Wednesday, January 04, 2012

First Look ’12: It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve

Masao Adachi is a filmmaker with blood on his hands. An active collaborator with the Japanese Red Army terrorists, he was imprisoned by both the Lebanese and Japanese. Now at liberty and looking considerably older than his sixty-two years, Adachi is making films again. Hopefully, it will keep him out of trouble. Aesthetically radical French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux more or less profiles Adachi in his experimental documentary, It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve: Masao Adachi, which screens during the inaugural First Look at the Museum of the Moving Image.

From the very first frame, Beauty invites a rigorous deconstructing. In footage stylized to resemble home movies, Adachi plays with his young daughter in a park, while his stream of consciousness narration takes stock of his life. Although poetic at times, his command of his faculties sounds spotty. Reluctant to address his revolutionary past directly, he hints at feelings of guilt, doubt, and confusion.

This is a marked contrast to the Adachi Grandrieux interviews directly. He remains a matter of fact Marxist extremist, who defiantly recognizes no distinction between art and politics. Yet, Grandrieux (surely unintentionally) undercuts his authority by slowly blurring his camera’s focus in one sequence and compulsively panning the light fixtures above Adachi in other. The only pure talking head shot is reserved for Kôji Wakamatsu (director of the even more unintentionally revealing United Red Army), his comrade in filmmaking and in arms, who praises Adachi as an “outlaw.”

To all but the most radicalized, Grandrieux’s choice of illustrative film clips from Adachi’s oeuvre will also be distancing. Rather than scenes from Wakamatsu’s riveting but relatively mainstream Caterpillar, which Adachi wrote, we see episodes of locking-and-loading, didactic propaganda voiceovers, and an apparently fatal sexual assault. At one point, Adachi bemoans the inability of 1960’s revolutionary movements to reach the common people. This is why.

Indeed, many of Grandrieux’s striking images undercut the revolutionary program. Adachi’s sweet-tempered little girl is a timely reminder there are things more important than the scientistic dialectics Adachi venerates. The images of him wandering through downtown Tokyo (a capital of capitalism) lit up brighter than Times Square at night amid throngs of energetic young people is also probably not intended to look so appealing. Indeed, Adachi resembles a ghost surrounded by life in full bloom.

Clearly, Grandrieux recognizes strong visuals when he captures them. Fascinating in its use of avant-garde techniques, whether Beauty succeeds or not depends on what you expect from it. It is never a conventional biographical survey, nor does Adachi ever really take stock of his past actions and their implications. However, it is will be a treasure trove for critics and scholars seeking material to interpret according to their preconceptions. It screens once and only once this Sunday (1/8) as part of First Look at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.