Panel 2: Film and Location



Panel 2: Film and Location

“The Urban Ecology of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson

Caren Irr (Professor and Chair of English, Brandeis University)

“Shooting Location, Cine-Hydrology, and The Revenant

Mario Trono (Associate Professor of English, Mount Royal University)

Q & A

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24 replies
  1. Caren Irr says:

    Thank you, Mario, for this very stimulating talk. I’m really interested in your account of green film as a kind of ecotone. I wonder if you have more to say about whether this kind of analysis would necessarily work against an auteurist vision–for example, by undermining the individualist and anthropocentric presuppositions of such an approach. Do you see anti-auteurism as a necessity for ecologically astute filmmaking?

    • Mtrono says:

      As a further thought, I guess I am advocating a shifting (shifty?) critical pluralism, concerned more with changes in eco-critical social consciousness than I am in finding the one shining, consistent, and best path to ‘proper’ examination of cinema. But that’s really just an acknowledgment anyway of the pluralism that’s out there anyway if one considers the totality of approaches to film going on at once. My fantasy, of course, would be for critics to be able to go rogue in terms of copyright violation and undertake whole movie re-cuts in order to draw out–or outright create–eco themes, elements, affects, etc. using the materials that corporate entities use to saturate societies’ visual fields. One can dream. 😉

  2. Mtrono says:

    Thanks, Caren, am looking forward to seeing your video either tonight or first thing in the morning.

    That’s a fantastic question. My sense is that filmmakers may or may not aspire to auteur status (that is, behave and create like auteurs, as I believe someone like Iñárritu does, a director who is so ‘out there’ in the field of reception for his films) but either way they cannot ultimately control reception, interpretation, or remediation. That is not to say they do not have enormous influence over the public (especially students) with their statements of directorial intent and the formal structures of their films which obviously encourage some kinds of readings over others. But I see what you’re getting at and will say, yes, my argument accepts as axiomatic that audiences (and especially critics) must be ready to dispense with intentionality and read against film texts (ideologically and otherwise) as necessary–or NOT, as necessary. I mean, if ecocinema critics are activist in the sense of wanting readings of films to carry eco-critical; agency on the cultural field and to have effects well, they may need to be flexible, depending on the film. I would not read against the Italian film Gomorrah (2008) for example, as it is brilliant ecocinema that aesthetically and intellectually beats at least this critic to the punch. But I somewhat read against a film like The Revenant because of some of its tropes, though, as you saw, I find other features promising if placed within various eco-critical contextualizations. Frankly, I would welcome auteurism lite, or not, depending on what that impetus and the resulting films DO or do NOT do ‘out there’ in reception. There is precedence for what I’m advocating, of course: the sea change, from a feminist perspective, in North American cinema since the 50s. Audiences, filmmakers, activists, critics, over decades, changed film and film reception and continue to do so. Any further thoughts? Please feel free to disagree, qualify, etc. 🙂

    • Caren Irr says:

      Hi again, Reading against director’s intention seems totally reasonable to me, especially in the context of a film like The Revanant; you show so persuasively how the significance of land and site in Alberta differs substantially from the use made of it in the film, and that difference certainly authorizes a new reading. I guess I was wondering whether a “new materialist” would imagine multi-species agency as resulting in new forms of multi-species auteurism. Or, in the case of your interest in cine-hydrology whether we might envision something like a hydro-auteur?

      • Mtrono says:

        Well, the term ‘multi-species auteurism’ is just delicious, that would be a lot of fun to theorize. For me though, new materialism, with its ascribing of agency to assemblages and forms of matter, seems rather at odds with the term ‘auteur’ which has always functioned it seems to me as a kind of valuation of one player’s/actant’s agency over another, at the expense of acknowledging the full spectrum of agencies (and their networks) that come together to produce any kind of process or phenomenon. There may be recent articulations of auteur theory I haven’t heard of though that might make it seem otherwise to me.

