Archive for the ‘film architecture’ Category

Oh cool.

Monday, May 25th, 2009

For some reason, I love skeletons. So it’s nice when they move in sync with catchy British rock. Here’s my song of the moment for you, by the Friendly Fires

Maybe it has to do with movies that I watched over and over on VHS when I was growing up (below: The Karate Kid, dir. John G. Avildsen, 1984).

And speaking of skeletons, coming up soon, my next posts will be a movie review of the current release, Terminator Salvation (dir. McG, 2009), and why Damian Hirst is responsible for the current economic crisis (see below, Damian Hirst, “For the Love of God,” 2007). 
diamond-skull-1

End of Evangelion

Monday, April 20th, 2009

evangelion

新世紀エヴァンゲリオン
End of Evangelion
1997, 87 minutes
directed by:  Hideaki Anno

Some people have pinned it on religion as the reason why the Japanese are so much more quick to adapt to and be comfortable with technology; because their native religion, Shinto, attributes a living spirit to all objects in the world. This is as opposed to Judeo-Christians, who believe that humans are distinct from and fundamentally different from everything else. Whatever the reason, it may be the first impression upon a visit to certain places in Asia that their culture offers a more sophisticated and mature exploration into the complex relationship of mankind with technology. It is on display on every street corner, window display, technical and artistic endeavor, and adorned all over the youth of certain Asian cities. Japan makes movies like End of Evangelion, we make movies like The Terminator and Robocop.

What Japan seems to understand intuitively is that technology is simply an extension of human nature. It is not an alien thing, diametrically opposed to nature in that binary way Euro-centric societies tend to view everything. This “man-versus-machine” perspective can be seen in European films as early as Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Later on, certain films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explored a much more subtle and meaningful theme, which wasn’t whether human would prevail over machine, but instead where the line was between the two. Much in the way that everything that happens in nature is by definition, natural, such it is that everything humans create, including technology, is an extension of human nature.

neon-genesis-evangelion-0005

End of Evangelion was a film that culminated twenty-six television episodes of an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion, an extraordinarily popular and critically successful series that still supports a huge sub-industry involving manga (Japanese comic-books), action figures, video games, and, uh, hentai based around the characters of Eva, as the series is known for short. In fact, the image of an Evangelion can be still be considered the iconic image of Japanese anime and was the de facto subject of a Greg Lynn studio here at Yale two years ago titled “Giant Robot.”

The imagery in this movie is stunning. As one can probably infer from the convoluted and indecipherable title alone (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion), this movie fuses biological, religious, military, and scientific themes into a dense mix filled with cultural allusions that are ambitiously diverse. The story involves a military project that may or may not be trying to fuse humans and robots to usher in a new theological era. This results in some of the most startling, imaginative, and just plain weird visual sequences I have ever seen, juxtaposed with an equally diverse soundtrack (Frank Sinatra plus Pachabel plus J-pop, anyone?), on top of some of the most refined and beautifully drawn anime ever done.

On another note, the director, Hideako Anno, spent several years of his life essentially isolated in his room reading comic books and playing video games in a particularly Japanese affliction known as “otaku.” Otakus are defined by William Gibson as, “the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects. . . Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.”

-    quang truong (originally written February 11, 2008)

New York, New York

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

From the New York Times: “. . . it’s not hard to feel a curious dissonance between the two places. There’s the tangible New York of concrete and smog, and there’s what the film historian James Sanders has called the ‘mythic New York,’ the dreamy celluloid landscape of a thousand crisscrossing fictions.”

New York Verité.

Here’s to springtime in New York City (and its better half, Brooklyn).

Below is the view from my office on this Sunday in Soho, Manhattan, 2009.

