Vietnamese-American Avant Garde Films: The Blindness Series

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I first heard about T. Kim Trang Tran at the Flaherty Film Seminar many years ago and have been fascinated with her work. She’s been making experimental films since the early 90s and is one of the only three accomplished Vietnamese experimental filmmakers that I’m aware of in the US. The others are Trinh Minh Ha and Nguyen Tan Hoang. Tran started working on The Blindness Series since she was in graduate school. In an interview, she says that her purpose for making these films is to address the fear of blindness and its opposite, which is vision. This motive stems from her inspiration by the philosopher Jacques Derrida and his theory of binary opposition. There are eight films in the series-- Alethaia, Operculum, Kore, Ocularis, Ekleipsis, Alexia, Amaurosis, and Epilogue: The Palpable Invisibility of Life. Each one tackles the theme of vision loss through various social, psychological, historical, sexual, and political issues. What struck me most was how different they are. However, the marriage of style and theme in each film is not arbitrary. For each film's structure fits perfectly with its subject. I didn't see them in order since they each stands on their own. I'm really inspired and compelled to write about the films but I don't just want to write about them in a conventional sense. Add to the fact that I'm not that good at writing and has a bullheaded background in experimental filmmaking. All in all, cinema is a visual and aural art form. You just have to see and hear the films to be moved by them. So I want to play with different ways of writing hoping to do justice to Tran's effective pairing of structure and content. The way that I write each film is different. I played with textual imagery, inverse text, mirror text, hidden text, missing text, and multi-language text to make each method of writing relevant to the theme of each film. I'd like the reader to break out of his/her comfort zone when reading the article and hopefully will try to see the films someday. They are difficult to get but are available from various distributors in the US. Many thanks to Tran and Third World News Reel, I got to see the films and here is what I have seen with my male Vietnamese slanted eyes.

1. Alethia

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2. Operculum

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3. Kore

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4. Ocularis

There is lots of surveillance footage in this film with audio recording of people testifying and confessing their desires, fantasies, and experiences with surveillance technology. These audio recordings are like anonymous phone hotline. Their recollections touch on the issues of morality, privacy, race, gender, emotional attachment, and more. The film doesn't say if the technology is good or bad for you but rather it focuses on the diverse and inverse relationship of technology and its users. Another interesting thing that comes up to me, which the film does not go into detail about, is how the characteristic of surveillance video and the surrounding at which these viewers experience it contributes to their attitude toward the video's content. When we watch a surveillance video, most likely it's static, monochromatic, and grainy. Already, the quality of the video imbues boredom. If the footage was sharp and colorful, there would be more of a spectacle. Also, the way we watch the footage influences our judgment toward what we’re seeing. In the film, there is a woman who falls in love with a man in the video that she edits. He doesn't know her but she knows him. If she was sitting in a working van or in an office with people around her then I don’t think she her feeling would be that intimate. The unsettling surveillance footage at the end showing a bunch of Asian thugs killing one another underlines Tran’s subtle way of implying the degradation of a male dominated society.

5.Ekle_ps_s

Th_s _s my favor_te p_ece of the ser_es. _ts marr_age of techn_que and content _s perfect. The ma_n v_sual strategy _s that _mages br_efly stay on screen for only short moments and then cut to black. Sort of l_ke the feel_ng of hyster_cal bl_ndness. As _'m watch_ng, every t_me an _mage cuts to black, _ see an after _mage. The trace of the _mage rema_ns due to the pers_stence of v_s_on. _n th_s f_lm, what the Cambod_an women have gone through w_th the Khmer Rouge was so horr_f_c and _ntense that the_r pers_stence of v_s_on rem_nds them of the pa_nful exper_ence even after many years have passed. The _mages _ntercut w_th black v_deo are of objects kept by the women such as jewelry, watches, t_ny Buddha statues, and eyeglasses. They r_sk the_r l_ves to h_de these belong_ngs from Khmer Rouge sold_ers. The jewelr_es are a symbol for these women's w_ll to l_ve and courage. They succeeded _n keep_ng them from the_r tormentors. As to aud_o, there are var_ous narrat_ons _n the f_lm. One of them talks about a Cambod_an woman named DP who has hyster_cal bl_ndness and _s su_c_dal. _ was hop_ng to see and hear the real vo_ces of these women but the f_lms showed none of them. Perhaps _t m_ght have been too pa_nful to actually talk about the_r trauma or perhaps they all have moved on. Also at the start of the f_lm, there are factual accounts of Cambod_a's h_story on a p_ece of paper. The camera just hovers above the sheet l_ke a fly uncerta_n and undec_ded of where to land. You can't really read what _t's about. _ really hope the women can forget the_r pa_nful h_stor_es.