  3. Mtrono says:

    Caren, a comment more than a question. You really helped me understand why I felt the way I did after watching Paterson. I felt good but was never sure exactly why. I think it’s because the film is a kind of consolation, a harmonious vision, and functions in a creative (hence positive) mode. Your eclectic mix of references (which are not eclectic but organic in the frames of the film)–(eco)stoicism, modernist/postmodernist tensions & resolutions, and Buddhist mindfulness–all combine with the harmonious framing, along with the diegetic aspect involving balance between the protagonist’s poetic and workplace labours. Seeing it all as such is to be like Paterson (or Jarmusch) himself, surviving in a creative mode. Very interesting and thanks.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Caren, Thank you for you focus on urban ecology, as well as your application of ecostoicism, an approach that might apply well to a documentary Joe and I have explored, *Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo.* Before watching *Paterson* I was skeptical, primarily because Adam Driver served as its protagonist (maybe because of his role in *Francis Ha*). I enjoyed the film in spite of Driver, but your reading of the film and its relation to its director Jarmusch as auteur added reason to my emotional responses. Thank you for illuminating your perspective on ecostoicism with such a careful close reading of the film’s stylistic elements. Including a non-Western figure may also add weight to your reading. Do you think you could apply this intriguing approach to select mainstream Hollywood films?

    • Caren Irr says:

      Hi, I think that certain themes verging on ecostoicism appear in Hollywood films, though usually as a moment to be overcome (kind of like a queer relationship relinquished in favor of a “happy” heterosexual ending). I’m thinking here of something like Timon and Pumba’s ecotopic moments in The Lion King–a set of relations that Simba must reject in order to take his supposedly rightful place on the throne. As for non-Western films with a related sensibility, I have been considering, in another context, Abderrahmane Sissako’s Heremakano (Waiting for Happiness) in this vein. I’m sure there are others. Some of Takeshi Kitano’s work comes to mind. Japanese filmic aesthetics post-Ozu are certainly a huge influence onJarmusch.

      • rlmurray50 says:

        I can definitely see ecostoicism in some of Takeshi Kitano’s films (one of my favorite filmmakers). Thanks for introducing me to Sissako’s *Waiting for Happiness*–I hope to access it soon.

  5. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Mario. Thank you for your enlightening talk. Your reference to the Bechdel Wallace test made me smile. We have struggled with the power film might have to change audience behaviors. Our work on cli-fi highlighted that viewing a spectacular mainstream film like *The Day After Tomorrow* may enlighten audiences about the reality of climate change (at least temporarily), but such knowledge does not necessarily lead to behavioral changes. I most appreciated your exploration of water in the film.

      • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

        Hi Mario:
        Robin is involved with the Dogs and Eco Trauma presentation. Me, too. Liked your reading on Revenant. I especially hate how the white man is always able to shoot a first nation opponent from a moving horse with a single flintlock pistol. Those moments are very confounding.

          • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

            We saw that doc and just about every western we could get our hands on before writing Gunfight at The Eco Corral:Western Cinema and the Environment. Revenant is pretty predictable, but your eco reading gives it the nuance it needs for a complete analysis. It’s such a rip of Man In the Wilderness. One reason we wanted to see it. Leo replaces Richard. Now Leo needs a hit song, too.

            • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

              But I forgot to add that your cine-hydrology approach is really forceful and has people looking again at this dominant in this film. It’s a very productive analysis and since we work on water all the time I would say it opened my eyes to ways of seeing that I haven’t always thought about by using your approach. It’s a nice way to open up this film for us.

  6. Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

    Hi Mario,

    Good to ‘see’ you here! I don’t know if you remember, but at SCMS in Toronto we had a stimulating conversation about environment and agency discussing Reichardt and Benning after your panel. I wonder if you might have any thoughts on connecting your two presentations?

    The concept of the ecotone as not only an area mediating two biomes, but mediating between biome and subject/biome and media seems particularly useful to me. Thinking back to your SCMS presentation, would you consider this ecotones to be sites of trans-corporeality, or sites that promote the possibility of trans-corporeality?

