Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness

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9780824836849: Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness

How can we qualify slowness in cinema? What is the relationship between a cinema of slowness and a wider socio-cultural “slow movement”? A body of films that shares a propensity toward slowness has emerged in many parts of the world over the past two decades. This is the first book to examine the concept of cinematic slowness and address this fascinating phenomenon in contemporary film culture.

Providing a critical investigation into questions of temporality, materiality, and aesthetics, and examining concepts of authorship, cinephilia, and nostalgia, Song Hwee Lim offers insight into cinematic slowness through the films of the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang. Through detailed analysis of aspects of stillness and silence in cinema, Lim delineates the strategies by which slowness in film can be constructed. By drawing on writings on cinephilia and the films of directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, he makes a passionate case for a slow cinema that calls for renewed attention to the image and to the experience of time in film.

Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness will speak to readers with an interest in art cinema, queer studies, East Asian culture, and the question of time. In an age of unrelenting acceleration of pace both in film and in life, this book invites us to pause and listen, to linger and look, and, above all, to take things slowly.

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About the Author:

Song Hwee Lim is associate professor in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Going Slow

Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?

―Milan Kundera, Slowness

In a Calabrian village in southern Italy, an elderly goatherd tends to his flock by day and copes with his cough by night, workmen meticulously build a mound-like kiln to turn wood into charcoal, and an enormous tree is felled and trimmed before being erected in the center of the village for a celebratory ritual. Seasons come and go, the goatherd dies, and a lamb is born. Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte (2010), recipient of the Europa Cinemas Label award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, could easily have passed as a BBC natural history documentary except without the familiar voiceover narration of David Attenborough. Its title comes from Pythagoras, who lived in Calabria in the sixth century BCE and who apparently spoke of each of us having four lives within us―the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, and the human―“thus we must know ourselves four times” (French 2011).

The film bears the trademark of what has been called a cinema of slowness, described by Aaron Gerow as “tending towards a certain definite template: long takes (up to ten minutes), static camera, big distance between the camera [and] its human subjects, and a lot of the banality of daily life, such as walking, eating, or just plain mooching around” (cited in Martin 2010).1 Le quattro volte pushes this kind of cinema to even greater extremes: while there are some verbal exchanges between people, the film contains not a single line of dialogue that requires subtitling; there is no usage of non-diegetic music, and the soundtrack mainly consists of the sounds of animals, church bells, and wind in the trees; the camera remains static for most parts of the film, though there is a distinctive high-angle shot that pans along the turning of a road that features one of the best performances by a dog in a film.

Le quattro volte exemplifies a resurgence, within world cinema, of a commitment to the use of non-professional actors, location shooting, natural lighting, and the long take. Fittingly, the film comes from a nation that christened cinematic neo-realism over sixty years ago. Not coincidentally, this country also gave birth to the Slow Food movement in 1989, when McDonald’s plan to open a branch at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome triggered demonstrations at the proposed site and a movement that was founded in Paris in December that year (Kummer 2002, 20–22).2 With delegates from fifteen countries at the Parisian meeting, the Slow Food movement approved its symbol of a snail and endorsed a manifesto written by Folco Portinari that includes the following statements (emphasis in original):3

We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.

In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.

Taking a cue from the Slow Food movement, many organizations and enterprises promoting the concept of slow living have since flourished. This wider sociocultural phenomenon not only encompasses aspects of modern life from design and fashion to travel and architecture, but its philosophy could also potentially provoke a fundamental reorientation of our epistemological outlook so that what has been termed “slow knowledge” (Orr 2002, chapter 3) can be nurtured.4 As Carl Honoré states in his best-selling book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, this movement inevitably “overlaps with the anti-globalization crusade,” and a “genuinely Slow world implies nothing less than a lifestyle revolution” (2004, 16, 17). By foregrounding “the importance of the individual subject and the contexts of their everyday life, including their interaction with the processes and networks of global culture” (Parkins and Craig 2006, 133), the Slow movement is deeply ideological and can be situated in what Arjun Appadurai calls an ideoscape that consists of “a chain of ideas, terms, and images” rooted in the Enlightenment, including “freedom, welfare, rights, sovereignty, representation, and the master term democracy” (1996, 36; emphasis in original).

Within this discourse on slowness, globalization is seen to be having a particularly homogenizing effect on culture, leading to “the McDonaldization of society” (Ritzer 1993), in which both food and people have become supersized. By contrast, the Slow movement advocates downsizing to the level of the local and places emphases on organic origins, artisanal processes, and ethical products. These values are anathema to speed, which, as the manifesto for the Slow Food movement and the subtitle of Honoré’s book indicate, is the archenemy of slowness. Though
there has not been a corresponding Speed movement over the same period, it can be argued that speed is so ubiquitous in modern life that it passes as natural; hence its ideological force, like the naturalizing ones in relation to gender and sexuality, for example, must be unveiled and challenged precisely because of its seeming transparency.

