issues of trauma, loss and grief. It initially caught my attention because it had been described as “slow”. This was the case at least for the first episode, and I thought that the whole series was supposed to use a pace different to the one we’re used to see on television.

True, Southcliffe starts off slow. The takes are fairly long, the pans are slow. So are the zooms. It is set in a small village far off civilisation as it seemed to me. There were also quite a few scenes that began and ended with temps mort. Some of the shots reminded me strongly of slow films. Those shots taken from inside a car driving through the countryside, for example, can only evoke memories of Ben Rivers’ Two Years At Sea.

The first episode builds up towards the fatal shooting rampage in Southcliffe. The slow pace is therefore suitable because it supports the tension slowly creeping up on you. It creates an eerie feeling. It is idyllic and quiet. At the same time, however, it is creepy because you know that this idyllic landscape will be home to a shooting rampage. So, yes. The first episode got me. The takes could have been a tick longer, though, but this is personal preference, I suppose.

The big BUT happens in episode two. The series doesn’t stick to its pace, even though I think that if you really wanted to explore this topic properly, you needed slowness. The takes are shorter, and there is less in-depth exploration of the actual situation the characters are in. The jump between episode two and three was too big (too fast?), and I read that episode four will be set a year after the shooting. Now, if this is not a fast treatment of trauma…

What I’m trying to say is that it looked slow at the beginning, but the overall pace across the four episodes doesn’t match the pace required to create a powerful insight into what I think they wanted to explore: the harrowing aftermath of a shooting rampage.

For this to be a success you would need to spend more time with the characters. True, I did argue in my other blog that it may appear like standing on a motorway during rush hour after you’ve been hit by a traumatising event. However, this is not about showing the motorway. It is about a character study, which can only be done slowly.

TV producers can learn a lot from Slow Cinema in this respect. The time spent on character studies is exactly what always makes it seem so “boring”. But once you have spent six hours with a character in a slow film and feel as if you yourself have been through six hours of tormenting thoughts and violence, then you will spot the remarkable difference it makes if mental issues are not explored slowly and when you’re suddenly asked to jump one year ahead in the narrative from one episode to the next.

This is not to say that Southcliffe isn’t a good series. It’s one of the few TV dramas I would perhaps recommend. And I hate TV, so that’s something. I only wished they would have done it a bit slower.

Slow Cinema vs Slow Film

The MeCCSA conference was great in many ways. One of them was that I did not feel alone in questioning the term ‘Slow Cinema’. There is a reason why Harry Tuttle refers to it as ‘Contemplative Cinema’. It is a much more open term, which does not reduce the films to the apparent slowness. However, in the majority of writings, Slow Cinema is nevertheless very much in use. This makes it sometimes difficult for me to write my thesis, because I have to position my work somewhere (and it has to be SC as Lav Diaz is generally included in this category) while at the same time trying my best not to use the term all too much. Simply because it is inadequate, and I do not really want to become a Slow Cinema expert. I merely try to write a thesis on the aesthetics of Diaz’s films.

Anyway, I received very good feedback on my paper, which I’m glad about. And I’m even happier about one question I was asked after my presentation: “Can you explain the difference between Slow Cinema and slow film?”

If someone who has written on SC before reads this, I would like to direct this question to him or her. It’s one of the things that keep bugging me about the term. The question derived from my statement that there are a lot more ‘slow’ films out there, but there’s only a handful of films and filmmakers included in the category of Slow Cinema. This is not exactly an assumption. It is a fact. So why do Romney et al focus on these specific films and filmmakers?

The question is a good one, and I do not have an answer to this. It merely highlights the limits of the term. A friend of mine is writing a thesis on the effects of slowness in Romanian cinema. I’m familiar with a few films, and I can say for sure that they appear slow. The woman who asked me the question referred to a Spanish film from the 1990s, which she was sure about was slow, but was never ‘Slow Cinema’. You could argue that the film was made too early. The term was only coined in the early 2000s. However, there are nevertheless contemporary slow films out there which are never discussed in critical writings of Slow Cinema. Beyond the Hills is one of them.

I have two vague suggestions here. First, slow films which are not included in the Slow Cinema category were or are made in countries, which we see as ‘slower’ as our extremely capitalist countries, which are focused on profit and time-saving. We only need to shift our attention to Eastern Europe. It is not very fair, but we humans have the habit of comparing A and B in order to make sense of things. With respect to those countries, we predominantly see them as “backwards”, a horrible term, but I can’t come up with a more adequate one that conveys the same message. I guess what happens is that critics see this kind of film output as ‘normal’ for this region and don’t bother taking it further. They focus on those slow films that are produced predominantly in high-speed countries.

