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The Volatility Smile: A Dialogue About Isiah Medina’s "88:88"

“Poetics of whispers,” Godard, modernism, and Alain Badiou: discussing a challenging, polyphonic, polypictorial movie.
Craig Keller and Uncas Blythe continue our series of film dialogues. Isiah Medina's 88:88 is having its exclusive online premiere at MUBI, playing through April 17, 2016.

CRAIG KELLER: We're going to talk about Isiah Medina's 66-minute film from 2015, 88:88. It's a challenging movie: polyphonic, polypictorial, but not confrontational, in fact pretty chilled-out; if it were featured on Top Gear the hosts might praise its speed, dynamic facility, and stability of suspension. 88:88 presents Medina himself and a group of friends or characters from university in and around the neighborhoods of Winnipeg.
Now I'll refrain from synopsizing any more. I had a hard time with the film, but like any complicated work revisitations in whole and in part yield stronger comprehension; accordingly, new insights rise to the surface. Going back through it again the other day I started by watching only the first ten minutes, which provide an overture, that is, a 'synopsis of intent.'
The picture seems to me a kind of diary film, but in the sense of a record, a set of biographies; the record of something or some time (academic terms, certain relationships) nearing an end. Insofar as multiple cameras capture multiple glimpses of 'quotidiana,' 88:88 sets itself apart from the diary films of say Jonas Mekas or Jean-Daniel Pollet's and Jean-Paul Fargier's Jour après jour [Day After Day, 2007] where temporality gets considered serially. Medina moves in layers, more like Brakhage, forward and backward, in irruptions and resets: power-outages, "88:88" an end, a stop, but a chance to recalibrate, remix, or reprogram.
Sonic blasts arc across the image track like breaks, aural equivalent of a warp attempt. At once an archiving and a refresh, 88:88 wants to be Googled. And so after winding down from a basketball game in a weedy court, Medina and his buddy take a seat on the opposite end of the lot to crack open an analysis of "Badiou's Platonics." From there we get Emily Dickinson's "He lived that Life of Ambush" and "Who has not found the Heaven — below —," alongside a text by Badiou in voice-over: "The unrepresentable is inextensible and therefore in-different," from Oliver Feltenham's translation of L’Être et l’Événement [Being and Event, 1988] from the chapter titled "The Mark ∅" (empty-set / void-set). Sets, or "multiples," figure as prominently in Badiou's book as they do in Medina's film, from couples to the aforementioned polypictoriality / polyphony+interruptus.
There's a very beautiful phrase in Badiou's preface: "The subject is the militant of truth.”
UNCAS BLYTHE: The other day I made a joke about creating something called the Gnostic Ethnography Lab and now it seems like it's a good genre for Medina's film. This seems like "ethnographic" film that is made by a meaningfully conflicted participant observer; conflicted because he is both of this world and not. I agree—I think the Brakhage thing is right—it's what I was thinking too, at least off the bat. Are Brakhage's films ethnography? Family ethnography? Do they aspire to science? Does 88:88? Obviously the soundtrack is more(?) important here. The images to me have a beautiful natural flow—I don't see them as jarring or stuttery—and the soundtrack, like in a lot of films, at least initially seems like an afterthought. I think that obviously this is the sort of film that we are invited to re-watch/re-listen to.
If you held a gun to my head and I had to say this film was about one thing—I'd say that it was about trying to represent the spiritual effects—the disorientation—of hybrid identity. That's where the Gnostic Ethnography comes in. Does that sound crazy?
I'm glad you tracked down some of the textual allusions, Craig, that is the sort of thing that does nothing for me. When I'm watching the film I'm not really listening to all that stuff, more like waiting for synch points or effective symmetries or rhymes. I also wanted to maybe listen to the soundtrack without the images. (That's allowed, right?)
Another thing I scribbled down: "Poetics of whispers." I forget how powerful a whisper can be as a sign. Medina obviously doesn't. This seems weird. Is the whispering a guarantee or loving mockery of documentary truth? Is it like shaky cam? Is he directing people to whisper? The introduction of whispering comes along with a section that seems micro-narrative, oblique, secret stories about couples that are trying to exist intimately inside of contexts that don't seem to allow much of that, à la Alphaville. This is the section that seems to bleed a sort of tenderness for me. Again, very obliquely. And this leads "dialectically" into the next section that is about "screen-life"—people representing life to themselves through screens. Which then makes me go back to the couples and think about how strange it is that they aren't mugging for the camera. Are they actors? Are they natives of visual culture? Do they notice the mystic/scientist filming them? Is the film made by a ghost?
