Naked and spectacular

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Films about the life of humans

The New Zealand International Film Festival continues here in Auckland and today there was another interestingly synchronistic double-feature.

Policeman is an Israeli film about a tribe of Police Fighters and a tribe of Revolutionary Socialists.  We are brought into each of their worlds and then we see their violent interaction.

Dead Europe is an Australian film about a man visiting the village of his Greek father for the first time and discovering the lingering hatred and violence throughout Europe.

Both of these films have very bleak views of the price of confronting the damaged nature of our societies.  The idealistic youngsters in the first film feel compelled to address the economic imbalance in Israel.  "It is time for the poor to get rich and the rich to start dying,"  they announce.  They are not the only ones to feel this way.  Last year there was a massive demonstation in Tel Aviv involving half a million people (1/16th of the population of the state) in favour of significant changes to government, social and economic behaviour.  As unprecedented numbers of people around the world have discovered in recent years even peaceful demonstations against governments and corporations eventually end with dispersion or destruction from Riot Police.  However, the characters in this film are quite happy to use violence themselves and thus justify a rapid and uncompromising violence from Police.  What can be done to change society if any mass attempt leads to anti-human Police violence?  Policeman shows that terrorists and police are groups made up of human beings and that one group does violence much more successfully than the other.

Dead Europe has an equally hopeless but much less concise story to tell.  Ambiguity and depravity emerge from every dank corner of Europe that the protagonist encounters, revealing little that can be made sense of.  It is a sprawling trashy and convoluted mythical exploration of why Australia came to be a European colony.  Why would anyone want to leave Europe for this new continent, you might ask?  Tony Krawitz's film suggests that perhaps it is because Europe is dead, a cesspool of generations of dehumanising violence, exploitation and self-abuse.  The only solution, it seems, is to leave and never return.  There is no hope for a land that has been the stage for so many centuries of incomprehensible and unjustifiable acts, we can only give our lives and our passports to our children while they still possess the hope to venture out into the world for a better life, leaving behind the continent where it all happened and the habits of the parents who allowed it all to continue.

It would be easy to understand emerging from this double-feature devoid of hope for any type of future or instead choosing a denial that replaces the difficult face of reality.  I emerged onto the rainy night street of Auckland, however, with a clarity and a peace that is the result of powerful art experiences bringing to world into focus.  It would be easy to have no hope, some might say; but I disagree.  Hope is essential and logical and there was a third film today which exemplified the hope that I continue to experience.

Winter Nomads began my day, before this double-feature.  It is a Swiss documentary about a man and a woman, donkeys, dogs and a huge flock of sheep performing the traditional winter practice of moving the herd around to glean the final vegetation of the year from every available grassland.  These two humans live a simple life with their animals, in the snow, relaxing by the fire in the evening, sleeping in the tent with the dogs.  The practice is going out of fashion and some progressive locals oppose their tradition but when we sit with these people we realise what a human being is and receive a palpable peaceful suggestion about how human beings might live.


from Anarchy – a novel I can't be bothered finishing

The stage was set for another democracy performance.  This elaborate and expensive play had been performed once every three years in New Zealand for many years.  It was nothing new.  And yet each and every time there was the promise of something new, something special.  The possibility that the act of democracy would elect an individual who would create profound change in our world, in our country.  An individual who would go that extra mile, who would take it further than anyone had taken it before.  Who would align with the values and the needs of the Mainstream Kiwi and our government would explode in bursts of colour and light, symbolic balloons and streamers would erupt from the beehive like a swarm of love and leadership.  But every year the country ended up with a spineless slug, of sufficient matter to fit into any square hole or ergonomic office chair that happened to already be lying around in parliament.  They were the anti-revolutionists.  Heading, with every passing year, as New Zealanders values become broader and more open-minded due to inevitable creep of globalisation and secularism, towards centrism; the entire political spectrum shrinking into a dash and readily becoming a full stop.  A This-Is-What-You-Get end to the wonderful ancient invention known as democracy.  Is the inevitable end to democracy a slow but certain self-consumption?  A swallowing of one's self?

The billboards stood tall and strong like meercats staked to the ground.  At every corner they proudly display the smiling faces of their digestible candidates

