Monday, August 15, 2011

Questions from the Bill

After viewing the promo clip and introductory statement for Twenty Steps Down the Great South Road, a documentary Paul Janman and I plan to make over the next few months, the distinguished Franco-Kiwi musician and writer Bill Direen fired off a series of challenging and important questions. Here are Paul's replies to the Bill's queries...

Bill: Hearing about the publication of dozens of faces of riot suspects today I am wondering if your film addresses the matter of the invasion of privacy. Who are you talking to? To the people you film, like the guy in the back seat of the car who gestures, then smiles, then isn't sure what the heck you are doing? Or are you making the film for posterity? Or to advance your own status as (highly informed, at times eloquent, I agree) commentator?

Paul: These are the sort of questions we hoped our project would provoke. We have prepared a list of places on and around the Great South Road to visit and invited certain key people to be interviewed, but we don't want to predetermine the outcome of our investigations. We want to leave space for our subjects, and our audiences, to shout back at us. We'll ‘go to the street’ see who’s there, film them, screen them, in a series of 'webisodes', and discuss them and their ideas.

Let's consider the image of the young man in the car, which occurs in our promo clip, and which has gotten Bill thinking about questions of consent and security. I find the image highly ironic. Did Bill notice the sign pasted to a wall behind the young man? The sign says Remote Monitored Surveillance Cameras In Operation.

There were about ten thousand CCTV cameras watching rioters in London. What the rioting kids have been doing is, arguably, no more opportunistic than what bankers in the City of London have been doing for ages. Think of the bankers' irresponsible speculation, their fat bonuses, and the way the state has bailed them out. Unlike the bankers, the rioters will probably be brought to account because of CCTV and mobile phone surveillance footage. The camera is, in London at least, the enemy of the criminal poor and the friend of the system which protects the criminal rich.

As the sign in our promo clip shows, CCTV cameras are not unknown in Auckland. We can assume that, in this city as well as in London, these devices detect certain types of criminal activity whilst missing others. Am I acting like a cop, by filming South Aucklanders without their consent? Is the modest camera I wield another piece of the surveillance machine?

I may be filming some of the same scenes as the CCTV cameras, but I ask Bill to trust, provisionally at least, that I operate according to a code of ethics that differs from that of the security guards and cops who stare through CCTV cameras.

The young man captured in our promo clip is not doing anything incriminating. He is a bit bemused, but he is not aggressively resisting being filmed. He is being filmed without his consent, but perhaps he reclaims his stolen agency by giving us the finger to his own head right before our promo clip fades to black.

Writing a century and a half ago, Baudelaire noted the 'forest of eyes' which was a feature of the nascent modern city. In the era of CCTV, Google Earth, and cellphone cameras the forest grows thicker than ever. I believe that by calling attention to and commenting ironically on the level of surveillance in the modern city film makers can help to prevent the abuse of surveillance.

I don't want to pretend, though, to be morally pure or straightforwardly politically motivated. I think that any documentary that is more than completely prescribed and inane will sometimes verge on exploitation. I often think of the Maysles brothers’ ambiguous relationship to the Beales or Micha Peled’s deception of the factory boss in China Blue. The subject of Errol Morris’ film Tabloid is seriously pissed off with him. The point is that everyone suffers a little bit for art but sometimes the results are worth it.

Having said that, I would love to find a way to get the guy filmed in the promo back into the discursive process of our film – maybe I should have held up a link to a website or handed him a card? This is a problem...but I think car-to-car shots will be exceptional: most of what we will end up shooting will probably be on foot and face-to-face.

Bill: Do you not run the risk of being a modern equivalent of the safari hunters, only you are hunting human misery? Anyone can be made to look as if he or she is in a cage, even you, perhaps.

This is a matter of perception. I don’t immediately see misery in the images in our promo clip. Great South Road is certainly one of the ugliest places in Auckland but it’s also beautiful – and the idea of discovering beauty in places bypassed by our tourism industry is a part of our project.