In The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism, Enda Duffy pinpoints the emergence of the cult of speed to the turn of the twentieth century, more specifically from roughly 1900 to 1930, the era of modernism characterized by “a speed madness” (2009, 263). It was a time when the “increased regime of speed in modernity, which, with its time clocks, schedules, and Taylorist efficiencies, was becoming more and more onerous” (4–5). In particular, the invention of the motorcar was “repackaged as a sensation and a pleasure to be put at the disposal of the individual consumer,” a “modernist mobile architecture” that offered “a new pleasure to the masses” (5, 6). In this context, Duffy reads the numerous high modernist literary treatments of anomie and boredom―“almost invariably, of pedestrian flâneurs”―partly as a lamentation about “the horrors of slowness and, by extension, as incitements to speed’s prospect of vitality” (6–7).

A century later, the ideology of speed, like the inescapable car advertisements on our multimedia screens, has become the mainstay of modern consciousness to the extent that any celebration of slowness is immediately cast as either “reacting to” or “reactionary in relation to” speed, and “out-of-date” (Duffy 2009, 50). This ideology has become deeply ingrained in the minds of most denizens in late-capitalist societies because, like the motorcar, it is built into a consumer culture that not only defines but often dictates modern living and because it is inextricably bound to master concepts such as progress and development that are predicated upon a linear and teleological notion of time. The motorcar is, above all, a measure of success, to recall an infamous pronouncement, apocryphally attributed to the British ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, that “any man seen riding on a bus after the age of 30 should consider himself a failure” (McKie 2005). Duffy ends his book with the following statements, which can be seen as a manifesto for an unacknowledged Speed movement: “With so much of our lives controlled and so much of our experience mediated, speed is not only modernity’s sole new pleasure but one of the few that remain available to us. In the dreamscape of the society of the spectacle, only the intervention of real experience can arouse us. We need speed” (2009, 273).

It is against this background that we can begin to address the question posed by Kundera (1995, 3) in the epigraph of this introduction, a question that, I would suggest, can only be approached through historicization, for there is no uniform appreciation for slowness (pleasure for some, pain for others), nor is there a singular explanation for its supposed disappearance. Indeed, the first question to ask is not so much why slowness has seemingly disappeared but rather where and when an ideology of slowness reigns supreme and where and when it has lost its currency. Only by identifying exact moments in which and precise locations wherein slowness manifests in specific configurations of knowledge and power can we begin to understand why it has been regarded as pain or pleasure and why it has appeared or disappeared. That the apocryphal quote once resoundingly endorsed private car ownership but now sounds out of sync in an age in which some of Thatcher’s most prominent political children are known for their association with bicycles is testament to the changing currency of the respective ideologies of public and private, slowness and speed. The current British prime minister, David Cameron, is famous equally for cycling to work and for having his bicycle stolen (BBC News 2008); London mayor Boris Johnson has introduced a popular cycle-hire scheme similar to those operating in cities as diverse as Melbourne and Montreal and Miami and Mexico City. At the start of the new millennium, the mantra seems to have become: private four wheels (particularly 4x4), bad; public two wheels, good.5

While “conspicuous consumption” was the hallmark of the leisure class in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century (Veblen 2007), a hundred years later “sustainability” has become the buzzword for the intelligentsia, activists, and middle-class consumers, marking a paradigm shift from quantity to quality, from waste to taste, and from speed to slowness. It is no accident that both a cinema of slowness and a Slow movement appeared at the turn of the twenty-first century. While they may not feed off one another in a conscious manner, their coeval emergence bespeaks a desire, albeit expressed in distinct social spheres and in disparate ways, to formulate a different relationship to time and space. More specifically, the Slow movement can be seen as an attempt not only to counter the compression of time and space brought about by technological and other changes, but also to bridge the widening gap between the global and the local under the intense speed of globalization. A call for reducing the food miles of daily consumption in wealthier parts of the world, for example, is accompanied by an investment in fair trade products from the developing world as a way of reconfiguring socioeconomic relations within the global village, thereby halting the onslaught of speed through slow living and making connections across space via ethical consumption. In tandem with the rise of ecocriticism, the environmental movement, and the anti-globalization brigade, the Slow movement signals a political turn in public consciousness that now sees the local as imbricated within the global. This consciousness is reflected in slogans such as “Think Globally, Act Locally” and in the popularity of books like Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2000) and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (2002).