I walked down the street and I saw one of those fucking political signs and I said, “Goddamn politicians, make me pay for their propaganda.”  It looked like that thin plasticky shit so I thought I could just yank it off the wood, but it cut my fuckin' hands up and I ended up leaving the stupid thing, completely attached.  And some stupid old lady was staring at me like I was defiling a religious image of Her Majesty Mary of Nazareth or something and I just glared at her like, “what?” and she just kept walking, like pretending she hadn't been giving me the evils and I stared up at that big billboard with that smiling rich prick in the suit and I said, “I'm gonna fuckin' destroy you and your shit-eating grin.”
            When I got home I told my flatmate Albert about it and he said, “So?” and I said, “Doesn't it piss you off?” and he said, “No.  Why should it?”  And I walked away in a huff.  I live with such morons that I just can't stand it.  If they could at least figure out how to do the dishes properly I wouldn't mind, but even that's a big challenge.  Sometimes I have visions of blowing the back of their heads off with a handgun and then I wonder whether I could get away with it, but I never come up with a good enough plan and I always get bored pretty quickly cause I guess if I was going to shoot someone it would be fucking Winston Peters or John Key.  Don Brash saved his own skin getting out of politics fast enough.  But if I saw him on the street he'd get the hiding of his life.
            I called my mum 'cause I wanted to have a proper conversation with someone and she just told me that we have left-wing and we have right-wing and you may agree with one or the other, but we're lucky that they both balance each other out and what we are left with represents all New Zealanders.  I told her what if you think they're all bloodsucking leeches with as much moral power as a store-brand battery and how can you vote for little electronic bunnies that have no personality and no commitment and have to be wound up by months of public funding and she said, “What?”  I decided to get literal and get eloquent and try to speak in my mother's language and so I asked her what she thought of the concept of anarchy.  “It's an absurd idea,” she told me.  “For starters, how does a country run without any organisation or laws?  For second starters, how can anarchy be a concept and how can it be a political system because as soon as it becomes organised it ceases to be anarchy and without any sort of organisation how is it going to overcome the firmly established institution of democracy?”
            “I'm not about to form an anarchist group, Mum.  I'm just exploring possibilities that offer us a little more than democracy has.”
            “It's futile.”
            It's futile.  You just have no imagination.  The times they are a-changin', Mum.  Democracy has left us with nothing but debt and depression.”
            “Oh, what've you been reading, Henry.”
            “Nothing, you know I don't read.  We've just been having classes at uni.  Everyone's anti-democracy at the moment.  You can get 500 bucks if you set up a club and this guy Jonas wants to set up an anarchy club and he said he's aware of the irony, he wants the money and he wants to stir some shit.”
            “I'm just saying what he said.”

Jonas got his $500 and the Anarchists Anti-Club was formed.  Surprisingly for Jonas, people actually turned up to the first meeting.  Many were long-haired, scruffy and unshaven.  Wore dark clothes, slumped shoulders.  Others were well-dressed and confident, with a conspiratorial gleam in their eyes.  The first meeting was not very anarchic, which went along with Jonas's sense of irony, as it was largely taken up by the detailed rantings of an old man who claimed to be part of a failed communist party take-over of parliament.  He then moved to a commune on Waiheke Island and was disappointed to find it as pointless and irritating as flatting with way too many people who wouldn't do the dishes or replace the toilet paper.  He was, at 65, ready for some anarchy.  He was studying again because his wife left him.  These three interweaving stories were the feature attraction of Anarchists Anti-Clubs first successful gathering.  On the way out a giggling and apparently stoned individual kicked over some chairs and drew an anarchists “A” on one of the tables with a vivid.  If the details of this event were at all interesting, I would go into them.  Henry attended, curious.  “Organisation is so boring,” he commented to his girlfriend Michelle on the way out.  “I knooow,” she conceded.


Beasts of the Southern Wild

The world has been blessed with the spectacular new film Beasts of the Southern Wild by director Benh Zeitlin.  Never have I seen a film that so beautifully and intensely celebrates life, the unavoidable interconnectedness and similitude of all life and the strangeness of our time, its filth and its beauty.

Civilisation itself is confronted with its own perversity and the irresistible brilliance of the film and its six-year-old protagonist, Hushpuppy, challenges the fact that the film is likely to be shown within the same civilisation.  There is no hint of morality or sentimentality, no tenderness around the characters being abducted from their homes and taken to the "Open Arms" shelter or their excessive consumption of alcohol.  There is no such thing as hygiene, dry housing, plastic wrapping or products to be purchased; only that which is sacred is held onto, the vitality and joy of life, the love and community of every form of life.  What is not valued is that which reduces life; sterility, authority, levees, weakness, and these unnecessary elements are avoided without moral questioning.

What are we to think, the audience for this film?  The best of us sit down for a meal together around a table with plates and cutlery eating cuisine with manners; the rest of us perhaps sit on the couch in front of the television eating precooked meals defrosted in the microwave.  In the film the characters pour living seafood onto the table and when a man tries to teach Hushpuppy how to crack open a crab with a knife he is shouted down with chants to the girl, "BEAST IT!  BEAST IT!" and she cracks the shell with her bare hands and sucks out the raw flesh and climbs onto the table in her gumboots and shrieks.

