I had the privilege of reading several of the essays included in this important collection in manuscript form in one of Prof. Nichols's seminars, andI had the privilege of reading several of the essays included in this important collection in manuscript form in one of Prof. Nichols's seminars, and it was with great pleasure I revisited those same essays and read the additional material now in its published form. Forgács is a Hungarian filmmaker and archivist whose primarily work primarily deals with various types of historical found-footage unearthed from Europe's past, and his most well-known and powerful films use the home videos depicting the everyday lives of middle-class Jewish families in the years leading up to the deployment of the Final Solution (in one utterly devastating sequence in The Maelstrom, for example, we actually see family members packing their bags for what they believe is a work assignment, but turns out to be the death camp where they will all perish). It's really a travesty, in my opinion, that Forgács's films are not more widely known and are almost completely unavailable (the majority are made for European television), and here's hoping that the publication of this book will raise awareness and attention, and perhaps greater access to his work.
As for the actual material, the two lengthy interviews with Forgács are fascinating, and the essays generally exemplify the best of theoretical film writing; that is, they regards the films as embodying a type of supple philosophical/theoretical statements in and of themselves, and while a diverse array of thinkers make appearances (including Barthes, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Benjamin, Balázs, etc, etc) they are used to illuminate rather than dictate or pontificate. For me, the standout essays are those by Kaja Silverman and Michael Roth, but nearly all are worth reading. And, more importantly, the films themselves are worth watching. ...more
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist womenVirginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist women writers, including H.D., Colette, Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Stein, etc. The topics traversed—ranging from the Woolfs's personal albums to Bell's photographic experimentation to early, pioneering female film criticism and more—is unceasingly fascinating, which is why I was often frustrated with how dull Humm's analysis could become. It's pretty dazzling when it sticks to original research and close reading of a wide range of material (which accounts for the four stars), but all too often comes it lapses into ponderous strings of academese, and I quickly began to skip just about everything directly dealing with psychoanalytic theory (which is why I considered docking one of those stars).
The major highlight is the consideration of the Woolfs's personal photo albums as demonstrating a number of her literary techniques in visual form. Never chronological or even topically arranged, the five albums instead are largely associative constructions and often contain multiple photographs of a single subject from different visual perspectives (echoing cubist and other innovations of modernist visual art), and sometimes "superior" versions of photos can be found hidden behind ones that are less representationally perfect but contain flaws that are more artistically interesting and/or evocative (hinting that the albums were more than just personal records) . I wish Humm had explored a bit more Leonard's admitted contribution to the albums, but overall Humm makes a convincing case that Woolf's larger aesthetic project involves her "amateur" involvement in the photographic arts just as much as her "professional" achievements as novelist, essayist, and literary figure.
There's also a nice overview of the intimate connection many female modernists had to cinema and the photographic arts in general, opening up a number of avenues of inquiry I'm already researching and/or plan to pursue further.
[One of the images Humm includes from the Woolf albums]
Maddin is one of my very favorite film critics; he only has a handful of reviews to his name, but all I've encountered have been delightful--not onlyMaddin is one of my very favorite film critics; he only has a handful of reviews to his name, but all I've encountered have been delightful--not only insightful about the films under consideration, but such unexpected, weirdly wonderful little prose constructions in and of themselves.
I particularly love his purpley writing style, at once sophisticated and deliciously overwrought. I wish he would have the opportunity to review more often. ...more