Film festival: Enjoying “Flight of the Red Balloon”

“Flight of the Red Balloon” is part of the Portland International Film Festival (70 some films, 44 shorts, Feb. 7-23), a movie made in French by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien as a sort of homage to “The Red Balloon,” Albert Lamorisse’s famous 1956 short film about a balloon with a life of its own. It’s the sort of movie that you have to decide, do I like this sort of thing or not? And if you don’t, it’s going to be excruciating — it obeys none of our storytelling conventions about pacing, action, climax, denouement, resolution. Maybe it’s all denouement, but even that’s stretching it. It’s highly unlikely that it will be one of the PIFF movies picked up for a regular run at one of Portland’s commercial theaters, even though it has a star in the cast, the incomparable Juliette Binoche.

So if you find yourself watching it all the way to the end with some pleasure that might even involve periods of inattention? If it’s not “unbearable” as The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy describes it, then what is going on? A pure form of naturalism leavened by some whimsy. And the lives of others responsibly depicted have a certain appeal, an invitation to consideration, that doesn’t have much to do with entertainment. And that’s exactly the criticism most frequently leveled at Hou: He’s not entertaining.

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What is Art Scatter?

Art Scatter is an ongoing assemblage of our cultural material, our occupations and preoccupations, our hand print and shadow on the wall of the cave.

In archaeology the term “scatter” refers to the distribution of evidence of human activity. In archaeological resource surveys, a lithic scatter site denotes the haphazard arrangement of chipped stone flakes struck from obsidian or flintstone during the production of tools such as knives, arrowheads or scrapers. The arc of scatter shows us where the toolmaker squatted; the size and shape of the fragments reveal his craft. A more general artifact scatter may include the maker’s finished tool, as well as pottery, bone or other evidence of habitation, diet or culture of the tribe. A trash scatter – a dump – will include successive layers of discarded or abandoned items, a record of things disused, broken, forgotten. Scatter is thus at once the thing made, how it was made, and its history of use.

Art Scatter is our surface reconnaissance of the contemporary arts and culture landscape (with some subsurface burrowing as well), the arc of our own scatter as we examine the scatter of others.

Art Scatter is thus not to be confused with so-called “scatter art,” those minimalist installations or found environments of randomly collected materials that have aesthetic meaning only by virtue of their chance arrangement.

No, Art Scatter is about the purpose and meaning we bring to creation and observation. We gather, we carve, we leave marks, we study marks. We observe culture, we are part of culture.

— Vernon Peterson

a Portland-centric arts and culture blog