Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day of Wrath

Jim Hoberman in Village Voice on what must be one of the greatest films ever made - Carl Th. Dreyer's Day of Wrath. I was stumped though at a gratuitous reference to Iran. I mean it is not wrong and at worst it is debatable but it still felt out place.

He also talks about Vampyr which has been recently released on DVD by criterion. Something that will interest trivia buffs: Sybille Schmitz who starred in the film was the real-life model and inspiration for Fassbinder's Veronika Voss, a painful film about a painful life.


Kubla Khan said...

This movie has the sparseness of tone, the economy of expression and the delectable touch of Dreyer, so characteristic of him. it goes miles ahead of other movies in depicting psychological states in duress or cogitating or in dilemma. Dreyer is fundamentally religious in orientation and raises such issues in diverse ways.

Do excuse me, the same old issue re Orientalism, re the link you have attached, it makes me feel sorry for the average reader of village voice, who will accept his jugdement on Iran without questioning. the comparison is superfluous.

however, it is not uncommon for such critics in mainstream European media even to adopt a lazy old oriental schema.......Negri and Hardt call it biopolitical imperialism in one way.

is it also not essential to register such attitudes even if one dismisses them later? obviously, village voice's article is not worth a farthing eventually but represents a systematic and orientalised malaise.

the same is true of more respected American writers and academics including say Sontag sometimes, who created a genre entirely in writing an essay introducing writers and establishing them......her comparison of Cioran to kafka for eg( laughable in itself)the example is not wide of the mark entirely for it represents an attitude.....

we have differed on degrees of sensitivity on this issue.personally, recognising this malaise allows me to read literature a bit better than before for it allows me to understand my own prejudices etc

Alok said...

This struck me too that's why I raised it in my comment here.

I mean we can debate about the nature of current Iranian state right now and whether it fits "authoritarian" criteria or not (it is certainly not a model democracy by any standard and it is not orientalist bias to raise this issue) but yes, comparing it with Nazi germany or medieval european states with witch-burning and inquisitions seems absurd. to be fair he doesn't make this comparison explicitly but even then it doesn't fit in the rest of the article. I was specially surprised because Hoberman is one of America's best film critics and elsewhere his leftist-liberal views are well-known.

Kubla Khan said...

"elsewhere his leftist-liberal views are well-known".

it is the new leftist-liberal interlocutor that is most likely to take bizarre positions. even in Europe, the political system that are producing say Sarkozy or Merkel are the same liberal views.....liberal only in appearance.

re iranian democracy, i feel the attitude is to compare everything to western style democracies.....which is unfair to other people and i detect a patronizing attitude to it. it is simply enough for one country to choose a system, and if it gets oppressive or does not work, for people to try to throw it away.( i believe anarchy is the only everlasting force)

Iran does not have a perfect system but neither does the USA or other european and enlightened countries. however, inspite of that, to compare Iran as you have pointed out,to what he does, is simply strange. but, it is not surprising.

puccinio said...

Before I touch on politics, let us talk about art.

''Vredens Dag'' is one of the most fiery evocations of eroticism in film history and to me the reason that the film is so rich or why Dreyer is so powerful as a director is that his films are always firs and foremost feasts for the senses and Lisabeth Movin is one of the most irrestible sexy women film history. To me the film is about a conflict between human will and the forces of nature or God. The church fathers believe they are doing God's work and carry out the trials and executions of the witches with remarkable rationality and solemnity while Lisabeth Movin embraces wild nature to the extent that she's able to control it but she is subject to the inability to control human beings.

''Vampyr'' is as sui-generis as any film can be sui-generis. It's a horror film closer to ''Un chien andalou'' than to ''Nosferatu''. It's a must watch.

Regarding Jim Hoberman, I think the reference to Iran was about Iran's hostility or suppression of homosexuals which is a serious concern across the Middle East. Iran is actually a fairly diverse country and not at all as totalitarian as say, Saudi Arabia. It has a sex-ratio favouring women, women are working actively and there's also a rising divorce rate. The restrictions they face has more to do with issus of censorship and the like. It's probably less totalitarian than for instance, Russia. And it certainly doesn't have a Guantanamo Bay to boast probably.

The other reason could also be the presence of religion which is at the heart of ''Day of Wrath''(it just can't work in a secular context).