    The larger argument about eco-cinema rendering a region describable also really resonates with the Energy Humanities seminar that was held on Sunday of SCMS. Could we say that one potential of eco-cinema here – and I think we could call this an activist mode of eco-cinema, or as you point out one of the goals of eco-criticism – would be to render those sites of trans-corporeality describable? Or even such a process describable?

    As a side note, cine-hydrology also works well with The Pearl Button, the film I’m talking about here.

    Thank you for your talk!

    • Mtrono says:

      I remember you and our conversation very well! And I enjoyed your talk ‘here’ at Clockwork but am still trying to formulate a proper comment/question.

      I’m very restless and peripatetic when it comes to terms these days, landing on trans-corporeality or enmeshment in my reading of others before trying out my own (ecotone, cine-hydrology) because I’m really feeling dizzied by the sheer interconnectedness of things (subject/biome/techne/media) inside process. Am stunned by the complexity of it all. It’s a feeling that is really tweaked by the fact that so many of our concepts and analytical modes strain to express the depth of relations and the at-onceness of, well, everything. Cognitively, it seems, at least to me, that we must take things one at a time, and it’s the same as we read or type, while at the same time the whatness of any zone of phenomena DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. I know that this sense is common in the environmental humanities, but anyway, yes, conceptually the terms ecotone and trans-corporeal are homologous in many ways. Thank you for nudging me to think about that. As I have been arguing here and in other threads though (and in my book, now in peer-review stage), I wouldn’t say that it’s eco-cinema that renders sites of trans-corporeality describable. Eco-cinema is an affective forcing agent; it gives insights to us about relations by staging them; it does lots of other things but it’s critics like us who provide deep description of the linguistic, typographic kind. I think that eco-critics co-author eco insights on the wider cultural field WITH cinema.

      I’m off to re-view your presentation. Cheers Matthew!

  7. jefffilipiak says:

    Mario, I enjoyed your presentation.

    I too find it striking that “The Revenant” places so much attention on overcoming nature. (And it is certainly not alone in this regard, among films of the past decades.) As you point out, the press material helped frame this as a tale of ‘males struggling amidst environments where nature poses great challenges’… even as we live in a world where nature has been so dramatically transformed, where humans have so much power over nature (and where, as you note, many potential dangers can be avoided – and were, by the crew).

    I explored some of these ideas in a blog post, – I am glad to see you developing related ideas, and doing so in more depth than I did.

    I think the struggle to overcome challenges posed by nature is part of the film’s overall interest in ‘individual survival in a hostile world.’ I agree that some pauses to look around feel odd; I think Iñárritu is trying to make some kind of connection between the different types of challenges, use the setting as some type of context, but can’t always make that clear enough, perhaps?

    • Mtrono says:

      I think you’re exactly right–he doesn’t make it clear enough what those pauses mean, and that would be totally okay in terms of offering a rich ambiguity except that the less fortunate aspects of the story and its framing counteract what would otherwise be very interesting. It DOES become interesting in the folds of eco-criticism nonetheless. I’m off now to read your blog post, thanks for passing it along. 🙂

  8. jefffilipiak says:

    A few miscellaneous thoughts for Mario:

    I liked the range of your presentation – bringing together a nice set of material. And I appreciate the admission of complexity of these issues at the start.

    Interesting example here of how the media campaign may have placed constraints on how the film was interpreted. (I have spent time thinking about other ideological narrowings which the film engages in.)

    As someone who blogs about snow appreciation, I was disappointed that you did not provide a little more on water in the film in its frozen states – ice and snow 🙂

    I appreciate that you as an Alberta resident developed this. It helped to have your perspective as someone who knows the region well.

    • Mtrono says:

      Well thanks for this comment too, Jeff. ‘snow appreciation’ Love how you put that! I’m hoping in my monograph chapter on the film to spend more time on water states, thanks for reminding me to get on it. Cheers.

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