Category Archives: film

Annotation, illustration and the movies

(We’ve now completed the notes to Section 4 of “Islands, Inlands”)

One of the main reasons for producing an online full text version of Trigons is the problem of the dead link. The Trigons sequence contains urls pointing to pages that expand on what’s in the text. There’s a link to a youtube clip of Myra Hess playing the Appassionata and there’s another to a page which explains how the signals in the brain can be ‘made’ into music. Both the links that appear in the Shearsman print edition are now dead so we thought that producing an online version would mean that the links could be updated as and when they passed away.

This is not something that’s an optional add on, the poem is quite insistent on the Hess clip:

but reach for something distant in confusion take a look
yourself at youtube.com/watch?v=UNlyxn2Y4 E
before you read
another word..................

In addition to these two, there are others which expand on the text and need to be maintained / updated. Having now completed the first four sections of the first Trigons poem, another element becomes apparent. One of the central events of “Islands Inlands” is the kidnap of General Kriepe on Crete by a band of Cretan partisans led by Patrick Leigh Fermor which I’ve written about before re the dangers of imposing my reading on top of John’s intention. In researching this a bit more I’ve come across a Greek television documentary where the kidnappers and their captive are reunited and Kriepe and Leigh Fermor are interviewed about this adventure. Fortunately there is a version on youtube that’s been dubbed into English so I’ve been able to link to that. I’m also in two minds about linking to “Ill met by Moonlight”, the film version based on W Stanley Moss’ book about the kidnap. At the moment I’m deciding against inclusion because it doesn’t seem to add much to “Trigons”.

I’ve found that, once you start thinking in terms of “material” rather than what’s in print you become immersed in a completely new set of possibilities, from the use of images and how they can relate to the notes and to the poem, the use of audio files for the music that’s written about in the text through to whether to flag up sources that are skewed by bias but nevertheless give a decent account of the event that the work alludes to. Another dimension that I haven’t got my brain around yet is how best to reference place names that might be obscure- I’ve linked Mt. Ida on Crete to the Google map but I can also provide images s well as geographical and geological data. I’m also very fortunate to be working with the maker of this poem and therefore I have this amalgamation of what he wants as the poet and what I want as the reader.

Whilst writing this, Zachary Bos forwarded me a quote from one G Hill on difficulty which seems pertinent to the glozing business:

I think art has a right—not an obligation—to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification. This thought does not originate with me, it’s been far better expressed by others. I think immediately of the German classicist and Kierkegaardian scholar Theodor Haecker, who went into what was called “inner exile” in the Nazi period, and kept a very fine notebook throughout that period, which miraculously survived, though his house was destroyed by Allied bombing. Haecker argues, with specific reference to the Nazis, that one of the things the tyrant most cunningly engineers is the gross oversimplification of language, because propaganda requires that the minds of the collective respond primitively to slogans of incitement. And any complexity of language, any ambiguity, any ambivalence implies intelligence. Maybe an intelligence under threat, maybe an intelligence that is afraid of consequences, but nonetheless an intelligence working in qualifications and revelations . . . resisting, therefore, tyrannical simplification.

This is all very well but I do think there’s a difference between simplification and providing context. I’m also a little suspicious of Hill’s justifications because they change so often (“life’s difficult” “wouldn’t want to insult the intelligence of my readers”) and none of them manage to justify some of his more extreme obscurities (Bradwardine). If I thought that either John or I were trying to provide a “Trigons Lite” then I wouldn’t have started but John’s work is usually packed with real people and real places which provides plenty of scope for providing a ‘neutral’ context.

In his response to an earlier post, John quoted William Empson:

There is no longer a reasonably small field which may be taken as general knowledge. It is impertinent to suggest that the reader ought to possess already any odd bit of information one may have picked up in a field where one is oneself ignorant; such a point may be explained in a note without trouble to anybody; and it does not require much fortitude to endure seeing what you already know in a note.

