Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion (script)

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

looking through the lens at passing events,
I recall what once was and consider what might me

ENTER UPBEAT MUSIC – SOLO SAX

(black and white)

A man plays a trumpet in an outdoor street mall in front of some shops in Boulder, Colorado. He is wearing dress pants, a white golf shirt and a top hat. To his left are two men sitting, one playing on a makeshift drum set and one playing a banjo. In the background a few pedestrians stroll by paying no attention to the black street band.

MUSIC SLOWS ITS PACE

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

Somewhere Between
Jalostotilan and Encarnation

There is a static shot (color) of a street corner in a small Mexican town.  The sky is blue with a few clouds. The street is vacant except for a man sitting in his buggy drawn by a donkey. The street scene is dwarfed by a huge Coca Cola sign. A white taxicab with green stripes drives down the horizontal street followed by a yellow pick-up truck (frame left to right). A child, followed by mother, jog across the vacant street, to the opposite side of the road. They begin to walk down the sidewalk of the street.

 

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

on the road dead, lies a Mexican youth
I put down the camera
the cop car passed right by

MUSIC SOFTENS

A shot, framed between two pillars, shows the partial view of an interior of a church. Moveable chairs sit in rows facing frame right.  There is an isle between them, making two sections. Two children enter frame left and sit on the two chairs on the outer sections at the edge of the isle. They talk amongst themselves. A third, smaller child enters frame left and walks down the isle to the row ahead of the two who are sitting. The child looks back at the two and tries to climb up onto the seat. Unable to do this, she looks back at the pair and attempts the climb again.

A hand-held dolly shot (frame right to left) exposes the degrading walls of a Mexican street. The camera pans right to include the alley being traveled upon. On the opposite side of the road is a line of parked cars in front of some two-story houses with white windowpanes. The camera tilts up the paint chipped wall towards the clear sky. Above the wall towers the steeple of a church.

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

reaching out, the white sheet
is pulled over the dead boy’s body
the children wept

In the distance a group of people are gathered just outside the pillared entrance to a Roman Catholic church. They all face away from the camera, kneeling on the cobblestone walkway outside. A few people enter frame right and join the Mexican worshippers.

A hand-held dolly shot (frame left to right) faces the bare walls of the exterior of some houses. As the camera turns a corner, the alley can be seen, as well as two lovers embracing in the corner. At the end of the narrow alley is a ‘T’ junction created by another building.

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

i should have a bible.
you suppose I lent it to someone
or someone stole it

SOLO SAX MUSIC PICKS UP TEMPO

PARTIAL DISSOLVE  ENCOMPASSES 2-3 LAYERED IMAGES

Dominant Primary Image 1

A painter sits on a chair in front of a  painting of Jesus. He is painting a copy.

Secondary Image 1

A close up shot of painter. He continues to paint a copy of the face of Jesus.

Third Image 1

Cars pass by on a roadway, a blue brick wall covers the frame.

Single Solid Image 1

A close up shot of a brush paints Jesus. The camera pans down the brush to the painter’s hand.

Dominant Primary Image 2

In a profile shot, the painter paints the brow of Jesus. The `original’  painting faces the camera.

Secondary Image 2

An extreme close up shot of the religious painting.

Third Image 2

A static shot of a blue brick wall.

THE SECONDARY IMAGE 2 IS CUT

New Dominant Primary Image 3

A religious procession, ` The Feast of Fatima,’ makes its way up Bathurst Street in Toronto. A girl in a white dress and veil walks past and looks towards the camera (right to left).

New Dominant Primary Image 4

A pair of kids dressed in angel-like costumes walk in front of the camera and out of frame (right to left).

THE THIRD IMAGE 2 IS CUT

***Shot Altered from New Dominant Primary Image 4 to Single Solid Image 2

Cars pass through and intersection where the kids crossed as two more people walks past the camera in religious costumes and look at the camera.

A low angle shot films the top of a house and an overcast sky masked by power lines. The statue of Jesus  rolls through the frame (right to left).

***Shot Altered from Single Solid Image 2 to Secondary Image 3

(Secondary Image 3) The camera tilts down to a group of  Portuguese worshippers walking dressed in religious attire, carrying the statue.  Some look at the camera.

Dominant Primary Image 5

A close up shot of ladies faces cross the frame (right to left).  They looks into the camera.  More people cross the frame.

*****Shot Altered from Dominant Primary Image 5 to Secondary Image 4

Dominant Primary Image 6

An extreme close up of the bottom of a woman’s white dress crosses the frame (left to right). The camera pans to the right and exposes a line of people walking down the street (left to right).