 

˙ʎɹoǝɥʇ ǝƃɐʇuoɯ s,uᴉǝʇsuǝsᴉƎ ɟo ʇɐɥʇ ǝʞᴉl 'uoᴉʇɐʇǝɹdɹǝʇuᴉ pǝzᴉsǝɥʇuʎs ɐ ǝʇɐǝɹɔ oʇ sʞɹoʍ oslɐ ʇɐɥ┴ ˙ƃuᴉuɐǝɯ lɐnpᴉʌᴉpuᴉ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ʇɔnɹʇsuoɔsǝp oʇ ɹo/puɐ ǝzʎlɐuɐ oʇ sʇɹɐdɹǝʇunoɔ lɐnʇxǝʇ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ɥʇᴉʍ suoɔᴉ ɟo ʇǝs ɐ sǝsodɯᴉɹǝdns ǝɥS ˙sɥdʎlƃoɹǝᴉɥ ǝɥʇ ǝʞᴉl sloqɯʎs puɐ 'ǝƃɐnƃuɐl uƃᴉs ǝʞᴉl sǝɹnʇsǝƃ 'suoɔᴉ lɐnsᴉʌ ǝɹɐ ǝɹǝɥʇ 'ʇxǝʇ puɐ ɥɔǝǝds ǝɹoɟǝq ǝɔuᴉS ˙ɥʇnɹʇ ǝɥʇ oʇ ʞɔɐq ƃuᴉǝǝs ʎllɐnʇɔɐ sᴉ ssǝupuᴉlq pɹoʍ 'llǝM ¿ssǝupuᴉlq ɥʇᴉʍ op oʇ ƃuᴉɥʇʎuɐ ǝʌɐɥ sᴉɥʇ sǝop ʍoH ˙ɐpᴉɹɹǝp ʇnoqɐ ƃuᴉʞuᴉɥʇ sʇɹnɥ pɐǝɥ ʎɯ ɥO ¿ƃuᴉuɐǝɯ ǝʌᴉʇᴉuᴉɟǝp ou sɐɥ ʇᴉ ɟᴉ ƃuᴉɥʇǝɯos ɟo ƃuᴉuɐǝɯ ǝɥʇ sᴉ ʇɐɥʍ oS ˙W ɹǝʇʇǝl ǝɥʇ sǝɯoɔǝq ʇᴉ 'uʍop ǝpᴉsdn M ɹǝʇʇǝl ǝɥʇ ʇɐ ƃuᴉʞool ǝuᴉƃɐɯI ˙ǝlƃuɐ ʇuǝɹǝɟɟᴉp ɐ ɯoɹɟ ʇɐ ʞool ɟᴉ ʎlʇuǝɹǝɟɟᴉp pǝʇǝɹdɹǝʇuᴉ ǝq uɐɔ ʇɐɥʇ ɹoɥdɐʇǝɯ lɐnsᴉʌ ɐ ʎllɐɔᴉsɐq sᴉ ɹǝʇʇǝl ɥɔɐƎ ˙ǝʌᴉʇɐɹɐdɯoɔ puɐ ǝʌᴉʇɐlǝɹ sʎɐʍlɐ sᴉ ʇxǝ┴ ˙ǝƃɐnƃuɐl uǝʇʇᴉɹʍ ɥʇᴉʍ pǝssǝɹdxǝ ʎllnɟ ǝq ɹǝʌǝu uɐɔ ɐǝpᴉ llnɟ ǝɥ┴ ˙ʇxǝʇ ɥʇᴉʍ sᴉ ǝɯɐs ǝɥʇ 'ʎlɹɐlᴉɯᴉS ˙ɹǝƃɹɐl ƃuᴉɥʇǝɯos oʇ ƃuᴉʇuᴉod sᴉ ʇɐɥʇ ɹǝƃuᴉɟ ǝɥʇ ǝʞᴉl sᴉ ɯlᴉɟ ǝɥʇ 'ʇɔɐɟ uI ˙ɥʇnɹʇ ǝɥʇ sᴉ uooɯ ǝɥʇ 'ʎllɐɔᴉsɐq ˙ƃuᴉɥʇ ǝloɥʍ ǝɥʇ ʇou puɐ ɥʇnɹʇ ǝɥʇ ɟo ʇɹɐd ɐ oʇ ƃuᴉʇuᴉod ʎluo sᴉ ɹǝƃuᴉɟ ɹǝɥ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuᴉʎɐs uɐɹ┴ ɥʇᴉʍ spuǝ ɹǝʇɐl ɯlᴉɟ ǝɥ┴ ˙,,uooɯ ǝɥʇ ɹoɟ ɹǝƃuᴉɟ ʎɯ ʇǝɹdɹǝʇuᴉsᴉɯ ʇou op,, oʇ ƃuᴉʇuᴉod ɹǝƃuᴉɟ ɐ ǝǝs no⅄ ˙ɥʇᴉʍ ʇno sʇɹɐʇs ɯlᴉɟ ǝɥʇ ǝʇonb ǝɥʇ ɟo ƃuᴉuɐǝɯ ǝɥʇ ǝlƃooפ oʇ pɐɥ