One of the advantages of the interweb is that you can present information at a number of levels that enable readers to “drill down” as far as they want. Of course we choose when the bottom is reached, the current debate is about to revolve “Mr S Thalassinos” which John feels requires a short note but I’ve now found a quote which ties this fictive character to Giorgos Katsimbalis who is already mentioned in the notes which is useful to me as a reader but may be too much for the poem in terms of providing a disproportionate amount of detail.

I’ve also been trying out a number of “experiments in reading” and it now strikes me that perhaps I should make more use of links in these too. This seems especially important in the case of David Jones’ “The Anathemata” for which Jones provided his own notes as well as a number of images to accompany the text. As I’ve said before, Jones omits to gloss some of the trickier bits and some of the notes require notes of their own. I was continuing with this particular experiment earlier this week and, in order to preserve the sense of immediacy, simply referred to looking on the “interweb” to find more about some of the proper nouns. Half of me thinks that this is okay, that it’s not intended to be a gloss and that people (who want to) should be able to find the same information quite quickly whilst the other half thinks that a link expanding further on the “it’s Ossa on Pellion now” line might be useful.

As John Dillon remarked in a recent response, illustrations and comments alongside poems in manuscript form were reasonably common during the medieval period- as I’m writing I’m resisting the temptation to link to Bodleian MS Douce 104 which carries illustration to the ‘c’ text of “The VisionPiers the Plowman” – and many poets have used photography to accompany their work- Paul Muldoon’s “Plan B” springs to mind. This isn’t to say that poetry on the web should be reduced to a comic book but that it might help, for example to include in the notes an image of the kidnapped general as he is escorted across the island. It might also help to make use of google maps for Smyrna and Leros as well as Ida. I’m sure that there’s a balance to be reached in these things but I don’t think just relying on text is going to be sufficient in the very near future. For example, Trigons has many musical and musicological references which can be augmented with the relevant audio files, the issue for the glozer is whether or not these should be embedded in the page or accessed via a link in the text. I’m of the view that the latter should suffice provided that the “title” tag makes it very clear on rollover what the link leads to.

The other issue that keeps cropping up is the reliability of external sites. We’ve decided not to rely on Wikipedia articles unless we can verify the content but there are some wonderful resources now on some of the more esoteric subjects, there’s a Leigh Fermor blog that is obviously a labour of love but contains invaluable info and resources that we’ve made use of, there’s also an English language site devoted to Karaghiosis, a form of puppet theatre that we’ve obtained a pertinent quote from even though I haven’t been able to verify it.

Conceptualist constraint and the death of poetry

I was going to write a long but considered piece about why I’m against Oulipo-style constraint, using ‘One’ (written by Blake Butler and Vanessa Place and ‘assembled’ by Christopher Higgs as an up to date example of why these things don’t work most of the time.

Then I realised (belatedly) that the poetic form is about constraint, that even ‘free’ verse is constrained by what it isn’t, and that it is these constraints that separate poetry from prose. So, I’m now trying to work out what it is that I dislike and, hopefully, why.

I also need to acknowledge that my own work is acquiring more and more of a conceptual tinge although I’m currently trying to think of this as more documentary and archival. I also need to confess to thinking about doing some constrained film narrative-related stuff on Twitter that has nothing to do with the 147 constraint.

This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t share the purist disdain for all things conceptual which I see as sentimental yet I find some kinds of constraint objectionable. I had thought that this disdain was due to a suspicion of the overly clever or complex which can reduce the worth/value of the ‘result’. Then I recalled the conceit for Nathan Austin’s ‘Survey Says! which is:

Austin alphabetized contestants’ responses to the television game show Family Feud. All of the answers from a five-week run in 2005 and another three weeks in 2008 were arranged according to the second letter of the first word of the phrase, providing the same arbitrary structuring order as many other assemblages of found texts but without the immediately palpable sense of predictable progression that conventional alphabetization provides.

