Wannabe: A Menippean satire of “cinema as resistance”
by Will Nediger & Gerry Fialka
“I want to be Adam Curtis when I grow up.” – Errol Morris
“I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” – John Cage
We are Manny Farber wannabes, writing this faux-faux essay in the lite (or lit) form of abstract expressionism. Farber was a Pollock wannabe. Consider how artists want to be their heroes, and at the same time, try to resist being their heroes. John Waters (who rooted for the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz) and Andy Warhol are Jack Smith wannabes. Godfrey Reggio is a Hilary Harris wannabe. See the “Wannabe List” below for more. Ponder McLuhan’s dictum of "user as content," and how viewers make meaning.
Emma Goldman yelped "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Then consider the Louis Alvarez axiom "Youcreate what you resist." Carl Jung first said "What you resist persists." Say what? How can we reinvent new questions about this jujitsu dance of enemies and influences?
When asked what The Battle of Algiers teaches people, Gillo Pontecorvo responded: “How to make a film.” It’s often viewed as a landmark political film, but it’s more important as a landmark film, a fake documentary onto which viewers project their own politics – it’s been championed by guerrilla movements and governments alike. At a 2016 Directors Guild of America panel, author Sohail Daulatzai remarked that some people watch The Battle of Algiers now and think it’s an anti-Muslim film.
Zen promotes "no point of view." This suspended judgment approach allows for "getting the big picture." The collage documentaries of Adam Curtis seem to have the same effect on people, and sometimes a confusing effect too. He’s been adopted by the left (see his appearance on the leftist podcast Chapo Trap House), but doesn’t consider himself a leftist; he’s skeptical of utopian schemes and totalizing ideologies of all sorts. But that doesn’t mean his films don’t have a point of view – just ask Frederick Wiseman, a kindred documentarian whose films have been described as cinema vérité, though he considers that phrase a contradiction in terms. Wiseman calls his docs "reality fiction," Allan King: "actuality dramas," and Richard Leacock: "historical fantasies." In 2016, Mr. Fialka encountered Mr. Wiseman in person, and knowing he is extremely articulate with minimum words, Fialka decided that his usual 90 minute interview could be done in 5 minutes. Fialka asked, "Where did you get your sense of suspended judgement?" Wiseman said, "I am a New Englander, Puritan and Jewish."
Consider the Zen entertainer Alan Watts: "If you acknowledge your enemy, you empower them." Coppola stole from the mob and samurais: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." This morphed into the word "frenemies." JFK: "Forgive your enemy but don't forget their name." Fellini: "I need an enemy." Chinese proverb: "He who cannot agree with their enemy is controlled by them." Levi-Strauss: "Cannibals boil friends, and roast enemies."
There is a Native American proverb "Your enemy is your best teacher." In fact, the Dalai Lama says: “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” Activist Doug McLean says, “When I worked at Greenpeace, there was the concept that it was founded on which was the Quaker principle of bearing witness. The best journalists and the best artists are the ones who get the most out of the way and are simply a lens.” Can one become a reflecting vehicle for resistance and at the same time, not empower the enemy? With suspended judgement?
At Standing Rock, artist "Cannupa Hanska Luger created dozens of mirrored shields from Masonite and reflective vinyl that were as much protective devices for frontline protesters as they were bright works of sculpture." - Los Angeles Times, 1-8-17.
Craig Baldwin is a Bruce Conner & Jean-Luc Godard as CovertAction Bulletin wannabe. Rodney Ascher is a Craig Baldwin wannabe, whose film Room 237 was reviewed in both Artforum and People Magazine. Could director Raoul Peck be another stellar Craig Baldwin wannabe with his cinematic séance I Am Not Your Negro?
Peck combines James Baldwin words with an engaging collage of alarming Ferguson footage and Sidney Poiter films, Doris Day and Ray Charles. Viewers have been seen in a pool of tears after watching this intense essay film. It evokes Frank Zappa's question: "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, but there's a whole lots a times, I wish I could say I'm not white." Peck includes a clip of the ever-curious Baldwin talking on The Dick Cavett Show (a rare instance in the history of cinema of the screenwriter actually talking on screen). Elsewhere, his words almost illustrate a form of wannabe Menippean satire: "You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage: you never had to look at me; I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
The jujitsu juxtaposing of the wannabe hero and the not-wannbe enemy transforms the question: "What can one do about problems?" Not make a film? Not write an essay? Consider Maurice Blanchot's query: "The answer is the disease, the misfortune, of the question."
"I Am Not Your Negro’s specifics are only intermittent, like reporting on different reactions between white and black audiences during Sidney Poitier films. By and large this film concerns itself with the greater philosophy of why groups in power behave the way they do. This might be the only movie about race relations I’ve ever seen that adequately explains – with sympathy – the root causes of a complacent white American mindset. And it took a black writer and director to do it....I Am Not Your Negro isn’t a special interest title, it is a film." - Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian 10-20-16
Playwright Bertolt Brecht believed “Art is not a mirror held up to reality. Art is a hammer with which to shape it." High aspiration? McLuhan probed the hidden psychic effects of the words making and matching (mirroring). He wrote: "Most people have the idea of communication as something matching between what is said and what is understood. In actual fact, communication is making. The person who sees or heeds or hears is engaged in making a response to a situation which is mostly of his own fictional invention. What these critics [F. C. Bartlett and I. A. Richards] reveal is that the mystery of communication is the art of making."