CUT SECONDARY IMAGE 4

*****Shot Altered from Primary Image 6 to Secondary Image 5

Dominant Primary Image 7

A low angle shot of a Mary statue clasping her hands passes through the frame (right to left).

SOLO SAX MUSIC LIGHTENS AND THEN BUILDS THROUGH NEXT SHOT

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

The beggars stopped me
A voice through the window.
I gave the young girl a peso

A hand-held shot travels from left to right down a sidewalk. A young child wearing a white dress stands in front of a paint chipped stone wall. She has one hand to her mouth and the other holding out a silver shiny tray. The camera continues to travel towards a group of Mexican street musicians. A man wearing a dress shirt, dress pants and black cowboy hat plays a trumpet. To his left are two young kids. The one in the foreground is standing still looking away from the camera, the other stands against the wall in behind the first playing a drum that is harnessed around his neck. To their left, a man is playing a large drum.

SOLO SAX MUSIC LIGHTENS

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

the little girl
with big eyes
waits by her dead brother.

(Black and White)

In an outdoor street mall in Boulder, Colorado is a large snail sculpture with a massive shell which faces the camera. On top of the `snail’ sits a young girl who is pushing down on the shell, in rhythm to the music

(Black and White)

A rippling pond sits before a forested area that leads to a street with bypassing cars

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

big trucks spit black smoke
clouds hang
the boys spirit left through its blue

SOLO SAX MUSIC ENDS

END TITLES

 

 

The Value of the Parochial: Film and the Commonplace

(an excerpt from a larger article publication forthcoming)
by Janine Marchessault

I was still a young boy when I saw my first film. The impression it made upon me must have been intoxicating, for I there and then determined to commit my experience to writing…. I immediately put on a shred of paper, Film as the Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life, the title read. And I remember, as if it were today the marvels themselves. What thrilled me so deeply was an ordinary suburban street, filled with lights and shadows, which transfigured it. Several trees stood about, and there was in the foreground a puddle reflecting invisible house façades and a piece of the sky. Then a breeze moved the shadows, and the façades with sky below began to waver. The trembling upper world in the dirty puddle—this image has never left me. 

— Siegfried Kracauer (Ii, 1960)

We can see the development of strategies based on coincidence, accidents, indeterminacy, endlessness, and contingency in documentary and experimental filmmaking of the post war period expressly in this light. As a means to work through some of Kracauer’s insights around cinema and the “whole world”, let me turn to a specific work—the short ‘travel’ film Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion (1984) by Canadian filmmaker Philip Hoffman. The film was shot under the influence of Jack Kerouac and inspired by the Beat Generation. Kerouac went on the road in the fifties to wander and to have experiences, to create a scene across cities, New York, San Francisco and Mexico. ‘On the road’ refers specifically to a mode of writing that is quite literally writing while en route. It is after The Town and the City and through On the Road that Kerouac developed his art of ‘spontaneous prose’, an improvisational method of writing in time connected to the flow of life like jazz.  Famously he used a full roll of Teletype paper that matched the road and typed the novel almost continuously over three weeks. The roll enabled him to write without stopping, without interrupting the flow of words, essentially mirroring the experience of driving. Kerouac like Gertrude Stein before him, associates writing with a phenomenology of the mind, a writing that is “composed on the tongue rather than paper” (Ginsberg 74). Kerouac’s writing does not seek to transcend mediation so much as it does to document its actions so that writing becomes a record of the connection between inner and outer structures of perception, binding bodies to places through time. As much as it pushes the boundaries of presentness, writing like film, is always in the past. Although the fact of mediation between word and image is altogether different as Kracauer would stress.

