About the lists: Calls to socially distance and self-isolate are driving people to look for things to watch. But the sheer amount of options out there can be overwhelming. For this reason, we at the Centre for Screen Cultures are producing themed playlists of film, video, and television so you can organise your own series or festival at home (or home school). They will update here and here: https://screenculture.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/category/media-playlists/
In which William Brown points out that for all the play, there is also work in a list, and offers up a list of films that also blend work and home space, sometimes also making the viewer work for their play.
This is not a playlist
As Covid-19 has brought about our (in)voluntary participation in the greatest data mine in history—as we all spend ever-greater amounts of time online, it would seem that people have lots of time on their hands.
I am not sure where they get it from, because life in the age of coronavirus has for me involved life becoming a slow trudge through treacle. Getting Things Done has taken a real dive, not least because email traffic has increased and as my employer (perhaps like many others) has tasked its staff members with contacting as many of its clients (i.e. students) personally in order to talk them through higher education online (i.e. to move towards a one-with-one tutorial system—as if the move online also saw a shift towards the Oxbridgification of university pedagogical practice).
(But of course the personal treatment is because universities are running scared of their clients abandoning them, even as classrooms as regularly only one-third full—if that—even when students are supposed to turn up.)
This Covid-induced exacerbation of fatigue brings with it mild accompaniment of irritation, in that the pandemic unfortunately took place at the tail end of industrial action that had signally failed to make any impact on at least the British media, and which indeed was effectively cut short in the face of the need to prepare for the transition to online teaching.
What is more, as reports come in about universities laying off non-tenured staff members, it seems as though higher education will endeavour to use Covid-19 not as an excuse to change its ways, but as a means through which it can intensify its neoliberalisation.
The strikes in December had revealed to me already that I was exhausted; the February and March strikes only seemed to reconfirm this. In other words, if Covid-19 has involved many humans and other species becoming ill, and fatally so for incomprehensible numbers of such people, then perhaps in some ways it has also revealed that I (and many more people?) were basically ‘ill’ already. And my/our malady was, in effect, work.
To progress from feeling screened out prior to Covid-19, to feeling screened in as a result of Covid-19 has not helped—and perhaps the sense of illness that lingers helps to explain why many people that I know claim that they have unofficially had the virus, even though they have shown only one of the symptoms at best (i.e. the chances are that they have not have had it).
These (generally white male) claims to suffering are not dissimilar to (the equally gendered, and unspokenly raced) man ‘flu, in that it hyperbolises suffering that is minimal (because white men like to paint themselves as the real victims), especially compared to the real thing. But these claims nonetheless do also express how one is perhaps already ill, and/or that one dreams of illness in order to be able to take some time off work for a ‘legitimate’ (i.e. medically-authorised) reason.
‘Make sure that you don’t work too hard,’ we are being told by our employers, as with the other hand they then send to us extra bits of work to do, above and beyond our regular workload… because of course they believe that we have nothing to do with our time, even if the only thing that Covid-19 has really changed in our lives is the lack of a commute. Which anyway we would fill with grading, reading articles and book chapters, and, the most unrecognised labour form of all, cogitation.
With the above in mind, the creation of playlists produces effects that pull in contradictory directions. On the one hand, this is a fabulous way of discovering (the availability of) films and other materials that one otherwise might not look at; but, on the other hand, it is another bantamweight of pressure in order to see more, think about more, watch more, ‘know’ more (whatever the latter means).
And so when I was first asked about forming a playlist, I in my inability to say no of course said yes, but I did also think that I should definitely make a play list; one that involves little to do with work, and/or which requires little work. It would be short, and it would consist of shorts. And since I used to love making mixtapes when I was younger, why not make it like an actual playlist, or what in old money was called a mixtape? Indeed, why not make it about music videos? A kind of ‘pressure-off’ music video playlist… Something you can put on in the background or in the bath, while you’re cooking, or whatever else—and in some senses not really have to look at?
