The Poverty of Allegory: A Review of Angelicism’s Film01



, #philosophy, #art,
#crisis, #retromania, #corecore

Nearing a month after the release of their film, Onty is back with an extension of their CoreCore arc. Wrapping up Trace 61, the creator of Ultra-Core Anxiety 2023 takes a long look at Angelicism’s Film01, a cult film that sits close to the heart of this CoreCore topic.

“The mystic…[is like] the Pope in his own realm, and has the infallible power to open heaven and hell with his own key…[this is] a form of dogmatism…” — Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Ausgabe seiner Werke [my emphasis]

“The logic of extinction is in question…the logic of extinction is simply knowing how you are going to die, the way we're going to die to live forever...there are no limits to the end of the world...the logic of extinction is an unbroken, divine sentence" — Film01

  In her review of Film01 for Spike Magazine, writer Madeline Cash details the arduous process of attending one of Film01’s exclusive screenings. An online form and questionnaire must first be filled out. Those few who make it off the waitlist receive details as to the location of the screening only hours before the event. Vague and alarming warnings are sent to the attendees — there may be the possibility of a mass shooting; the film is dangerous, it is a ‘cult induction event’. Only after hurdling these curated ritualistic entrées can the viewer -or critic- experience the main course, the three-hour Film01 itself. This induction imitates the style of its enigmatic director, who liberally flirts with esotericism, occultism, and lore-building. Attending Film01 mimics the structure of becoming a disciple - the trick is to catch the master’s gaze by playing his game. By then it is too late : you’ve become part of the art. I did not experience this induction into Angelicism’s oeuvre myself, however. This was not really my choice —it is doubtful I would have been able to attend a screening even if I had filled out the form. Instead, someone who knew someone who knew someone sent me a link to the film. They had read my recent piece on CoreCore for Becoming.Press, which mentions Film01, and mentions that I had in fact not yet seen it, and were generous enough to slip me in through the digital back door. So I experienced Film01 in my daylit studio apartment, through tinny laptop speakers, and with a lunch break — admittedly, not the environment the director had in mind.

It is unclear which of the various versions of Film01 is canonical - or if there even is a canonical cut. The version I experienced came in just under three hours in length and is, to my knowledge, the original form of the film on release. This version is the ‘New York cut’, i.e. the version first screened in June of this year at Anthology Film Archives’ Courthouse Theater. This is the version that has been subject to reviews so far. Angelicism’s instagram account dedicated to PR for the film, @angelicismfilm01official, has promised later showings in Zurich, and perhaps also somewhere in France, as well as a second showing in New York in August. These will be showing a ‘recut and compressed’ version of the film. And then there are whispers of the “Paradise Cut”, which is supposed to be several hours longer. Rumors abound.
           Film01 is in fact oversaturated by rumors — I’ve heard all sorts: that Angelicism fired his editor late in the production process and had to cut much of the film himself; that his inner court on Discord was displeased with the production process; that Angelicism had a falling out with Charlotte Fang and the whole Remilia crypto crowd; that Angelicism isn’t really online anymore; that Angelicism is a cult; that it isn’t a cult; that Angelicism is ‘creepy’; that Angelicism was spawned in the depths of the Kali Yuga Accelerationist Miya - adjacent occult neonazi 4Chan subculture; that Angelicism, actually, is anti-racist; and so on. As an outsider to this “scene” I find myself having a hard time parsing fact from fiction — I’ve never even been to the United States : I missed the Vibe Shift. But beyond all the secondhand information, it is hard to miss the various red flags: the flirtation with late-Landian cryptofash dogwhistling; the publication of articles with titles like “Somebody Please Columbine The Entire The Cut Editorial Staff'' and “The R*tard List”[my modification]; the fact that most of Angelicism’s acolytes seem to be very young women (young women are, as per Angelicism’s own words, more receptive and ‘fluid’); the -ironic?- performative self-mythologization and self-labeling as a ‘cult’, etc. Every discourse’s merit is in some sense a balancing act between cost of entry and insight. The labyrinthine defenses of Angelicism present a high entry cost — so why watch Film01? What is the insight we glean from watching it?    
           In so many words, Film01 presents as somewhat of a crystallization of a cultural logic which ought not to be left without critical attention. Angelicism has certainly put their finger on something, a logic that goes beyond the de jure construction of a niche LARP and -rather electrically- touches upon the de facto nature of a certain cultural underbelly. It is easy to dismiss the aesthetic tenets of Angelicism as mere moodboard: the liberal application of the ‘bloom’ filter, overexposure, the recycled imagery of sundogs, sunrises and sundowns, the phatic speech, the angel wings, the Christian symbolism, the (by now utterly played out) use of 911 footage in postnetart montage, rainbows, clouds, anthropocenic disasters, the deepfried application of face filters, God rays… and so on.  It is also easy to dismiss the lore-building and pseudo-Landian-Derridean-Whatever style of Angelicism’s writings as another piece of niche, para-academic esoterica hyperfocused on the occult, AI, extinction, and the various other usual suspects of dissident post-CCRU or NRx-adjacent scribblings. But these dismissals are premature — they underplay both Angelicism’s formidable (albeit niche) influence and the substance of Film01’s ideology, which can’t just be reduced to a collection of inside jokes. Insofar as the ‘Vibe Shift’ is, to paraphrase its author, not about Dimes Square, or any other social clique but is rather a kind of collective apprehension of the apocalypse into the socius, then I in fact did experience the Vibe Shift - arguably, we all have- and thus Film01 is presenting a position, something which exists outside of merely New York and Substack. Film01 -insofar as it is about anything- is about extinction, it presents a certain theological perspective on the destruction of human life.  And the nature of this position -particularly why and how it ultimately fails- is the insight which warrants an exploration of Angelicism’s work. Before we turn to this evaluation, however, It’s worth describing the experience of watching the film itself.    