KELLER: Sure, I'd call Brakhage films ethnography, I'd call them family ethnography, I'd call them science. I'd call them an ethnography of the self. (Dog Star Man is an obvious example.) His Brand Was Ophthalmology. What you say about a "gnostic ethnography" is, then, spot-on. It's strange though—why do I think of Medina's film as more removed (i.e. 'fly-on-the-wall') in its self-ethnography than I do Brakhage? Again, not to equate the filmmakers or put too fine a point on their similarities... Is it just that Medina feels colder, on the basis that the "family" of the film feels, in a sense, surrogate? (Whereas in Brakhage, the family is quite literally nuclear + all-embracingly positioned within a cosmic lineage.)
BLYTHE: I think that you can’t “family” in that romantic, Freudian, heroic way anymore. Family life is really more alienated now. It’s telescopic rather than ophthalmic. Whereas in the past families were absolutely bound by parallel circumstance, care, shared affection and tribal hatreds, persecution—now family is elective, utopian. New-agey. People sitting across from each other but enlivened, enraged by their screens. La vida truly es sueño. I always find it incredibly moving when you catch someone in the middle of some oneiric response through their device. They are sweetly tucked in virtual reality.
Jumping ahead a bit to that crucial monologue where the speaker is dumping his frustration at his life, this litany of real alienation, from self, from others, crushed by capital, by incomprehension. Life is making an incursion on him. And he is without weapons. At that moment, there is no way to strike back. Maybe those tools will become available again, but right now, they are lost. Paradoxically, this is maybe the birth of the artist. The person who realizes in the core of her being that the whole idea of “tools” is already part of the trap. Somehow this reminds me of that funny moment in Mirror where the Spaniard is going off into a paralysis of nostalgia and somebody says, protectively,  ‘somebody stop him, he’s talking about the bullfights again...” So this soundtrack moment, to me, is a sort of birth of the artist scene.
KELLER: Speaking of science: What is it about 88:88 that feels science-fictional to me? Can you help me out here? To be a basic bitch, it's funny, the titles of these sci-fi films that deal in memory, and loss, on deeply: 88:88, 4:44, 2046...
When you write of hybrid identity, I take it you're referring to that simultaneity of internal/external, observer/participant? And maybe speaker/spoken…?
BLYTHE: Hybrid Identity: Yes, and more. Individuation is always a matter of betraying your tribe. In matters of art even more so. Artists are fucking schizoid weirdos. Really, you shouldn’t trust them. At all. They are only faking their membership in the human race. They move to a gnostic plane rather quickly if they are any good at it. It’s like that Kieslowski riff about the impossibility of documenting. You have to start paying actors because after awhile that stuff that interests you becomes massively problematic ethically. People like Godard are forced into melancholy solipsism because of it. All his movies become about trying to find someone who will talk to him in images. Philippe Garrel, following Jacques Doillon, I think, on the other hand overcomes his squeamishness, goes the opposite way and goes deeper (or back) into the family life. So getting back to hybridity: it made me laugh when somebody said this about "Formation":
“She [meaning Bey] wants us to know — more than ever — that she’s still grounded, she’s paying attention and still a little hood. I think she wants us to know that even though she’s headlining a mainstream event like the Super Bowl, she has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them...”
I mean this is totally idiotic, but it’s identifying a central tension in modern art: how do you keep affirming your membership in these speed tribes (when all your fans are betaloned hawks for inauthenticity) but you are shamming it. Because you are an artist. The fraudulence of shibboleths. Formation sure is a high wire act. Not quite successful for me. Like most sawed-off shotguns made of prismatic glass, it’s trying to do too much. That’s the deep pathos behind somebody saying “I’ve got hot sauce in my bag.” “I’m Jenny from the Block.” Oh, are you?  Things get fuzzy. Any kind of tribal membership dehumanizes as much as it vitalizes. That’s the key Fordian idea.
