In this issue, Senses of Cinema reflects on recent events in America and the integral role played by the media in the representation and experience of these events. There’s no doubt that any attempt to ‘read’ the horror of September 11 in terms other than the loss of human life risks the charge of profound callousness and grave insensitivity. However, the need to apprehend September 11 within some kind of broader context – politics and history; economics and commerce; media representations of spectacle and violence – is necessary in order to enable a better understanding of why and how such events occurred. Perhaps the true horror of September 11 was the irrefutable inversion of absolutes: in a split second, the fantastic stories dreamt by Hollywood in which even the world’s destruction was in the name of entertainment became a reality staring America squarely in the face; in a split second, America as a land of peace and security but above all material wealth and abundance became a war zone literally in New York and potentially in all America. Hence, although mass destruction and human tragedy takes place around the world, on any day of the year, it was precisely because it took place both in America and in a climate of peace that September 11 made the world stand still.
Many of the entries in the ‘Cinema and Reality’ symposium of this issue are wise to the shocking calculation whereby the terrorists worked within the same terms of global media that we engage with everyday to achieve their results: carrying out the destruction of American symbols and icons with the world as their audience. Many entries in this symposium call for a greater sensitivity among filmmakers, and heed against a collapsing into cultural ignorance and racism. Unfortunately, the need to impose simple and clear narratives on real events compels the policies of today’s governments: the American government’s pitting of “evil” against “civilisation” in its “Operation Infinite Justice”; the Australian government’s attempts to demonise refugees hovering on its borders and to deny the opportunity of prosperity that every Australian affords merely by virtue of fate, luck.
Another key theme running throughout these entries is that in a sense the real horror of September 11 failed to register precisely because the media representation of it was one of spectacle, in the form of a Hollywood movie. It is inescapable that to a certain extent the TV presentation of war violence – which has moved from New York to Afghanistan – facilitates a certain desensitisation and even memory failure, since every image must succeed and better the next. Which is why, more than ever, information, and the right kind, is paramount.
Other major areas of this issue include a dossier on Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, whom Jonathan Rosenbaum aptly calls a “global” filmmaker and who is one of the most important filmmakers working today. One particular essay here looks at the manner in which Kiarostami implodes conventional narrative and storytelling, requiring the viewer to make “imaginative leaps”, to step beyond conventional conceptual frameworks. The focus on directors extends in this issue to a marvellous essay on the late films of Max Ophüls, which arrives at some fine conclusions regarding the complex relation of female subjects, society and narration in these films, and an essay on Robert Guédiguian, a director clearly interested in the personal and the political in equal parts.
A highlight of the section on Australian cinema is an essay by Jake Wilson, which applauds aspects of a recent book by Jane Mills, The Money Shot, but advocates a more complex understanding of popular Australian culture. Both Wilson and Mills concede to the deficiencies of Australian cinema and especially the lack of support or even interest in Australian films by the movie-going public. Consequently, the Australian Film Institute (AFI) – the body responsible for presenting the AFI Awards – attempted to rouse this support this year by bringing the Awards to the mainstream via a commercial, primetime broadcast and setting the criterion that all feature films have a commercial release that year. This is all well and good as long as mechanisms remain in place to support, nurture, develop and promote artists and projects working on the other end of the spectrum – independent, underground, low-budget and so on. In this light, one wonders what constitutes the purpose of the IF (Independent Filmmakers) Awards.
Another major dossier of this issue is a section on Experimental Cinema, which pays tribute to such legendary figures as Jonas Mekas for whom a full retrospective is yet to grace local screens, and whose contribution to American film culture in general and American avant-garde filmmaking in particular remains truly awe-inspiring. This section also includes essays on filmmakers Jon Jost, Sharon Lockhart, and Athina Rachel Tsangari.
There are many more offerings in this issue. The Festivals section in particular is a highlight with indepth coverage of the festivals that have taken place over the months of September to October. Senses of Cinema also pays tribute to Pauline Kael in this issue.
Thanks to Anthology Film Archives and Pip Chodorov for supplying information and stills on Jonas Mekas. And finally a very big thank-you to all the writers whose commitment, efforts and skills are inspiring, and to those who helped behind the scenes, in particular, co-editor Adrian Martin.
Some really good news: Senses of Cinema was recently awarded the runner-up prize for the Bryon Kennedy Award, presented at the AFI Awards, for its contribution to Australian film culture. A big thankyou to everyone who has contributed to the journal – in one way or another – since its humble beginnings in December 1999, and for making it what it is.
Fiona A. Villella