Archive for the Film Category

Commercial Philosophy?

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Deleuze, Film with tags on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In an interview with Cahiers du cinema following the publication of his cinema books, Deleuze describes his experiences in the cinema while studying as a philosophy student and the similarities he found between the two forms. In his studies, he was drawn to philosophers that were interested in introducing “real” movement to thought, so it’s no surprise that he found a commonality in film, an art form of movement. He finds cinema to be highly adept at displaying spiritual life, or as he defines it, “movement of the mind” (Deleuze 366). “The brain is the screen,” thoughts being the construction of molecules linked together in time (Deleuze 366). Deleuze turns to cinema when philosophical problems lead him there looking for answers, but the relationship goes both ways.

The part of this interview that most intrigued me was when the interviewer asks about the crisis of the cinematic auteur. The crisis being the current proposal that everyone is an auteurs, and bad ones at that. Deleuze answers with a discussion of the differences between advertising and art. He notes that advertisers that call their work “the poetry of the modern world,” have failed to realize that no art is created in regards to the public’s expectations. (Deleuze 369). Advertising is most definitely created with the expectations of the public in mind, even when it strives to shock. Art is created from the opposite of this, from unexpected places and thoughts. Here then he says there is no such thing as commercial art. There is art that is wildly popular, that requires financial means, or that is bought and sold, but if it is art, it is not commercial. The term auteur refers to artwork, but not everyone creating film is an auteur for Deleuze. A work of art should ask new questions, probe problems, and create new space and time, exactly what an auteur should be doing through film.

Considering Deleuze sees such similarities between cinema and philosophy, I was wondering what would be considered the commercial opposition of philosophy. Perhaps it is the entire genre of self-help books. In a way they traverse some of the same avenues as philosophy, for instance probing questions about how one should live, but again, we can see how Deleuze makes the distinction between advertising and art. Self-help books are constructed with the expectations of an audience in mind and seek to provide answers, however flimsy they may be, instead of breaking new ground and furthering inquiry into the basis of the questions they ask. Self-help books may become best sellers, but they appeal to a lower level of thinking that craves easy answers just as Deleuze describes poor cinema as appealing to the lower brain circuitry of violence and sexuality.

-HB

Gilles Deleuze, “The Brain is the Screen”, in Gregory Flaxman (ed.), Brain is the Screen:Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 365-373.

Images of Sound

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film, Theater and Performance with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Applying Deleuze theories on temporarily to sound and music is very interesting. First it is a reminder that image is not only the visual image but any fluctuation within the fabric of the environment that affects our (or any organism’s) perceptual sensors. More importantly the temporal characteristics of sound is different from the moving image. Sound necessarily unfolds through time and a still or snap shot of sound is not imaginable. Music has also been created for thousands of years with primitive tools and without a technological apparatus mediating between creator and the images. One of the first mediation affecting the temporarily of music, at least in terms of its production, was the invention of systems of musical notation. Recording technologies pushed this separation further but at the same time created a reaction to emphasize on the zone of indeterminacy in improvisational music.

Roulette was hosting an opening concert for the 3 day event on ‘Improvisation and Technology’ in conjunction with Department of Music at Colombia University and NYU. The interesting irony about that event was that unlike most of the times that technology, as mentioned above, is being used to decreases virtuality, in this events, it was used to intervene into the regular flow of music to make unexpected happen.

The setup of the stage, with more than 30 computers and different conventional and experimental instruments on the stage, was promising failure to some extent from what had been planned. In many pieces improvising machines were being used to create effects based on what the musician was playing and forcing the musician to change what she was playing, creating a loop of reactions to make the result of the piece completely out of control of the musician. In some other pieces looping machines were recording and looping parts of the performance based on some algorithms creating overlaying and juxtapositions of time.

In overall there were very interesting and state of the art experiments in pushing improvisational music into the extreme to allow the most unexpected to happen. This is also in relation to Deleuze’s idea of desert island that something bold and novel does not happen as a continuation of what had been but as an eruption.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert islands and other texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e) ;, 2004. pp. 9-14

The Time-Image and Crystal-Image

Posted in Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film on May 12, 2012 by immanentterrain2

