THE MOST INTERESTING AND DIFFICULT PART OF ANY CULTURAL ANALYSIS, IN COMPLEX SOCIETIES, IS THAT WHICH SEEKS TO GRASP THE HEGEMONIC IN ITS ACTIVE AND FORMATIVE BUT ALSO TRANSFORMATIONAL PROCESSES.
It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a movie.
He reaches up, stretching, reaching to touch the edge of the awning, and continues. Striving to get beyond some sort of persistent lack of beginnings, or endings. Finding everything always already there, given. Continuing farther, walking faster, pushing to get through the flow to get to the source. And beyond. “Now since boredom as shown above is the root of all evil, what can be more natural than the effort to overcome it? Here, as everywhere, however, it is necessary to give the problem calm consideration; otherwise one may find oneself driven by the daemonic spirit of boredom deeper and deeper into the mire in the very effort to escape. Everyone who feels bored cries out for change.
With this demand I am in complete sympathy, but it is necessary to act in accordance with some settled principle.”1 In principle, many concepts are based on a hierarchical arrangement that distinguishes one aspect from another. Arranges activities according to ways of thinking of which they are not in control. For example, a separation is often made between seeing and looking. Between the implication of the idea of what we consider to be simple observing and more careful penetration. One being associated with passivity; the other with activity. Why separate? Why distinguish? Why notice? Are you looking? Are you reading? Do you see? We need to see. We need to participate. However, participation in even our own lives becomes difficult when access is blocked by painful memories, lingering memories of failure and defeat. Our own images, lost forever in a mixture of confusion and irony. And, since ONLY AS AN AESTHETIC PHENOMENON IS EXISTENCE AND THE WORLD FOREVER JUSTIFIED, we are pushed even farther into an appreciative state of silence, stasis. The aesthetic must be overturned, aesthetically, in order to undermine the overwhelming weight of helplessness. Only the noise of the unintelligible can re-arrange the senses so that the goal can be seen. “A seeming trivial anecdote may illustrate this: while shooting a scene in Diary of a Country Priest Bresson instructed an assistant to have a man without a hat walk through the background of a scene. When, a short time later, the assistant told Bresson that the bareheaded man was ready, Bresson corrected him saying that he didn’t want a bare headed man, but a man without a hat.”2 Later desiring another kind realism, some turn to the cinema. Fidgeting, nervous, rolling the ticket stub between his fingers, he waits for the feature to begin. In the world, the theater, we resemble, each other in our search- alone, yet together, thrown together, sharing the same given experience yet interpreting it with wildly different methods. “The man in the back seat made a sudden flashing movement that I sensed rather than saw. A pool of darkness opened at my feet and was far, far deeper than the blackest night. I dived into it. It had no bottom.”3
It was dark enough to allow sight, dark enough to see. See the mouths move. Watch the words fly. The approximations of resemblances to the lives of others is intriguing, unusual, and comforting. What refuge have we here? Possibly only the comfort of action coinciding with sounds; of the coincidence of action and words. Possibly more still. “For what is our advertising, what is our ‘success’ fiction in the average commercial magazine, what are our cinematic representations of the ‘good life,’ but a vast method of determining the criteria of a nation, and thus its conduct, by the assistance of art?”4 The theater of art protects by nature of the pleasure it affords. By its comfortable position outside of an active position, in the arena of description. The position outside invites a passive response. A watching. The everydayness of our lives can lead to a static restlessness. A numb acceptance of whatever is given. But the helplessness must be broken. Thoroughly. “Soon we shall find that an energy is locked up in everyday life which can move mountains and abolish distances.”5 THE COMFORT OF THE DISTANCE BETWEEN ART AND AUDIENCE IS UNCOMFORTABLE! (unidentified graffiti) Maybe it is just the synch-sound, happy ending quality of the narrative. The continuous stream of flickering faces interrupted by darkness and followed by premonitions of things to come. Hollis Frampton (1936-1984) once noted the mistaken necessary connection between what is seen and what is heard (but he is no longer with us.) Billy Kwan, observer, photographer, tried to preserve the propre in his world, but finally, gave up. His final message: SUKARNO- FEED YOUR PEOPLE! Linda Hunt is still alive. “The question of whether the poet should speak or be silent, of whether language is in a condition to accord with his needs, is a real one. ‘No poetry after Auschwitz,’ said Adorno, and Sylvia Plath enacted the underlying meaning of his statement in a manner both histrionic and sincere.”6 Garry Winogrand, dying in Tiajuana, recorded more, still. In moments of reflection, pauses, the object threatens to overwhelm the subject. Conscious of being photographed, the subject looks away. “In most of the portrait photographs he is looking down, his right hand to his face.”7 Her own portrait is different- confident, relaxed, dark and mysterious dressed in black, with the support, literary, of books, words, staring straight at the camera, diffident. She is aware of her own self-consciousness. He knows nothing about it. “At the same time as he interrogates himself, we are interrogating ourselves. The place of his interrogation is the film, the text. This is not simply a question of self-consciousness. It is consciousness, first and foremost, of a text and the effect of this text is like the effect of an active intruder.”8 We need a theater of light and darkness. Films with their sound playing in theaters filled with the noise of the street. “I no longer think that the future of cinema simply lies in a full use of all available codes. I think codes should be confronted with each other, that films are texts which