A returning indulgence, my year in filmgoing. (2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 in Film.) This year I have watched more films than ever before, and found myself able to remember less about them than ever before. A great many of the films I watched have not been very good. A great many have been very good indeed. Most of them blur one into another. Moving images, they just keep making ‘em.
At [LSFF], seeing Chick Strand’s amazing, incendiary and troubling Soft Fiction, alongside some great Barbara Hammer shorts at the ICA. The strange webcam Q&A with Hammer afterwards, her giant pixelated face looking out over the darkness of the ICA like a happy sun, glitching intermittently. Films by Mati Diop at a Bechdel Test Fest event, quiet campfire chatter in Atlantiques, grander gestures and louder sounds in Snow Canon. A screening of William E. Jones’ Tearoom, made from police footage of gay men engaging in paranoid sex acts, fearful of being seen yet entirely unaware they were being watched, shot through a two-way mirror in public bathrooms during a clampdown in public sex in the 1960s. Alongside it, a zine and a new short film by Sam Ashby, a game by Robert Yang, and a panel discussion on cruising from various people outside of film culture made for a better and more complex cinema event than most.
Back at the [IFFR}, free wandering. Joyous discoveries in the “Pan-African Cinema Today” sub-section such as Onyeka Igwe’s Her Name In My Mouth, Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński’s Unearthing, In Conversation, or Camilo Restrepo’s La Bouche; as well as a very affecting screening pairing the Otolith Group’s amazingly precise and potent film about a performance of some of Julius Eastman’s more fiery compositions, The Third Part of the Third Measure, with Jenn Nkiru’s Rebirth is Necessary, with Jenn sat beside me during the show, unbeknownst to us both. A hug on this realisation after, still entirely shook from that which was on screen before. Staying at Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL and losing my mind in a heat sick death spiral fever dream. Seeing Neil before and him saying, after my first cough of the night, “don’t go making me ill.” Me protesting that it was just an isolated splutter, then being entirely under it within a couple of hours. Watching Rainer Kohlberger’s brain-boggler, mind-eye-activator, perception-pulse-test morethaneverything the next day and feeling so hot-cold-wake-dizzy that I thought my arms were going to fall off and I was going to die in the Holiday Inn.
The chillest screening of the year, Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum at the Queens Hotel Eastbourne at the end of [Overnight Film Festival], immediately post-nap. The hungriest, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, at the Barbican, one afternoon early on. Hong Sang-soo’s Grass and Ted Fendt’s Classical Period on the laptop. Smart, cosy, ingestible. Margaret Salmon in Scotland for [Glasgow Film Festival]. Meandering, tour-guiding and crag-hopping with Duncan in Edinburgh, then dog-sitting in Glasgow with Devin. Mm live with Sacred Paws playing in the Tramshed. Catching the train back in first heavy snowfall before the snow set and the festival imploded. Writing on cosmogonical cinema for the [Edge of Frame] brochure, thinking world building and shape shifting and about films that collapse and combust; or on Los Otros and what they are up to, thinking about community and film culture, and all the possibilities therein. Ruminating further on this at Kazakhstan’s [Central Asian Documentary Festival], where the project is very much nascent, but the passion is palpable and the potential enormous.
A rewatch of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour at the BFI with returning hama-heads and newly born ones. Turning up late to the party with Michael and Sam, because shock, horror, the three champion dorks had been waylaid at the five hour Japanese film. Community cinema, affirmatory cinema, cinema indulgence. A return to Edward Yang’s Yi Yi for the first time in a long time with soft friends and hard feels at Closeup. Pedro Costa’s Casa de Lava and Colossal Youth, at Closeup at the peak of the long hot late summer. Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated and Angela Schanelec’s Marseille in a double at the Goethe, both certified bangers. Two movies on celluloid for £6, which should be the standard, but instead is unheard of. Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men at a time when pretty much all else I was watching was documentaries on vimeo. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong and Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla upstairs at the Prince Charles with Nicky, for old times. The good simple stuff.
Putting on a screening of films by Blake Williams, including PROTOTYPE; and jumping on board one of Helena Wittmann’s Drift. Warps, spins, spirals, full rotations. Being under the sea, the screen’s container feeling like a tank that the waves rock and roll around and threaten to burst out of, and in three dimensions, where they manage to do exactly that, with stereoscopic glasses working as a portal to otherworlds and neverworlds. Properly sensory stuff, expanding the frame.
