Long Pauses II : While I was a grad student at Berkeley, I took a seminar with Trinh T. Minh-ha. I got quite a lot out of it, mostly due to her unconventional reading assignments. (Paul Sharits' essay "Words Per Page" was particularly formative, and Trinh also had us take productive dips into Asian writings on aesthetics.) But one technique of hers always bugged me, so much so that no matter how enlightening the class discussion had been, I always left her class in a huff. With the exception of a few very short films or videos (e.g., Tracey Moffat's Night Cries, Kubelka's Unsere afrikareise), she never screened a whole film. Seriously, she'd show, say, reels three and seven of Stalker and then we'd discuss "Tarkovsky." She showed almost every film this way. As a form of silent protest ("the formal integrity of these works is being summarily gutted"), I restricted my in-class comments to the assigned readings, since I had completed them in full.

Re-reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on Manny Farber today, I discovered this passage: "Discontinuous viewing was his preferred way of watching a movie, a method he shared with Godard; if a movie he really liked such as Ordet was being shown several times in the campus screening room over a given week, he'd turn up each time for a different reel or two -- or maybe even for the same reels, whatever happened to be on." (Implied in Rosenbaum's account, I think, is that Farber had seen the film in question all the way through at some point. But who knows?) I suppose I've dabbled in this practice for years, flipping around on cable TV, stopping to watch the final hour of Petra Von Kant or however much was left of Major League (an idiotic movie that I can never not watch when I stumble upon it). But I never really counted this as "viewing" films. Several sad removes from the holistic Art Object, I was only rubbernecking.

Well, since Nola's birth, I've had to make major adjustments to how I watch movies at home. I don't like these changes, but there you are; having a kid turns your life topsy-turvy and if you want to remain sane about it, you (well, I) fixate on the preserved continuities, not the losses. I can rarely watch a DVD all the way through. To do so involves an almost absurd degree of planning and negotiation, and even then I usually have to stop at least once, usually several times, to perform one of the many tasks now involved in running my household. More often than not, it takes me an average of three days to make it to the end of a 90-minute movie. Lots of starting, and a whole lot of stopping.

This isn't always bad. Today, for instance, I completed my four-day excursion into Michael Snow's Rameau's Nephew (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, a film that probably would've killed me had I taken it on in one sitting. Like Ulysses, this film is encyclopedic in ambition, its numerous segments hovering around a grand theme (sound / image relationships) but retaining near-total autonomy. Broken into real chapters (not the fake kind you find on any random DVD), accompanied by a helpful book-length essay that's really sort of a conceptual workbook ("solve these problems silently, while Mike Snow solves them aloud!"), Rameau's Nephew represents the perfect film for How I Watch Things Now. (I didn't expect this. I figured embarking on a four-and-a-half-hour film was a masochistic exercise in engineered defeat. Next up: The Travelling Players!)

It's too early to tell whether having to watch feature films across several days is helping build my memory, or crippling it, whether I'll discover new epiphanies in the externally-imposed pauses or just have to acknowledge that yes, I demand that the integrity of time-based arts be respected and I am nothing but a debaser, slicin' up eyeballs and such. In any case, I'm not watching as many DVDs as I used to, partly due to lack of time, partly due to the fact that most films don't adequately compensate for the frustration encountered in just making it through to the end. The jury's still out, but I'm finding that the digital discs are quite a bit more versatile than I'll probably ever be.

(Note: the title's an homage; the original Long Pauses can be found here. Darren's well worth a look.)