And the protean view of identity—the Stuart Hall thing—is that you have to constantly resolve multiple contradictory identities (many of those elective) dialectically, or even on the level of spirit. This further alienation (Who am I? A fraud, probably.) has complicated an already complex human emergence by incorporating representation; the performative turn (really about being a Kafkaesque self-informer, a self-fingerer) that reinstalls anxious village life as gatekeeper, formalizer and certifier of identity. Where capitalism offers you self-definition through consumption of images and things and ‘likes,’ a person senses this is a sort of imposed poverty. That debtor’s prison of the spirit that Bernard Stiegler calls Symbolic Misery. A consequence: the happy birth of a secret pectoral self whose deepest needs cannot be met by external choices or acts. This takes you way, way out of materialism, blood quanta, and Marxism into the Gnostic.
The allusive film is also the sign of this non-solid-state hybridity. Text vs. Image. Where is your allegiance—is it in sound (the tribal ear) or image (private in-scape)? I mean on some level, whenever some goofball starts showing his quotes, I’m immediately thinking about Woody Allen and City College of NY. It’s smells of comedically insecure auto-didact. The auto-didact, let’s remember, is inherently didactic. JLG, case in point. I’m not saying that Medina is doing this—he’s totally a deep thinker and not a charlatan. Though I do worry about Badiou (the Vanilla Ice in the Gangsta world of philosophy) in that respect. I honestly don’t ever care about this stuff. It doesn’t need this fake buttressing. You have to trust what the art is doing. Or else!  But I think in this film, text-life is obviously about staying true to something liberating about the life of the mind in a cultural situation that is hostile or indifferent to it. But an environment that you have to “love” nonetheless.
You know that I want to talk about that digital counter as central image. There’s this shot of a digital readout where all the segments are activated through malfunction. This is absolutely a gnostic image. I love that Medina has revealed it. It’s a symbol of pure potentiality frozen in amber. And to me it is also a perfect image of this hybridity that I’ve been talking about. You might be this infinite being that carries all meanings, all potentialities inside of you, but life is only giving you certain “epigenetic triggers” and so you can only be partly lit at any given time. What a nightmare that would be! But that’s the nightmare that everyone lives. You walk around like a Dostoyevsky character thinking that everyone is a fully realized being, that they have a key to authenticity that you don’t have, and they secretly feel the same way about you.
KELLER: One of the primary aspects of 88:88 is its allusiveness, or let's say, at the very least, its "text-drop" (also à la needle-drop). Which raises a broader question that hazards being too broad, but I'll throw it out there: Wherefore the allusive/recondite film? Does a film like this take off from Modernism in literature (Joyce, Pound, Eliot) and film (Godard)? (Side-note: You tweeted your suspicion that Godard's never read an entire book.) I guess to clarify "where the allusive/recondite film" I'd add: "To what end?"
Further to that notion of to-what-end-the-Recondite-Film, your mention of a "poetics of whispers" reminded me of something that I either heard someone say, came up with by initially misreading your phrase, or was the title of a book in a dream I had recently: "Poetics of Whatever."
For me the whispering is that which wants to draw attention to itself, also a confessional, and maybe too intimate an intonation directed towards an ostensible lover—all that, or just humoring oneself that the interlocutor is as interested in hearing recited-Badiou as he is. I'm a little stumped about this. I consider it another trace of Godard influence: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Histoire(s) du cinéma, etc.
I'm glad you brought up that monologue sequence, "a sort of birth of the artist scene," as you put it. I've taken to thinking of this section as the "Homeless Poet" chapter, or The Ballad of the Dispossessed MC. The very fluidity and obliqueness of 88:88 lends itself to a reach toward Archetypes, both on the part of Medina and of my interpretation at least as a viewer. The Dispossessed MC speaks for himself and for Medina in self-portrait: our ghost/omniscience/director, G.O.D., evinces a tangible empathy for DMC, given that the two have, all time-slippage aside, arrived at their respective gnosis when they learn(ed) how to transubstantiate pure id impulse into ego/fabrication. For me, the revelation of DMC occurs at the moment he laments: "This is what family is supposed to be about," a statement which rings touching in its naïveté and hollow in its reverence given the context of the confessional (to Isiah? another friend-/collaborator-off?), the seemingly ever-present cocoon of compatriots, and the tenderness of Samira's gaze. As you put it: elective, utopian. (And so yeah, tangentially new-agey.)
