‘Sleep’ is Time

In our discussion of cinema the other day, I was constantly being reminded of Andy Warhol’s films as examples of films that reject continuity editing, allowing the medium to stretch and strive to achieve something new and strange. His films do center around humans usually – a subject or two, but usually the presence of a human on camera takes second priority to Time.

In his first film Sleep (1963), for example, Warhol films his friend, John Giorno, sleeping. The film lasts for over five hours. The subject of this movie is not the man, but the time that passes. It takes five hours and twenty-one minutes to watch the whole film. But the screen images remain – the most part – the same, the whole time. The camera film Giorno while he is sleeping from a few different distances that range from extremely close, to a medium shot, but the action onscreen is always the same, and the adjustment of the camera from close-up to medium shot is the only major activity present in the film. The viewing experience as a result, is not of a false relationship between audience and fictional, onscreen character, but the relationship between the viewer and elapsing time.

This film among others of a similar ilk are as destabilizing as Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale – the camera-image does not establish an environment; it only sees Giorno as he sleeps, occasionally switching to a closer or further position from his face. There is almost the sense the the camera was turned on and left, accidentally, in the middle of the night. The cinematic space is smooth; what ‘happens’ is just what is happening.

The image remains constant, yet distinguishes itself from the long exposure, posed photograph because the subject is not holding his position intentionally, looking for this moment to be captured in the camera. Instead, Deleuze’s analogy of the multiple snapshots (Cinema I, page 5) is in fact applicable as well. It simply happens that the subject’s motion is more subtle, small. The privileged position of the camera allows the viewer to experience the time while being privy to the subtle motion of sleep.

But how is Warhol able to develop this kind of experience that Deleuze attributes primarily to Montage? Sleep is seemingly the Anti-Eisenstein: finding meaning in a lack of ‘between’, relying entirely on what is there. Deleuze writes, “The privileged instants of Eisenstein, or of any other director, are still any-instant-whatevers… The any-instant-whatever is the instant which is equidistant from another” (Cinema I, page 6). It seems though, with Warhol’s film, there is often only one instant, that lasts through time. The space of time becomes smooth because it lacks a delineation between one instant and another – instead of measuring instants (or seconds, or scenes), there is just one single time stretching out it all directions. Warhol’s films do not only explore the medium as it deals with time, they are time passing and nothing else.

There is no moment of redemption, no climax followed by denoument and catharsis, Giorno’s personal details are of no interest. Giorno recalls the creation of the film, “he was looking for a visual image and it just happened to be me” (Warholstars.org). He could be anybody and it would not matter, he is a stand in for the the image of time passing and as it does, the film is also the creation of his continuous becoming.

Interestingly enough, according to Warholstars.org, the filming of Giorno did not last for a whole five hours, due to technical constraints. The film is actually made up much of the same looped footage. The experience of the passage of time is, in a way, false for the audience of the film. But the role of the cinema is not to document, but to create anew. In this way, the time that passes in Sleep is a new time that has never passed before. It is not a rehashing of Giorno’s night’s sleep over and over again. It is the creating of a night sleep that never existed before. It is not a replay of  a becoming that has already occurred, but underscores the notion that becoming is always happening anew.

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One Response to “‘Sleep’ is Time”

  1. morten henrik lerpold Says:

    rtytmn music soft hard space

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