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Clues to the Uncapturable

CBR_Logo2Béla Tarr, The Time After
by Jacques Rancière
Translated by Erik Beranek

Someone famous once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture, meaning that, describing one art form by means of another is ultimately futile. Yet, over and over again, writers attempt to do just that very thing. There are many reasons why one might want to write about someone else’s creative work: it may be a way of explaining it to oneself; a way to explain it to others; a way to advance or buttress one’s own ideas on the back of theirs; or countless other reasons. We all want to understand what we’ve experienced, and writers feel the added burden of putting it into words.

Two_Lessons_on_Animal_and_Man_UofMplateThis is the task Jacques Rancière has set himself with his Bela Tarr, The Time After. Rancière is a philosopher concerned with the plight of the proletariat, so it makes some sense that he’d take on Tarr’s films since they concern themselves with the era just before and just after the fall of Communism in the Eastern Bloc. Tarr’s films include The Turin Horse (2011), The Man from London (2007), and The Outsider (1981).

Because he’s a philospher, Rancière floats some theories about the inner meanings of Tarr’s scenes and even certain shots or camera movements. Some of these are more convincing than others, but Tarr’s films have so much space and silence in them, they practically invite interpretation and misinterpretation.

Tarr populates his work with people who often don’t know themselves, and he leaves us in rooms and landscapes with them for minutes and sometimes for hours at a time. Rancière tries mightily to explain these inchoate beings and even succeeds at times: “He does not want to look at the rain, he says, like dogs who await the puddles in order to drink from them.” Other times he gets stuck on concepts like huit clos (commonly translated as no exit, referencing Sartre’s work), and he uses them over and over to the extent that they lose much of their meaning. Tarr’s films are quiet, hulking things that mostly evade grasp.

At times one is left to wonder whether some awkward phrasing in the book is the author’s or his translator’s. The phrase “mediocre web,” which is used to discuss how a certain swindler unsuccessfully attempts to entrap his fellow villagers in one of his schemes, might make sense as a concept but stretches one’s patience as a description. In the end, though, we have to admire Rancière ‘s efforts to capture the uncapturable. There are moments when Tarr’s images spur him to share his own wisdom: “This is why it is pointless to believe that the world will become reasonable if we keep harping on the crimes of the last liars, but also grotesque to insist that from now on we are living in a world without illusion.”

This slim yet dense little book will make no sense to those who haven’t seen any of Tarr’s films, but for those who have and are reaching for some way to make sense of what they’ve seen, Rancière certainly offers a few useful clues.

Two-Star Review

July 2013, Univocal Publishing (distributed by University of Minnesota Press)
$19.95, paperback, 81 pages
ISBN: 978-1-9375-6115-4

—Reviewed by Dmitry Samarov

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Da Lights, Da Camera …


Hollywood on Lake Michigan:
100+ Years of Chicago and the Movies,
Second Edition

Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein


Chicagophiles and movie buffs will find much to enjoy in Hollywood on Lake Michigan, a detailed tour of the movies and television programs made in and around the Windy City.

Originally published in 1998, this updated edition remains a “must-read for local movie buffs,” as the first edition was proclaimed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Authors Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein, both Chicagoans, have provided readers with a fun and lively reference full of detailed information about the local actors, producers, buildings, neighborhoods, and more that have featured in movies and television since the dawn of the silent era. From downtown to the north, south, and west sides, and even out to the suburbs, the authors cite the locations of scores of movies, making the book a veritable tour guide for movie buffs who yen to visit the local places where Hollywood stars have walked. The authors estimate that about 35 percent of the material in this edition is completely new, and much more has been revised and updated.

From well-known films such as The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Dark Knight to obscure indie films and limited-release pictures such as I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With and Hannah Free, Corcoran and Bernstein chronicle the people and places that have shaped movies and filmmaking in Chicago. Arranged geographically, the authors take the reader on a movie lover’s tour of the city, noting which films were made where, the studios that made them, and the players—from actors to directors to producers—who made them happen. The book opens with a detailed examination of the city’s role during the silent movie era, noting Chicago’s hometown status back in the day as one of the top movie-making cities in the world: “[I]n the late 1910s,” the authors note, “one out of every five movies in the world was produced by Chicago.”

Despite a dearth of Chicago-based movies during the reign of Mayor Richard J. Daley, scores of movies and TV shows have been filmed here, set here, or produced here before and since, and the authors do a fine job of highlighting a variety of them. At times, however, it seems the same movies keep popping up again and again: The Blues Brothers, The Fugitive, The Package, and Primal Fear are just a few of the films that appear repeatedly.

Corcoran and Bernstein make a point of noting that it would be nearly impossible to mention all of the shows and movies filmed or set here, but there are some obvious omissions. For instance, the 1970s classic The Bob Newhart Show isn’t mentioned, even in the discussion about Marina City, which features prominently in the show’s opening credits. And, although the short-lived Kelsey Grammer vehicle Boss is mentioned several times, the Emmy Award-winning show The Good Wife is left out despite its Chicago connections.

Of course, it’s likely that every reader will have a moment of “Hey! They didn’t mention _________!” But with nearly 1,500 films noted in the book or featured in the appendix—a handy reference listing films shot in Chicago and the surrounding area—most readers will find mention of just about every film they might be interested in.

Detailed sidebars, many of which feature in-depth interviews with film industry professionals who hail from Chicagoland, complement the location-by-location approach to the city’s history in film. In these asides—some of them rather lengthy and perhaps too much for the casual reader—Corcoran and Bernstein go beyond noting the bars, buildings, and bridges that feature in various movies and TV shows to describe various aspects of entertainment, including filmmaking technology, the evolution of the city’s theater scene, and the origins of the city’s beautiful old movie palaces. Black-and-white photographs complement the text, bringing to life many of the locales and individuals featured in the book.

It’s clear that Corcoran and Bernstein love movies, and their enthusiasm for the subject shines through. Hollywood on Lake Michigan expertly captures Chicago’s role in film and television during the past century. Movie buffs will love reading about the city’s role in their favorite films, and fans of the city will love learning how some of their favorite haunts have been featured in film.

Three-Star Review

June 2013, Chicago Review Press
$18.95, trade paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-61374575-5

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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