Individuation is identification's parthenogenesis. If I had to call out in 19 syllables one of the main themes of 88:88. All the sets, couples, multiples are mirrors—biographies and autobiographies. (You mentioned Godard and also Dostoyevsky: "You walk around like a Dostoyevsky character thinking that everyone is a fully realized being, that they have a key to authenticity that you don't have, and they secretly feel the same way about you." Whereas Godard recently expressed disingenuously, in an act of autobiographical self-defiance: "What is the impulse to have a coffee with your heroes? If I saw Dostoyevsky walking down the street, I wouldn't go up to him and say 'Monsieur Dostoyevsky, would you like to get a coffee?'") 
I find the artist scene, one's intellectual circle, as presented here refreshing. It's a throw-down, aligning itself with the hip-hop community while busting that modern, sanitized notion of the floating, sometimes-virtual salon: members must behave within an acceptable, Caucasian-sanctioned code: political correctness masking its suppressive objective. Members mustn't thirst for busting a skull or winding up in a circumstance where they're scrambling for a gat in a Jansport. Only Rimbaud and Paul Gégauff get a pass; 'those were different times.' I'm not calling 88:88 Isiah Medina's My Crasy Life— but that's certainly a movie 88:88 got me thinking back to. There's something insurrectionary in Medina's portraiture, reflections, and refractions, its micro-narratives crushed into this (to employ a favorite Gorin metaphor) allusion-machine operating on a principle of what I'll call disguise aesthetics, a poetics of disguise.
My Crasy Life
(On the subject of Gnosticism, revelation, sci-fi etc., it might do to "go there" and bring Philip K. Dick into the mix. There's an amazing comic that R. Crumb wrote and illustrated around PKD's significant experience.)
BLYTHE: Yes, absolutely insurrectionary. But not unproblematically so. Because of this “gnosis” I’m saying is the matter of the film. It is a site of truth, like all good art, but also wrecked in transmission. Even the good things are sputtering. “Nothing feeds me; this hunger remains...” That bit of poetry comes fairly early. I like that name you invented for the character, the Dispossessed MC. To be hybrid is not to inherit anything rightfully,  it means to settle your own inheritance for yourself. To reject things that have been written for you and in whatever futile heroic way, actualize yourself and then return to the tribe with some sort of useful experience. But this transit maybe confirms absolutely that you don’t belong.
You wrote: “Members mustn't thirst for busting a skull or winding up in a circumstance where they're scrambling for a gat in a Jansport.” And  I immediately think of those ghostly follow shots of characters walking with their backs to the camera, sometimes in cuffs, the perp walk but unsettling because there is no destination, just visual rhymes. Strobes and flashers. A climate of pervasive iced fear. Legal aid. Auras of hopelessness. The paranoid sense that you might betray yourself or your friends for reasons that you don’t understand. That is the nature of clandestine life. That’s also a dystopian sort of sci-fi movie. Like Army of Shadows, another sci-fi classic about a community of dangerous paranoids. In the resistance, Melville shows, you never know who the big boss is, your loving connections can be used to destroy the network. You try to forget that your life depends on people you barely know and maybe trust even less. And at the same time you are bound to your group by a desperate and paranormal loyalty.
Back to Kino-Gnosticism for a second. The cinema is what makes our science fictional age possible. Both its darkness and its ghostly unreality, but also gives it its aspect of frozen time and its sense of perpetual utopia. In other words, once you exile to the future with images, you have only gossamer threads to the historic or the present. THIS IS INTERESTING: You can now sever off and circulate pieces of the world-text (Pasolini: Cinema is the written language of reality.) and play a Mayan ball game with them, one that ends in sacrifice. Or in their exhaustion. Images, in their strange eroticized way, foreclose the ability to see other possibilities, even as they are presenting them. On the other hand, like Bresson says, what they show is not as important as what they hide or gesture to. It’s not their symbology, their graphic or ideogrammatical quality that we care about, but their glyphic, carved-in/convex or recessive quality. It is the glyphic that makes film making & watching a gnostic practice. For example: when I say glyphic, I am thinking of this in Red Desert by Antonioni. There is a plague (maybe) ship next to a party shack. Giuliana notices this ornament painted on the side of the ship (to mark the displacement of the vessel, I think...) and it suddenly means the unnameable hostility or beneficence of the universe. If she wasn’t in gnosis, she wouldn’t even notice it. But now, the glyph exceeds all possible meaning, it’s beyond decoding. It’s the sort of gnostic symbol that the “victim” must puzzle over for months, and years, never settling on a meaning. The mad self, the gnostic self, the pectoral self refuses the choices available; or interprets them in some off way—comes up with off-label usages of the things presented. The pectoral self uses symbolic misery to become rich. This is a sort of necessarily masochistic use of reality. Or of sur-reality.
