Monday, August 27, 2007

Hell in Eros Interview, Part II - 'This is fucking awesome!'

KE: You admit that your critical approach to these films is rooted in Lacanian psychoanalysis and the writings of Zizek. These writers, along with writings by critical thinkers such as Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, make up the course's theoretical focus. What is it about these writers that appeals to you and why are their ideas relevant to discussion on Japanese cinema? Why have you decided to utilize their writings more often than texts that explicitly deal with Japanese cinema?

RM: Before starting the class I had an idea of what readings I’d like to do and some of the concepts that I’d be playing with. To be honest, I felt that none of the readings were going to go over well with the rest of the group since they were “difficult.” I made the pretentious mistake of handing out an essay by Felix Guattari, “A Cinema of Desire,” during thef irst class to show how cool and well-read I am. I hadn’t read it in some time and only got to read it after the first class, so I came back for the second class apologizing for handing out such a “difficult” piece, but the majority of the class enjoyed it and really wanted to discuss it. Although I had only intended the readings to be secondary to the screenings I found that as the course went on and we were reading things by Bataille and Zizek people were really wanting to discuss the readings and go further with theoretical side of the class. I have to admit I was caught off-guard about this since I never planned “lectures” or discussion entry points into the readings. Actually, the one time I tried to do a formal lecture — with chalkboard illustrations and everything — I got heckled! I totally deserved it too!

So, again this goes back to my intention for the class — that the screenings would serve as a vehicle for a discussion of desire. I guess the course fits in somewhere between a philosophy course and film course and for this reason I didn’t assign too many film history/theory texts. I really didn’t want too much to get in the way of a discussion of how the films address the question of desire. That said, as the course progressed I found it was necessary to contextualize the films within not only a historical context but also an artistic one.For example, I found when I screened Wakamatsu’s 'Ecstasy of the Angels' (1972) and Oshima’s 'Diary of a Shinjuku Thief' (1968) that it was necessary to talk not only about the student movement in Japan in the late 60s but also how the Japanese New Wave was aligned with the Art Theatre Guild and they were making films in response to the same thing the students were rallying against. So, yeah, maybe it was na├»ve for me to completely leave out the film history/theory side of the course. I have to admit to not being a huge expert on this side of things so I think I was maybe hesitant to provide such information.

KE: In Hannah Arendt's introduction to Walter Benjamin's 'Illuminations', she describes Benjamin's conception of the collector as a revolutionary, one who 'redeem[s] the object as a thing since it now is no longer a means to anend but has intrinsic worth' (that is, redeems the object 'from the drudgery of usefulness') and in so doing complements the redemption of people from their labour. You yourself are a collector of films and I believe have laid claim to ownership of hundreds of movies. Do you understand what you are doing in Benjamin's terms, or is there a more prosaic motive behind your collecting?

RM: I think collecting is what little boys do, and I fully admit that my collection is borne of the fact that I’ve yet to graduate into full adulthood and that in many ways the 2000+ films I have are the collection of a little boy! I know I’m never going to have the time to watch even half of them. I have no idea, for example, when I’m going to feel in the mood to watch Charles Bronson in Death Wish 1 through 5 or all of Fassbinder’s films.

My life has been a succession of different collections. I started collecting comic books as a youngster so I’d be chasing every appearance of “Tiger Shark” in the Sub-Mariner comic. I then moved on to collecting vinyl records so I’d be chasing stupid 7’ singles of this or that obscure band. Somewhere along the way I took up collecting dolls and action figures and I’d be chasing a mint condition carded Mego Captain America doll. It must be a sublimation for something! I’m going to have to ask my therapist…

In many ways I think collecting is a perfect metaphor for desire — we’re always chasing something and when we finally catch it we’re always disappointed because it was the case and not the catch. That’s why collections are absolutely predicated on lack — a collection is never complete and when it is, we often find reasons why it’s not or we move on to another collection to start again. I mean I would often look my various collections and be absolutely miserable because there was something missing from it: “If I only had the 8-inch Fist-Fighting Batman with Karate Action I could be happy!” Manufacturers aren’t stupid, that’s why they create obscenely small print runs of that Charizard hologram card so that they can make every 10 year-old Pokemon collector miserable. Actually, they probably make their parents miserable who have to put up with their kids.

Jesus! I really didn’t answer your question! Benjamin? Arendt? Films? Japanese? Want to repeat it again? I tend to rile myself up like this… I think I should go lie down…

KE: What objectives did you set for the class upon establishing it this summer?

RM: I’m not sure if I have any concrete objective for the course other than facilitating a space where we can watch film and discuss it. The reason for not having a specific objective is that I know people are coming to the class for different reasons and I’m completely fine with that. Some people are there to learn more about Japanese cinema, others are there for the desire component and some just show up to goof around. It’s all good.

Just the other week we were watching Yasuzo Masmura’s 'Manji' (1964) and in the middle of the screening someone from the group bursted out laughing: “this is fucking awesome!” I guess you can say that is the type of audience member I had hoped to attract! Objective met!

KE: How is your class in particular and the AFU in general advertised? Have these methods been successful?

RM: This is an interesting question and it’s something we’ve often grappled with at the AFU. My quick and immediate answer would be to say “no” and that we could benefit from more exposure for what we do — I think more people would be involved if they knew we existed! We were just recently written up in the Globe and Mail and have received some other “mainstream” exposure, but we’ve tended to stay low on the radar. I dunno, maybe it’s for the best?

This Fall we’re doing outreach with some alternative high schools in the area and we’re going to have some of our classes count as school credits. We’re also trying to create better connections with various universities. We’ll have to see how this all works out.

For my own class I did absolutely no advertising—just what was put on the website. Although weekly attendance wildly varied from 5 to 25, I was happy with the enrolment for my individual course where I had about 30 students. I figured anything more than 30 would have been unmanageable. I’m still debating actually promoting any of my future courses since I prefer things to be more intimate rather than have more people show up to my class just to allow me to feel popular.

KE: What films are you planning to screen in the coming weeks?

RM: Well, we’re on hiatus for the summer - I’m just too busy with other projects during August. Also, with the weather being so nice it gets hard for me to commit every week. I am, however, restarting/rebooting the class in September for the Fall semester.

There were about four films that I intentionally didn’t get around to showing the first time around — Miike’s 'Imprint' (2005), Masamura’s 'Blind Beast' (1969), Oshima’s 'In The Realm of the Senses' (1976) and Miike’s 'Ichi The Killer' (2001) — and I’m using them as “bait” to encourage the folks who showed up to the first instalment of this class to come back for the second. The reason I held off on showing these films also had a practical purpose because I think they all exemplify what I’m doing with this course — it would just be a good way to wrap up all the themes of the course.

KE: What do you hope attendees of your class will take away from the experience?

RM: To come away from the class saying “this is fucking awesome!”

No comments: