Posts Tagged ‘Phillip Lopate’


The Centaur-Seeker himself penned a nice little essay at Criterion, well worth your time, a snippet herewith:

The rap against most Holocaust films is that they exploit the audience’s feelings of outrage and sorrow for commercial ends; and, by pretending to put us vicariously through such a staggeringly incomprehensible experience, they trivialize, reducing it to sentimental melodrama. Alain Resnais has done nothing of the kind. Making this film in 1955, only ten years after the liberation of the concentration camps, with the wounds so fresh, he did not presume, first of all, to speak for the victims and survivors of the camps: he chose as his screenwriter the novelist Jean Cayrol, a man who had actually been imprisoned in one. Second, neither he nor Cayrol presumed to offer a comprehensive guide to the concentration camp universe. Quite the contrary: the voiceover is filled with skepticism and doubt, and a sympathetic awareness of the viewer’s resistance, conscious or unconscious, to grasping the unthinkable. “Useless to describe what went on in these cells,” and “Words are insufficient,” we are told again and again in the voiceover narration. “No description, no picture can reveal their true dimension.” And: “Is it in vain that we try to remember?” Meanwhile, the viewer is calmly given information about the Nazis’ extermination procedures. Thus the dialectic is set up between the necessity of remembering, and the impossibility of doing so.

Night and Fog is, in effect, an antidocumentary: we cannot “document” this particular reality, it is too heinous, we would be defeated in advance. What can we do, then? Resnais’ and Cayrol’s answer is: we can reflect, ask questions, examine the record, and interrogate our own responses. In short, offer up an essay. Moreover, by choosing to compress such enormous subject matter into only a half-hour (think, by contrast, of Claude Lanzmann’s over-nine-hour Shoah, [1985]), the filmmakers force themselves into the epigrammatic concision and synthesis of essayistic reflection.

This effort at analysis and reflection is one of the ways the filmmakers work to evade pious sentimentality: indeed, the voiceover narration (masterfully spoken by Michel Bouquet) is delivered in a harsh, dry, astringent tone, filled with ironic shadings (though, according to the filmmaker himself, he asked Bouquet to deliver his lines in a “neutral tone”). The magnificent score by Hanns Eisler is also employed ironically: the lovely, lyrical flute passages collide with harrowing images, the Schoenbergian pizzicato strings signal the revving up of the Nazi machine. (Just as Cayrol’s text is unusually elegant, dense, and poetic for a film voiceover, so the Eisler score is not your typical movie background music, but a modern composition that has since been performed in concert halls.)


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LOL: Lopate On Loan

Attention! Attenzione! Achtüng!: Philip Lopate is now on loan.

Although it seems strangely distanced in my memory, it was only last evening when I crossed paths with a friend on Northwestern’s campus. We had not spoken to each other since a similar chance meeting one day in the middle of summer — though I like to think we are old friends, I know we will never be good ones. Each of us offered the requisite pleasantries to one another, half out of a perverse courtesy-cum-necessity and half out of what’s left of our genuine enthusiasm. And because I am universally better at talking about myself than I am listening to, or inquiring about, others I took the opportunity to answer the question he posed to me in as much detail as possible; he asked me: “What have you been up to?”

It’s a game that I like to play. It’s called: How Real. Instead of indulging the mechanical responses we have programmed ourselves to repeat again and again, you speak honestly and truthfully in an attempt to recollect fully all the details that satisfy the inquiry posed to you by a peer, a professor, a parent, etc. As an example, where one might respond to the aforementioned inquiry (ie. “What have you been up to?) with a dismissive response such as “Not much,” I refuse to hold back the intricacies of my daily activities. A game of this sort lends itself to a mixed bag of fun — typically, if you’re talented at it, one of a possible two things happen. The game, however, is by no means binary. There are other results, practically infinite in fact, but the two that follow are simply the most common.

In How Real, either the listener will 1) fail to register any of the information you are providing them with, and likewise appear bored or 2) will listen actively, intently and allow an element of your day-to-day life to inspire either them personally or the conversation as a whole. In the case of the second (admittedly ideal) outcome, you will have succeeded in adding exactly what life always needs: verve. This second outcome was how my chance meeting turned out last night.

While I covered many topics in my session of How Real, I spoke in most detail about the daily goings-on relevant to this class. And my description of this class led to more questions on the part of my friend. “What’s the class called?, What department is it in?, Who teaches it?, Will it be taught again?, How does the Professor define the video essay?” It was this final question that held the most gravitas in our chat. I told him of Philip Lopate’s piece “In Search of the Centaur” as being the introduction to the course, the more or less standard definition of the video essay, which we were to use as something of a blueprint, a guidance for our own creative work to come. I mentioned Marker, too, but since his work is difficult for most to access, my overwhelming emphasis was on Lopate’s own treatise on the marrying of sound and image to create a cinematic work.

And then, I had to leave — to cut our conversation short. But as I stepped outside, we both called back the same sentiment to one another, I saying: “I’ll send you a copy of the essay,” He asking: “Will you send me a copy of the essay?” We smiled and maybe grew a little closer in that moment. And then I left for real. But as soon as I returned to my apartment, I did what I had tacitly promised him — I lent him Lopate’s ideas, his knowledge, his enthusiasm for this medium. In return for the loan, my friend has promised to send me his thoughts or take a shot at the form himself. As soon as it happens, I will post any and all results.

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