Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar

Video: artforum, youtube

'Everything I love and admire about Bresson is encapsulated by just one minute of one scene in this masterpiece [Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)]: The donkey Balthazar, pulling a hay cart through a circus menagerie, comes face-to-face with four animals in succession—a tiger, a polar bear, a chimpanzee, and an elephant. As Balthazar passes before each, the film cuts back and forth between his gaze and that of the other creature. Presumably, only a few feet separate them, but that distance is insurmountable. It’s a standard construction in film to use this technique when two human characters meet, revealing in the eyes of each something of their feelings and motivations. In Bresson’s film, however, these looks are exchanged by animals. He gives us their point of view, but no entry into their thoughts or feelings. ... The sequence is entirely inscrutable and can only leave us spellbound.' [Maragaret Honda, Artforum 03.2010]

'Placing a nonhuman protagonist at the center of Au hasard Balthazar instead of focusing on any of the constellation of human characters that enter the donkey’s orbit necessitated radical reconsideration of the place of editing in film language. He may be a donkey, but he’s our avatar through the film nonetheless. ... Bresson’s editing choices throughout push the limits of filmmaking as a universal language by legibly and plausibly rendering the inner life of an animal. (Robert Bresson most likely couldn’t communicate directly with donkeys during his lifetime, but Au hasard Balthazar might convince otherwise.) Of course, we’ll never know exactly what passed between Balthazar and the elephant, the other animals met upon his entry into the circus, ... but the film leaves a sense of something consciously felt between the donkey and all of those he encounters. ... Bresson performs yeoman’s work in making the unlikely possible: Balthazar remains one of cinema’s great tragic heroes.' [Jeff Reichert, ReverseShot]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tiffany Bolzic's The Silent Dredge

Aquatic animals from the lowest depths to the highest levels of the ocean are being hauled up, while a new species rushes in.

Darwin's Nightmare (2004), a documentary film, deals with the environmental and social effects of the fishing industry around Lake Victoria in Tanzania. 'The Nile Perch was introduced into Lake Victoria and caused the extinction of hundreds of local species. ... Arms and munitions are often flown in on the same planes which transport the Nile perch fillets to European consumers, feeding the very conflicts which the aid was sent to remedy. ... The appalling living and working conditions of the indigenous people, in which basic sanitation is completely absent and many children turn to drugs and prostitution, is covered in great depth; because the Nile perch fish is farmed commercially, all the prime fillets are sold to European supermarkets, leaving the local people to survive on the ... fish carcasses [crawling with maggots]' (wikipedia entry, video on youtube).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dale Carrico: Scratch a vegetarian, find a cyborg

Dale Carrico blogs about 'Animal Rites, Vegetarian Criticism, Brutal Theory' at On the nonhuman-human animal demarcation (from the last few paragraphs of Animal Rites):

'[E]ven practices and vocabularies of liberation, whenever they are mobilized and organized by the conventional claim that "we will no longer be treated as ‘mere’ animals!" necessarily simultaneously undermine as well as reanimate certain conspicuously asymmetrical relations of power. They do so by challenging their own location with respect to the human/nonhuman demarcation but otherwise fortifying it.

But surely, it cannot properly be the ambition of vegetarian criticism or activism to eliminate this [nonhuman-human animal] distinction altogether, however. Not even the most utopian advocates for animal rights expect ... that one day nonhuman animals will find their way to the voting booth, or urge the propriety of extending to nonhuman predatory animals, for example, human standards of fairplay or penalties of law. And though I am sensitive to the ways in which observations of this kind are typically used to dismiss or trivialize the very idea of vegetarian sensitivity and practice this seems to me no good reason to refuse to register their significance and force altogether. ...

What is wanted instead is a reconceptualization of the political in which both human and nonhuman animals count as actors and potential peers. This reconceptualization would be facilitated I think by the insistence that the relation of a human being to his ham sandwich or to her leather jacket is always already a relation between animals, always already a political relation between potential peers, and not a prepolitical, instrumental relation of human beings to the realization of their wants. ...

For me, vegetarian criticism must actually take as its point of departure the inevitability of human/nonhuman animal demarcations, an inevitability that is continuous with the concomitant inevitability of ongoing demarcations among animals, human and nonhuman. And this vegetarian criticism should take, then, as its tasks, both the perpetual troubling of these demarcations and the documentation of their transformations and effects. This would seem to me to be a critical practice that comports well with a sense of the political that has as its constitutive anxiety the simultaneous recognition of the necessity and the impossibility of eliminating violence altogether from public life, a sense of the political which provokes a seriousness the strictures of which afford not purity, but, it is to be hoped, among other things, perhaps a real measure of pleasure.'