No way out, I’m afraid. Blog my thoughts about, Room 237, the obsessive, fun, cringe-inducing (at least for cineastes like me), self-reflexive film about films and their critics (fans? bloggers?) and thereby I’m caught in the very same maze too (and caught there with you, dear reader, writer, blogger, critic, professor?)

So much synchronicity you might say (as would all of the intrepid interviewees in Room 237) given that I was just this very morning talking to my daughter (while I was streaming the film … hmmm), who’s so fired up by her High School English class and English teacher. Although they’re stuck on sonnets, it’s no matter the form, she explains, if your teacher opens you up to formalism. “Did you learn that in college, too, Mommy?” Learn it in college! I teach it to this day: that the formal choices and structures of the artist are there to be read, and interpreted, and thought about and discussed, and even written about by an artist’s devoted, lively readers! “Sure it’s fun to read for plot,” I said to her, “but when your thought processes also get to work through, chew on, revel in the clever devices and lush symbols that hold that story itself, the pleasures multiply.” She agreed. What’s cool about my job, I then explained, is that I get paid to do that: read myself, live myself, be myself, in relation to great works by amazing artists that speak to me (that I speak to). Then I read what others say about that great artist. And even better yet, “I go to a classroom and speak about all this with smart kids, just a little older than you.” (You are getting the symbolism? mother/daughter … almost like twins, or palimsests … like in The Shining, or Room 237 where we actually get to watch what happens when you layer The Shining forward and backward upon itself as a visual reckoning of its conjectured formal mirrorings, repeatings, forward-and-backwarding motifs).

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My dear friends,  P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes are Executive Producers of Room 237 (Rodney Ascher), and also play their own twinned parts in this tight, intense project that opens creepy, wonderful doors that should allow not just for ruminations on Kubrick—his intentions, his genius, his symbols—but for all of us (writing about movies on the Internet) to reflect upon our own creepy, wonderful critical projects about others’ art, thereby begging the same scary kinds of mirroring questions grappled with in and through Room 237, questions about when something good becomes its evil reverse: artist/critic, fan/art work, mother/house, obsessive-compulsive/close-reader, father/horror, conspiracy theorist/professor, lover/killer. 237‘s team, who themselves lovingly find and know every film reference (and more!) to perfectly illustrate their obsessed subjects’ visions of Kubrick are only different, I suppose, because, well, they made their own successful movie about and from it.

At the DML Open Learning Conference yesterday (synchronicity? conspiracy? fun-house mirror? you tell me!), I was talking with a gaggle of Internet scholars about how to transform the seas of fan culture online (be it remixing, shipping, fanfic) into that very same doorway—the gateway drug to blogging, art-making, criticism, professordum, and yes, sometimes redrum. Is there a difference in kind between my musings about a film or filmmaker (here, or in a book, or a classroom) and that of my daughter and her friends about Homestuck or Supernatural? Or is this only marked by degrees, pedigree, audience, form, format or training? And what are the conditions that reign some of us back: keeping us from devolving into conspiracy theorists or stalkers, our obsession producing an inward maze where at the end all we see are our own creepy visions?

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One of the film’s interviewees marks how Kubrick always gives some of his characters the skills to backtrack out of the ever-tightening loop; how he marks special doors that allow for escape out of his tightly-made forms (and the very “formalism” that draws us all into that shared reader/writer, child/maze project that is so deeply compelling). I, too, think that ultimately our forms (that we look at or speak through) are of less importance than are these exits (and to theorize, make, and practice exiting is perhaps even harder than to write the paths deep into the maze). The exit project maps the ways out to spaces for community, builds pathways to conversation and growing understanding, and takes time for these interactions (in class, online, via art) leading to the making of new forms of creativity that allow for other steps forward (while always looking back, to history, to art work, to each other), so as to together understand that the original form must be linked to and left by ourselves as sametime critics and producers of a culture that can sustain us.

In his blog here, “Generations,” for SCMS, Chuck Kleinhans said that at his first SCS meeting in the mid-70s “the meeting had two concurrent sessions: the Film Historians on one floor and everything else below.” History still has a big place at SCMS, albeit more dispersed, but I, too, heard and thought about it a great deal since my arrival on Wednesday. At the panel “Queer Asian Affairs,” Bliss Cua Lim used images of Filipino ghostly Aswangs to focus our attention on the cohabiting queer modernities of the past and present, while Fiona Lee attended to spectral communists made visible in the present nation/time of Malaysia: “The nation is a mistranslation of time as space.” In the panel “The Remediation of Race,” Patty Ahn, too, felt the tug of ghosts, albeit it in the more ephemeral way that YouTube must repurpose the Kim Sisters, and everything else, without any content other than the “community” that posts and watches.