Who are the beasts and who are the domesticated?  What do these children really deserve?  To stay in their home while it drastically changes around them living a full life of chaos and joy and difficulty?  Or do they deserve to be protected from life, sanitised, educated, patronised?  Do our children deserve to live in harmony with their environment, understanding their place in their community, feeling a strong and conscious understanding of the natural world of which they are involved or do they deserve to be locked in houses with airconditioning and soap and shuttled to schools and prescribed activities?  They questions are not addressed by the film, their absence is much louder than their presence ever could be.  What is presented is merely a story of a small girl learning to grow strong while her father dies.  She grew up with none of this civilisation and she is given no reason to choose it, even when those who think that every child deserves to have it forced upon them intervene briefly and ineffectively.

What is undeniable is the intensity possible in life, no matter what the situation; what is undeniable is our severe lack in this department, as we sit in together in a beautiful theatre seeing this life-affirming film, in rows, in clothes and shoes, feeling a swelling of emotion inside our bodies as the music grows loud and the title appears huge on the screen, but sitting there quietly, facing forward.  For some people, I suppose, the veil of their culture is to thick to penetrate and they are thus unable to perceive this world in its purity and beauty, seeing only filth, alcoholism and poverty.  I wonder whether they stumbled into the wrong film, whether their inability or unwillingness to submit to the film's rhythm suggests they should have dedicated their time to a very different type of film, one intended to distract rather than challenge, one designed to reinforce cultural assumptions rather than offer alternatives.  Their are at least two distinct types of film being made and distributed, one is promoted by major companies and shown at multiplexes, one is created with passion by independent filmmakers and shown at film festivals.

These two mediums may share a number of techniques and technologies but they are not remotely similar in intent or effect.  One is commonly called propaganda and is designed to manipulate the viewer into a particular type of perception, one that is defined by an authority figure, in this case the capitalists who run major film studios and the things that they value; namely, money.  The other is commonly known as art and historically has always served to challenge culture, to challenge authority, to derange the senses and throw open sanctioned perceptions to allow a flood of new images, from inside and outside the body.  We are constantly bombarded with imagery and language from many different sources and we do not often consider the importance of choosing what we expose ourselves to.  We may choose advertising, a form openly dedicated to the manipulation and perversion of the human animal into facilitating the mechanisms of modern industrial cities, producing and consuming, working, eating and defecating.  We may choose film festivals, where we are offered many realities from many variations on human culture; we may shun even this and prefer the illegal art of graffiti or unscheduled performance.  Either way, we allow ourselves to be created by those who communicate with us or to us or at us.

It seems to me that life itself is satisfactory and nothing needs to be layered upon it to make it right.  Our heroes in this film, these humans, these animals, these beasts, these filthy outlaws, share their lives with us in the unselfconscious form of drama but without the assumptions hidden in television programmes or action movies, their lives are naked, their buildings are falling apart and their home is flooded.  We are not forced to accept their way of life as normal, because who of us civilised filmgoers could accept it.  I hope that we, having exposed ourselves to such a joyous cinematic expression, are confronted with the implicit messages in the propaganda-type media we expose ourselves to; sitcoms and their assumption of domesticity; advertising and its assumption of material consumption; the news and its assumption that the world is a dangerous place.

The truth is best understood without media intervention and is best perceived without the veil of culture.  It is the responsibility of an adult to seek to destroy the imposed layers of culture and civilisation and connect first with art and then, naked and trembling, with the fullness of life itself; chaotic and yet nurturing; problematic and yet worthwhile; full of conflict and love; never able to be contained or controlled successfully or satisfactorily.


It is my consistent experience that the world is a welcoming and generous place that is here to nourish, stimulate and support us in a mutually beneficial loving symbiotic relationship. 

Therefore, to love, to worship, to respect, and to always act in consideration for our home, which means our environment, every living being in our environment and especially our body, is the greatest gift we can give with the time and energy of our life and the greatest joy we can experience with our life.

I have discovered one infallible method for learning this.  To practice, refine and constantly improve upon this process is the primary purpose of my life.  All it takes is simply to listen to the land, to everything it has to say.  This need not be an ambiguous or metaphysical experience because the earth is communicating with us in every possible way; when we see the bright fruits catching our eyes hanging plentifully off the trees we know it is time to pick the fruit and the juices will be most sweet when the skins are most bright.  If we listen to all of our neighbours, of all species, and respect their communications then we are establishing and expanding our planet's ability to provide a nourishing and accepting environment for everybody, our role as members of the community of this planet.  Perhaps listening to a human companion is not perfected by focussing on their words, but watching the delight in their eyes as they tell you or the trembling of their hands as they struggle to tell you.  To listen to your body is to learn how to be human and the information of the utmost precision and appropriate specifically to being you in the specific time and place you are in.  Every movement of your body, that which you might call pain, emotion, joy, love, frustration, anxiety or beauty, is a communication of fundamental importance to life on this planet.  To listen is my role and of course the reality of the world that speaks to me is the basis of all my actions.

You are my community and I love you.  I am still human even when I pour my energy into this machine in this cubicled room.