Thirty-first chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)
The first clip contains footage from inside the World Trade Center on September 11, and the third includes images of a violent bus hijacking in Brazil. Neither contains graphic content, but as with the Rodney King footage from Chapter 27, it may not be something people are comfortable watching in this context.
This was the age of ubiquituous "reality" - reality TV of course, but also a slew of film documentaries, a form that had never been more popular or prolific. This entry contains more documentaries than any other, from historical subjects to on-the-spot current affairs to raw cinema-verite-style concerts. Some of the non-documentary clips reflect this fascination with reality as well, from ultra-low budget "home movies" to the stylized humanism of a prolific and creative Asian cinema.
Yet there's an element of escapism too, not the old-fashioned bang-bang kind, but something more ethereal and moody - a sort of impressionistic daydream stylization reflecting the era of iPod and internet, in which inner space expanded to swallow up a whole generation. Sometimes the two trends (impressionism and realism) merge, as they do in the last clip, a sad and brilliant sequence mirroring the first clip across an unbridgeable gap of time and space. To a certain extent, today's chapter plays like a fitful waking dream, mixing fragments of memory, fantasy, and reality.
Before reverting to a more straightforward title, I considered calling Chapter 31 "Screening Reality" as a play on words, because this was a time not only of reality onscreen but filters and strategies applied to take the edge off of it.
(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)
The clips today are shorter than before, between 20-30 seconds for the most part, rather than the usual 30-45. There is a practical reason for this: I knew exactly what I wanted to begin and end with, and chronology demanded compression to achieve this. However, stepping back and viewing the finished product, I think it works aesthetically as well, because this was an era of hyperkinetic imagery, with thousands of channels and websites demanding our attention - a million distractions from the central experiences of our time. Nonetheless, some of those experiences can be seen here, particularly in the clips that bookend this chapter.
Even more visible are the forgetting, or avoiding, or transferring strategies used by people and the movies they make to reflect the unsettled feelings of the time - a time of terrorism, war, and decline in the west, of expansion and cultural confusion in the east (whose cinema, as far as I'm concerned, dominated the epoch even if it's still somewhat under-represented here). There are angry fights, tangled self-analytical conversations, loud bursts of noise and flashes of imagery, and the occasional moody glimpse at another realm, a serene land of visual bliss we can try to escape to. To contend that these films were created in this way as some kind of direct response to 9/11 would be silly; but many were created in a context fostered by that event, and they were certainly viewed, by me no less than by others, in that light.
In some ways, while this is among my least favorite cinematic eras (though I actually like the specific movies included here more than most in the last few chapters), this chapter feels the most personal. The tumultuous zeitgeist of this era still feels fresh, and completely unsettled, to me and those feelings are hard to sum up, though I once addressed them in a piece called "The Way We Weren't". Perhaps these selections also capture a sense of that state.