Meanwhile, Alexander Cho tried to catch a glimmer of the past in Tumblr’s waterfall of gifs of mixed-raced individuals by thinking through loops and refrains.: “the currency is image and time and repetition.” During the Q and A, I asked us to think about loops and shifts as well: a repeat and a slight change or maybe a Glitch (and here a shout out to the great Glitch panel and Laura Mark’s illuminating use of the rug to help us see, in the “Arab Glitch,” the mess and beauty of slight variation and change).

The  “community” that can be found, or made (but not usually mobilized), by attending to images of and from our past was a concern at the thoughtful and loving panel, “Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied at 25.” Racquel Gates and Rhea Combs helped us see some possible hauntings of Riggs’ influence in the contemporary media forms of artists as diverse as Byron Hurt, Rodney Evans, or Frank Ocean. E. Patrick Johnson spoke about making past films present to our students; andCornelius Moore and  Vivian Kleiman reminded us of the contexts in which Riggs’ powerful films were made. Kleiman explained that Riggs had made Tongues Untied to show “in three bars”: places where black gay men met at the time, one in San Francisco, one in Oakland, and one in DC. Meanwhile, Moore, who is Riggs’ distributor at Third World Newsreel, told us that a complete edition of Riggs’ works was newly available online. During, and after the panel, he a I considered what gets done when people watch activist films alone on their computers, and not in the bars and rooms and other co-inhabited places where they were intended to be seen and used (as Combs informed us was Riggs’ primary motivation for his videomaking: to be used by organizations, businessmen, students, teachers).

The gif(t) of past images on the internet is a loop and a shift that may lead to a flicker of remembrance, or a charge or recognition, but as I’ve often worried, it’s hard to make a hard stop: to listen, to talk, to love, and act if things are lost in Tumblrs’ endless present.

In the torrent, we look to the past because it feels like it might better stick. This certainly seems to be the thrust of the “New Video Studies” that was the subject of the panel, “Video Studies.” Most of the young scholars on the panel, and in the room, are studying the material and other traces of a tawdry object lost to their childhood—the tacky VHS tape, and its many cultural manifestations—that Charles Acland so generously shook and rattled for us.

And yet it was just this nostalgic, affective, and inspiring freeing of the past that was what David Oscar Harvey so boldly tried to unmake in our Unauthorized Conversation about HIV/AIDS held yesterday on a platform near the Registration area. Attending to the past of AIDS leaves us with hard-won words and images that are not quite descriptive of our experience today. This is never to say that we can’t and don’t learn from the past—this is our job as scholars and teachers (please see all the work I’ve cited above)—but Harvey insists (at least for us activist academics) that there is another, harder job still: to also keep us attentive to the present, ever more lost as it seems to be in a wash of glitchy gifs of the just-not-now and just-not-exactly-again-or-then. Marty Fink reminded us that academic conferences are one of the few places where the then and now (the older and younger; past and present ideas and images) can cohabit lived space, explaining her particular sadness at an opportunity lost (and then more powerful regained, in part) when our inter-generational workshop on the Silence of AIDS was not selected by the programming committee and therefore she (and we) were not gifted the opportunity, this time, to have dialogue with Tom Waugh, Gregg Bordowitz and Bishnu Gosh.

But please, do follow the gift of the lost present of the wash of our just-past conversation on our Tumblr, or read more about the need for an AIDS NOW on Theodore Kerr’s Tumblr, U Ought to Know.

Long Story Short, NYC

February 22, 2013

3_5_13_Long Story ShortNatalie’s film is an inspiring mix of digital storytelling and artistic vision. Hope to see New Yorkers there!

Visual AIDS: What will be the benefits of Queer Archive Activism? (Specifically I am hoping you can comment on the benefits for those who made video and film art in early response to HIV/AIDS, and those who are recontexualizing it now. And of course, generally what are the benefits.)

The benefits to our nostalgic return are threefold:

1)  it fosters our own public and interactive remembering, “healing” (although this is not something I am seeking, personally: I don’t really want to heal, I’d rather stay angry or at least contemplative), and interaction.

Read the rest of the second part of this two-part interview on Visual AIDS.

“How can we understand this moment of ‘AIDS Crisis Revisitation’, exemplified by the success of films like United in Anger and How to Survive a Plague. Video artist, activist, and academic Alexandra Juhasz provides some insight.

Making and thinking about AIDS activist video since the mid 80’s, Juhasz coined the term “Queer Archive Activism”. In this first of two blog post Visual AIDS interviews her about her term and in the next post we flesh how Queer Archive Activism works in the world. Visit Alexandra Juhasz’s website.

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Visual AIDS: Can you tell me about your phrase Queer Archive Activism? What does it mean? Where did it come from?

see my answers on Visual AIDS’ website!