Second, critics may have attempted to narrow down the field of ‘slow film’ by focusing on specific aesthetics. I, for my part, would say that those films that are Slow Cinema are perhaps more arty. They’re highly photographic, even painterly. But then again, this does not apply to all Slow Cinema films. I wouldn’t include Lisandro Alonso in the arty Slow Cinema category. However, he is, apparently, a Slow Cinema filmmaker.

I guess that critics wanted to make it easier by grouping filmmakers into one category. Instead, they have made it more complicated and confusing. I do not have a straightforward answer to the question above, but I will keep thinking about it.

Sweeping Generalisations

I’m getting the last things ready for the 10th MeCCSA PGN conference at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. I will present a paper on my approach to Slow Cinema, and hope to gather feedback which would help me to further my research. If all goes well, I can publish an extended edition of the paper later in the MeCCSA PGN journal. I will also join the editorial board of Stirling University’s PG journal Stryvling, which should be a good experience. I’m hoping for a special Slow Cinema edition for 2014, but nothing is decided or clear yet. This is merely a proposal I made a few weeks ago. We shall see what comes out of it.

As summer looms over us, things become quiet in the news. As is the case with Slow Cinema. One of the few things that have appeared recently, is the editorial by Nick James in the latest edition of Sight & Sound. He writes

People do make sweeping generalisations after Cannes. I myself have remarked online that the absence of any film I saw there that fits the ‘slow cinema’ category – except Lav Diaz’s excellent Norte, The End of History – might signal the passing of that post-Tarkovskian approach to cinema. To which anyone might reply that one goose flying south does not make a winter.

No, one goose doesn’t make a winter. I find this indeed to be a sweeping generalisation. Cannes never has been a major platform for Slow Cinema. Béla Tarr’s The Man from London premiered in Cannes in 2007. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee won the Golden Palm in 2010. More than ten years earlier, Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole played in Cannes. If you look through the screening lists of Cannes, it is evident that slow films are screened here and there. Yet, we can’t speak of a major focus on Slow Cinema.

This was little different from this year’s festival, at which Lav Diaz’s new film was the only slow film shown. That this was the case does not at all indicate that Slow Cinema is in retreat. It is simply business as usual. Besides, the film critics don’t exactly help to keep SC in the public either. Two critics gave their Top Ten of the festival. Both of them ranked Norte at the top. But only one critic actually wrote something on the film. However, a mere eight sentence lot on the top film of the festival is for me poor critical and journalistic work.

That said, Norte is screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic at the moment. Literally. They are one hour in 🙂

The Power of Time

People who prefer slowness in their lives argue that we’re all slaves of the clock. Those who can’t live without the constant rush of adrenaline argue that this is grossly exaggerated. However, the concept of being a slave of the clock has a history most of us may not at all be aware of. There are three aspects to it (I will do this only briefly here, more details in my actual thesis):

1) Christianity was the first religion that was focused heavily on doing religious services at the ‘correct time’. This was initially indicated by sun clocks, or water clocks, until the mechanical clock was invented. The pursuit of religious services became more rigorous and were a must for devoted and time-obedient Christians. In a way, then, it was from the beginning the clock that ruled when to pray (Aventi 1995; Landes 1983).

2) The mechanical clock was an ideal instrument to exercise power. Take Charles V of France, for instance. At the end of the 14th century, he had a clock installed in his palace, and requested that all other clocks be adjusted to his time. With that being the case, he also ruled when his inferiors were allowed to do certain things. They were thus enslaved by the clock (and by Charles V) (Scattergood 2003).

3) Finally, the power of time on a larger scale; colonialism. European powers introduced mechanical clocks to those countries they conquered. The technically advanced clocks were seen to be an ideal example to show the superiority of European cultures. I mentioned elsewhere that Lav Diaz explained that the Filipino’s perception of time had changed when the Spanish colonisers conquered the islands and introduced the mechanical clock. In a way you can apply my second point from above here; the ruling power introduces her ‘time’ and the colonised have to obey (Geißler 2012).

In general, the mechanical clock allowed it Man to detach time from Nature. This meant that he was in control, and what would prevent him from using this tool to exercise power on his fellows to secure his dominant position?