           WATCHING FILM01
So what does watching Film01 boil down to? Right now the two paths of entry are clout -the front door- or bootleg filesharing -the back door. Once you have your hands on it -assuming you have the ‘New York Cut’- Film01 is about three hours of mixed media edits that feels kind of like CoreCore. The opening thirty-odd minutes are kind of a slog and feel a bit underedited. Long clips from youtube, tiktok, and instagram are played with barely any cuts. Occasionally a white layer is hard-mix composited on top of the footage to produce a whitewashed deepfried effect. A half hour(ish) passes and the titlecard, Film01, is shown and the ‘central chunk’ of the film begins, which feels much tighter and has more momentum. The last hour or so slows down again, reintroducing long, uninterrupted cuts of people going on walks. In this way, the film’s pace mimics a workout or a sprint - there’s a warmup, followed by an explosion of exertion and intensity, and then a cooldown. Clips range from found-internet-footage to hyper referential videos of Angelicists wandering around (mostly) New York. I recognized a few (there were likely many more) of the Angelicists or Angelicism-adjacent characters featured in the film - including Alex Bienstock, Honor Levy, @poorspigga, @Spiraljette, and @onlineobserver01, who is almost the star of the film and appears in several drawn-out sequences. Dasha Nekrasova was in the film as well, although, as per Madeline Cash’s account, this didn’t dissuade her from ditching the NY screening before it was over. A variety of editing styles are deployed. Long drawn out sequences of Japanese highschoolers performing acrobatics, book readings, and meandering conversations are left virtually untouched. Sometimes the footage ascends into a high-speed montage barrage of memes, instagram posts, tweets, and selfies. Angelicism’s main moodboard is preserved: Christian iconography, angels, overexposure, rainbows, pollution, the sun…The film doesn’t ‘fade to black’, it ‘fades to white’. There’s thematic coherence throughout. The film ends -no spoilers- with a surprisingly tropey final shot; but it is maybe inappropriate to call the shot ‘final’ since the film lacks any narrative structure. Most of the voice-over work and dialogue is talking about extinction. The general thematic beats of the voiceover are consistent with the way Angelicism discusses extinction in their Substack — a good picture of the relationship Angelicism draws between extinction and film can be found in their article on CoreCore, which I discuss critically and at length in my Becoming piece — more on this later.   
           The fact is, however, that as much as Film01 is about having a universal position on extinction, watching the film simply is a hypereferential experience- it is quite often a collection of inside jokes; an Adam Curtis or Ron Fricke -esque portrait of a niche subculture’s collective effervescence. As Madeline Cash notes in her review, despite its protestations Film01 cannot deny being a bit of a highlight reel or yearbook — which is not to say the ‘vibe shift summer’ isn’t interesting, but in a film it feels like the equivalent of enduring a friend’s photoreel after they’ve returned from a trip to Spain.   The film, ostensibly, is about something that transcends mere clique, but this is contradicted by the referential nature of the film’s hyperfixation on a scene and its darlings (hello, Dasha Nekrasova…). This referentiality and exclusivity is in fact steeped at all levels of the film. The ritualized and gatekept access required for even watching the film follows the same logic —you have to know someone. The enigmatic director himself resists disclosure, remaining hidden behind curated mytho-autofictions. Crucially, however, these referential aspects are not so easily distinguished from where the film does deal with extinction: extinction assumes in Angelicism’s discourse the position of an undisclosed, infinite hidden object which can only be incompletely registered in our finite perceptions — which can only be ‘referenced’ incompletely via images, iconography, and so on. This is the tension which runs though the very core of the film, and represents to me why it ultimately fails. On the one hand, we have a theological vision (phantasy) of a ‘network spirituality’, total singularity, the infinity of extinction, the principles of Film01… but on the other hand, we have the reality of Film01 and Angelicism:  a film riddled with easter eggs, which is heavily gatekept, and which orients around a mystified vision of extinction. Film01 preaches total immanence, but practices a kind of gnostic transcendentalism…    