Except for the fact that there are millions of music videos, so how to do this without just showing one’s favourites? Or, indeed, without basically demonstrating one’s ignorance with regard both to music and to music videos? It would by definition be deficient; most likely too populist and obvious, filled with videos that everyone has already seen and so would not bother to watch (and so why bother to make it?)…
And how to separate video from music—such that if people didn’t like the music at least they might appreciate the video? But here the internet really is awash with lists of great music videos and it would be hard to do this without ripping off such a list.
Perhaps one way to legitimise one’s choices would be to demonstrate points of ill-ustration and/or disagreement with recent scholars who have written on music videos. A bit of academic engagement would thus help to justify choices beyond ‘this is my questionable music (video) taste’…
But this all quickly involved moving away from play and back into the realm of work (or at the very least the workification of play; and anyone who suggest that the workification of play can involve the subversive counter-move of the playification of work clearly doesn’t get that the two are the same and that both involve exhaustion and illness; as someone I love has suggested, perhaps Covid-19 demonstrates that there is a need for boundaries, even as we try to celebrate the dissolution of boundaries in the digital age [I suspect that what we really need is the dissolution not of boundaries, but of capitalism; maybe we need simply to look out of the window; maybe we need simply to breathe in the air; forget cinema, since it was always only ever a tool for capital]).
Of course, music and illness have a relatively longstanding relationship, with Nas’s concept of the illmatic being a recent (in terms of the lifespan of music as a form) and well-known example. While Kodwo Eshun demonstrates in More Brilliant Than the Sun that when a piece of music is ‘sick,’ this means that it is among the very best.
If music videos just pose too daunting a task, though, what else can one do—while perhaps retaining a sense of sickness… and which is not just a list of contagion movies (which the whole world seems through its inborn sense of irony to be discovering anyway)?
So while I did think about offering up various lists that included black Atlantic cinema (Oscar Micheaux and Melvin van Peebles films on Amazon Prime, films like Space is the Place and The Spook Who Sat by the Door on YouTube, work by John Akomfrah on OVID, which has been offering a month’s subscription for free (or at least a week’s trial), films that involve the destruction of pianos, in particular in a postcolonial context (spurred by a recent watching of Utu on Kanopy), films that involve tentacles (because this is the subject of a forthcoming book that I have co-written with David H Fleming), and even a playlist of my own films (because how else is anyone going to watch them?), I have in the end opted for a list of films that are examples of what I have written about as ‘non-cinema’ and which can, if you wish, overlap with punk cinema, what Jeffrey Sconce has ‘famously’ called paracinema (‘famously’ because it is only famous if you have heard of and retained the phrase), often amateur or at least non-professional cinema, underground cinema and more.
This is not simply for the purposes of promoting my own work, in that I have, as mentioned, written about non-cinema… while also having made one of the films on the list. But it is also because these are ill films. And maybe in some ways if cinema is about the creation of concepts (that Deleuzian idea), then non-cinema is contra-ceptive. It is illmatic. Even as lockdown supposedly brings about 7 million children that otherwise might not have been born, and whose arrival will perhaps more than offset the numbers of those who pass away from the disease. Which population will perhaps also exacerbate the illness of our planet—lest (we can dream that) the children of Covid-19 bring about the end of work and a more harmonious coexistence between humans and their environment (although I suspect that it will require more, and more serious, diseases like Covid-19 to bring the human population down to a level that is sustainable; and while Elon Musk might in principle save us all and/or take a select few, primarily white humans into space, his seeming breakdown would perhaps suggest that he knows already that this is unlikely and/or a questionable aim at best).
As shows like John Krasinski’s Some Good News announce a new ‘work from home’ (WFH, an acronym that always seems to me to be about to say WTF?) aesthetic, DIY in style, deliberately embracing a lack of budget… this also demonstrates that there is an aesthetics of illness, and that Covid-19 does indeed have an aesthetic dimension (or just an aesthetic tout court). And that aesthetic of illness is not without predecessors and/or ongoing practitioners…
So without further ado, let’s look at some of these films… but let’s not pretend that this is a playlist. It is, after all, a work list, not least because it requires labour not only to come up with the list and to find all of the links, but also because one puts in extra cognitive labour in order to have something like equal participation (inclusion of as many perspectives as possible, not least for fear of criticism at the revelation of one’s conscious and/or unconscious biases, upon which the ethical imperative to become a human being always requires us to work; becoming human requires work)…
And the filmmakers below know this, because a good number of these films require work, too.
