Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Radical Honesty

If it's so hard to make up one's mind once and for all about Hara Kazuo, it might be because the radical honesty of his films always seems to run along two apparently mutually exclusive lines: on the one hand, his honesty is complete, including honesty about the unpleasantness entailed by his being present to shoot the material; on the other, one is never quite rid of the suspicion that this honesty is used as a cop-out to avoid questioning said unpleasant issues ("How can you blame me for it, since I'm showing everything upfront!?"). In other words, one is never quite sure whether it truly is a radical honesty, or a truly dishonest radicality: for all the discomfort his films provoke, how much of it stems from the audience's unease with being confronted with the uncanny, unfamiliar, and often shocking images of whatever repressed social phenomenon Hara is observing? And how much stems from principled rejection of the any-means-necessary approach Hara has to his material, which often seems to entail brutality to those being filmed at the same time as it does brutality to the viewer?
The triangular relationship of filmer-filmed-viewer rarely holds a place as important as it does in his works, but it has also rarely been more difficult to establish and define. In Goodbye CP (a wishful title, as the film ends with main character Hiroshi's desolate acknowledgment that Cerebral Palsy is not to be wished away), the film is as much a product of the patients as it is of the cameraman. At times Hara is clearly used to orchestrate, enable, and record Hiroshi's projects, such as a poetry reading which becomes interrupted off camera. The film is partly financed by Green Lawn, the organisation formed by the patients shown, and we are privy to a board meeting halfway through the film in which the question is raised of whether to continue filming or not. As in the case of the other film of Hara's that I have seen (The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On), then, the film at some point becomes about its own making, about how a filmed person takes control of a film and uses it for their own end. It also is, insistently, about the unwillingness to stop filming, the desire to record everything, even against the wishes of those being filmed.
In the later film, however, showing Okuzaki Kenzo requesting that Hara stop filming (when he was being detained by the police) was a breath of fresh air, a comic interlude which suddenly showed up Okuzaki's playing to the camera, and opened up a critical space for the viewer between the man, his cause, and the means he uses for it. In Goodbye CP, Hara films victims of cerebral palsy; and arguably, it is precisely this reaction of discomfort that he is questioning: should it be any different because they are ill? To which the answer might be: would it be acceptable to film someone who refused to be filmed even if they were healthy? But then again, the answer might equally be: but is not the fact of showing them resisting filming, renegotiating the film as it is still being filmed, the very least Hara can do to let these people keep their dignity? It is in this uncomfortable space, between the affront to the film-maker as a request that he ignores (for the sake of the film, thereby establishing a rather distasteful power-play with his own subjects) and its inclusion as a very strong indictment of his own role (he behaved in an objectionable manner at least once during the shoot. Is this unwillingness to lie about it enough to excuse it?), that debate about the sadism of Hara's method probably mostly happens.
But in the particular case of this film, the issue is made far more complex by the last scene. The film, at this point, has been full of absolutely unforgettable sequences: Hara asking passers-by who give the Green Lawn money why they did it, as if asking the viewers why they are watching the film (“Does it really help?” is the implied question: are admirable motives enough?); Hiroshi and his wife yelling at Hara to stop filming, while the others berate Hiroshi for endangering a collective project... In the last scene, Hiroshi sits naked on an empty road, making us look at his body, and then starts crawling uncomfortably across the road. The belles ├ómes would have us believe that it is the souls of those affected by CP that count, but those who are ill know that the reason we notice them (but would rather not) is their bodies. Hiroshi and Hara force us to look at the body as a body, as an impediment to action rather than a means to it. But on the voice-over, Hiroshi details his feelings about the film at the end of shooting.
It is often taken as a badge of sincerity on a film-maker's part to question what his film has brought to those he filmed, to ask who is using who, to acknowledge that probably, in the end, his actions as a film-maker had little positive impact on the actions of those he filmed (after all, Ici et Ailleurs, one of Godard's greatest films is based on precisely these kinds of questions). But in Goodbye CP, Hara lets Hiroshi do something else: he tells us himself what his hopes had been for the film, how these have been dashed, and how the film has failed to make any positive impact on his life. This text, running over harsh images of impotent movements, bring us back to Hara's initial question: what are we contributing? What did watching this film achieve? Faced with these images and their voice-over, we are denied one of the last resorts of traditional radical documentary watching: identification with the director. For once, we do not commiserate with a director's impotence. We are confronted with a subject's own admission of defeat. It is this refusal to make Hara's defeat into an aesthetic object, but his insistence to make Hiroshi's loss of hope the real failure, that may very well be Hara's most radical and welcome move.

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