Hoffman made Somewhere Between, after attending a conference devoted to the legacy of On the Road in Boulder, Colorado. Yet Hoffman’s film is not so much on the road (the highway) as it is on the street, featuring two cities (Boulder and Toronto) and towns somewhere between the cities of Guadalajara and León. The film cuts across various scenes in these places with lengthy (often twenty-eight seconds) unedited sequences of action and black leader as “measured pauses” (Kerouac’s silence or breath) between sequences. These juxtaposed moments play out a reflexive rhythm that foreground the randomness and stubborn indeterminacy of the images of everyday life, and of their placement in the film.  We are presented with situations that are delimited without being explicated. The film opens with a text on the screen: “Looking through the lens/ at passing events/I recall what once was /and consider what might be.” Two early sequences in the film give image to these words. The first is an image of what is now a cliché of globalization. The static camera poised on a street corner in the centre of a small town in Mexico, frames in long shot, a mule and buggy parked beneath a large red Coca-Cola sign, a tangle of telephone wires above low rise dilapidated buildings. The only movement in the frame is the cars, driving in and out of it, and a woman and child crossing the street. Yet movement and layers of interaction are implicit in the juxtaposition of the mule and the global corporation, which co-exist in this place. This image is preceded by another static shot of a church down the street, doubly framed between two pillars of a Catholic arch. Looking in, the camera reveals someone deep in prayer. After a motionless few seconds, a child interrupts the stillness of the sequence, enters the frame and begins a game of crawling up and down on chairs. The child’s sudden appearance is precisely that kind of “unexpected incident” that Kracauer delights in—“the stirring” of nature and people that the Lumiére films first captured. The kind of “spontaneous writing” that we often find in experimental ethnographies favors a self-reflexive methodology[1]. In this instance, focusing on the physicality of the scene to include the temporal structure imposed by the camera (i.e., the spring wound Bolex’s 28 second take) and the filmmaker. The acts of “looking through the lens” as Hoffman’s text tells us, calls upon a time-based aesthetic where past and future co-exist beyond the edges of the frame. Yet it is not only the film strip/ flow of life analogy that foregrounds this temporality. It is also the reoccurring themes of religion and children, of tradition and horizons that Hoffman finds across the different places in the film. Given that the film concerns the story of a Mexican boy run over by a truck somewhere in Mexico, these themes resonate throughout. The boy’s death is an event that the filmmaker refuses to film (or include in the film) but instead conveys through a poetic text on the screen that is intercut throughout the film. Filled with black holes overwritten with the poem that remembers the boy’s death, the film’s architectonics are structured by the words that never conflate the commonalities between the situations. The poem embeds the boy’s death in all of the images of the film so that it is not inconsequential to the corporate sign, the superstructure in the opening images but rather stands in a contiguous relationship to it as to all the images in the film. The melancholic saxophone that draws the line from Mexico to Colorado to Toronto, seems to synchronize momentarily with the musicians and children holding out cups to collect money in these different places but then separates and floats over them from an off screen space that leaves the frame open to a multiplicity of found stories:  children playing games on different streets in different cities, a crowd kneeling outside a church, the Feast of Fatima procession in a Portuguese neighborhood in Toronto, little girls dressed as angels and streets lined with telephone poles,  the beautiful patina of pealing walls aged by the weather, graffiti palimpsests in different languages, a paint brush sketching a likeness of Jesus from a painting of Jesus, a child crawling up and down on a large sculpture of a sea shell in an outdoor street mall, a pond surrounded by trees at dusk. The camera stages situations from a distance and in long shot; sometimes the movements of bodies are slowed. But it is the materiality of the built environment that is framed to equalize the human and the non-human (trees, benches, windows, sidewalks, statues, cars, signs) which are counter influencing and interpenetrating processes. We see here the manifestations global cultures, national and urban idioms and technologies that the film stages as commonplace.

In the study of localities, filmmaker and anthropologist David MacDougal points out that it is not singularities but interconnectivities and flows between particular cultures that lead to the cinema’s capacity for deeply phenomenological and pedagogical gestures. Somewhere Between gives us the interval or the interface between places where identities and experiences take up their meanings in Hoffman’s memories of a shared world. Yet it is also the characteristic of the “found story” that it remains open, fragmented, that it burn through myths and clichés. It must resist the “self-contained whole” that would betray its force by casting a tight structure with a beginning, middle and end around its anonymous core. The found story Kracauer explains arises out of and dissolves into the material environment, often in “embryonic” forms that reveal patterns of collectivity (Theory 246). The found story comes from the aesthetic of the street and we should add, holds infinite possibilities for the psychic investment in the whole even as it takes it apart. In the end, Hoffman may well have broken with Kracauer’s prescriptive visual aesthetics by staging reality with word, image and black leader in a way that actively petitions the dreamer to envision what was and what might be. What holds the spectator’s interest in Hoffman’s film is the gap, the place of imagining: the black smoke from the truck, the children weeping, the sky and the boy’s spirit as it “left through its blue”.


 

[1] Take for example the films of Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Jean Rouch, Agnes Varda or Chris Marker who use the camera as an intrinsic aspect of performance. We could also include some of the more self-reflexive documentaries by the Unit B directors at the NFB of Canada. Cf. Catherine Russell  Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999).

 

Avant Ghosts of Mexico

by Jeremy Rigsby

Travelogues are films made by tourists. They are defined by their creators’ decision to remain on unfamiliar terms with unfamiliar surroundings. These are not documentaries, which presume or strive for some unmediated relation to their subjects. Unless they can demonstrate that they are provisional and selective, documentaries are prone to be mistaken for the truth. Unless they can demonstrate that they are art, travelogues are largely the product of hobbyists who can afford vacations. Travelogues may affirm their artfulness by appealing to an aesthetic derived from the lyrical avant-garde, or, more frequently, by adopting the discursive strategies of fiction films. Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion  takes the latter route, all the way to a Mexican crossroads of the Real and the Imaginary.