Norte – A slow step towards public recognition

It looks as though Norte was good but not good enough for a prize at this year’s Cannes festival. A couple of people are surprised. Yet, knowing Lav Diaz, he most likely doesn’t care. He makes films not for awards, but for cinema. And this he did. I’m personally very happy that I can call him my ‘research subject’ 🙂

Although, I may, in fact, have to re-think this, because he crossed my plans. Norte seems to be different from his previous films I study for my research. His previous oeuvre led me to a unique approach to Slow Cinema. And now, he’s using colour in his film, and sweeping camera shots – this kind of goes against my plan. Thou shalt explain…

Anyway, colour or black-and-white, static or moving camera – I’m looking forward to seeing this latest masterpiece of his.

Let me give you a few extracts from reviews I’ve read since Thursday. These won’t contain spoilers, promised!

“Those who entered Diaz’s world swam somewhere else than the Riviera for those brief hours, and were rewarded with quite possibly the best film there.” (Daniel Kasman for MUBI)

“They took their seats, the lights went down, the movie came up, and I sat there. Two-hundred-fifty minutes later, the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life. (Note: I’ve actually never clapped for a movie before.)” (Wesley Morris, Grantland)

“By comparison, the four-hour Norte is a miniature, but it’s also an accessible film, a superb piece of focused narrative that’s more immediately coherent than such digressive pieces as 2009’s Melancholia.” (Jonathan Romney, Screendaily)

In fact, it’s difficult to give you more than this because they all agree on the fact that Diaz’s film was magnificent. I’m glad that he had this experience, and I’m sure that Norte will be accepted at other festivals, too. If you want to read full reviews (which contain spoilers, beware!), you can find links in my Slow Tweets to your right.

As for the award, I’m a bit 50-50 about it. Of course, I would have liked to see him getting the award, or any award in the Un Certain Regard section. It may have been a bit too much all at once, though. I think the effect of his work for cinema will be more effective if he slowly creeps into people’s cinematic world and mind.

I want to end this brief entry with something Lav said in a recent interview with Keyframe. This says it all about Slow Cinema – why write a 80k thesis about it, if you can fit it all into a few sentences?

One of the greatest struggles in a human life is against time. We confine ourselves to some routines, we think it’s time—and it’s not, it’s just action. But if you think of time, it’s just about death and mortality and so are my films. I struggle with time but also respect space; they go together. For them to harmonize in my praxis I need to do long takes or one take. I’m trying to be truthful. I don’t want to manipulate time or space. I’m trying to subordinate the idea that [in cinema] we’re just following the characters. Look at the world, take your time! It’s all about seeing. Many young people don’t necessarily respond to that. ‘It doesn’t fit into my schedule.’ That’s a very important line nowadays.

Looking slowly

I hope that you slowed down a bit yesterday, on the International Slow Art Day. It was a lovely thing to do, and I can’t wait for next year. I have to admit, though, that I toy with the idea of setting up a personal Slow Art Day in about six months – a whole year without slow looking is too long!photo2

We were eight people at the McManus in Dundee. Slightly less than I had expected, but it was an ideal number for the discussion of our experience that followed the art viewing. The artworks I have chosen were “Pictish Artefact No 3”, “Island“, “Fairy Tale or Summer Incident“, “Moorland and Mist“, “Love’s Young Dream” and “Demon Mask”. I chose the different types of “art” deliberately. Especially the demon mask is an artefact you would normally only pass by. I had done so several times before, and I can say for sure that it was worth looking at it in more detail.

Even though I study slow films, and have been arguing for a while now that they appear to be static, I had troubles at the beginning to stay with an actual static image for five minutes or more. For me, it was an entirely different experience. Similar to Slow Cinema, you have to learn how to look slowly at static art. No painting will attract you in the same way another one does, or even appall you. It is thus important that you find your way into it and learn how to look at it. From an angle, from a distance, standing up, sitting down – if you do this, you will realise (slowly) that the painting in front of you changes whenever you change. I had a particularly striking example with “Moorland and Mist”. The sun that came through the rooftop windows had a considerable effect on how I experienced the viewing. Once the sun disappeared behind clouds, the painting evoked a different atmosphere.

photoUnfortunately, I could find only a tiny image of “Island” for this blog. This was my favourite, and that of the group. I suppose it is the ideal painting for a day like this. It seems like a minimalist painting at first sight. If this was a film frame, I would say that it was empty and didn’t contain a lot of information. But because you weren’t distracted by dozens of objects and colours, it was a perfect painting to stay with for a long time. I could have stayed for an hour.

It was by all means a valuable experience, and I’m glad that I signed up to be a host. I merely wanted to find out what this was all about and how it feels to look slowly at art. Thanks to all attendees!

I’m keen on hosting the event at Stirling University next year and will post a registration link here once the event page is up and running.

To return to my actual topic, Slow Cinema, Catherine Grant from Film Studies for Free compiled a good list of writings on Slow Cinema. Worth checking this!