Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Being shy in Academia

This isn't something that I want to write and I hope that soon I won't have to, but in the meantime to make myself feel a bit better about being passive in class, I'll discuss some of the things I wanted to add to the discussions, here. If I can remember them of course. But I'm going to try. 

Going to a new university is really hard especially when most of the other people already know each other and have learnt the same things and watched the same films. In the last month I've gathered that Victoria University has a stronger focus on avant-garde/experiemental/independent cinema and has paid more attention to the art of film production than Canterbury did. I had some goals when I started and they were to be totally immersed in the content of the courses and make friends and be more vocal in class, you know, get into some really full-bellied discussions. It's not like I don't have anything to say, there are things I want to tell the other people, partly to:
  1. boost my self-esteem (if I say stuff then I will have fulfilled a goal and that feels nice)
  2. appear more approachable to others 
  3. learn more and get good marks and in good rapport with my lecturers so this godforsaken year is not going to be a waste of time. 
 The problem occurs when I wait for a time to say something and then try and decide if I should do it now... or now... or now? Damn they're on another subject.

Today in class we watched Jean Cocteau's Le Sang d'un Poéte and some Maya Deren films. I thought that it would be easy to talk about Maya Deren because I wrote about her in an assignment recently however the others it turned out had watched her films a lot more than I even had and did this rolly-eye thing and I couldn't quite read it but I think it was something like "oh man not this sucky lady" which totally threw me, of course because I really liked her films, mainly Meshes of the Afternoon which I thought was really great, albeit hard to deconstruct. 

After watching Sang, we were asked whether or not it was a narrative film. The general consensus I think was that it had some recurring themes but not exactly a particularly strong narrative. I thought that it had strong structure - it had four 'chapters' - which gave it a literary quality and perhaps the 'illusion' of a narrative. There was talk about narcissism and the role of the artist and whether or not this film was too personal.  Someone said something in reference to the mouth rubbing off the sculpture and onto the artist's hand, that he "can't control his own body/art" and I thought "but Cocteau is making this film, surely that reflects some sort of control". It seems like if you are going to make a reflexive film like that then the 'artist' has a major role on and off the screen and that it is the artist's manipulation of whatever medium which creates the art. I think maybe I got a bit confused though because it's hard to know how objective you have to be in class/doing any academic stuff, especially when you (I) find it really hard to believe in objectivity at all. The words "too personal?" came up. If I was going to say anything here I would have said that the four doors in the second chapter seemed quite personal and inexplicable without information of Cocteau's life maybe, however they were almost episodic and symbolic (or at least referential) of the four-chapter structure of the film. My lecturer posed this interesting question: in what ways does the film conform to surrealist films? and the even more interesting one, what ways does it not? The former was answered like this: 
  • non-traditional narrative
  • close ups on gore-y faces
  • mouth on hand was like the ants on the hand in Un Chien Andalou
I think that also it explored memory more than the unconscious, also childhood was more of a thing for Cocteau where animals was more of a thing for Buñuel. That could be stretching it a bit though.........................................................................................................................................

When we talked about Maya Deren I wanted to make this joke: well, if blood of a poet was narcissistic then this is (wouldn't had to have to finished my sentence for the laughter would have drowned it out). I decided that I need to discuss technical aspects of film more in my writing, during this discussion. I wrote that in my exercise book, not between the lines, and put a box around it [very important]. I wanted to talk about the contradictions of Deren, like how she says the camera isn't important in film, it's only a means of recording, editing is where the gold lies, except that on the stairs the position of the camera seems integral (in Meshes) and also in other films eg The Very Eye of Night sometimes the subject moves across a static lens and sometimes the lens moves over a static image. There are a lot of other things she contradicts herself on that I wanted to say as well. When we watched At Land everyone basically agreed that: wtf? 
 I thought that since we are talking about autobiographical film in a sense could we not assume that At Land is a sequel maybe to Meshes (the recurring Freudian idea of the 'ocean' and 'rebirth' [of the psyche] (side note: is this what Led Zep's 'The Ocean' is actually about?? hot dang!)) and that makes it a little bit easier to understand because whether intentionally or not, films dealing with such strongly subjective 'guts' will have (most likely) similar and recurring elements, protagonists [the 'self'], large intestines etc... 

Mainly though it sort of seems weird to try and make sense of avant-garde films because most of the time they're not supposed to be made sense of and sometimes it's important to acknowledge that and just look at the pretty pictures. The more people that talk though, the more ideas there are to share and develop, so more sense is made, thus everyone is better off (assuming that ignorance≠bliss).

So, next week before class I'm going to eat lollies and drink a coke zero and hope that all that artificial sugar gives me the artificial boost I need!


  1. Dear Alice.

    For years I sat through Philosophy/Religious Studies/Actual Bible College hahahahaha/Creative Writing classes, and I learnt that anyone who has a contradictory position to yours and then makes you feel shit about it or looks at you all WTF BRO/BABE, is probably an insecure little pangolin, and you should ignore them. Someone worth listening to is someone who listens to your position then thinks about it and respects it, then if they disagree with you, is willing to explain why without being a condescending penisface. You are smart as fuck, have a voice that is worth listening, and I think you should start talking.

    From Joh.#

    (maybe you didn't need this pep talk but I just had two chocolate freddos and am totally the encouraging QUEEENnn)

    1. thanks joh. ok. gonna do it. maybe i'll have a freddo beforehand :::)

  2. Just put it all out there, what you think, if you think it's an interesting question/idea that you want an answer to or want to share ..

    you pay to learn, you're students, not experienced poly-literate aesthetes in a movie about gertrude stein's salons, so what's wrong with a bit of brainstorming and teamwork ? what's wrong with being wrong (especially if you're students) ?

    (but don't waste too much of others' time especially if they are disapproving as long as they're sharing and not just condemning -- a balancing act -- if they're just eye-roll disapproving, ask them right out front and innocent what you did wrong and maybe call their bluff -- related to size of group and your judgment)

    i guess there will be lurkers soaking up ideas and not sharing their own, to hell with them !

    if you share what you think people will be drawn to you as long as you appear
    a) a little hurt by others' eye rolling (surely not everybody does that)
    b) in turn pleasant not mean, engaged and encouraging and open with others' ideas

    i would also suggest you use the computer library system to read ahead a bit on some of these films, or maybe so as not to spoil the films, read ahead about different films same directors, same genre, oeuvre etc

    having said that, don't think/worry about it all too much !

  3. uh, be careful not to *appear* too naive

    after all, Maya Deren is probably the first name on the 'canonical' avant film list, with Cocteau pretty notorious too

    so read ahead & widely

    1. bugger, thought my naivety was my most charming quality.. (not actually)

      thank you for the good advice, anonymous.