While Tarkovsky is a great example of the time-image, Bela Tarr is in some ways even more extreme in his long-take aesthetic choices.  As these 2 shots from Damnation (1988) illustrate, his ability to incorporate concrete time and movement into how his stories are told is masterful.  While Tarkovsky often paints his images with a romantic sense of color and movement, Bela Tarr’s images are Black and White, stark, artificial, and bleak, infused with an existential malaise that feels straight out of a Film Noir at times.  While Deleuze’s examples of Time-Images are almost counter intuitive to his arguments, many examples found in the films of Tarr and Tarkovsky illustrate supreme examples of the combination of concrete time and movement within a shot.  In arguing for a Cinema of Time-Images in which the images and movement unfold over concrete time, Tarkovsky illustrates an alternative sense of montage in which the link between frames can be made within the frame as well.  Bela Tarr’s supreme example of a Time-Image found within his masterpiece Damnation is, for me, a slightly better example than the one from class and infinitely better than the Ozu shot referenced in Deleuze’s book.  In fact, the example from class, taken from Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), feels to me more of an example of Crystal-Images due to Tarkovsky’s layering of his personal, virtual memories over actualities from the present such as his mother’s voice.  Tarkovsky made 2 films about the virtual and actual colliding (Mirror and Solaris) in the way that Deleuze describes the Crystal-Image as virtual being made explicit within the actual.  When Kelvin finds himself on Solaris at the end of the film, this is the epitome of the Crystal-Image as his memories have been made explicitly actual on another planet.  The whole film is about the virtual becoming actual, and the film is sometimes interpreted as about Schizophrenia, which it could very well be.  Mirror is the same way, but exists in a film world between Documentary and Fiction.

In Pervert’s Guide To The Cinema Slavoj Zizek deconstructs this scene through a Lacanian interpretation, essentially concluding that once Judy is transformed into the figure of Scotty’s lack, he satisfies his desire so that the second loss of Judy/Madeleine is a true loss.  While the interpretation, for me, was quite interesting and actually makes sense when I heard it a year ago, to think of the film in a Deleuzian sense opens it up to infinite possibilities.  Hitchcock’s films, and especially Vertigo (1958), are often interpreted in a Psychoanalytic light, and they also signify the link between the two semiotic systems of cinematic expression that Deleuze examines in his books on Cinema.  His films without a doubt hold a very important place in the history of Cinema.  While I would argue that Time-Images and Crystal-Images probably sprung up before the split Deleuze discusses in his books (Man Ray films are all about Actualizing the Virtual and deterretorializing the image), Hitchock’s supreme Crystal-Image in this clip from vertigo stands for me as one of the few good examples Deleuze gives of the virtual being made explicit in the actual.  Scotty’s virtual memories of Madeleine are made explicitly actual as the camera whirls around them when they kiss.  In this sense, Scotty is not trying to satisfy a lack or obtain the figure of the Other or any of that, his quest to reattain Madeleine is more about escaping the restrictions of time and memory, and essentially the very Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalytic system Hitchcock is often examined with.  It is strange that Vertigo is not associated with Schizophrenia as much as it is with Psychoanalysis.

It seems to me that, from Deleuze’s examples and his description of it, in order to achieve a crystal image, semiotic structures must be created over time within the film’s own system and manipulated so as to represent virtual or actual elements that are ultimately connected, layered, and made explicit within/over one another.  My question is can there be an immediately given Crystal-Image?  Does one need to establish a structure of significance in order to manipulate it into a Crystal Image or can one just be plucked out of or appropriated from the mileau?  Within a single autonomous Time/Movement-Image, can a Crystal-Image be created?  What does this image where virtual and actual collide imply for media that has become assimilated into cultural consciousness and has essentially become shared cultural memory, which would be rather high up Bergson’s cone of pure memory, such as the Zapruder Film or images of the atomic bomb blasts?  Are these immediately given Crystal-Images based on their combination of virtual memory and actual event?  Would that mean that Crystal-Images depend on our cultural sense of semiotic images, memory, and the virtual/actual?

Jeff

Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989. Print.

Film-Thinking in Documentaries

Posted in Deleuze, Film, Process Ontology with tags on May 4, 2012 by immanentterrain2

To have an encounter with the film that one is making is a compelling idea that stayed with me from last week’s session. David Lynch’s Inland Empire and the discussion about films without scripts that proceed the filming made me think about documentary films, which are generally unscripted. Most of what happens in front of the camera is not predetermined, but an event with unanticipated consequences and meanings. I am not suggesting that there are no agendas involved – the choices of what to film and how are made more or less intentionally by the filmmaker, as are the things said and done by the subjects in front of the screen. However the outcome of the whole that is captured is generally less planned for, than in fiction films that follow a concrete script. To be surprised by life in front of the camera is one of the reasons why I have developed a strong attachment to the documentary form and non-fiction films. Of course the process of discovery is not always as fruitful as it potentially could be. Often there are preconceived ideas that guide the filmmaker and make the film just another representation of a specific idea, not a possibility for something new to emerge. Nevertheless I think that in its nature the documentary form has good prerequisites for the real encounter between the filmmaker, the film and the world.