SohoNYC

Memories of Murder

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

memories2

Memories of Murder
2003, 130 minutes
directed by:  Bong Joon-ho

A friend and I recently had a conversation about the contemporary artist John Currin. He has had feature articles written about him for several years now, including one in the New Yorker, which is no small feat for an American painter alive and working today. He’s a graduate of Yale’s MFA program (Mafia of Art) and a critical darling. In short, he’s received no small amount of critical and professional success.

john-currin

However, there’s something palpably underwhelming about his work. It sometimes feels like what he’s doing is the art world equivalent of a PhD thesis. It’s intelligent and it represents diligent, hard work, but there’s no energy or fire. There’s no brashness. There’s no urgency. There’s nothing in them that really represents a real risk of failure. I don’t mean to single out John Currin for this, for I certainly like and respect his work. I think what is unsettling is the issue of risk. I think the Spanish have a word for it: cojones.

koolhaas_jussieu

In a way, the architects we reference the most were almost unpalatably punk in their youth—the competition-rule-breaking entries of early Rem Koolhaas, the suburban house by Frank Gehry, the distressed drawings of Thom Mayne, the paintings of Zaha Hadid, or the art and dance installations of Diller & Scofidio. They gained attention because they were desperately searching for a way around the established methods to get towards something more honest and expressive. That in the end is what creativity is, and that is why we know them today.

photo

Several years ago, when Jackie Chan made his first American production movie, several interviewers asked Jackie what the difference was between making a movie in America versus making a movie in Hong Kong. Well, Jackie said, the difference was that in America, the movie-makers actually think about things like safety, preparation, planning, and insurance. There is a whole industry that revolves around making sure people don’t get hurt. Apparently, in contrast, back in Hong Kong, somebody would dream up a stunt, no matter how insane, and whoever had the balls would just get up and try to do it on film. If that person got hurt, they would just get another guy. If, after a few maimed guys, they decided the stunt was probably impossible, they would just think of another stunt. And so a movie got made. In short, that was the path to success for Jackie Chan, who literally started his career as a stuntman, and apparently was the guy who survived all the stunts.

jackie_chan2

It seems there is no shortage of Asian people willing to do stupid things at a moment’s notice—which is precisely why it’s so exciting. Asia is producing so much: not only in terms of products, but most importantly, in terms of ideas. As I’ve written before, this is why Asia warrants attention; not only because new stuff is being done in Asia, but also because new ways of interpreting and expressing that stuff are being formulated. Asia is just so punk.

memories

The director Bong Joon-ho became famous most recently for his film, The Host, the highest grossing film of all time in South Korea, which the New York Times called a “feverishly imaginative genre hybrid.” This film, Memories of Murder, is arguably a better, more inventive and surprising film. That’s why, comparatively, the artist John Currin just feels like reading a good academic paper. He just went through all the established, formulaic steps to become a good considerate, professional artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oldboy

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

oldboy

Oldboy
2003, 120 minutes
directed by: Park Chan-wook

Oldboy, a film from South Korean director Park Chan-wook, was a film powerful enough to generate two immense waves of infamy and notoriety. The first came when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where the jury, chaired by Quentin Tarantino, awarded Oldboy the Grand Prix, which led to a cavalcade of praise for the film as being the preeminent film in a new wave of significant South Korean films. South Korea, as anyone who owns a LG cellphone, Samsung television, or Hyundai car, or has looked around the graduate school studios lately, is well aware of South Korea’s burgeoning economic and cultural development. In a way, the critical reception to Oldboy as a significant film was essentially a ratification of the international importance of South Korea; for we know today that the most important exports of any country are not necessarily its economic products, but its cultural products. The ability of a country to successfully export its ideas and images is essentially what distinguishes First World countries from others.

From The New Yorker

From The New Yorker

The second wave of publicity for Oldboy came in the spring of 2007, when someone drew parallels between the violence in this South Korean film to the South Korean background of the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shooting. The idea that media is responsible for violence seemingly has its own specific historiography, from Mark David Chapman’s Catcher in the Rye, John Hinckley’s Taxi Driver, Charles Manson and the Beatles, to the Columbine killers and the music of Marilyn Manson. Nevertheless, Oldboy is certainly spectacularly violent, to a level literally unacceptable in America, as evidenced in one of the tamer scenes where the main actor, Choi Min-sik, eats a live octopus on camera.

old-boy-give-me-something-alive

There is one thing I wanted to note about this movie, and it relates to the previous post about Grand Theft Auto. In one scene, the way the camera and the actors move through space, as far as I’m aware,  is fairly original. Or, I should say, fairly original for a movie. A clip of the scene is embedded below, and as the scene unfolds, the camera scrolls across the space horizontally. This may feel uncanny to some of you, and if it does, it may be because this type of tracking shot and space is very distinctly the space of video games from the 1990s (Double Dragon for the NES is a good example of this type of side-scrolling video game space). Space is practically two-dimensional, and it was a result of the limitations of the computer science at the time. It was space as a result of a technological handicap. However, to create this kind of space cinematographically requires an incredible amount of planning, building, and executing. Imagine the set that was built for this scene!

