This is a Chinese propaganda film from 1966 about the communist country’s first nuclear weapons tests starting in 1964. The film shows the preparation of the testing area and the participation of the scientists and workers organized for the event which shocked the world. The soundtrack features a complete English translation of the narration which is delivered in a rather deadpan fashion, contrasting with the obvious enthusiasm of the original Chinese narrator.
Most interesting to me in nuclear testing documentaries, both from the communist and democratic worlds of the mid-twentieth century, is the willingness of researchers to subject both animals and people to the effects of nuclear fallout. One would think that some of those U.S. and Chinese soldiers placed out in the desert to weather a nuclear blast with sunglasses would have decided to pick up some machine guns and slaughter a few commanding officers rather than risk the deadly radiation. That’s the problem with being a soldier. You have to follow some idiot’s orders and those orders can easily place you right up against a threat to your life and health that may be totally unnecessary. The twentieth century was filled with masses of people who willingly subjected themselves to the instructions of leaders and dropped themselves right into the meat-grinder of war, sacrificing themselves to some vague idea of glory which was actually just the glory of the guys at the bank. We’re doing it a little differently now in the U.S., making war with drones and ‘volunteer’ armies. But the fact is that people are still sacrificing themselves for some idea that’s never been properly explained to them. So they tell themselves that the idea they fight for is ‘freedom.’ We’ve somehow used the events of 9/11 to convince many people to volunteer for a fight they don’t understand. 9/11 was a criminal act by a criminal organization, not a true act of war. The inability to understand that has led to decades of hatred and an all-encompassing worldwide war of vagueness that infiltrates every daily activity, even those as simple as taking a photograph in a subway or near an airport. The terror organizations we fight all over the world could only ever hope to kill as many people in a single year as the drug cartels do. So why aren’t we flying drones over Mexico, killing anyone who looks like a cartel member?
So enjoy the film. What it’s really about is how people turn themselves into horses.
John Cassavetes’ first film was called ‘Shadows.’ It was made in 1959 and I think it might be the greatest film about race in America that’s ever been made. Cassavetes has always struck me as having an element of that required con-man aspect of the personality that is present in many good actors. When he talks he seems impressed with what he is saying and he knows how to deliver it with just the right amount of humor and a few self-deprecating remarks. But he means every goddamn word of it and he puts all of his thoughts into his film works. He’s one of those rare objects of confusion that sometimes crop up in American art. I’ve been watching a bunch of his films lately and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filmmaker so interested in looking at the inability of the American adult to understand or even perceive the meaning of their habitual mannerisms. For me, his films illuminate what it means to be a grownup and how the performance required of grownups contrasts with what they really want to be.
Cassavetes on making ‘Shadows:’
That people can go out with nothing and through their own will and through their determination make something that exists… out of nothing. Out of no technical know-how, no equipment. There wasn’t one technician on the entire film. There wasn’t anybody who knew how to run a camera… walked in and started to read the directions of how to reload it. Got a Movieola and looked at it. Did all the things in the world and we made eight million mistakes. But it was exciting and fun.
This is a 1968 French documentary that was probably shot just after or during the making of his great marriage disaster film, ‘Faces.’
Patrick O’Neill is one of the Los Angeles artists currently featured in the huge citywide exhibit known as ‘Pacific Standard Time.‘ He has made many experimental films using techniques perfected with an optical printer. This film incorporates footage of oil derricks in Venice, California and nude models filmed in the artist’s studio. Its synthesizer score is by Joseph Byrd. I don’t know much about optical printers, but I do know that they allow images or films to be projected and rephotographed by a movie camera. So my guess is that one could set up multiple layers of screens and projections to film them and blend them into a single image. Optical printers were used to create special effects in Hollywood films. I think perhaps the most famous use of the printer was in the creation of the light show sequence near the end of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’
O’Neill is one of the people who form the incredible fabric of the Los Angeles art scene post World War II. I did not know of him until I found his work through the Pacific Standard Time exhibit which is really something remarkable and I think that its effects will be felt in the art world for quite some time. Its broad scope, grouping and explanation of the Los Angeles art history and its significance cannot help but influence artists here in the city and far beyond. It’s essentially saying, ‘Look, here’s a great and fascinating body of work inspired by a city for the second half of the twentieth century. Here’s how it all happened, who the people were and what they were trying to do.’ It’s a very strong impression to make on a city. It must be a very great honor for an artist to be included in it.
I finished my first film in 1962. Then I started doing abstract or composite films. I began to use the camera as a sort of gathering device to provide elements for manipulation through re-photography. This led to 7362 which was finished in 1967. I didn’t have much knowledge about the history of the medium at that time. I’d had maybe three film classes at UCLA and beyond that the midnight screenings at the Coronet and the Cinema Theater were my education. That series at the Cinema Theater was going on from the early sixties.
Luis Buñuel was the great Spanish film director who made ‘Un Chien Andalou’ and ‘L’Age d’Or,’ two of the original surrealist films. This documentary, directed by Robert Valey, was made in 1964. The director talks freely and with a certain charming guile about his influences, friends, paranoias, enjoyments and his impressions of various countries. He once smacked Salvadore Dali down on 5th Avenue in New York city!
I enjoy listening to people like him talk about their work because they talk about how they see things – how they interpret the world. Compare the way he talks in this film to what you normally see coming from people like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese. Those people don’t seem real. They don’t seem to have any point of view. Notice how people in the film consistently associate Buñuel’s filmmaking with the work of painters. It is the continual grinding down of art into business that destroys real culture. One should immerse one’s self in better ideas and more subtle things if one wants to avoid the dullness that permeates most film work currently going on in the United States. I have found it to be a general rule that people with real talent who are artists answer questions in a slightly confusing manner. Clarity is another word for fake. Buñuel appears to me to fit this general principal.
Buñuel wrote a short and very beautiful autobiography called ‘My Last Sigh.’ I recommend it very highly if you want to know more about the mind behind Surrealist film.
And of course, here is the great Surrealist short film, ‘Un Chien Andalou,’ made by Buñuel in 1929.
This is a 2004 film compilation by Gábor Zsigmond Papp that presents a ‘best of’ series of clips from thirty years of Hungarian secret police training films geared toward protecting the socialist regime. Subjects covered include: how to place a bug, how to film people from handbag cameras, how to follow someone, how to secretly search a home, how to recruit agents, and how to effectively network for information gathering. These are all marvelous skills for finding a job in today’s high-tech world of modern American surveillance. But I view the film from an artistic perspective and find it fascinating in its easy ability to create mood and tension with the bare minimum of cinematic effort.
Here’s a 1966 short crime film by a young and learning Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The great and too-soon-departed German filmmaker actually plays one of the three young criminals who decide to invade a woman’s home to terrorize and rob her. The film is relentlessly cool and begins at around the 3 minute mark to really show how deeply Fassbinder was mining the work of Jean Luc Godard. Those shots in the apartment with Fassbinder reading the novel out loud in front of a wall of pinned art prints is straight up Godard stuff. But it’s just fine to imitate other filmmakers as long as your real intention is to destroy them from the inside. Fassbinder was just that kind of filmmaker.