However there is also a paradox built into the general understanding of documentary form that inhibits the full freedom and potential for something new to emerge. It is the common understanding of documentary as somehow representing reality “as it is”. Even if there is an acknowledgement that the film is always different from the events that were captured,(due to editing as well) the assumption remains that a reality in documentary should resemble more or less the reality outside the film world.
Hence even if we go along with David Frampton’s (2006) claim that film produces its own way of thinking, I would argue that the distinction that is made between documentary and fiction is making us expect the thinking of documentaries to be much closer to everyday thinking and cognition processes. This makes the documentary process fall too easily into the preconceived categories of understanding.

I am not advocating this paradox to be completely resolved, since I feel there are films where the explicitly “life like” character of the film is relevant for its reception. For example in documentary films that advocate a concrete cause. However I think it is necessary to also approach the documentary genre as an art form in becoming, so that the established notions would not predetermine all possible developments. To provide an example I am posting one of my old time favorites – Peter Greenaway’s short film H is for House. It is an example that in my view manages to go beyond the established notions of documentary form, initiating a distinct film-thinking

Piibe Kolka

References

Frampton, David. 2006. Filmosophy London: Wallflower Press

Object Memory

Posted in Art, Deleuze, Film with tags on May 2, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Last week’s discussion of Daniel Frampton’s book Filmosophy, as well as the brief mention of object ontology, had me thinking about artists outside the medium of film using metaphors of the mind. In his book, Frampton traces a rich history of writers considering film as analogous to the operations of the mind, be it as a record and reproduction of perception or as a representation of mental states. The most difficult proposal to swallow in Frampton’s text is his insistence of film’s autonomy. He writes, “for a ‘film-being’, filmosophy wishes to place the origin of film-thinking ‘in’ the film itself. There is no ‘external’ force, no mystical being or invisible other. It is the film that is steering its own (dis)course” (Frampton 73).

This kind of mental leap, that’s conceptually interesting but hard to take literally, reminded me of the work of Fred Wilson and his description of the “memory” of objects. He is most well known for working with existing museum collections, re-contextualizing their collection to expose gaps, injustices, and buried meanings through the form of exhibition display itself. In his first major museum intervention, Mining the Museum (1992), Wilson was given access to the Maryland Historical Society’s entire collection. Pulling objects associated with African American histories and slavery, Wilson created tableaus pointing to complexities the previous displays had ignored and how meaning is created through museum display.

Fred Wilson, Untitled (Pride & Prejudice), 1993, concrete sculptures, lobby of 2 W. 13th St. Parsons

Explaining his interpretation of objects, Wilson has said, “Objects have histories of their making, of their purpose, and their use. This is what I mean by ‘memory.’ Objects have multiple layers of meaning over time and as the object moves from place to place” (Wilson and Graham 213). Frampton and Deleuze describe film as being particularly interesting in that it’s a physical record of perception (by light) and time. I think Wilson’s interpretation of objects is similar in this regard. Objects’ “memories” are formed over time in their physical use and interpretation. By juxtaposing objects in new and surprising ways, Wilson seeks to expose forgotten meanings while actively creating new ones. We discussed Frampton’s emphasis on solely the audience/film experience devoid of filmmaker context as being detrimental to his argument. What I find interesting about Wilson’s work is that the scenarios he manufactures operate at a nexus between artist, object, and viewer. Each piece benefits from a greater understanding of Wilson’s practice but relies on the embedded memories of both the object and a varied audience.

To me, the “memories” of objects can be seen as the virtual in Deleuze. They lay latent in the object until made actual by audiences, and because there are multiple meanings, they can be in varying degrees of becoming. Wilson writes, “Meanings, like memories, don’t go away. They can be suppressed, but they remain within, waiting for someone to reveal them.”(Wilson and Graham 214). The meanings of objects are imbedded in an immanent plain of existence and shift between virtual and actual as revealed by Wilson and his varying audiences. Wilson uses the metaphor of memory to evoke a meaning without implying an autonomy of objects that imbues them with the sort of cognitive power Frampton gives film.