Too much semantic bleed out is the hallmark of gnostic experience. Most of the things that you see on a screen are actually like that, but somebody or something, an inner benshi, is trying to tell you what they mean. Trying to narrate them. To make them inert, easier to swallow. To dampen the cognitive buzz. So movies are both the site of utopian possibility—we see a living dream before our eyes that we might choose to live out—but we also know it is false, a document of nothing, a style, a bunch of pantomimes, a creation of the edit, etc. We might not consciously speak this conflict out loud except in and of those bizarre moments when we say: “it was just like a movie...” We use this phrase, funnily enough, to say that we have witnessed a caesura, a break in the everyday texture of reality. Since mediated reality is pre-narrated, it forces a secret gnosticism out of everyone. The perfectly sane response to this “insane” cultural space where everything is screaming its narrative at you. In this cacophony, following a gnostic or at the very least surrealist thread becomes second nature, even as a way to survive. Cinema is a profound sort of anti-politics. To the extent that it legislates, sacralizes, and courts a private sphere, Cinema is what saves. What Barthes says, Brakhage lives out: “I refuse to inherit anything from another eye but my own.” Cinema is a rupture with all tribal cohesion. The stream, however is a different matter. The stream takes us into the thumping of collective life. All tributaries heading to the sea. Because we need to talk about the paradoxical meaning of collectivity, I’m going to side-slip into the universe of Badiou for a bit.
Science-Fiction, like Christianity, is for the most part a political genre. You are dealing in treasure mapping Utopias (Heavens) or Dystopias (Hells) for the benefit of realities yet to come. Both Dante and Swedenborg, for example, are sci-fi artists. Fritz Lang taught NASA the countdown, etc. The utopian/dystopian character of what Debord calls the Diffuse Spectacle has made all social relations science-fictional. Even the black flag tribalism of ISIS or the green flag utopia of the PKK, or the elective tribalisms we were talking about before. We no longer act in metaphysical certainty, but in Vaihinger’s ‘as if’ modality. Our beloved fictions are what really matter. In other words, we are constantly printing and re-printing the legendary fact through our image-sphere. Pseudo-Tribes must see themselves, and their enemies, on the world’s screens, to know they exist. By contrast, the ancient tribal grouping never saw itself. They were the ‘human beings’, all else was enemy, and beneath contempt. Thus, photography was an inevitable part of colonization. It was required into being by colonizations. We know we are all colonized beings because we have to be seen, to appear. The Spectacle calls for a future-oriented idealist positivism (Debord’s famous formula: that which appears is good, that which is good appears),  to administer its’ colonial structure. Most of the things people believe in at the moment are futuristic: growth, eternal childhood, ecology, the travel of erotic novelty. And that’s where Badiou comes in again. ‘If you build it, they will come’ sings the nomadic tribal spirit of the age.
“All true propositions are true at all times, there is no choice whatsoever...”
Badiou is a communist version of L. Ron Hubbard. He is peddling a science-fictional futurism. Since Gramsci, everyone on the left is committed to gnostic millenarian interpretations of a reality that is not particularly cheering. They have to explain this koan: “why did the historically inevitable not come to pass as the prophet said...?” Why does it always seem to be getting worse? Why does every Marxist critique make the Blob of Capitalism even more resilient, speedy, and powerful? Badiou’s answer to this is refreshing. The answer is not nostalgia. It is Gnostalgia. You don’t have to worry about hard, boring stuff like organizing cadres and mobilizing the disheartened precariat. Xenu’s dark demiurgic magic will make happen what Badiou calls The Event (which is a magical transforming frame that then guides all ethical action into some sort of happy communism) You just need to have faith; watch for mundane signs (like Occupy, like that new guy you really like on Tinder, like "Formation") signs that only you and your friends can interpret; Also, you just have to love the future. And truth. And make it real. Be the authenticity you want to fake in the world. Honestly, I’m not making this shit up. It’s like the tragic Ghost Dance of the Sioux. Your fidelity of belief, your thrown-ness, makes you immune to the Gatlings of the Cavalry. This is cult thinking. Badiou’s idea of political philosophy is a Heideggerian version of Magic: The Gathering mixed with Neo-platonist Christianity. It other words, it’s a massively incoherent text. Alain Badiou: The Truth is out there.