It would be unfair to offer anything other than an immanent critique of Film01 — so what are the principles of Film01? As Angelicism puts it, Film01 is supposed to be an expression of filmicity as such — everything is Film01, making the idea of a fractioned filmic ‘property’ redundant:  

“If all footage is available to us, then film01 will be one of the greatest copyright breaches of all time. All footage belongs to film01, yes, but this is already the immanent state of everyday vision in the Internet Era. In fact, it would be more accurate to say: all footage steals from film01 and not the other way round. To go online everyday is to shoot film01 and this is why everyone is purely commanded to join in with film01. What we see each day online is already always ‘editing’—the zero one cut. All that film01 does is to film this (pure) cut.” 
— Angelicism, Principles of Film01

In this way, every piece of found-footage, every film -why not this review, after all?- is part of the wellspring of which Film01 exhibits full expression. The ‘New York Cut’ is merely a part per se of the Film01 as such, which is film itself - all of it, all at once. The pretense of Film01 is thus first and foremost a universality which is itself an image of extinction, an ‘extinction pov’. These are the two structural elements in play for Film01 — on the one hand, a universality, on the other hand, the status of this universality as an image of its own destruction:

“Thought under extinction has no plot, no dramaturgy, no twist, no opening or closure, no suspense. It’s not literal or theatrical. It’s, lets say, pure. It’s a pure cinema, play of light and darkness without a voice-over. It’s the camera indifferently recording glaciers melting. Film01 is the extinction pov. Cinema is a 20th century reality and angelicism belongs to the 21st century. This means angelicism is not cinema. It films cinema. It subsumes both contemporary cinema and the history of cinema. Film01 is not about film, it is about filmicity. It is not about the history of cinema, it is about geology. It cuts where pure cinema meets the TL, where media meets social media. It is what’s looking. It is is are…Film01 is a gaze from the extinction pov.” — Angelicism, Principles of Film01 [sic] 