And this is from the work itself:

They save their marriage certifi cate. They save their wedding ring. They say their prayers. They shave it all off. They simply don’t like it? They soak their feet. they step on them. They take a shower when they wake up from a nap. They talk on their cell phone. They twiddle them. They use room spray, or air freshener. They use wolves—wolf. They walk out; they cry; they get popcorn; they go to the bathroom; they leave their seat—no! they get refreshments. They want the temperature to go up.
They wash their hair. They wash their hands. They worry about losing their hair. Oh, golf. Chicago. Chicken. Chicken fingers. Chicken noodle. Chicken of the sea. Chickens fly. Chiffon. Chihuahua. Philadelphia. Children’s education. China. China. China. Think. Chips. Chips. Chips. Thirteen. Three or four, at least. Thirteen. Thirty days. This isn’t me, but: make love. + is might be a little inappropriate, but . . . the sex. This time, we’re going to try cluck. Oh no! I hold onto my emotions. Phone number. Shop. Shopping with his lady. A horse—a workhorse.

This isn’t bad in that it ‘works’ as a conceit and the result is sufficiently interesting, in a banal kind of way, to hold my interest for longer than 30 seconds or so but it isn’t good enough to merit any kind of serious attention and I’m deeply suspicious of any intro/apologia that contains a phrase as inept as ‘the immediately palpable sense of immediate progression’.

I think this leads me to the view that good constraint can be very, very good indeed- Both Simon Jarvis and Kenneth Goldsmith spring to mind from opposite ends of the ‘lit’ spectrum as writers who exemplify the best results of constraint whereas the Butler / Place / Higgs effort demonstrates its weaknesses.

I now need to have a bit of a digression on the death of poetry. Last summer I wrote an incisive and reasoned piece which took Vanessa Place to task for her claim that she had killed poetry. There has now appeared on the web this short film which purports to show Vanessa in the act of killing poetry. This may or may not be a riposte to my riposte- the page includes my (real) name as part of the intro- but I think I need to gently point out again that poetry, if it dies at all, won’t die this way whether at the hand of Vanessa Place or anyone else and the now enacted claim simply isn’t worthy of her and is disappointing because most of the time she is more astute than anyone else currently writing. End of short digression which has neatly avoided the Spenser plan for Irish poetry analogy- this would have made it much longer.

I’m still of the view that the problem with poetry is the poetic and that we need to ditch this pervasive lyricism but I think I still cling to some equally sentimental view of poetry being somehow free and inspired. I think I now what to make a distinction between constraint and gimmick. To my mind Raymond Roussel’s ‘New Impression’s of Africa’ is a gimmick because the constraint renders the work unreadable, George Perec’s two lipograms just seem cleverly silly.

In his introduction to ‘One’ Christopher Higgs lists the constraints given to both Butler and Place:

  1. First Person;
  2. Present tense;
  3. Compose – 40-60 pages;
  4. Because I want to avoid prefabricated cohesion, while at the same time I feel the need to offer a framework within which to play, I’ll suggest that you think in terms of three movements: Discovery-Secrecy-Escape. These need not be sequential, in other words feel free to think in terms of Escape-Discovery-Secrecy, or whatever arrangements of those you want. My hope is that by suggesting these three specific movements it will give you helpful boundary demarcations, and also it will allow me to locate common vector points at which I might establish pivots for the final construction.

Higgs goes on to say that he wanted Butler to focus on external perspectives and Place to focus on those from within. The idea was that Higgs would then put the two offerings together in a way that ‘something magical might be achieved’. I’m now going to lightly skip over the dismal quality of Higgs’ prose and get to a sample of this magical thing:

Now the crack of guns I became in me come back washing and lick all up the center of my guts giving shape by wet of being and tongue definition so I can hurl. Throw both my hard arms towards the over-forehead, which Corrections has already appended with new screaming bulbs, the colours of my thoughts enplasmed with them, hulking as an infant at a thrall.

In the blank of drums in my new standing I hear a shrieking and with my nose I turn around inside the smell of these years already pressed upon us stitching up my nostrils and pinching in crafty lines of neon ants. My head’s weight rotates on an axis that descends into my tummy, tucked with the nothing in kaput. No more blood and no more cellmake, no more doors or potions.