Let’s just hope that these films can unite workers and that workers can thus once again unite—bringing about the end of work, the end of a world where work is the measure of humanity (Harvard students holding Covid-19 parties in order to be able to get to work; the economic imperative more generally), and the beginning of a world where humanity is the measure of work. That would be the creation of a temporal boundary, or an event, that really is worthwhile.
And now, the list:
This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran, 2011)
The most famous of the (non-)films on the list, this is also an archetype of cinema made in one’s home. You need a subscription to Kanopy to watch it, but if you are an academic worker, hopefully you will have one. If not, borrow someone else’s login details and watch it.
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 2015)
Another famous work, Chantal Akerman’s beautiful final film is available in various regions at one or more of the above links. A documentary ostensibly about Akerman’s mother, No Home Movie is concerned with domestic spaces, familial relationships and the limits of what cinema can do, especially as it relates to memory and the Holocaust. Available on YouTube and VIMEO.
Three Days of Darkness (Khavn de la Cruz, Philippines, 2007)
Khavn is a fabulous maker of punk non-films from the Philippines. This is a near-unwatchable movie because so much of it takes place in darkness (and because watching darkness on a laptop generally means only seeing one’s own reflection in the screen – demonstrating the narcissism of online film viewing, and/or that the mining of our data is the real event, and/or that cinema was only ever a narcissistic projection?). But it is also a fabulous post-colonial consideration of the end of the world… And it is part of Cinerado: This is not a film festival– a selection of 13 of his features that Khavn has put online during Covid-19. So if you are interested, definitely check out more of his work!
Paris à tout prix (Joséphine Ndagnou, Cameroon, 2007)
I’m afraid this one is without subtitles, but Ndagnou offers up a digital era, no-budget version of Ousmane Sembène’s La Noire de…/Black Girl (Senegal/France, 1966). One I really wish I’d seen before I’d put my Non-Cinema book to bed. You can also see Ndagnou as an actress on Kanopy in Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes/The Bloodettes (Cameroon, 2005) [https://www.kanopy.com/product/bloodettes].
Who Killed Captain Alex? (Nabwana I.G.G., Uganda, 2010)
Straight out of Wakaliwood comes this gem of an action flick, made for the equivalent of US$200. This version comes with the standard commentary of ‘video joker’ VJ Emmie, which would accompany the film were you to see it in its primary exhibition site, a video hall in Kampala. If you want to read a paper that I presented on the film at Reconsidering Movie Special Effects: Aesthetics, Reception, and Remediation, organised by Lisas Purse and Bode at the University of Reading in 2017, check here: https://wjrcbrown.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/wakaliwood-where-supercinema-meets-non-cinema/.
Taşkafa, Stories from the Street (Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Turkey, 2013)
A wonderful look at the lives of street dogs in contemporary Istanbul, and an interesting precursor and companion piece to Kedi (Ceyda Torun, Turkey/USA, 2016). It also features a voice performance from John Berger, reading extracts from his novel King: A Street Story (1998).
Available on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/taskafa
Freakstars 3000 (Christoph Schlingensief, Germany, 2004)
An hilarious takedown of reality television talent shows, as well as a touching engagement with disability and media accessibility. I came late to Schlingensief’s film work, but this and all of the others that I have seen are challenging but highly rewarding in their punk approach to cinema.
Female Directors (Yang Mingming, China, 2012)
This is a great diary film that charts two women friends as they progress from art school and into the wider world, trying to be creative while also surviving (and finding romance) in a contemporary China that seems not to have much room for them. You have to subscribe to OVID to see this, but you can get a free week-long trial (and watch Wang Bing’s rather more intimidating but important 8.5-hour long Dead Souls, Switzerland/France, 2018, while you’re there).
Available at https://ovid.tv/details/_4921232241001
Pregnant (Fabrizio Federico, UK, 2015)
Fabrizio Federico (who sometimes goes by the name of Jett Hollywood) has been making no-budget punk films in the Midlands for several years now, and his work is always fascinating for its bold, street approach to cinema. Pregnant is a good example of his work – with plenty of others also being on YouTube.