ɐᴉxǝl∀ . 6

 

7. Amaurosis

This is an Đây là một phim inspirational tài liệu cảm hứng and a straight forward documentary và thẳng về tay guitar on the guitarist Nguyễn Đức Đạt, who was born with người được sinh ra với blindness mù lòa and found music as a beacon of hope và tìm thấy âm nhạc là hy vọng. The film wisely Bộ phim không doesn't delve đi sâu too much quá nhiều on the hardship vào những khó khăn that Dat went through mà Đạt đã trải qua because it bởi vì Đạt doesn't không phãi là victimize him nạn nhân and therefore begs và do đó đặt ra for the audience's sympathy cho sự đồng cảm của khán giả. Even though Nhưng mà, the part where nơi Dat Đạt subtly rebukes quở trách the American music industry's ngành công nghiệp âm nhạc của Mỹ glamour toward image đối với hình ảnh more than music hơn âm nhạc is particularly sad đặc biệt buồn. Instead Thay vào đó, the film bộ phim focuses tập trung on Dat's happiness vào hạnh phúc Đạt, his fortune tài sản của ông, and his vibrant và tính cách sôi động của mình personality and talent và tài năng. Through his life Thông qua cuộc sống của mình, he feels lucky anh cảm thấy may mắn for coming to the US đi Mỹ and able to play và có thể chơi song những bài hát from his idol từ thần tượng của mình Andre Segovia. He cheerily Ông vui vẻ remarks nhận xét that being an Amerasian là một con lai is cool and không thể nhìn thấy that not being able to see frees anh ta giải phóng từ him from the interruption sự gián đoạn of the visual world của các thế giới hình ảnh to make his music để làm cho âm nhạc của mình. I looked Tôi nhìn him anh ta up on Youtube trên Youtube and listen và nghe guitar to his cổ điển wonderful tuyệt vời classical guitar work. Even though Mặc dù he's unable to see anh ấy không thể nhìn thấy, he's touched many people anh ta xúc động nhiều người with his music với âm nhạc của mình. That's Đó là his advantage thế của mình and he's và anh ấy very proud of that rất tự hào về điều đó. When the filmmaker Khi đạo diễn làm phim gives him a flute cho anh ta một cây sáo as a gift như một món quà, he immediately anh ta ngay lập tức recalls v the sound of the wind thanh của gió, of nature của thiên nhiên, instead thay vì of concerning about learning liên quan đến việc học how to play it như thế nào để chơi nó. Perhaps Có lẽ, he looks at his anh nhìn vào tình trạng eye condition mắt của mình the same way theo cùng một cách, as a natural phenomenon là một hiện tượng tự nhiên that extends his sense of hearing kéo dài cảm giác nghe âm thanh của mình., not a disability. He seems to be at peace Đạt dường như được bình an and doesn’t beg và không cầu xin for anyone’s sympathy cho sự thông cảm bất kỳ ai. Likewise Tương tự như vậy, we shouldn't chúng ta không nên let our compassion để cho lòng từ bi của chúng mình effect ảnh hưởng tới the way we love his music cách  yêu âm nhạc của Đạt because vì the quality of his guitar chất lượng chơi guitar của anh ta playing stands on its own đứng trên riêng của nó. In other words Nói cách khác, even if he’s niếu anh ta not blind không mù, his talent tài năng của mình is still amazing vẫn còn tuyệt vời.

 

8. Epilogue: L'invisibilité palpable de la vie
La dernière pièce de la série est un mélange brillant des gribouillis de Jacques Derrida, l'enregistrement de la voix de la mère de Tran, et une échographie de l'enfant à naître de Tran. Particulièrement émotionnelle est d'entendre sa mère lui dit avec lassitude d'être fort et d'avoir des enfants. Cela me rappelle les paroles de sagesse de ma mère. L'utilisation de Tran de points audio de sa mère à la façon dont l'image de son enfant est en cours de création, par ultrasons. Aussi, étonnamment, la date de naissance de son enfant est la même que la date de décès de sa mère, qui signifie la réincarnation. Tran références à la Derrida paternel en se concentrant sur la face de la thème principal, qui est la capacité de voir. Non seulement voir ce qui est directement en face de nous, mais aussi apparemment invisible et imaginaire, comme son enfant à naître et sa mère, qui est maintenant de l'autre côté.

 

Afterword

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Interviewed by Abraham Ferrer:

http://arttorrents.blogspot.com/2008/01/tran-t-kim-trang-occularis-1997.html

Another Interview:

http://middleburycampus.com/article/kim-trang-has-an-eye-for-blindness/

Lynn Sach’s writing

http://www.lynnesachs.com/medium/writing/tran-trangs-blindness-series-my-letter-to-helene-cixous-08082006/?fcat=10

Third World News Reel

http://www.twn.org/catalog/makers/makerbio.aspx?rec=1009

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