Maybe it’s me but this is about as unmagical as it gets which is a pity because it’s clearly trying very hard indeed but I’m afraid that crafty line of neon ants gives the game away- the ambition and effort all too often slide into facile cliche. Unfortunately ‘One’ appears to be another example where the constraints are given too much emphasis at the expense of the content

Odi Barbare Poem VI for the fourth and final time.

Most of you will be delighted to know that I’ve decided to accelerate the reading of this piece of oddness, mainly because I want to get to the last verse in order to ask a few questions. So far we’ve established that:

  • writing seven poems a week is not the same as writing seven good poems;
  • Hill’s interest in things military may stem from his guilt that he never took part in combat;
  • writing bad lines is not made any better by acknowledging this in a poem;
  • over the last few years Hill has gone from being the bad boy of British poetry to its darling at the very time when his work is not at it’s best;
  • pattern poems (usually) aren’t very good.
  • Sir Geoffrey Hill can (of course) write whatever he wants because he is Sir Geoffrey Hill and has already written several of the finest poems in the language.

This is all of Poem VI:

I can hack most laureates' roster-homage,
Make a pranged voice nasal through ruptured matchbox;
Brief the act undangerously heroic;
We will survive it.

This astounding people (Disraeli), their spears
Beating shield-hides, murmuring high a basso,
Hive-like, buzzing rage become torpor almost
Blood self-enthralling.

Assegais whish-washed in the fleshy Empire
Jelk you inside out like a dumdum bullet;
Death by numbers, one-shot Martini Henry
Redhot on target.

Errant Chelmsford, yet if slow Pulleine then had
Ordered form square, he could have saved their breakfast,
Might have subscribed that long-abandoned letter
Dead on the table.

Stand-to you viewers. Mark how Chard and Bromhead
There with plucked Hook posthumously ill-fictioned
And a Welsh Jew - Land of My Fathers bless them -
Staggered the impi.

Though your own sapped psyche so courts retraction
Soldiery's grand comedy plays to curtains.
Who denies this I would expect the Queen to
Rise up and smite him.

Let’s start by getting the proper nouns out of the way, Lord Chelmsford was in charge of British forces during the Anglo-Zulu war and is blamed by many for not returning with his troops to Isandlwana when he was told that it was under attack. Subsequently Chelmsford tried to blame Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine for the disaster because he had been left in charge of the camp. It does seem (from this completely amateur point of view) that neither did very well although Pulleine’s failure to ‘form square’ may not have been his major sin. Chard, Bromhead and Hook were all heroes of Rorkes Drift- a battle that occurred at about the same time and in which we repelled (staggered) the Zulu forces. The Queen is likely to be our own current monarch but could also be Queen Victoria who met and was won round by Chelmsford after the war even though no-one else was. I am assuming that the ill-fictioned Welsh Jew is one of the characters in the film ‘Zulu’ that I have referred to before. It is unlikely to refer to Hook who was born in Gloucester although the majority of soldiers at Rorke’s Drift do appear to have been Welsh.

I have no idea what that long-abandoned letter refers to nor do I know how to find out.

So, Isandlwana overrun due to upper class English incompetence / cowardice etc whereas Rorkes Drift defended by herioc Welsh squaddies singing ‘Land of My Fathers’ in the process (bless them).

I’m trying really hard to ignore the fact that ‘then had / ordered form square’ is so obviously bad and has no part in any kind of poem. It doesn’t work on any level, if poetry is supposed to be ‘heightened’ language then this is surely language demeaned – isn’t it? This isn’t ‘wrong’ in the sense that Keston Sutherland has described, it’s just unimaginative, weak and (dare this be said?) lazy. It doesn’t even have the excuse of ‘dissonance’ all acknowledged in Poem 13 of the ‘Clavics’ sequence, it’s just bad.

Readers of the disappointing ‘Oraclau’ sequence will not be surprised to note that Hill’s recently discovered Welsh ancestry continues to influence his world-view. This may be quaintly idiosyncratic or merely self-indulgent, depending on your taste.

