Yamaguchi’s Short in “10 Nights of Dreams”

Andre Bazin once wrote of that “Photography and the cinema… satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence our obsession with realism” (Bazin, 312). While many film writers at the time focused on different aspects of film’s language, it cannot be denied that cinema’s ability to connote the index has been overdetermined in cinematic writings. The far more striking ability inherent to the cinema is not the index, the art of imitation, or “an image of the world… formed automatically without the intervention of man,” but rather, cinema’s ability to depict in real-time the bizarre, absurd, and seemingly uncapturable nature of poetics, dreams, surrealism, and fantasy (Bazin, 313).

Yamaguchi’s 10 Nights of Dreams short brilliantly underscores this point. Using a mixture of editing and mask-work to turn human beings into pig-human hybrids (two fat men snort instead of speak, and Yoshino turns into a pig-nosed woman right before Shotaro’s eyes), Yamaguchi highlights the film medium’s ability to represent something outside of the scope of reality, but animates these fictions in a convincing nature. Perhaps it would be better to say of cinema that it can present images with no referent as if they were born out of reality: Yamaguchi’s dream sequence looks scarcely less real than the realist cinema that fascinated Bazin, yet it has no index. Setting aside even special effects, the logic, or lack thereof, of Yamaguchi’s short elides film language–processes like parallel montage, accelerated montage, montage by attraction, all of which Bazin uses to elucidate his pro-realism writings–instead favoring the manic, nonsensical, nonlinear, and outrageous logic of dreams. For example, Shotaro recalls Genai’s advice to use his magic-broomstick-like staff to get out of dangerous situations at a moment that feels too convenient, in fact, utterly contrived. Going further, certain narrative information is given and then redacted. At the end of the short, Shotaro announces his imminent death. The narrator announces he lived until 138. Cut-to Genai saying he would become an astronaut. Cut-to Shotaro as an astronaut confirming his claims. Finally, the pace of the film is inconsistent, connoting the elusive temporality of dreams rather than reality.

In contrast with Bazin, Benjamin, a contemporary, seemed to predict film’s predisposition to poetic realism above indexical realism and man’s intervention above the concept of film as unmediated by an artist’s hand. Conversely, Benjamin wrote, “The entire process of film is determined by… intervention,” and “Nothing shows more graphically that art has escaped the realm of ‘beautiful semblance’” (Benjamin, 238-240). Yamaguchi’s film shows that film can vividly animate scenarios that transcend the scope of our lived reality, but the image he provides is no less true, to the extent that everyone feels and experiences dreams; the images from our dreams are thus true, yet they elide a rendering that privileges realism.

word count: 462

Works Cited:

Bazin, André, and Hugh Gray. “The ontology of the photographic image.”Film Quarterly 13.4 (1960): 4-9.

Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.”Visual Culture: Experiences in Visual Culture (2011): 144-137.




The Persistence of the Gaze as an Unwelcome Other in Le Bonheur

The Persistence of the Gaze as an Unwelcome Other in Le Bonheur


Le Bonheur, Agnes Varda’s 1965 film, opens with two rotating shots of sunflowers in the French countryside, coupling the opening credits at the beginning of the film. The returning floral motif in the film could be said merely to represent typical notions of femininity, in which the fragility and beauty of a flower are meant to express these qualities as ideal feminine traits. The flowers in this sequence might merely serve to demonstrate the beauty and cheerfulness of a family’s day in the countryside, or to establish the “happiness” of the couple through the bright colors and formal beauty of abounding flora. But, the sunflower sequence does something else, too: the circular, iris-like center of a sunflower in bloom becomes a visual metaphor for the oculus, or eye, itself, and the two sunflowers could be said to be looking at each other, performing a non-traditional shot-reverse-shot sequence. This might seem an incidental, or completely erroneous, observation, but the rapid-cutting employed towards the end of the sequence mirrors a de-facto shot-reverse-shot sequence towards the middle of the film, exposing the true work and coding of the interplay between the sunflowers. In Varda’s vision, 

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 4.42.27 PMThe sunflower sequence (left) is edited precisely like the shot-reverse-shot sequence on the right.

sunflowers, innocuous and ubiquitous, are just as likely owners of gaze as people, positing that viewers and voyeurs are ever-present, as an unwelcome third party witnessing or sharing a private event. Not only do the sunflowers seem to share a conversational interplay like two people in a shot reverse shot, but the second flower take focus (literally) away from the family at the center of the film, interrupting the first sunflower’s beholding of them and obfuscating them. In Le Bonheur, an affair becomes a metaphor for this unwelcome other. Gaze is like a mistress–it is an unwelcome third participant, that, like the foregrounding of the second sunflower, or the sunflower’s apparent gaze itself, detracts and steals from a private interaction between two people.

Hazardous Hospitals: An Interactive Call to Action

Hazardous Hospitals: An Interactive Call to Action

Hazardous Hospitals, created by ProPublica reporters Marshall Allen and Olga for PBS frontline, is an Interactive Documentary that exposes the under-treated world of hospital-born infections and complications. The documentary progresses from the presumption that we take certain assumptions about hospitals for granted: that hospitals are safe, that hospitals employ error-checking procedures, that some surgeries are simple, that hospitals will be accountable for their mistakes and that one can sue for malpractice. The documentary uses a talking-head in front of a white board to present and negate these assumptions (occasionally, he draws on a glass surface in front of him or animations appear to elucidate his point) punctuating each section with an interactive component, usually involving a bit of reading or hovering over elements for more information.

(Left: animations help illustrate the talking-head’s point. Right: a punctuative interaction component is introduced to us.)

Continue reading “Hazardous Hospitals: An Interactive Call to Action”

Remixed History

Perhaps this should be called “Remixed Historical Fiction,” but Hitler’s iPad rant is the first of many videos that proliferated in which English subtitles pervert the meaning of scenes from Downfall (2004), a german film about Adolph Hitler’s final days.

Certainly not a remix that disseminates an activist message, the irreverent “Hitler is informed and rants about the Apple iPad” has mostly comical impulses. First, it makes fun of the shortcomings of the then just-released Apple iPad. It saps the seriousness out of the conversation in the source material, replacing the sobering content with a trivial tantrum. It brings an anachronistic object into the period-world of the film. Most importantly, by rewriting the scene to suggest that Hitler’s rant–which in the film, actually responds to news that Germany is losing the war–is based on something as trivial as a new piece of technology, the video offers a portrayal of Hitler that suggests he is not only a dangerous tyrant, but a spoiled brat.

Interestingly, the remix relies on the pretense that the audience is English-speaking. For a German speaker, the original dialogue of the clip is not diminished by the presence of the inaccurate English subtitles.