-HB

Frampton, Daniel. Filmosophy. London: Wallflower, 2006. Print.

Wilson, Fred and Graham, Mark. “An Interview with Artist Fred Wilson.” The Journal of Museum Education, Vol. 32, No. 3. 2007. 211-219. Print.

New Ways of Seeing

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Film, Immanence with tags on April 29, 2012 by immanentterrain2

The first time I saw the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse I felt I had been caught off guard, disoriented.  The film ends with a string of desolate shots without any narrative progression, shown one after another.    For most of the film we had been following the drama of the central characters.  Suddenly, for the last seven minutes, the characters we have come to know have disappeared — and yet the film continues.  We see deserted streets, shadows, anonymous strangers.  Without the characters to ground us in story, the presence of the camera itself seems stronger.  We become aware of it as an apparatus, a seeing-device that acts as its own separate entity.  There is camera movement (panning, following a figure walking on a street) which suggests that something is about to be revealed; it seems Antonioni is trying to tell us something.  There are some wide, long takes from above that slowly pan around as if surveying the streets. Trees rustle in the wind.  A man in a suit rounds a corner.  A toddler looks up at his mother.  A close up of a man’s earlobe.  A stream of water flows into the gutter.   “Yes, what is it Antonioni?” I remember thinking, “What are you trying to show us?”  I was searching for meaning, for story.  A streetlamp burns brightly.  The music crescendos.  The film is over.  There is an elegance to this sequence that I cannot quite explain.


(a clip from the last seven minutes of L’Eclisse)

This Italian neo-realist film is a break from “classical” filmmaking, in which the director shapes chunks of reality into comprehensible segments.  Through continuous editing, the film takes on a coherent perspective that places it in relation to a world that is otherwise chaotic and absurd.  The perception of one’s life as a linear progression with a chain of cause and effect is reinforced through continuous editing.  People’s lives are invented as stories with a beginning, middle, and end.  A film that shows a continuity of action reaffirms our belief that there is a logical order to things in this world, that we are in control of our actions and can predict their outcomes.

Film theorists of the mid 20th century, such as Siegfried Kracauer, speak to the issues of living in a modern society where, as we’ve heard before, the question shifts from “how should one live?” to the more daunting and open-ended question of “how might one live?”  Kracauer says in a period when religion or ideology are not imposed upon the individual, people become fragmented beings, living in a weird abstractness.   Cinema can be a way to ground oneself, to make sense of things, in this new and orderless world.  In Siegfried Kracauer’s Theory of Film,  he suggests to get rid of this uncomfortable state, we turn to cinema, as it is a way to reach the full potential of the immediacy of physical reality.  It’s about showing us what’s real, what’s tangible. He applauds film for its ability to reveal truths that go unseen in daily life.   Kracauer is not necessarily saying that cinema is life-affirming because it feeds us a logical order around which operate; rather, he values the way the camera can isolate objects and show them in ways previously unimaginable, bringing back life into them.

Deleuze speaks of smooth and striated spaces.  Smooth spaces allow for happenings that are more intuitive or spontaneous.  In contrast, striated spaces are those that limit, confine, and schematized.  Classical cinema can be described as striated because it is mapped, defined, coded — it uses a system of symbols that with pre-determined meanings.   The shots “speak” to one another, meaning they connect or associate with each other in a predictable way.  Cinema becomes smooth when meaning becomes unpredictable, when images take on associations that could not have been conceived of prior to their creation.  Deleuze does not say that modern cinema is necessarily defined by a lack of narrative.  Of modern cinema he writes “suppose a character finds himself in a situation, however ordinary or extraordinary, that’s beyond any possible action, or to which he can’t react […] when we find ourselves in those purely optical and aural situations, not only does action and thus narrative break down, but the nature of perceptions and affections changes, because they enter a completely different system from the sensory-motor system of “classical” cinema” (On The Movement-Image, 51).  

It is in this way that we come to appreciate existence in a new way that functions differently from the automatic responses embedded within the codes of society.  Deleuze espouses this type of “cinema of immanence” in which there are no preconceived notions or givens — everything happens as it unfolds. For me, this is embodied in L’Eclisse.  

 

J.C.K.