Films have been made about both these encounters as Hill would seem to acknowledge by addressing his audience as viewers although ‘Mark how’ is more theatrical than cinematic – I don’t know of any plays depicting either battle.

The last verse is the reason for paying so much attention to this poem because I don’t know what to make of it and would like some assistance with the following:

  • whose psyche is being described?
  • why is this psyche said to be sapped?
  • what does having a sapped psyche mean or indicate?
  • why would a sapped psyche court or woo (ie ask for) a retraction?
  • is this retraction a denial of a previous assertion or the action of pulling an object back?
  • is it altogether reasonable / sensible to equate the horrors involved in soldiery with theatrical performance and death with ‘curtains’?
  • why should people wish to deny that soldiers sometimes get killed?
  • isn’t it extremely unlikely for either monarch to take any heed of what Hill expects?
  • which of the 26 main definitions of the verb ‘smite’ is being used on the last line?
  • would it be worth my while to try and work this out?

So, we have the derring-do of the buzzing rage and the whishery washery of the insect like savage, the well-known incompetence of the British officer classand the unabashed heroism of the Welsh squaddie. We also have the fact that the British were using dum-dum bullets counterbalanced by the savages’ entirely unreasonable use of the spear whilst omitting to mention the appalling rationale the British had for using such atrocious devices against spears and daggers. We have some bad lines, some lines that sound better than they are and more than a few syntactical tics.

Up until the last verse it is reasonably clear what’s going on but the last four lines are either deliberate and self-indulgent obfuscation beyond my ken or they don’t make any kind of sense, even for a ‘hierarchical Tory’.

I now find that I’ve come out of this reading in a more negative mood than when I started which might say more about me than the poem but it’s not an exercise that I intend to repeat with this sequence any time soon primarily because I don’t have to and life really is too short.

Odi Barbare poem VI (pt 2)

On the last occasion I had an extended struggle with the first verse of this poem. I’m now going to try to make further progress with the rest. Here are the first two verses together:

I can hack most laureates' roster-homage,
Make a pranged voice nasal through ruptured matchbox;
Brief the act undangerously heroic;
We will survive it.

This astounding people (Disraeli), their spears
Beating shield-hides, murmuring high a basso,
Hive-like, buzzing rage become torpor almost
Blood self-enthralling.

When dealing with the first verse I speculated that Hill might be using ‘laureate’ in the sense that John Skelton used it to describe himself. I now feel a little vindicated as I’ve just come across this from Poem 95 of ‘Speech! Speech!- “…………..Skelton Laureate / was a right rapper: outdance you with your shades / any day…..” I’ll skim gracefully over the image that this conveys and just note that Hill has used the word in its older sense before and it might be useful to bear in mind that Skelton and Hill received recognition from Oxford University.

There now needs to be a slight digression with regard to beating spears. The British cultural landscape is littered with many things, in particular with many attempts to cling to our noble and imperial past. Within that landscape there is a film called ‘Zulu’ which makes great use of the spear beating on shields covered in hide motif. To those of a certain age (me) this is a Significant Childhood Memory because it was very very scary and underlined how strange and difficult some of our imperial subjects could be. And I know that ‘Zulu’ is about Rourke’s Drift and that the later ‘Zulu Dawn’ was about the Battle of Isandlwana which is the subject of this poem.

It will be appreciated that the second verse is much more accessible than the first but probably more troubling because of what it appears to say. Incidentally I can’t tie Disraeli into the italicised quote and the DNB informs me that he was prime minister at the time (1879) but had oaid little attention to African affairs until this defeat and that his primary concern about the defeat was the detrimental effect it had on the nation’s credibility.

I was going to confidently assert that Hill makes no other mention of the Anglo-Zulu War but then I noticed this in Poem 6 of ‘Speech! Speech!':

.................But surely that's
not all? Rourke's Drift, the great-furnaced
ships off Jutland? They have their own
grandeur, those formal impromptus played
on instruments of the period (speech! speech!)