But Alain, we poor frightened and tenuous precarians cry, what if The Event is Rome? What if The Event is Hitler? What if The Event is Trump? What if The Event is The Manhattan Project or Lysenko? What if The Event is fucking your dental hygienist and starting another family with her? What if The Event is the Khmer Rouge? Is it all good? How, oh tell us, wise Yoda, can we preserve our faith in The Force when we are assailed from all quarters by the dark side? Badiou’s entire house of cards is based on possessing a magical dowsing rod that can gnosticize True Event from its demiurgic simulacra. Needless to say, this item is not sold in any stores. Maybe you can already see we are getting into the fuzzy territory of the Straussian Noble Lie and the world of Philosopher Kings? So, if the Frankfurt School was all about depressive quietism in the face of what we now call neo-liberalism and the Spectacle, Badiou is literally about science fictional psychosis. This is love’s revolution by PKD and Doctor Schreber, the two preeminent gnosticians of their time. It is not a particularly wise nor structural solution to build a multi-lane bridge over that pesky gorge of Nietzsche from Pauline hope and Christian Neo-Platonism to Heidegger. The problem with revolutions is the ancestral curse of Oedipus. Once you kill the father/king, (i.e. reveal The Event) or even if you don’t even come close to it, you are struck with such dread and shame that you forget all about playing Magic: the Gathering and your deep abiding love of the Other, you put out your eyes, and become the blind technocratic patriarch, the paranoid Archon, and the manager surrogate of the demiurge. In short you lose faith—your fidelity—precisely because you can’t face the enormity of The Event. That’s as far as the militant’s gnosticism goes. That’s the lesson of ’17 and the lesson of ’68.
And this is obviously why apostasy (or heresy, as the Church fathers say) is the greatest crime for Badiou. If you had the truth-event enacted in your hands and then you sell it out, like Judas, then you deserve the worst, the most unloving, the most unchristian of fates. Because of the tribal/formalizing nature of truth, if one apostatizes, some of the sheepish follow and the rest are bereft in existential crisis. An injury to the majesty of This Rather Fragile and Localized Truth has occurred. We hope it’s not fatally bleeding out. An apostasy creates a new problematic version of The Event. A new local weather system. Schism is why—the Internet notwithstanding—you can’t make Gnosticism a meaningful collective experience. This is the fundamental flaw in Badiou. The math never works in your favor. While you are trancing out at the Love-in in Goa with Alain, some clever dudes like Lenin, The Council of Nicaea, Zuckerberg, or Pol Pot are gonna tweak the algorithm to rediscover the reality principle and cudgel everyone into line. So in Badiou-speak, after the freak-out of love comes the mortgage and the minivan. Those alien commitments can be both empty symbols of a sham, or the material basis of union, but they can’t really do the hard work, magic-boy. The true believer thinks it’s all about Love and Sophia while somebody has to embody the demiurgic reality of Death and Power. I know, it sucks.
So I guess what I’m saying is Badiou is, or should be, the pet philosopher of the Spectacle. He’s insisting he’s against cynicism, against nihilism, against the status quo, against sophistry, and for love and equality, but in his science-fictionality, in his futurism, he is totally in the middle of the current of what is and what is possible. The spectacle is about freezing time, of looping it. It’s about preventing the present. Badiou is like that guy in Marker’s film who takes a trip to the future to realize he is the dead man he is looking for.
The first movement of the film is glitch/flicker. The last too. In between, there has been a coming together, a slowing down, an attempt to unravel mysteries, but then everything flies apart once more. The film is going crazy, whatever consciousness, (the author’s, the family’s) came to be is now exploding in multiplicity. At the end there is this extra-textual level, images are repeated but in B/W to further emphasize their formal nature, maybe. Black and white reads out as nostalgic, as loss to most people. To me it feels more true, more inscribed.
The first time as sign, the second time as glyph. So is this film an act of apostasy or some sort of double-agent attempt of the artist to fake out the community and re-subscribe?