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Resources:

Kracauer, Siegfried.  Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.  Princeton: Oxford University Press, 1960

Deleuze, Gille. On The Movement-Image,”  in Negotiation 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 2000.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. 1987

 

The Place is the Film

Posted in Deleuze, Film with tags on April 23, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Nathaniel Dorsky’s films were mentioned a few times in the last class. As I had the chance to see them recently and thought about their relation to our discussions, I decided to write up my impressions and share them here. Dorsky came to The New School a few weeks ago for a Doc Talk event. There was a screening of three of his recent films: Compline (2009), Aubade (2010), The Return (2011),  followed by a discussion with him.

His films are silent and consist of shots of objects, bodies, light, movement, colors, sometimes quite abstract sometimes more identifiable. As there is no “plot” in the sequences it is not really possible to describe what happens in the film. In fact the only thing I can describe is what happened to me while watching the film. Furthermore it became apparent in the discussion after the screening that the viewers experience is the only “story” that Dorsky himself is aiming for with his films.

The first thing I remember asking myself during the screening was “Where am I? What is this place that I’m in?”. I was trying to make coherent sense of it, trying to understand what I was shown. It took me a while to give up the search for a story. Even in the broadest sense – to give up the need for continuity and clear associations and to realize that in his works “the place is the film” (Dorsky in MacDonald 2006: 87, original emphasis). I saw it as a highly aesthetic world, but a world where everything cannot be immediately recognized. It was not the aesthetics of the everyday, rather of a rare moment I have lost myself in, observing something “too closely” or for “too long”. For a moment I even thought of it as an aesthetic that is not primarily for human beings. Because humans are often too noisy, too fast, too anxious to see the world in a way it was captured in the film. Also it seemed that for the same reason one sees very few shots of human bodies in Dorsky’s films. I realized that I had to be very much present to enter this world. After the screening Dorsky said that when the viewers understand that the films are actually about themselves and nothing external to them, that is when they start to see the films. When the viewer stops searching for the story that is being told, then she can actually start to see the film as a purely visual experience. Dorsky’s films are not references to something external, but about the exact moment when in his words “the camera touches the world” and he invites the viewer into this experience.

Explaining his journey to film making Dorsky shared his discovery of haiku. This is the art form that he felt came the closest to his deepest life experiences and to the way he wanted to express himself in film. The logic of haiku is close to his logic in editing – first there is a description of something and then the next line (shot) breaks down what was established and a third (shot) line makes a connection again, but with something completely new. It is interesting to note that Tarkovsky also talks about the comparison of haiku and film. In his understanding the real poetry in film resembles the poetry of haiku, through the act of pure observation. “What attracts me in haiku is its observation of life – pure, subtle, one with its subject.” (Tarkovsky 2008: 66).

This approach to film resonates with Deleuze’s discussion of the development beyond movement-image and towards pure optical-sound image (Deleuze: 2007). The meaning of a situation does not emerge from a purposeful action but from the pure description (in case of haiku) or pure observation (in case of film). For me this is an experience that Dorsky establishes with his editing – whenever there starts to be a clear association or a continuity developing, he breaks it to bring the viewer back to the pure optical-sound image, to the pure observation. However he is not working towards total chaos but creates an echo that would weave the piece together: “I started to learn relationships and you realize that if you put two shots together that were similar that wouldn’t work. Because the mind would start to find conceptions, parallels between the two things – this red shirt and this red flower: the idea is red. But if you took them and you moved them – if you find the right distance, just like a spark. Let’s say there is two shots between them. When this red came on, and then two shots after that, this red came on, it would echo. It’s not a conception idea.”(Dorsky: 2011)

 Somewhere in the last third of The Return there is a shot of two pairs of feminine hands “conversing” by a coffee table in bright sunlight. It is a prominent moment in the film because we suddenly see human movements that haven’t occurred previously in the film. However by that point the film has taken the viewer so deeply into the experience of the light, colors and movements that the sight of the gesturing hands is completely altered. Their movement becomes a movement in itself, without an explanation, without the desire to hear the accompanying voices, to know what the conversation is about. Because it is about the movement.

Piibe Kolka

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 2007. Cinema 2. The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Continuum: London

Dorsky, Nathaniel. 2011. “Forest Roads. Conversation with Nathaniel Dorsky” in “Lumière” June 4, 2011. Interview by Francisco Algarín Navarro and Félix García de Villegas Rey. http://www.elumiere.net/numero5/entrevista_dorsky_en.php

MacDonald, Scott. 2006. “Nathaniel Dorsky (and Jerome Hiler),” in A Critical Cinema 5. Berkeley: University of California Press

Tarkovsky, Andrey. 2008 Sculpting in Time. Trans. Kitty Hunter-Blair University of Texas Press: Austin