Despite this description, Film01 does indeed feature quite a bit of voice-over. It may be, as we see for example in CoreCore, that the voiceover is not intended to serve as an external vantage point on the film but merely rather as part of its surface – in other words, another aspect of the film’s general auditory environment. At times this works well, the VO blending into the footage as just another affective current. At other times the voice over (and there is a voice over) does feel a bit documentary-ish, however, as it exhorts on the tenets of Film01 and extinction using language not too dissimilar from the ‘principles’ essay.
           Film01 (the one you can’t watch, not the one that’s everything else) executes on its principles best in its brazen breaching of copyright law; its effective blending of image, video, and audio elements into a seamless but jarring flow; and its atmosphere of slow disintegration. But again, there is a contradiction at the very heart of the film: how can Film01 be universal — how can it be a ‘snapshot of filmicity as such’ — when materially its supposed universality is negated at every turn? The autodidactic spontaneous generativity of audiovisual collage is gatekept behind a ritualized barrier designed to only allow a select few to enter. The very contents of the film heavily features a set of hyperniche starlets, whose presence risks reducing the film to an abstract portrait of a clique. Those who are permitted to view the film on the director’s terms must jump through an esoteric set of hoops designed to further the exclusivity and mystique of the director. There is no possible reconciliation between the purported universality of Film01 and the desperately niche and referential properties of the actual film itself. How can everything be Film01 when Film01 is so nervously hidden — so defended? How can it be that the Universal, of all things, is afraid?  
           This blunt contradiction between Film01’s principles and its cultural position begins to make more sense when we examine the ‘universality’ which is in question for Film01 — namely the extinction for which it serves as POV.  In Angelicism’s essay on CoreCore, they assign the genre the role of a kind of ‘layman’s Film01’ — a “popular extinction theory”. In this view, CoreCore serves to “make of extinction an integral correlative frame, even if it cannot be” — it is an image of extinction’s infinite disintegrative potential from a necessarily finite vantage point. This impossible image, which ‘is and cannot be’, finds in its impossibility the nature of CoreCore as a genre. For this reason Angelicism refers to CoreCore as a “universal tendency” — it is a tarrying with the infinite, a popular theory of the end of finite being realized in imagistic form. I take issue with this depiction of CoreCore, as it denies its true radical potential by reducing it again to ‘Core’, which I discuss at further length in my article on the subject. For our purposes here it is enough to note that, as articulated in both Angelicism’s CoreCore and Film01, the universality in question is to be found in the expression of infinity -extinction- in finite being -the image. The ‘extinction pov’ is a ‘correlative frame’ to an external infinity, a coming God-AI, singularity, anthropocenic collapse or otherwise. This ‘correlation’ (and it is precisely the correlationism which is rightfully the target of thinkers like Meillassoux) is described by Angelicism as “is and cannot be” because it cannot be articulated in the finite determinations of our perceptions, despite obtaining its own external being, its own self-equality. Extinction POV, in this impossibility, is a sort of spiritual ‘sungazing’ (there is much of this, literally, in Film01) — a finite rendering of infinity, or what Friedrich Schlegel called ‘Allegory’.            What is the poverty of Allegory — of the presentation of the infinite in the finite? As per Schlegel, the Allegorical -which was at its core theological- remains relatively inert insofar as it contains no generative element, no genuine rupturing or moving of the finite being — i.e. no genuine confrontation with the infinite. This was relegated for Schlegel not to the Allegorical mode but to Irony. Suffice to say, however, that we can draw a distinction between two types of Universality which are overcomings of finitude. I am tempted by way of analogy to refer to these as ‘good universality’ and ‘bad universality’ after Hegel’s Good and Bad Infinity. In ‘bad infinity / universality’, finitude is overcome in the indefinite delay of its termination, an iterative, linear sequence of {n+1+1…}. However, this remains within the purview of finitude, merely reaching up to infinity through its iterative progression… indeed, in Angelicism’s own words : “the logic of extinction is simply knowing how you are going to die, the way we're going to die to live forever” (Film01, my emphasis). The ‘image’ (knowing) of death (infinity) in life (finitude), i.e. the remaining in finitude, allows for an indefinite prolongation of life — knowing how one dies to live forever. This is an entirely distinct operation from ‘good infinity / universality’, however, which does not indefinitely preserve finitude but rather liquidates it through sublation – through the movement of its own lack of self identity, {n =/= n}. These two universalities, or infinities, are not reconcilable. The first is in fact -as Hegel puts it- spurious, it is not universal at all, as it must define itself against something which it is not, i.e. the finitude which is iteratively preserved. The latter infinity, infinity as such, has no oppositional element, as it sublates that which was its external other into its constitutive contradiction.
           In non-Hegelese, this is just to say that because Angelicism’s ‘Universality’ is a mere ‘image’ in finitude, this Universality is fragile – it does not stand for itself, because it serves only to uphold the finitude of the ‘pov’ – i.e. the subject of Film01. Because this Spuriously Universal Extinction serves to uphold the preservation of a finite POV, it is in fact not a contradiction after all to note that Angelicism’s position opposes universality — their ‘universal’ is merely the mystified and forever deferred ‘end’ towards which the finite POV can forever trail, and thus evade its moment of finite termination : for Angelicism there is no extinction as such, there is only {POV + 1}. This inversion suggests that the real universal in question for Angelicism, that which is truly being preserved, as Mladen Dolar puts it, through the exclusion of an Other which occludes one’s internal contradiction, is not in fact extinction but rather the ‘POV’ itself — the extinction is the excluded Other which, as merely an externalized, unknowable object occludes the real fear: that {POV =/= POV}, that is, the possibility of Good Infinity, the possibility of movement, thought, of extinction —of Death. True infinity needs no defending. But when infinity is reduced to an image around which finitude circles so as to preserve itself, its fragility warrants the construction of defenses. The various auto-fictions, anxious pre-screening rituals, and microscene mythologizations are so many scaffolds for an identity that fights against the very extinction it purports to express: Angelicism’s Allegorical reduction of extinction speaks more to a defensive violence in the face of apocalypse than it does of the apocalypse itself.    

           REFERENCES &
           WORKS CITED
Angelicism’s Film01 is less Jonestown than Snoozefest by Madeline Cash

Film01 Review by Scott Litts

Extinction Cloud: mondina on Film01

Somebody Please Columbine The Entire The Cut Editorial Staff

The Retard List

Principles of Film01: How to Shoot Angelicism Cinema

CoreCore and the Return of Speculative Irony

I Love CoreCore: Thoughts on a New Universal Tendency on TikTok

The Second Vibe Shift, or, the Angels of the Kiss

On Angelicism

Schlegel, F. (1958) Kritische Ausgabe seiner Werke, edited by Ernst Behler, et al. Paderborn: Schöningh

Schlegel, F. (1991) Philosophical fragments. University of Minnesota Press