There have been other movies since that used a similar style of ‘side scrolling’ cinematography, most notably Zack Snyder in 300. It’s odd, because in the past, video game designers have always imitated film directors. The first video games to attempt cinematographical space and movement stole directly from Akira Kurosawa’s films (I’m thinking of the Final Fantasy games here in particular). But as video games have expanded their abilities to describe and conceptualize space, it seems like film directors have started imitating video games.

For many reasons, Oldboy is a film that has generated a lot of dialogue, and serves as a great introduction to this film architecture series and the cinema of South Korea.

The Future is Asian

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Poster_Spring2008

This next theme for this blog’s Film Architecture series is “The Future is Asian,” and will review a selection of films from various East Asian countries in an exploration of the cinematic products of a region of the world experiencing rapid economic and cultural change. Cities are being designed, developed and built at a heretofore unprecedented size and scale in Asia; it is a scale of architecture and planning for which we have as yet no theories. It is the missing XXL in Rem’s compendium of scales; it is the asymptotic limit to which no European dogma has a response. Right now, we have no criteria or ideas by which to judge, critique, or evaluate what is going on in the East. To put it academically, nobody knows what to say about Asia.

This selection of films, then, will attempt to survey the culture-scape of certain East Asia countries through their films—a contemporary medium which traffics their images, projections, fears, ideas, and narratives. Certain cinematic themes and tendencies are starting to emerge from Asian films which are having a broader impact upon the world than the previous generation of Asian films. Akira Kurosawa, for instance, was critically canonized but never really broadly imitated here in America; whereas 2007’s Academy Award for Best Picture went to an Asian film remade by Martin Scorsese (The Departed was a direct remake of Hong Kong filmmaker Andy Lau’s Infernal Affairs), and the current spate of horror and suspense films such as The Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call, the Saw or the Hostel series are all either directly influenced by or literal remakes of Asian films. Accordingly, one focus of this semester’s theme will be on what has been loosely dubbed “Asian Extreme” films. These are films that have a level of violence—emotional, physical, sexual, or otherwise—which has surpassed anything imagined anywhere else. To anyone who has experienced the machinic orderliness of Tokyo to the “anything-goes” atmosphere of Seoul, these are the cultures which have been exporting the ideas and imagination that shapes the way the cities of tomorrow will be materialized. As architects, our responsibility is to shape the future of the built environment with our ideas, our skills, and our judgment. As such, it’s important that we give more than a passing glance towards Asia. The past is European. The future is Asian.

The Lives of Others

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

livesofothers1


The Lives of Others

(Das Leben der Anderen)
2006, 137 minutes
directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

You may or may not notice that this film is being screened in place of what was scheduled, that being Fanny & Alexander, a late film by Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, Fanny & Alexander would have made a great contrast to the earlier films in the series, being a study in the late style of an established and accomplished career of an international moviemaker. Not only did Fanny & Alexander win four Academy Awards in 1984, including Best Foreign Picture, but the movie was also one that Bergman himself was especially proud—enough to make him consider quitting filmmaking altogether, as he tells in this amusing anecdote:

“Making ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was such a joy that I thought that feeling will never come back. I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn’t understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.”

I think that’s a fairly amazing idea to have at so late a stage in life, as Ingmar Bergman was when he said that, that you only have one love in your life and that once you’ve had it, it’s hard to continue. It’s a powerful idea, and one that has certainly propelled many an artist towards whatever pursuits they’ve endeavored towards. The idea that there is one perfect love that may be attained is certainly a potent idea, but maybe also fairly dangerous.