Perhaps misery is built into stereotypes of places like the Great South Road and urban Polynesia, but I have had quite a lot to do with such places (I spent a couple of years in Nuku'alofa, my wife works in Otara, my kids go to school in Otahuhu). I get close enough to see some of the mundane as well as the ‘terrible’ beauty in them. I actually see more misery in places like the North Shore...

Bill: Your blog, could it not be a kind of cheap economic trap? Is your film not yet another attempt to own the Auckland area, to use it for your own career ends, or to mark it as your intellectual territory?

Someone once asked Albert Maysles if he found it hard to make a living, and all he could say as he looked around his spartan office was 'Do I actually make a living?' And Maysles's subjects were far more marketable than ours.

To the extent that we might want to further our careers as artists then of course we’re furthering our careers! What’s the alternative? In terms of ‘owning Auckland’, we’ll leave that to Google and the CCTVs. If ‘marking our intellectual territory’ means transforming the image of our lived environment through poetic selection then yes, we seek to recuperate the people and the stories we find from the grip of capitalist space and time. Read the CROSTOPI Manifesto.

If we have to piggyback on the universal recording instruments of Google, of CCTVs and whatever personal footage people send us in order to do it, then we will. But we are subjects too...we exist in our own cages and if we’re aware of our limitations, they’ll be apparent in our choices. Questions like Bill's help us remain aware of our limitations...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Janman has fought Bill Direen to a standstill.

A magnificent achievement!

5:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you support rioting?

How typical.

3:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:44 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The GT Sth Rd is "certainly one of the ugliest places in Auckland"

Why? That is rubbish.

10:12 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Great South Road is certainly one of the ugliest places in Auckland... but it’s also beautiful

It's a paradox isn't it. I wouldn't want to romanticise the half round-upped weeds and glass detritus. I just want to see it for what it is.

10:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When is Bill going to hit back?

8:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Americans are angry. Why aren’t they protesting?
By David S. Meyer, Published: August 12

There’s something exciting, sometimes terrifying, about people taking to the streets to get what they want. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, they gathered to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In Athens, demonstrators set up a gallows in front of Parliament, threatening the socialist government, which was imposing austerity measures in the face of 15 percent unemployment. Most recently, in London and across England, young people have assembled at night, looting stores and burning cars to demand — well, that’s not clear yet.

Whether you’re inspired or appalled depends on your politics. Demonstrators who play to our hopes are heroes; those who challenge our beliefs are at best misguided and at worst terrorists. Regardless, those in the streets carrying petrol or placards project their anger and aspirations to an audience as broad as possible. When they’re successful, we talk about their concerns as well as their tactics.

What about here in the United States? Polls consistently show that fewer than half of Americans approve of the job that President Obama is doing, and those ratings are far higher than Congress or either political party receives. Unemployment remains stubbornly above 9 percent. There is plenty of anger in America today: anger about joblessness across the nation, about cutbacks in services in the states, about increased tuition at our universities, about economic and political inequality that seems to be increasing, and at a government that seems unable to do anything about any of this. Where are the people taking to the streets?

The closest thing to a strong social movement in the United States in recent years has been the tea party, and it demands that government do less. Lately, we hear about the tea party largely from members of Congress and candidates for office, who have drowned out and replaced the activists at the grass roots.

This is largely because although movements carry anger, anger doesn’t make a movement — organizers do. Anger helps, of course; it’s a resource that organizers can stoke, channel and exploit.

Although saints and psychopaths will take great risks in the service of their beliefs, most people are a little more calculating. People protest when they believe that something is wrong, that it could be otherwise, and that their efforts are both necessary and potentially effective...

1:01 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The riots are more reactive. They show that things are not well in our city but they are not a means to many needs as such. Riots have occurred here in NZ specifically Auckland at various times more recently in the 90s and earlier in the 80s but there were riots in the depression times by the unemployed.

Professor Maps might be able to enlighten us on all the various "uprisings" and riots etc that have occurred in NZ history...

Not re riots but a bizarre incident or event happened in about 1979 when a certain Samoan woman it was rumoured (in Otara South Auckland and in road not far from where I lived at the time) was going to give birth to another Saviour. Her name was Mary and thus possibly she was catholic (or a Mormon as there are many of them around here). This was to issue in the Second Coming.

