All the wrong people are profiting from the pandemic, so far. As bookshops, record stores and independent movie theaters are forced to close down in a retail environment crippled by the pandemic, the largest media monopolies run by plutocrats, such as Amazon, Disney and Netflix, are getting richer and richer. And more powerful. Which is bad news for anyone who cares about independent media, diverse and thriving communities, and the human race. Monopoly means centralization, and centralization kills inventiveness.
Matt Stoller’s writing on monopoly power has been especially insightful with respect to cultural issues, which often go unnoticed by economists and policy wonks.
Central planning in movies and TV shows doesn’t deliver as much as decentralized production and distribution, for the simple reason that a centralized system is less likely to let as much weird stuff through. Disney is likely to lose its filmmaking edge; indeed, it is already so large and has so many brands that the bad remake of films like The Lion King [already] suggests a loss of creativity.
Movie fans are in a position to do something about this by giving money, not to the monopolists who are flattening and diminishing global culture, but to businesses and people who create and promote rich, diverse and intelligent media.
Hence, the Popula Film Club: a place to come each week where interested parties will recommend stuff to watch that will not put one more dime in the pockets of monopolists. If you’ve got recommendations for this series, we welcome your contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, Soham Gadre has recommendations for us. Take it away, Soham!
Roslyn Romance (Is it Really True?) (dir. Bruce Baillie, 1974)
via Fracto Film; free
Bruce Baillie, one of the experimental cinema’s leading lights and a co-founder, along with Chick Strand, of the San Francisco Cinematheque, passed away on April 10th. Roslyn Romance received a restoration print from the Academy Film Archive in 2017; juxtaposing photographs and memorabilia in the home with close, intimate shots of nature, its visuals evoke powerful feelings of a place and time. Fracto Film is screening Roslyn Romance on their site, along with another Bruce Baillie film, as well as two more by his long-time collaborator Chick Strand.
Fracto Film is an online venue for avant-garde and experimental cinema that hosts online festivals, as well as offering submission portals for independent artists looking to get their work out there.
Now, at Last! (dir. Ben Rivers, 2018)
via Light Industry; free
Do you like sloths? Well, I’ve got a film for you! Ben Rivers, a well-known figure in the avant-garde film community, broke onto the scene for more narrative-focused film people like me in 2016, with the majestically titled The Sky Trembles The Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers. Two years later, he came out with Now, at Last! a filmed exercise in patience and virtue. Following the movements and gestures of the common sloth, a creature so methodical and slow that you can almost see the synapses transfer from its brain to its arms and legs, calculating and strategizing each move along the branch of a tree. This movie has more relevance in our lives right now than it probably ever did, or will.
Light Industry is a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn, NY. It curates weekly art events and screenings which have now moved online due to COVID-19.
One Mile Film (dir. Jennifer West, 2012)
via This Long Century; free
NY-based visual artist Jennifer West taped a roll of cinema to the mile-long High Line walkway in New York City and had passers-by come and write, draw, step, dance, spit, scratch and spill food and drinks on it. The result is kalaedoscopic thrill-ride that paints a community portrait of New York City. To be more accurate, the director is Jennifer West, but really this is a movie that confronts, even dismantles, the term “director.” It rebels, too, against the idea that film is a business proposition—a project requiring discussion and meticulous planning by old men in suits. This film is an effort of collaboration and community, the very definition of a public, de-commoditized cinema.
This Long Century is an online collective supported and curated by artists who choose to donate their works—films, essays, photographs, and notebook sketches—for exposure and streaming. They specialize in works that are rare and nearly impossible to find elsewhere.
La Flor (dir. Mariano Llinás, 2018)
via GrasshopperFilm; in three parts, $4.99 each
From one mile long to… well, 14 hours long. But don’t be intimidated. Marian Llinás’s expansive and circumventing movie La Flor, for which he literally drew a diagram (hey look it’s a… flower!) to show how the plots revolve and intersect around each other for context, is fun, breezy, and endlessly entertaining, like binge-watching a TV show that just never lets up and has no “filler episodes.” At Grasshopper Film, La Flor is available to watch in three parts for $4.99 each. Now is the time to watch all of the long, unwieldy movies you just “never had the time to” when the world was running at 100mph.
Things haven’t stopped being bad, but at least now there’s a moment to breathe, be patient and let a long, long film envelop you in its magic.
GrasshopperFilm is an emerging independent film distribution company. Visionary independent movies like Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela, Kalik Allah’s Black Mother, and Bertrand Bonnello’s Nocturama have received theatrical and home releases by Grasshopper.
Dead Souls (dir. Wang Bing, 2018)
via MUBI; subscription required
With the release of his 9-hour long documentary West of the Tracks in 2002, Chinese documentarian Wang Bing documented the slow destruction and decay of the Teixi industrial district amid the rise of free-market capitalism in China. His arrival was akin to an earthquake in the cinema world. Now he returns with Dead Souls, his longest film (495 min) since West of the Tracks, in which he takes his camera to the survivors of the Gansu labor camps of the 1950’s.
MUBI is an independent streaming website with a self-proclaimed “ruthless” approach to streaming. They present a new film each day, it lasts for 30 days, and then it goes away.