Incidentally, obtaining a copy of Ann Hassan’s recent and very detailed commentary on ‘Speech!’ has led me to a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding re-reading of the poem. What I think I need to do here is note a similar use of musical terms.

Hill’s feelings about Empire are more complex than simple nostalgia, it’s fair to suggest that he views the ‘loss’ of Empire after 1945 as a Bad Thing but also harbours few illusions as to its many and varied barbarities. Whilst this Little Englander aspect of Hill’s politics is now hopelessly out of touch, it should be remembered that the British Empire was a very real entity during his childhood and there are many of his generation (my father included) who find it difficult to reconcile fighting and winning the Second World War only to ‘lose’ our imperial possessions.

We now come to the bee-analogy, that the (iconic) beating of the shields makes a murmuring noise and then builds to be like the buzzing of swarming and angry bees. From memory, the filmic shield beating was more percussive than murmuring although one of the other lasting themes is the sheer number of warriors and how these did seem to ‘swarm’ into battle. For this reason I’m not entirely clear whether this is Hill’s imagination or a synopsis of the movie.

The end of the verse is odd and probably sounds better than it should. It’s not clear whether it is the troops or their adversaries who are overcome by torpor although it is much more likely to refer to the troops. The battle was a fiasco, Wikipedia tells me that “while all the officers and NCOs carried rifles, only one in 10 in the ranks was armed with a muzzle-loading musket with limited ammunition[51][52] and many of them started to leave the battlefield at this point” which would seem to indicate paralysis as a result of incompetence rather than an the beating of shields. I rarely argue with Hill with regard to word choice but isn’t torpid better than the noun? Doesn’t torpor signal some degree of poetic affectation?

Neither is it abundantly clear what ‘almost’ refers to – should we read ‘almost become torpor’ or ‘almost blood self-enthralling? Or are we meant to read it both ways? This problem would be helped enormously if I fully understood the last line. ‘Self’ is a very big word for Hill who has borrowed the idea/principle of ‘selving’ from Hopkins and it is never used lightly- it usually signals that there’s something deep or profound going on. Turning to ‘entrhalling’, the OED has these definitions for ‘enthrall';

  • to reduce to the condition of a thrall; to hold in thrall; to enslave, bring into bondage;
  • to ‘enslave’ mentally or morally. Now chiefly, to captivate, hold spellbound, by pleasing qualities.

So, the troops could be said to be held spellbound and torpid by the noise of the shields or it is their blood that is enslaved. This doesn’t work because of ‘self’ which might suggest the soldiers and their officers being lulled into a false sense of superiority. The historical record doesn’t suggest that there was a lot of torpor on either side, the British were both outnumbered and out-manoeuvred prior to being slaughtered- which is the subject of the next three verses.

So does ‘self-enthrall’ make sense? It could be argued that we might need to consider all of the poem before a judgement can be made but this verse is a sentence and even poetic sentences should carry some meaning. I have tried to explore the possibilities and to take into account the importance of ‘self’ but it does seem that this particular line sounds much better than it is.

One final question- is it really okay (even if you are a knight of the realm) to equate black African warriors with insects?

Poets on film and the rest of my cultural week.

I need to get this off my chest. The good news is that YouTube are now carrying important film of Keston Sutherland, Jeremy Prynne and John Matthias. The bad news is that only the Sutherland is watchable / listenable. This is particularly disappointing for those of us who have been waiting to hear Prynne read ‘Streak~Willing~Entourage~Artesian’ (me anyway)- I know that he reads this because he repeats the title but the words and the phrasing are almost inaudible. This is doubly annoying because in the same film Sutherland gives an excellent reading of all of Stress Position which is perfectly audible throughout.

The Matthias is a performance of “Automystifstical Plaice” where the camera is too far away from the performers and the sound is indistinct. This again is unfortunate in that the work isn’t available (as far as I know) in print in the UK any more.