Hoberman in any case is always a lot of bluster. Like his review of the film he makes a crack about Movin looking like a "prom queen" or whanot. Not one of my favourite critics. Ocassionally interesting generally irritating.

Alok said...

puccinio: Dreyer's films (and this in particular) feel very "sensuous" to me also which is strange because his frames and sets are so sparse and his style so minimalistic. I also love the way witchcraft is shown as a metaphor for the human will and the pull of sexuality and how he shows it as something like a challege to the "rationality" of the religious institution. it is a very complex film and also intellectually challenging. I will also check Vampyr which I haven't seen yet.

I like Hoberman a lot and in general I think the village voice has the best film section in all of the mainstream media in america... or at least it used to have before they fired dennis lim and nathan lee. Also I can understand those off-hand smart-ass comments may feel irritating and hipsterish to some but I think it gives those reviews a "voice" which is all their own... I don't think they trivialize the film in question in any way (very unlike Anthony Lane's witticisms for example)

About Iran not just homosexuals there are artists and academics being persecuted too though by the standards of the neighbouring states it is probably still mostly a liberal state. I was struck by it because it has become a constant theme in right-wing media of late, in their bid to do a Iraq on Iran too. That's why I was surprised to see him mentioning iran in a very different context.

kubla: yes there is a new breed of self-proclaimed liberal commentators who have done lot of harm but I don't agree with this relativist notion. If the iranian govt is persecuting minorities, homosexuals etc we should welcome voices raised against it rather than washing our hands off by saying that it is their own matter and it is part of their culture

puccinio said...

Most film critics are prima donnas any way, especially the avant-guarde ones. They discuss obscure works of art and propound their championing it as a great feat of celebration and the like. There are almost no good film critics anymore in the mainstream. Jim Hoberman is still good(better than that dratted Michael Atkinson who can't talk about film even if the ghost of Andre Bazin possessed him).

Many of America's best and most interesting critics are really struggling because film criticism is well a dead-end job professionally and doesn't pay very much to pay the bills or support families and the like.

The firing by the Village Voice of it's good talent is merely one such example of many happening around major magazines and newspapers.

Kubla Khan said...


"If the iranian govt is persecuting minorities, homosexuals etc we should welcome voices raised against it rather than washing our hands off by saying that it is their own matter and it is part of their culture"

i w'd never patronize you but i think you w'd struggle to defend that.If Iran has a political system and it is not Western, so be homosexuals, it is not say allowed in their jurisprudence, their legal framework......(not necessarily right) but it is the framework they have chosen.....there are many things not allowed in the US also.....for eg, supporting a palestinian state or criticizing Jews or Zionism.

Don't get me wrong.....your statement above is part of the same malaise, the same thing what Said called an "american how-to-ism". minorities of all kinds get persecuted everywhere, from China to Malaysia to India to Russia. however, we are allowed to only talk of certain minorities now, for eg, homosexuals or environmentalists, not the ones who are targetted because of their political or religious beliefs.

i referred to the link you attached. that statement is reflective of the same attitude that is happy with stockpiles of israeli weapons and does not allow Iran to have even one!

this attitude then filters on to literature, culture, movies and these philistine articles that get quoted later.

what i have said is not a question of sensitivity or narrow mindedness or my prejudice or relativism. it is simply based on facts. Might is right in literature also. in movies too.

Alok said...

this is a familiar enough debate. I know this kind of universalism has become problematic after establishing democracy became the motive for waging preemptive wars... but relativism to me feels more condescending to Iranian people, saying that they can't handle homosexuality or individual freedom and that it is not allowed in their law. One can criticise Iranian regime and still be careful so that it is not used for propaganda purposes.

puccinio said...

Jonathan Rosenbaum has his own blog on film where's he's posting some of his previously published pieces on the internet.

One piece is his liner notes for ''Day of Wrath'' addressing what it says about it's viewpoint on totalitarianism.

Alok said...

thanks. I visit his blog occasionally but hadn't seen this piece yet. I also think that the political allegory part was incidental to the story.

Also the political aspect is probably what is the simplest and most obvious thing about it. More complex part is what it says about the nature of and power of human will. Denouncing tyranny, superstition - that anybody can do. This film is much more than just that.