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Daily Briefing. Synecdoche, Moscow

Also: Dennis Lim on An Injury to One, Adrian Martin on sadness and Philip French on Saul Bass.
The DailyLev Landau

The weekend's must-read is Michael Idov's report in GQ from the set of Ilya Khrzhanovsky's (4) latest project, Dau, which "has been in production since 2006 and won't wrap until 2012, if ever." I first came across it via a tweet from Vince Keenan: "It's Synecdoche, New York. Only it's real. And Russian." Very. Ostensibly a biopic based on the life of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Lev Landau, Dau has become "an entire city, built to scale" in eastern Ukraine and populated by 300 cast and crew members who literally live, day in and day out, inside a simulacrum of Moscow, circa 1952. It is also an Institute, of which Khrzhanovsky is the Head "or simply the Boss." There's a narrative arc to Idov's piece: "A day into my stay at the Institute, I begin to feel its pull." By the third day, "I have been reduced… to a sniveling Soviet stukach, a snitch." By the way, I didn't want to use any of the images by GQ's photographer, so what we have up there is the cover of a Russian biography of Landau.

"A look back at the great tradition of the political avant-garde reveals exactly what our age is missing," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "From Dziga Vertov in the Soviet Union of the 1920s to the wave of European filmmakers who emerged or became radicalized amid the convulsions of the late 60s — Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, who formed their Dziga Vertov Group 'to make films politically'; the husband-and-wife team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, the German film essayists Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky — it's clear that radical politics and radical art go hand in hand. There is little in the current cinematic landscape that matches or evokes the anger and the sense of injustice that have galvanized the protesters at Occupy Wall Street and its proliferating offshoots. You know things are bleak when people are positioning the financial-crisis indie thriller Margin Call as a movie of the moment. Perhaps it will take time, but while we're waiting, class warriors and curious bystanders alike might want to check out Travis Wilkerson's An Injury to One, one of American independent cinema's great achievements of the past decade, just issued on DVD by Icarus Films."

"These days, film theory courses in the universities have gone crazy for 'affect' — which is not exactly the same thing as old-fashioned emotion, but comes close. In any case, it's all about feeling — often strong feeling. Affect theory adds back into film studies what it has so often lacked: the current or charge of the spectator's experience, which usually eludes discussion based squarely on theme or genre or the director's signature…" Adrian Martin in De Filmkrant: "I have been pondering sadness lately."

Saul Bass

The Observer's Philip French reviews Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, a "superbly designed book, with its 1,480 illustrations" and "a work of filial piety on the part of [Elaine and Saul's] daughter Jennifer Bass, herself a graphic designer, in collaboration with the design historian Pat Kirkham."

"Doris Day will receive the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn's Career Achievement Award," reports the LAT's Susan King.

From the festivals: Michael Wood in Morelia (London Review of Books) and, at the House Next Door, Aaron Cutler in São Paulo, Ronald Bergan at the Viennale and Glenn Heath Jr at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.

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I can’t believe how long it has taken for an Injury to One to come out on DVD. Saw it at BAM in 2002 and have been waiting ever since. Now if they could only release Wilkerson’s Who Killed Cock Robin?, and if only he would make another movie. Wilkerson’s got the goods to be one of the best independent filmmakers around.
Howdy. Thanks for the kind words. But I would add, I’ve made a bunch of films this year! Distinguished Flying Cross was recognized at both du reel in Paris and Yamagata, it also opened Madrid. Pluto Declaration has been making the rounds with Orbit, and my contribution to Far From Afghanistan just showed in Japan and on line, and should premiere with the whole omnibus soon. Plus, I am working on a new feature (or two). Thanks again!
I’m glad your making films, Travis. I just wish I could see them. I don’t get the chance to travel to Film Festivals and the like. I have to wait until they come to Los Angeles or they come to DVD. And by the way, as a fellow Cal Arts alum, I have to say you have made the Institute very proud.

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