Feature Friday: “Sans soleil” (1983)

[Note: Some number of previous Feature Friday films—7/20, I think—have since disappeared from YouTube. Such is the nature of gray market broadband video. So if you want to watch the films I link to, you’d better act fast, because better than 1/3 of them probably won’t stick around. It’s like Netflix Streaming! Meanwhile, I’ll look around for replacement videos…]

If nothing else, watch the first minute of this one, one of the most beautiful opening minutes in all of cinema.

I came across Sans soleil after a college professor showed me La Jetée (1962). This was not long after Twelve Monkeys (1995) came out. Terry Gilliam was then my favorite director, and my very first piece of film criticism was a problematic materialist reading of La Jetée and Twelve Monkeys. I like to think today that Marker would smile and forgive me.

In 2007, Criterion Collection released La Jetée and Sans soleil together. Like with Stop Making Sense, I sometimes play them in the background while I work. I never get tired of watching or listening to either, especially Sans soleil. Alexandra Stewart‘s voice is Melancholy Incarnate.

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Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?

“Evolution of Dance” by Judson Laipply (2006) (still).

In my last post on this topic, I argued that cinema can be redefined as “the cinematic arts,” which would include not only movies and short films, but also music videos, commercials, TV programs, experimental film and video, installation art, video games, Flash animations, animated gifs, and even “nonelectrical” forms of moving images, such as flipbooks and camera obscuras. This redefinition raises a few questions:

  1. Why should we do this? What would this expansive reconsideration get us?
  2. Can it be done? Can the same critical apparatus that we use to describe and analyze feature films be successfully applied to, say, animated gifs? Or camera obscuras?
  3. What would the be the common currency of cinema?

After the jump, I’ll try answering each of these questions.

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The Barthelme Problem

[This post is something of a response to John’s recent post, and some of the comments made there by Darby, John, and me.]

Back in high school/college, my favorite filmmakers were Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway, and Martin Scorsese:

As you can see, I gravitated toward a visually spectacular cinema. Everything else looked so boring! So mundane!

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Style as Imitation

Leonardo #1, page 17 (1987) (detail; First Publishing reprint). Art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.


My father, who once trained as a baker, taught me when I was a kid how to bake an apple pie. I don’t know where he got the original recipe from; I highly doubt that he invented it. Certainly he didn’t invent the idea of baking pies. And he didn’t invent the idea of baking an apple pie.

He was very clear about certain instructions:

  • always use Granny Smith apples;
  • always use ice-cold water;
  • touch the dough as little as possible.

Since then, I’ve baked several apple pies, and over time I’ve modified the recipe slightly, but it’s essentially the same (and I never violate his prime instructions).

When I make a new apple pie, I’m not doing anything new.

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Notes on Twee, part 2: The Crash Test Dummies (Those Avant-Garde Harbingers of Mainstream Superheroes, School Plays, and the Willful Embrace of Nostalgia)

Was this the Twee avant-garde?

In my last post in this series, I embedded and linked to every single music video I know that uses the concept of the video as a school musical. (Please let me know if I’ve missed any; I’m sure there are more.) Such videos became especially pronounced in the 2000s, especially between 2005 and 2007. (Perhaps since then the success of Disney’s High School Musical (2006) has killed the concept?)

The earliest example that I could find was the video for the Crash Test Dummies’ 1994 hit single “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” from their 1993 album God Shuffled His Feet. Embedding has been disabled for this video, but I’d encourage you to go watch it. (I’ll go watch it, too, and relive the glory days of my high school senior year).

What strikes me most about this video now, aided by hindsight, is how avant-garde it is. By this I don’t mean that it’s experimental; rather, my point is that this video anticipates a good deal of the next 15–20 years of US culture. (And I don’t think the Crash Test Dummies were unique in this, but they make for a convenient example. Also, I think it’s amusing to point out how so many aesthetic elements supposedly novel today were in fact already with us two decades ago.)

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