Girl Power (Sadie Benning, USA, 1992)
A short film, this is nonetheless a classic in the use of PixelVision cameras, made by Fisher Price toys, in order to offer up a punk vision of non-conforming sexuality. This is normally quite difficult to find, so I am not sure for how long this link will be live.
A Deal with the Universe (Jason Barker, UK, 2018)
An intimate and touching film about Jason, a transgender man who is trying to get pregnant with his partner. Barker is a natural on both sides of the camera.
20 Fingers (Mania Akbari, Iran, 2004)
A relatively early adopter of the digital aesthetic, and clearly influenced by the work of Abbas Kiarostami, in whose Ten (Iran/France, 2002) director Mania Akbari starred, this, like Panahi’s work, is a great illustration of unofficial filmmaking from Iran.
The Finished People (Khoa Do, Australia, 2003)
A no-budget film about and featuring homeless people in Sydney, this is a compelling if unpretty look at life on the streets. I should thank Kelli Fuery at Chapman University for putting this film on my radar. Available on Kanopy: https://www.kanopy.com/product/finished-people
De cierta manera/One Way or Another (Sara Gómez, Cuba, 1977)
Let’s go back to an important pre-digital piece of what Julio García Espinosa theorised as ‘imperfect cinema’ for this revolutionary work about the Miraflores housing development in Havana, and which is a great forerunner of films like Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s Estate, A Reverie (UK, 2015) and Enrica Colusso’s Home Sweet Home (France/UK, 2012). My thanks to Michael Chanan for pointing out where to find this one.
Available to view at: https://babel.uoregon.edu/file/de-cierta-manera-entire-film-english-subtitles-0
Period Piece (Giuseppe Andrews, USA, 2006)
The USA has such a rich past and present of no-budget filmmaking (big up to the likes of Mike Ott, Adam Sekuler, Mila Zuo and more), but Giuseppe Andrews is one of a kind. According to my correspondence with his partner, Andrews has begun to delete a lot (if not all) of his old work, and were it not for the Troma connection, perhaps Period Piece might also be lost. I can tell you that it’s about desire, but nothing will prepare you for the illness that follows.
Available to view at: https://archive.org/details/periodpiece2006
The New Hope (William Brown, UK, 2015)
A bunch of my films are online, and in the spirit of practice-research and sheer immodesty, I include this one here, although it will get nul points for impact. Inspired stylistically in some relatively large way by Andrews, The New Hope is an adaptation of Part One of Don Quijote, and was made for no money and shot almost entirely in London’s Hyde Park, featuring a then-homeless actor in the lead role—as a man who believes not that he is a knight errant as per Cervantes, but a Jedi Knight as per contemporary culture’s obsession with all things Star Wars. The film is a challenge, in that if you believe in the Force and the power of the underdog, then aesthetically you should support no-budget cinema… or else George Lucas simply makes hypocrites of us all, as we only watch big budget movies that signify money and which thus are expressions of nothing more than capital. In an attempt to think outside of the box office, this is perhaps the least successful film in history to merit a sequel, and yet, The New Hope 2, which is an adaptation of the second half of Cervantes’ most famous novel, is in its final stages of completion and will be ready for viewing soon… whether or not there is an audience that wants it.
William Brown is a Reader in Film at the University of Roehampton. He has written several books including Non-Cinema: Global Digital Filmmaking and the Multitude (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Supercinema: Film Philosophy for the Digital Age (Berghahn, 2013) with The Squid-Cinema from Hell: Kinoteuthis Infernalis and the Emergence of Chthulumedia (with David H. Fleming) forthcoming.
He has also written and directed a host of films including En Attendant Godard (2009, feature), Afterimages (2010, feature), Common Ground (2012, feature), China: A User’s Manual (Films) (2012, feature), Selfie (2014, feature), Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux (2015, feature), The New Hope (2015, feature), and Circle/Line (2016, feature) to name only a few. Learn more about his films at his website: http://begstealborrowfilms.com/