Here are some Smog lyrics. They have nothing to do with anything in the movie. Maybe the editor should remove them.
Alone in my room
I feel such a warmth for the community
But out on the streets
I feel like a robot by the river
Looking for a drink
KELLER: When does clandestine life end? You consider "destroying the network" by way of J-P Melville; the operation carries the suggestion of an end/terminus point. But what if there is no definitive end-game? Beyond Truth-Event and the danger of tangential/disruptive/corrective "local weather systems," the never-will-be may represent the actual site of truth—with nothing urging demi'ly but dreamily: deliberately wrecked are all transmissions in a kind of quantum-mechanical horror. Does this posit the opposite of utopia-search as 'perpetual dystopia'? Depends on one's idea of purpose. There's a beautiful passage near the end of the film, in one of the cadences of those wave-movements where transmission (self-)sabotage really accelerates (indeed, as you point out, the movie concludes in glitchum). On the soundtrack a woman, I think Isiah's girlfriend, speaks of a conversation that took place between family members—I could be wrong, but I think the gist is Filipino resistance during and/or in the course of the aftermath of the U.S. occupation. She tells of certain family members declaring their refusal to take up the fight, or engage in some new form of resistance, because "fighting for it shows that it hasn't been won."
"Reality invades," Isiah says of one ontological inevitability of the cinema. Those entire last fifteen or twenty minutes, the ghost-author cedes to a consciousness of the digital medium—...or the Medinam? He's wakeboarding, negotiating the chance operations of the transmission, and in part this is what I had in mind with the phrase "poetics of disguise": to paraphrase you, what one shows is not as important as what one hides or gestures to. For me, occlusion means never having to say you're sorry—or justify yourself—for in occlusion every new artistic gesture/venture signals a new Truth-Event, with inscrutability allowing one to proclaim if not innocence, a guilelessness (cf. masked super-men and the recurring raze of the metropoleis; or Genesis with Phil Collins' decree: "Men of steel, men of power / Losing control by the hour"), and allows one to evade the responsibility of the forge. Which brings me to gnosis and specifically the glyph (glitch). In cinema I've always considered this an inscription upon or within the medium-material itself, but your example of Red Desert shows how it might be located within the diegetic world of the film (like, say, Léaud's Eiffel Tower tchotchke in Out 1); 88:88 's glyphs manifest diegetically and Medinamly. In the sense that the movie (1) presents shots of "88:88" on a microwave clock, et al; (2) "materially" warps-woofs the 8888888888s when the picture adopts/adapts the Space Harrier-scape; (3) offers the DMC's vision of the dial-clock and the 8s, where this spoken soundtrack alone, visually invisibly, indicates the gnosis; a lesser artist in this sequence might have been pulled the benshi out of his hat, but the sense of a concerted divination attempt instead presides and soon we're thinking of, then shown, the 8s as "enchaînements" in a final explosion of thematic coalescence before the glitch. I'm thinking of Dylan's illuminated sigh, "Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky / With one hand waving free." PS: regarding the perp walk segment, I believe that's Isiah promenading in cuffs.
If transmission is The Word—well, of the truth-event, as St. Paul's precept put it, and as Godard so often quotes: "The Image will come at the time of the Resurrection"
Last specific zero-in for me: The moment in which the white copain recounts hearing the demon voices, and Isiah draws the similarity to animals hearing their names called. The friend chuckles, then Isiah responds with something presented in fragments: "schizophrenia..." followed by what I hear both as: (1) "psychosis"; and (2) "it's like in gnosis." Demons to daemons, dust to dust—the DMC: "Nothing to infer but Inferno.”
The term ‘volatility' makes me think of synesthesia, or the fact that certain qualities (of an object, an identity, etc.), in relation to other qualities which have nothing in common with it, begin to become comprehensible when seen in relation to the whole. In other words, volatility is an interior quality, one with (even) somatic representations, as in the senses. Volatility Smile. Then ‘smile’ represents the recognition of the volatile identity, as Blythe says, at the moment of artistic self-recognition. The synesthesiac’s private joke. Agree with the insight that the ‘inauthentic’ artist doesn’t recognize that the tool is 'part of the trap’ and that the volatile identity exists in contradistinction to the hybrid identity lacking artistic insight on some plane or another.

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