Worlds Viewed: Spring Breakers


One of my long-standing dreams is to teach a class on cinema and the concept of world. It’s a topic that runs through the writings of numerous film theorists. (Possible readings would include Stanley Cavell, André Bazin, Annette Michelson, V. F. Perkins, Parker Tyler, Daniel Yacavone, and Jennifer Barker.) It is also, frankly, one that I have found to be somewhat ill-expressed in most film theory, which is why I would split the course readings between film theorists and figures in phenomenology. (Possibilities here include Heidegger, Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, Aaron Gurwitch, Iris Marion Young, Hubert Dreyfus, and Maxine Sheets-Johnstone.)

The screenings for this course would all center around characters encountering a new world. I don’t mean this in a fantasy sense. There would be no stepping through wardrobes into uncharted realms, here. Instead, I mean encountering a new configuration of possibilities: adjusting to a new social role, learning new skills, abiding by new constraints, adopting new goals … or, in the worst case, failing to, and losing the meaning of one’s life as a result. Screenings would potentially include Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara Hiroshi, 1964), Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Werner Herzog, 1974), Perfumed Nightmare (Kidlat Tahimik, 1977), My Brother’s Wedding (Charles Burnett, 1983), Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1999), Une prophète (Jaques Audiard, 2009), How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, 2010), and Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2013).

And, as the title of this post implies, Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012). Since its theatrical debut four years ago, Spring Breakers has been a favorite in University of Chicago Intro to Film courses, particularly as a way of illustrating nontraditional editing techniques. I’ve never taught it in that context, but I have been itching to include it in a class, as it remains one of my favorite films of the past decade. Below the jump, you’ll find a long-overdue appreciation of it.

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Wow, I’m Old: Syndromes and a Century


I no longer remember the exact date at which I first saw Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006). I do know that it was at a screening at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which screened all of the films made for the New Crowned Hope Festival sometime in the first week of September 2007. That means that I first saw Syndromes and a Century a decade ago … a disheartening thought.

I keenly remember an energy crackling in the MFA screening room while I was watching Syndromes and a Century, in excess of the film itself. Syndromes isn’t just a great film. It was also a personal revelation. For a moment, in that theater, I felt as if I had reached out and directly touched the beating heart of contemporary cinema. I felt privileged to be seeing a work so vital. I carried that energy with me for several years, as I moved to Chicago and immersed myself in its film culture, wearing out my CTA card traveling to the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Music Box Theatre, the Nightingale, Facets, Chicago Filmmakers, the Chicago International Film Festival (where I saw Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Onion City Film Festival, and of course the neighborhood treasure that was Doc Films. I kept up with the cutting edge of world cinema, of art cinema, of experimental cinema, riding a high that began that September in Boston.

I no longer feel as if I have my finger on the heartbeat of contemporary cinema. The movies I see these days tend to be new works by directors I already like, and have liked for a decade. Every now and then I’ll take advantage of the footwork done by stellar programmers and expose myself to something entirely new. But I have fallen off the cutting edge of cinema. True, a lot of this is because I now devote my time and energies to keeping up with the indie game scene. (And, of course, television is better these days.) But it still makes me feel out of touch. And, frankly, old.

Anyway, I decided to take this 10-year anniversary as an opportunity to do something that I tried to do for a decade and never succeeded at: actually write about Syndromes and a Century.

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