How can the oppressed resist by making the oppressors see themselves in the mirror? How can two fakes make a truth? How can one reverently satirize what one loves the most? "One never knows, do one?" -Fats Waller. Good question? Ruin it with an answer?
McLuhan challenges us to have the courage to: "Carefully make plans, then do the opposite." Consider "Bobcat" Goldthwait's "You are what you hate." Consider Robert Bresson’s recommendation of a “production of emotion… determined by a resistance to emotion.” Consider the year 1939, which is the publication date for Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, and the release date of Wizard of Oz (aka The Wizard of Us).
Consider interconnecting intention, time and space as "all times are happening now." Consider envisioning how resistance through disruption can build new wannabes, and, as well, can bypass the need to create the "wannabes" syndrome. Consider how movements can organize new strategies in the spirit of the turning breakdowns into breakthroughs and rejection into redirection.
"To do is to be" - Socrates
"To be is to do" - Plato
"Inka Dinka Doo" - Durante
Gerry Fialka and Will Nediger are currently writing a book on the future of the history of avant-garde film. Laughtears.com Please read the other version of this essay entitled "Wannabe Jujitsu."
jujitsu (n.) also ju-jitsu, 1875, from Japanese jujutsu, from ju "softness, gentleness" (from Chinese jou "soft, gentle") + jutsu "art, science," from Chinese shu, shut. resistance (n.) mid-14c., from Old French resistance, earlier resistence, from Late Latin resistentia, from present participle stem of Latin resistere "make a stand against, oppose" (see resist). Meaning "organized covert opposition to an occupying or ruling power" [OED] is from 1939. Electromagnetic sense is from 1860. Path of least resistance is from 1825, originally a term in science and engineering.
"There is a kind of illusion in the world we live in that communications is something that happens all the time, that it’s normal. And when it doesn’t happen, this is horrendous. Actually, communication is an exceedingly difficult activity. In the sense of a mere point-to-point correspondence between what is said, done, and thought and felt between people—this is the rarest thing in the world. If there is the slightest tangential area of touch, agreement, and so on among people, that is communication in a big way. The idea of complete identity is unthinkable. Most people have the idea of communication as something matching between what is said and what is understood. In actual fact, communication is making. The person who sees or heeds or hears is engaged in making a response to a situation which is mostly of his own fictional invention. What these critics [F. C. Bartlett and I. A. Richards] reveal is that the mystery of communication is the art of making." Marshall McLuhan, “The Hot and Cool Interview,” 1969.
wannabe (n.) 1981, originally American English surfer slang, from casual pronunciation of want to be; popularized c. 1984 in reference to female fans of pop singer Madonna.
Wannabe List intro:
“The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” – William Blake
Note: Please don’t take the wannabe list too seriously. We’re serious about not being serious.
We’re here to play around like Bob Fosse. Sam Wasson, in Fosse, wrote that Fosse’s dancers seemed “as if they were playing at dancing more than actually dancing.”
We were anxious to get publisher Colonel Baldwin's reaction to this joke exercise. To our surprise, Craig responded: "The wannabe list is a wonderful exercise in film criticism and philosophy!!"
Richard Linklater is a James Benning & Robert Bresson wannabe (especially his very first film It's Impossible To Learn To Plow by Reading Books)
The Coen Brothers - Homer as Preston Sturges wannabes
Ken Loach - lefty Mike Leigh
David Lynch - Painter Francis Bacon as Luis Buñuel
Christopher Nolan - Charles Dickens as Stanley Kubrick
Douglas Trumbull & Stanley Kubrick - Franz Kafka & HP Lovecraft as Elia Kazan & Jordan Belson
Morgan Fisher - Robert Bresson as a school clock
George Lucas - Buck Rogers as Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell - Finnegans Wake as James George Frazer
Finnegans Wake - Henrik Ibsen & Tristram Shandy as radio & cinema & language about language
Stan Brakhage - Gertrude Stein as Jackson Pollock
Jem Cohen - Chris Marker as Walter Benjamin & Ludwig Wittgenstein
Bill Brown - James Benning as Jacques Derrida
Ben Russell - Michel Foucault & Maurice Merleau-Ponty as Werner Herzog
Woody Allen - Ingmar Bergman as Groucho Marx
Terrence Malick - Huck Finn & Erik Satie as Andrei Tarkovsky
Adam Curtis (BBC) - Arthur Lipsett (NFB) & John Dos Passos & Erik Durschmied as Robert Rauschenberg
Curtis Harrington - Edgar Allan Poe as cinema
Sam Mendes - Nathaniel Dorsky as the living end
Ryan Trecartin - John Waters as Paul McCarthy
Frederick Wiseman - Henry James as Charlie Chaplin
Peter Greenaway - Jorge Borges & James Joyce as Neo-Classical art & Hollis Frampton
Coleman Miller - Tex Avery & Ernie Kovacs as Bruce Conner's favorite film
Will Nediger - Tony Conrad as Will Shortz
Gerry Fialka - Land Without Bread & The Gleaners and I as the MC5 meet Sun Ra at The Shaggs picnic
This essay - Bresson's Notes on the Cinematograph as Cecil Taylor as Rube Goldberg