So, I’d like to make a plea to those people who produce these things. Producing this material in usable form is not technically difficult, there are now a vast array of inexpensive gizmos that are almost idiot proof. The reputation of serious poetry is in a bad way and is not helped by the display of poorly produced stuff on the web. In fact if it isn’t adequately produced it shouldn’t  be made available at all.

In complete contrast, I’ve spent the last ten days or so being spellbound by film of Vanessa Place reading at the Cross-Genre Festival which has been published on the openned site which is clear and effective. I’m a recent convert to Place’s stuff and the more I read the more impressed I become even though the piece published in the last CLR was a bit too knowing for my taste. She’s considered to be a conceptualist but I think there’s a bit more going on.

The major cultural event of the last seven days has been the publication of a book review by George Steiner in the TLS on a book about the ‘warfare’ between Derrida and Habermas by Pierre Bouretz. George surveys the well known history of Derrida’s reception and of the Habermas position and then throws Richard Rorty into the equation. The point that is made about Rorty is a pertinent point but also manages to misconstrue the finer points of the Rorty position. I’ve been reading Steiner for thirty five years and he still makes me smile with everything he does.

Listening to Richard Barrett, Laurence Crane, Brian Ferneyhough and a band called Mostly Others do the Killing who manage to be accomplished and funny at the same time. I first heard Crane on Radio 3 on Saturday and what he said about repetition led me to try it with verse- hence the previous post.

Also reading Caroline Bergvall, Ezra Pound, David Jones’ ‘The Sleeping Lord’  and trying to finish the last Diarmaid MacCulloch on the history of Christianity- without much success.

Have a new strategy for Satantango (7 hour long film)- have watched it straight through twice a couple of years ago and am now watching it in more manageable segments. It is much more eventful than I recall and a lot wordier… It’s almost as good as Tarr’s ‘Damnation’ which is really bleak but much much shorter.

Lastly, a resolution to sit down and read Browning’s Sordello and to stop re-reading ‘self portrait in a convex mirror’ and to recognise that trying to make my mind up about Ashbery is more than a little futile. Also to find the time to listen to Hill’s first lecture in his current job.

Emile de Antonio an appreciation

In the eighties, when Channel 4 was a proper television station, there was a series of films by de Antonio, the American documentary maker. I was transfixed because these were an example of committed, socialist films that not only challenged the American power machine but did so in an incredibly effective way.

I think I detect a bit of a revival of interest in New York documentaries particularly the Maysle brothers’ work some of which has recently been aired on British television but nothing from de Antonio. I have nothing against either ‘Grey Gardens’ or ‘Salesmen’ which, in their own way, are great films but they don’t really challenge the established order in the way that de Antonio did. My favourite film is ‘Rush to Judgement’ which challenges the findings of the Warren Commission on Kennedy’s assassination. It does this by focusing primarily on eye-witnesses who either heard or saw a gunman behind the legendary picket fence. One of the pivotal moments for me is the account of one witness who was absolutely sure of what he had seen/heard until he read Warren’s report and then decided that he was mistaken because they were the ‘experts’.

I’m not a great fan of conspiracy theories and have always believed that Oswald acted alone but watching ‘Rush to Judgement’ has caused me to question that belief and to re-consider the lengths that any state will go to in order to create the majority view.

On the Internet Archive there’s a series of four television programmes featuring discussion with the great man and excerpts from his work. He talks about wanting to make documentary as art (he was immersed in the New York art scene of the fifties and sixties) and how he felt that it was really important to get away from the film maker-as-god conceit and to avoid the authorial ‘I’ (shades of Prynne). You will note that this is in total contrast to the work of Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield, both of whom seem to take enormous delight in flinging themselves into the frame.

All of de Antonio’s work is political in the best sense of the word with the exception of  ‘Painters Painting’ which consist of a series of artists talking about their work in particular and the New York art scene in general. This is especially illuminating for those of us who are fans of the period.

In summary, Emile de Antonio is the greatest American documentary film maker and everyone should try to see his work and learn from it.