However, we’re not going to be watching Fanny & Alexander. The film is over 3 hours long and I know nobody has that kind of time in this kind of place. Instead, we’re going to watch a newer film, a film that potentially has more relevance towards architecture.

Towards the beginning of the semester I wrote about the relationship between film and architecture, and the nature of the cinematic apparatus as an implicit subject with political and therefore organizational implications. This film, a German film which won this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is about surveillance in mid-century Germany. Surveillance has lately been, in conjunction with the ubiquity and incomprehensible power of common electronics, taking on the presence of another metaphysical subject.

panopticon_large

Michel Foucault wrote about a certain physical manifestation of this idea when he popularized Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison in his book, Discipline and Punish. The panopticon and what, for lack of a better term, we’ll call the idea of surveillance, both share the idea of the political power of vision. And they both assert the power of a presence of absence. But they way that surveillance is different from the panopticon is in the ubiquity of surveillance; it is, in effect, a new omnipresence distinct from theocentricism. What this heralds is uncertain. Even politically it is uncharted legal territory, as anybody who’s been paying attention to the national currents events is aware. Politics and architecture have always been connected, though, so it is no doubt worthwhile to spend some time pondering the culture into which we’re entering.

The next film architecture theme I will be writing about is “The Future is Asian.”

Originally written November 27, 2007

Speed, Space, Structure, and Sounds

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

planvoisin

Sometimes I think it’s easy to imagine the enthusiasm that Le Corbusier must have had when he began to imagine the city under the influence of those two technologies of the early 20th century–the car and cinema. His Plan Voisin for Paris was named for the automobile company that bankrolled that project, after all. And his most famous residence, the Villa Savoye, was designed with both the automobile and the movie camera in mind, as Le Corbusier showed in his film, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui. And many of you know that in plan, the radius of that curve on the ground floor was exactly the radius of the turning circle of a Citroen car. It was a very precise and deliberate architectural gesture towards the impact of technology and media on a building in particular, and to urbanism in general.

411px-lallement-bicycle-patent-1866

It’s funny to think that the automobile and the bicycle were invented around the same time–I tend to think that an invention like the bicycle has been around since the dawn of time. But it hasn’t, and it’s sort of exciting to think of the way cities were experienced differently with that technology. A city biked is vastly different than a city walked, which is different than a city driven through, which is different than a city subway-ed.

For a time, my brother was a serious skateboarder, and he used to watch skateboarding videos in lieu of doing almost everything else (studying, eating, sleeping). And it was amazing to see the particular way cities were represented in those skater videos–through the fisheye lens,gliding across pavement (and only pavement) with considerable velocity, using the structure and space in a way that was probably more vibrant and energetic than what the architecture was originally designed for in the first place. In fact, skateboarding was how my brother saw cities. To my chagrin, in every city we visited on our cross country road trips, he knew of only the spots featured in those videos. You’ve never seen somebody so excited to see a certain flight of stairs and handrails. He avoided the museums and the usual spots, asking only to see the public schools or the under-bridge concrete parks. More recently, at the Richard Meier office, one of my coworkers recently put together a video of himself and his brother in Tennessee (spliced with my favorite song of right now, MGMT’s “Kids”). In the not-too-distant future, I can’t imagine a more fitting urban document of these times than these skateboarding videos.



In a way, it’s a creative and spatially pure way to experience a city. It’s outside of the proscribed “program” of a city, using your own locomotion and senses. It’s purely speed, space, and structure. One of my first architectural projects tried to wrestle with the way “neglected” areas of New Haven eventually found their own uses. I studied the graffiti of the area as well as watched some parkour videos (there is an amazing parkour video below). In all of these cases, the best environments seemed to happen by chance, or through a fortuitous combination of cirumstances. Rarely was a vibrant, energetic spot designed to be that way–it was more like the users made it that way through their own improvisation. In the life of the city, the buildings and structures recede, foregrounding the people and the activities. It impressed upon me how difficult it is for architecture to intentionally improve the environment–sometimes it seems as if the best architecture simply disappears.


field-section-detail



The Seventh Seal

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

seventh_seal

The Seventh Seal
1957, 96 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

The image of a man playing chess with Death, from this movie by Ingmar Bergman, is one of the most lasting and poignant images in cinematic history. The story is about a 14th century Crusader knight who returns to his homeland only to find it ravaged by the plague. Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, appears to the knight, played by Max Von Sydow, and informs him that it is his time. The knight then challenges Death to a game of chess for time and his life. Throughout the ensuing journeys of the knight and his squire, his discussions with Death and his meetings of countrymen, Bergman questions the nature of God and existence.