The fictive convention relied upon by Somewhere Between establishes an artificial contiguity between the film’s two discrete components: intertitles alternating with images (of Mexico, mostly). This convention is associative editing, a neat version of the so-called Kuleshov effect, whereby details noted in the intertitles are presumed to refer to the images they immediately follow or anticipate by the simple virtue of proximity. The dead youth is nowhere seen or implied in any of the footage. The titles state that Hoffman “put the camera down.” But the cop car that sped by his corpse must be the very one just seen passing the Coke billboard. Likewise the beggar girl who was conceded a peso is identified as the beggar girl who then appears. And the girl with the big eyes awaiting her dead brother? There she is, her imputed lingering iterated by symbolic association with a concrete snail. Much of the film’s remaining footage is neutral and irrelevant to the text, but marshaled to support a funereal aura through melancholy slow motion or sepulchral, greenish-black tints.

That the film’s apparent coherence of text and image is a construction of cinematic artifice should be obvious, but the film condescends to underline the point. The soundtrack, a plaintive sax solo, twice jars incongruously with footage of musicians playing visibly different tunes, prompting suspicion of any facile congruence between events and their remains in the picture world. And in a sequence quite exceeding the credulity that associative editing might sustain, a funeral procession plods down conspicuously non-Mexican (i.e. Toronto’s) streets, a near-parodic intrusion that must be rationalized as a metaphorical digression on the universality of death, or some such thing. All these contrivances and retractions cumulate in a film whose reliability as documentation is severely undermined by its imperative to simulate fiction. Somewhere Between thus exploits a special tension inherent to the travelogue as a genre. Conventions that would affirm the continuity of narrative films, or the veracity of documentaries, are here destabilized, indeterminate, somewhere between… where, exactly?

Clearly not the poles of a debate concerning the film’s ethics, which it suffered when it was first exhibited in 1984. Its supporters regarded the omission of the child’s death as a noble refusal of spectacular and exploitative documentary practices. Its detractors, conventional ‘journalistic’ documentarians, considered the film irredeemably deprived of the potential impact conferred by such a powerful image.

Both these arguments assume the film’s images support the text, signifying only the conclusive absence it describes. But the latter position does implicitly contain a more incisive interpretation: footage of the accident or its aftermath would confirm that it actually happened. This shopworn raison d’etre of the journalistic documentary finds application here; an appeal to evidence validates the skepticism this film seems designed to provoke. Its issues aren’t ethical but ontological. Did the dead youth exist, or did Hoffman invent him? Given the film’s lack of positive evidence, coupled with its protracted insistence that it be acknowledged as a synthetic construction, the question remains. There are two plausible answers. In the first instance, Hoffman sifts through a large amount of Mexican vacation footage to find a few shots that, by chance, contain imagery similar to details he recalled of the accident and to the text he wrote to describe it. Or he returned from Mexico with a relatively small amount of attractive but disparate, mismatched footage which he united into coherent form by fabricating the accident as a kind of plot device.

Occam’s razor might suggest the second option, but that’s not the rub. As film critic Rita Gonzàlez writes “…international filmmakers have been drawn to the notion of Mexico as a transgressive or mythic space, an eidolon that they have done their part to perpetuate.” [1] As the avant-garde film canon attests, south-of-the border has been a popular destination for filmmaking tourists, the special condition of their alienation in Mexico circumscribed by this imperative to solicit visionary experience. The roster of sojourners include Bruce Baillie, Bruce Conner, Richard Myers and Chick Strand, who made most of her career around Guadalajara and once confidently decared “Mexico is surrealism.” The Mexican travelogue is almost always their projected phantasmata. The ‘reality’ of the death in Somewhere Between is akin to the ‘reality’ of, say, the quintessentially Mexican peyote hallucinations in Larry Jordan’s Triptych In Four Parts: that is, as real as permitted by illusory circumstances. The virtue of Somewhere Between is to be conscious of its complicity in this tradition of cultural mystification. It inspires and permits doubt. It doubts the authenticity of the particular experience it describes, the authenticity of Mexico as an experience of the ‘mythic,’ perhaps ultimately even the authenticity of experience in general. Typical of the traveler’s tale is a tendency to embellish. Rarely is it so evocative, or so obliging, of the tendency to disbelieve its teller.


 

  1. In ‘The MexperimentalCinema,” catalogue essay published by the Guggenheim Museum, 1999.