At the same time, a cinema of slowness has appeared in many parts of the world to address both the speeding up of modern life in the social sphere and the treatment of time in narrative films. It is perhaps unsurprising that Duffy singles out film, one of the most popular time-based media in modern culture, as “the vision machine of the age of speed” and the car chase as one of its “biggest thrills” (2009, 55). According to Duffy, driving offers “a new corporeal regime where eyes and bodies in tandem with machines are called to be fully alert,” injects a “new energizing adrenaline,” and enables a subject “for whom both fight and flight―the options of the ultrafast, struggling human―could, as she moved forward to progress while fleeing dull slowness, be one and the same, decision and desire” (197, 198). Pleasure, for Duffy, is clearly adrenaline driven and to be sought in thrill, and his account of speed is preoccupied with a morbid crash culture and with the death drive, an obsession that is only too obvious in popular films and computer games.6

In Hollywood, the world’s largest factory of popular films with a globally dominant market, there has been a noticeable speeding up in editing over the past two decades. Calling this new editing style “intensified continuity,” David Bordwell reckons the average shot length (ASL) of films has dropped from five to nine seconds in the 1970s to three to eight seconds in the 1980s and to two to eight seconds in the 1990s (2005, 26). In some instances, speed in film can accelerate to the extent that vision becomes a blur, “the effective erasure of the visible” (Duffy 2009, 175). One recent example is a car chase sequence set in Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2004). With approximately 250 shots in about five minutes, this sequence averages barely one second per shot and crashes innumerable cars in the process.7 Here visuality is displaced by kinesthesis and adrenaline as the speed of editing arguably exceeds what the human eye can register―the shots are clearly meant not to be seen but to be sensed.

The Moscow car-chase sequence is symptomatic of a kind of filmmaking (and, by extension, culture) that simultaneously idolizes the motorcar as a speed machine while treating it as a disposable consumer product. Duffy’s account of film’s relation to the motorcar, however, is
a selective one. A different take on the car-chase trope can be seen in Ang Lee’s Chosen (2001), one of eight short films collectively called The Hire, commissioned by the car manufacturer BMW between 2001 and 2002 as promotional material released on the World Wide Web.8 Lee’s film stages, in a long shot showing a number of cars deftly gliding while facing off each other, a car-chase scene as an elegant ballet. Yes, cars are crashed and gunshots fired, but nobody gets seriously hurt, and the driver of the getaway car saves the day for the next chosen Dalai Lama.

For an example that is antithetical to Duffy’s account, I turn to Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 film, A Taste of Cherry, in which driving does not equate car crashes and the death drive can be averted, appropriately for this context, by the taste of food. In a sense the diegesis of A Taste of Cherry is literally a death drive, as it centers on a middle-aged man, Mr. Badii, driving around in his 4x4 car in Tehran, looking for someone to bury him in a grave amid the mountains after he has committed suicide. However, his intention is initially withheld from the audience so that for the first twenty minutes of the film, Mr. Badii (Homayon Ershadi) could easily have been mistaken for a gay cruiser, sizing up men as he drives slowly by, chatting up potential candidates (“If you have money problems, I can help you”), complimenting a man on his red UCLA top (“Nice color, it suits you!”), arousing suspicion (one man says, “Clear off or I’ll smash your face in!”), and refusing to tell the young Kurdish soldier he has picked up what the well-paid job he is offering entails (“You know, son, if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t ask what the job is, ...

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Descripción University of Hawai i Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. How can we qualify slowness in cinema? What is the relationship between a cinema of slowness and a wider socio-cultural slow movement ? A body of films that shares a propensity toward slowness has emerged in many parts of the world over the past two decades. This is the first book to examine the concept of cinematic slowness and address this fascinating phenomenon in contemporary film culture.Providing a critical investigation into questions of temporality, materiality, and aesthetics, and examining concepts of authorship, cinephilia, and nostalgia, Song Hwee Lim offers insight into cinematic slowness through the films of the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang. Through detailed analysis of aspects of stillness and silence in cinema, Lim delineates the strategies by which slowness in film can be constructed. By drawing on writings on cinephilia and the films of directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, he makes a passionate case for a slow cinema that calls for renewed attention to the image and to the experience of time in film.Tsai Ming-Liang and a Cinema of Slowness will speak to readers with an interest in art cinema, queer studies, East Asian culture, and the question of time.In an age of unrelenting acceleration of pace both in film and in life, this book invites us to pause and listen, to linger and look, and, above all, to take things slowly. Nº de ref. de la librería AAC9780824836849

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Descripción University of Hawai'i Press. Hardback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness, Song Hwee Lim, How can we qualify slowness in cinema? What is the relationship between a cinema of slowness and a wider socio-cultural "slow movement"? A body of films that shares a propensity toward slowness has emerged in many parts of the world over the past two decades. This is the first book to examine the concept of cinematic slowness and address this fascinating phenomenon in contemporary film culture.Providing a critical investigation into questions of temporality, materiality, and aesthetics, and examining concepts of authorship, cinephilia, and nostalgia, Song Hwee Lim offers insight into cinematic slowness through the films of the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang. Through detailed analysis of aspects of stillness and silence in cinema, Lim delineates the strategies by which slowness in film can be constructed. By drawing on writings on cinephilia and the films of directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, he makes a passionate case for a slow cinema that calls for renewed attention to the image and to the experience of time in film.Tsai Ming-Liang and a Cinema of Slowness will speak to readers with an interest in art cinema, queer studies, East Asian culture, and the question of time. In an age of unrelenting acceleration of pace both in film and in life, this book invites us to pause and listen, to linger and look, and, above all, to take things slowly. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780824836849

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