This movie is essentially about doubt—in many ways, the mother of intelligence. But the difference between the way Antonioni and Bergman go about interrogating doubt has proven to be an interesting contrast. Bergman questions doubt through an essentially theatric method—existential doubt is fore-grounded through a combination of character development, plot events, and symbolic imagery. We know the characters doubt, and by implication, the film director, because the characters themselves say so. In an Antonioni film, in contrast, the doubt is expressed through a renegotiation of the conventions of filmmaking.

In an interview with Beatriz Colomina, Rem Koolhaas said that his entire career is founded on the idea that architecture is in doubt, and each of his project aims to reassert the validity of architecture. In a way, Rem’s meta-architectural practice is a paragon of doubt and an example of a productive assertion of that questioning.

Originally written November 13, 2007

Virgin Spring

Monday, January 26th, 2009

virginspring

Virgin Spring
1960, 89 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

Quite frankly, at this point I’m not sure if Ingmar Bergman, who, according to Woody Allen, is “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera,” is actually that great of a study for the relationship between film and architecture. Thus, it may be helpful to discuss the idea of a project as it relates to both film and architecture.

This movie, Jungfrukällan, as it was called in its native Swedish, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a story about the rape of a young girl in medieval Scandinavia and its repercussions. It is one of Bergman’s most important films in his oeuvre of 50-some films over 40-odd years and sealed his status as one of the world’s most important directors when it was released in 1960, on the heels of Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, and Wild Strawberries.

Bergman’s films are about the issues of love, death, religion and God. They are movies about morality and existence; and they are profound, beautiful meditations upon those subjects. The problem is: I’m not sure that architecture can be about those things, and therefore I’m not sure whether or not Bergman belongs in any study of the intersection between architecture and film.

villa_savoye

Though the relationship between film and architecture has been made implicit since at least as far back as Le Corbusier’s film, L’architecture d’Aujourd’hui, in 1927 (bear in mind that the motion picture was invented around 1895 by the Lumiere brothers), it maybe worth positing that the fundamental point of intersection between these two fields is upon the meta-representational idea of media. Insofar as film can be conceived of and interpreted as an examination and rumination upon the very nature of perception, thus it can be extrapolated to also relate to an architecture that is also concerned with the project of perception.

Thus, it is worth noting at this point that the idea of an architecture concerned with perception may be inextricably linked to the idea of criticality. Of course, now we’re going to have to define what I mean when I say perception, but to exhaust my quota for the usage of a particular prefix, I would say that we are interested in the mechanics of perception, or the apparatus of perception, i.e., meta-perception. This is specifically different from a phenomological or performative definition of perception, which is not to say that either is invalid.

At the moment that cinema was invented it was part of a wave of technological innovation at the beginning of the 20th century that changed the way we conceive of space—the airplane, automobile, Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, even the bicycle, were all invented nearly coincidentally. This superceded the single-point perspective conception of space as inherited since the Renaissance, and certain architects, most notably Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, and Diller & Scofidio made a number of important investigative projects into the nature of perception using the idea of cinema as medium as a part of their work.

cache1

Things may be changing, however, and certain filmmakers like Michael Haneke (the image above is the opening shot to his movie Caché) are starting to posit a new conceptual viewpoint—that of surveillance, or a collective, anonymous presence (here is a great article about Haneke). This is radically different from the idea of singularity inherent to both the Renaissance idea of perspective and the modern, cinematic one—and like any important innovation in regards to perception, it carries huge political ramifications. With political ideas comes ideas of organization, and with organization comes architecture.

Originally written November 6, 2007