Please do pass the word, as reported on Palms Springs Life:

“Although the day is titled, A Day With(out) Art, the opposite will be true Saturday (Dec. 1) at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The museum will present a series of art forms to coincide with the World Health Organization’s World AIDS Day, which began in 1989. Admission is free.

Robert Atkins, co-founder of Visual AIDS, which created A Day With(out) Art 24 years ago as a day to use art to raise awareness and honors those who have died of AIDS, will lecture on In Mourning and In Rage as part of the day’s theme: – In Memoriam: Loss, Identity and History in the Age of AIDS.

There will also be a screening of the film, Video Remains, a documentary by filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz to honor her best friend in his final days, and a panel discussion about memory and loss.”

The schedule of events is here.

The documentary film, Video Remains, will be shown followed by a Q&A with director Alexander Juhasz.

Alex and Michael, at Rudy’s Barbershop, Silverlake, still from Video Remains.

Let’s say, to be evasive (the first evasions of many; an approach that is definitive of the sensitive territory I trod), that I returned agitated from seeing Arnon Goldfinger’s The Flat. As I tried to explain afterwards to my partner who had not seen the film, and who was a bit mystified about my spectatorial excesses, this was for four entirely entangled reasons:

  • my father, coincidentally, is currently in Budapest, where he’s been for over a month, trying to make sense of my family’s last apartment-full of European-things-that-remain (portraits, tens of thousands of books, chatchkas), engendering conversations between my own next-generation about what we want, what we remember, who we knew, what we’ve lost as Jews (and non-Jews and un-Jews) who survived and mostly left Europe, but in our case to the United States of America not to Israel (for reasons that bare their own secrets and lies, yes?)
  • the generational story Goldfinger tells (he labels it of three generations), exactly lines up to my own family’s: Gen 1. recently deceased grandparents who survived and went silent; Gen 2: their children (our parents), who also survived (as children) and were told and thereby asked nothing (but saw lots), who were told nothing because nobody knew nothing, who wanted and want to know nothing because there was nothing to know, and everyone knew that, and had no feelings about this not-knowing given that there was nothing to know and it was better to forget; Gen 3. (my generation, somewhere around 50, now parents ourselves) who want to know everything and with feeling.
  • the “mystery” he reveals at the sordid heart of his grandparents’ story points to the many secrets that all families scarred by this (and any) war carry (on both sides), secrets that get revealed even though no one knows or remembers or cares about them (except for my insatiable generation: ever seeking, asking, hunting, violating those before us) through symptoms, tics, photographs, lies, and erasures, that is until we come along behind: bumbling, pushing, and asking.
  • the bumbling, naive, self-reflexive documentary style Goldfinger takes up, to enact the role and work of gentle but needy and seeking third-generation (who already know much more then we pretend to not know; my Lord, at his point, troves of books and documentaries abound!) is at once offensive to much that I think about the ethics of documentary (in that it puts the second and third generation continually on trial; most painfully evident during the scenes between Goldfinger and his mother) while also being the role I take up in my own family.

How could I not? We are destined to play out our knowing and needing positions as we move farther in time, place and generation from the trauma of war and genocide, and as those protected by the secrets no longer are in need of protection. But even as much as our performance of self and family is painfully pre-constituted, questions remain for me: can we consider our method; and what are the ethics of our seeking, as well as our forgetting? What does it mean for us to use our own family to tell stories that others might need to hear?

As a scholar and maker of feminist documentary, The Flat made me so upset because Goldfinger’s family documentary drama is my own, and yet I would like to believe that I have cast my family members in roles somewhat more protected. As was true in Shoah, S-21, and so many documentaries that follow, asking participants in any genocide (on both or all sides) to live out their culpability, or to learn of their weaknesses and blindspots, in front of a camera, and for a trusted documentarian, may serve well for the learning and healing that audiences need, but what of the subject(s) under view?

I have worked with many members of my family—as does a generation or more of autoethnographers—to help me reveal personal experiences that may help us to know larger social struggles and secrets. Here’s my Mom and sister on generational hope (an outtake from my documentary Scale):

And my Dad in conversation with me about “private conversations” for part of a larger show I co-curated about YouTube and community :

The Flat is so intense for me because I see less the painful strictures on my own skills, roles, and limits (as a third-generation Holocaust survivor, loving daughter or sister, or feminist documentarian), and more because I am faced to confront how the limits of (documentary) knowing itself prescribe us to invade in our will to love, learn, remember, and do better. For this reason, I end with Shu Lea Cheang’s amazing piece, Les Cles e (discussed by my father, above). In this documentary/(fiction)? we watch yet another inter-generational conversation, through the eyes of another seeking and trusted artist, but without the (structural) necessity of performing for others the truly painful learning of our own self- and inter-personal limits in the face of the profound and/or the profane.