Many Samoans are quite religious and there were many many people gathered near her home awaiting the event but clearly it didn't happen. Riots were expected but none happened.

11:20 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Paul Janman said...

Great South Road is certainly one of the ugliest places in Auckland... but it’s also beautiful

It's a paradox isn't it. I wouldn't want to romanticise the half round-upped weeds and glass detritus. I just want to see it for what it is..."

But what are you seeing. You are seeing what YOU see. You have already made a prejudgment about beauty? What is more beautiful? What is unbeautiful about broken glass?

(Read Williams Carlos Williams "On the Road to the Contagious Hospital"...)

Death and destruction can beautiful. In the Universe decay and destruction are more common and are more than any positive construction...that is entropy prevails in the Universe.

In 'The Tree of Man' Patrick White says en passant that "Destruction is always more convincing than construction." And he is right. We see things in limited and overoptimistic human historical terms.

Is a rat or a spider or virus more beautiful than a young sexy woman or a rose? The rats, cockroaches and viruses will in all probability survive longer than us with all our "nobility" and beauty....

Let's get realistic.

11:30 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Here's some WCW's

Complete Destruction

It was an icy day.
We buried the cat,
then took her box
and set fire to it
in the back yard.

Those fleas
that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

Between the Walls

the back wings
of the hospital
where nothing will grow lie cinders
In which shine
the broken pieces
of a green bottle

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospitalunder the surge of the bluemottled clouds driven from the northeast --
a cold wind.

Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallenpatches of standing water the scattering of tall treesAll along the road the reddishpurplish, forked, upstanding, twiggystuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines --Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches

--They enter the new world naked,cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind --

Now the grass, tomorrowthe stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined --

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf.
But now the stark dignity ofentrance --
Still, the profound changehas come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

11:47 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

See, he could see the beauty or not of desolation and growth as well as death and is all there...

The green broken glass where
nothing will grown.

the dazed entrances

the contagious hospitals

Birth and death ... Williams was a doctor and a poet.

11:51 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Well said Richard. There's a strong Dionysian strain to your argument and that is the proper stuff of poets. I'm going to enjoy coming to see you with my humble recorder.

6:34 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...


6:45 am  
Blogger Richard said...

You play the recorder? Like Pan or Dionysius?

Reason has to accompany that Dionysian element. Maps down plays the fact I have a BA and a lot of that was philosophy including some logic. Not that it did me much good, but it was interesting. So Locke and Hume (and our dear Plato) join battle with say Heidegger or Nietzsche

What stays in my mind most? Apart from a reading of Sartre's 'Nausea' and Camus's GREAT BOOK [Maps always attacks Camus quite wrongly for his attitudes in that great book] 'The Outsider'. An American (visiting for a term) philosopher who said that Camus had written once: "[Human beings] always wants to know everything." (That [humans] cant torments [them]) I think hat is in 'The Myth of Sisyphus' one of the innumerable books I have never managed to read...Not sure if this is true but the drive toward that I understand.

Smithyman seemed to be a fan of Wolfe of whom I read two of his vast tomes which are massive torrents or writing and of great emotional and existential he tries to "devour everything", read real life he was like that as he simply wrote of his own life in one huge stream trying to capture every nuance, every pebble...which is somewhat something I think Smithyman was interested in or affected by. He refers to Wolfe's books in his Anzac poems etc

But we needn't thus descend in nihilism. (And Wolfe certainly didn't). We are humans with mothers and so forth. Even orphans. We owe it to life and each other to stay sane.

7:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott has just alerted me to this blog post. Very well argued, to be sure, to be sure. Though one thing I am not sure about is that I am the person who made the comments concerned. Where did you get the idea that they were made by me? Regardless of the dubious attribution of intellectual paternity to comments made within the sanctity of the blog, "Maps's" blog continues to provide a stimulatin forum for those with electricity, an internet connection, and time. Cheers, Bill Direen.

4:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great responses fromm Paul to those questions from whomever it was! Tremendous. Good luck with the project! Bill D.

4:34 am  

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