Fun times with fond ones at [CPH:DOX], [Sheffield Doc/Fest], [Frames of Representation] and [Doclisboa]. Rolling out and about with folks like Chloe, Ollie, Simran, Kelli, Charlie, Beth and Michael. Good stuff like Bing Liu’s Minding The Gap, Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives, Salome Lamas’ Extinction, Clement Cogitore’s Braguino, Ian Soroka’s Greetings From Free Forests, Sandi Tan’s Shirkers, RaMell Ross’ Hale County This Morning, This Evening and more. Scott Barley’s Sleep Has Her House on a massive screen with booming sound befitting its visual grandstanding and sonic exertions. Nathaniel Dorsky’s Arboretum Cycle in the Showroom, with all of the nerds in the front row, some of whom had travelled in. Doug’s last film, one of Stephen’s many journeys. Dorsky talking some utter nonsense about rotating cat arms on webcam Q&A, then saying “sorry if I’m not making much sense, I just had my breakfast.” The perma-stoned grandfather I never had but didn’t know I needed until now. Drinking cans of tesco gin and tonic at 9.30am in a public park because I had to talk on a panel a half hour later. This one dinner at Manfreds with Simran, Chloe and Sophie. That Boiler Room party in that warehouse building in Sheffield; a party at a festival that was good for reasons beyond those in attendance. Unheard of, unseemly. Other misc non-filmic memories lost in a wishwash, life-time blurrier than ever and film-time even more so. These year-logs are supposed to be purely about the movies and their watching, but it seems all I can half-remember is what went on in-between them. Working on [Open City Documentary Festival], which was all before, after and in-betweens. Seeing nothing, seeing everything. Having father Kazuo Hara in town. An hour long Q&A with Laura Huertas Millan and Stephanie Spray, dancing to Voodoo Ray, getting Nabihah Iqbal a cookie, hailing a cab for Penny Lane. Clocking 30km’s worth of steps on the Health app one day. Charlie, Kelli, Steph, Patrick and others, turning up to films, talks and parties every day, without fail, without question. Sleep deprived, leg weary and brain addled perhaps, but finding myself moved by this gesture of support more than almost anything else this year.
Getting back into it. Skipping out on the glitz, glamour, grandstanding and picket crossing of the [London Film Festival] in favour of three luxurious weekdays at Mariano Llinás La Flor at the ICA, a major, multitudinous film that I’m still wrestling with, its absence from the list below noteworthy and noted. Intros from Kate, mealdeals with Matt, some of the most advanced plasticbagmen in the game, all quivering with excitement, all on top form. With Ben and Patrick, seeing The Sun Quartet, a series of films about the 43 missing Mexican students from political collective Colectivo Los ingrávidos, at Experimenta, the eternally under-appreciated section of the festival that gets sidelined and crushed under the weight of the wider beast. Knowing the film was something special as soon as the first part started, but feeling something horrible and profound by the end, in which a poem about the pain of the disappeared and those who knew them, and equally those who didn’t, and won’t, is repeated in various languages, the mounting despair growing with each utterance. Viewers filing out one by one as the sequence repeated, perhaps fearing that the poem might be voiced 43 times over, once for each person lost. (It doesn’t, but it could have been.)
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Walled Unwalled, projected on a large wall in the tanks of the Tate, infuriatingly on display for one week only. A Hong Sang-soo double (Hotel by the River, The Power of Kangwon Province) with Chloe at the [London Korean Film Festival], one of the greatest annual traditions, growing and warming. A stranger double still, of Andy Warhol’s Couch and Barbara Rubin’s Christmas on Earth at Birkbeck, the latter of which involves a live 16mm projector performance of sorts, in which coloured gels are laid over various sexually explicit recorded materials on 16mm whilst the radio plays as soundtrack, a happenstance dance projection performance in which no screening is ever quite the same. This one included a recreation of radio that might have played at the time, with early 60s radio chatter and psychadelic pop blasting out. It was a treat to behold, as was the subsequent discussion between Elena Gorfinkel and an art professor. Enlightening, awakening, it felt like stealing free education.
Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent at the ICA, a communal screening so intense that the air could be cut with a knife. Aleksey German’s Khrustalyov, My Car! at Closeup, just as intense but in a very different way. And Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still, one wet and windy afternoon a few weeks back at the ICA, an absorbing, somewhat extraordinary film with a terrifying worldview and a crushing sensibility. Time spent, a lot of time, with Wang Bing at West of the Tracks and Dead Souls over consecutive weekends, both incredible experiences, the latter entirely draining, the former oddly rejuvenating. Ollie turning up to the Tate on about 3 hours sleep, ragged and ready. Late year high level filmgoing experiences the like of which remind you why it is perhaps good to miss all of the day’s precious daylight, and also why its always good to find as much time as possible for old films, rather than trying to see every new one that appears.
Following regular format, below, twenty films for twenty-eighteen, seen in twenty-eighteen.
Hale County, This Morning This Evening (RaMell Ross)
Dead Souls (Wang Bing)
more than everything (Rainer Kohlberger)
Walled Unwalled (Lawrence Abu Hamdan)
An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
Altiplano (Malena Szlam)
Classical Period (Ted Fendt)
Grass (Hong Sang-soo)
Wild Relatives (Jumana Manna)
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, 2003) (DCP)
Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006) (DCP)
The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977) (35mm)
For My Crushed Right Eye (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) (DCP)
Life on Earth (Abderrahmane Sissako, 1998) (DVD)
Soft Fiction (Chick Strand, 1979) (DCP)
The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray, 1952) (35mm)
Unrelated (Joanna Hogg, 2007) (35mm) + Marseille (Angela Schanelec, 2004) (35mm)
Khrustalyov, My Car! (Aleksei German, 1998) (DCP)
The Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino, Fernando E. Solanas, 1968) (16mm)