should be structured around contradictions of codes.”9 “The task is by no means easy.”10 That which seeks to activate, to engage, sometimes succeeds only in depressing. “Misfortune and misery are very potent in turning people’s heads, and drive one person to the lunatic asylum, and another to the morgue or the gallows.”11 Others are driven to museums. To the continuous streaming parade of progress. Portraits. The continuous stream of flickering faces interrupted by darkness and followed by premonitions of things to come. In the theater, we need a camera that moves. A picture of the imaginary apparatus. Breaks in the film. A radical audience. A critical audience. “Re-inscription, discontinuity and heterogeneity, caught though they themselves may be in the imaginary, make possible by displacement unsuspected changes in the symbolic.”12 “It would be paradoxical indeed if film, a form still in its infancy when these changes took place, could restore the sense of direction that the other arts often seem to have lost.”13 Retracing, remembering the loss, we’ll try to move backwards- the jarring abruptness of seeing ourselves photographed backwards. Lifting our eyebrows in reverse. Running behind. The sound is jumbled, but preferable to silence. The strangeness of the foreign image must be recognized for what it is. Its quirky, novel character. A kind of unusual novelty to prod one out of the boredom. Momentarily. But, reliance on novelty or escape into the past holds a danger. “We should not oppose to the catch-word of ‘shelteredness,’ the equally worn-out idea of the dangerous life; who wouldn’t want to live without anxiety in this world of terrors?”14 “An obvious limit also exists in regard to roles in sexual interaction. And here one must attend to the complexities involved in the question of changing frame conventions. A ‘daring’ act on stage or screen strikes at two matters: what producers can get away with staging and what actors can stage without becoming personally contaminated. The recent legalization of hard-core pornographic films would seem to reflect more change in the former than in the latter. When, in Gerald Daminano’s The Devil in Miss Jones, the heroine slices her wrists in a tub and commits suicide, there is no question of the actress, Georgina Spelvin, being there after identified as someone who has acted this deeply reidentifying deed. The suicide is merely called for in the part; any actor in character is prepared to commit it. But the acts which Miss Jones commits while waiting for her assignment in hell, while certainly called for in the script, are not ones that Miss Spelvin will be able to easily dissociate herself from. At least currently. Yet, of course, the open acceptance (and even the seeking) of notoriety can itself be a move in the direction of legitimation, and the current willingness of players with conventional reputations to accept some contamination no doubt is both cause and expression of a change in framing conventions.”15 “That is why I patiently waited for the key to the puzzle. After a rather long wait, a very beautiful young brunette stepped out of the confessional, her hands folded, her face pale and enraptured: with her head thrown back and her eyes white and vacant, she slowly eased across the room like an opera ghost.”16 “It is not very entertaining; it is only a break in the action. Most have other things to worry about anyway. On the second row, an elderly woman wonders if the heat in her apartment will be repaired soon. It has been broken for four days and she is trying to spend as much time in public places as possible. Staying in heated restaurants, bars, theaters and hotel lobbies trying to stay warm. The majority of the members of the audience are worried about money. They feel guilty about spending money for entertainment but need the distraction to forget their worries.”17 “Calling for sanity or social justice, peace or freedom, equality or democracy- or any combination or all of these- we will first seek to realize them simply by voicing our hope. Co-opted, fooled, defeated, we will return to protracted struggle and relearn its terrain.”18 “This admirable gesture is furthermore capable of a thousand nuances ranging all the way from peevish revenge to a gay ‘I’m free at last,’ except, that is to say, when he is not shaking off an invisible thread attached to his leg.”19 Or, when the audience realizes that they are riding in the back of the cab. The film image refracted through the lens. The street scene reflected in the mirror. That they are part of the filth and grime. That, along with Travis Bickle, they are waiting for “a real rain to come” and wash all the evil away. But, they’ve paid for it. Together. They are communally alone, in the dark, watching. The show continues.
1Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. David Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson (Princeton, 1971), p. 287.
2Paul Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972). p. 63.
3Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), p. 138.
4Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), p. 64 cited in: Frank Lentricchia, Criticism and Social Change, (Chicago, 1983), p. 102.
5Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: Left Bank Books, 1983), p. 45.
6George Steiner, Language and Silence, (New York, 1982), p. 53.
7Susan Sontag, Under the Sign of Saturn, (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), p. 109.
8Peter Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1972), p. 172.
9Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, p. 110.
10George Bataille, Literature and Evil, trans. Alistair Hamilton, (New York: Urizen Books, 1973), p. 129.
11Jack London, The People of the Abyss, (London: Journeyman Press, 1977), p. 109.
12Peter Wollen, Readings and Writings, Semiotic Counter-Strategies, (London: Verso, 1982), p. 188.
13Wollen, Readings and Writings, p. 207.
14Theodor W. Adorno, The Jargon Of Authenticity, trans. Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 26.
15Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, (New York, 1974), p. 278.
16Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye, trans. Joachim Neugroschel, (New York: Urizen Books, 1977), p. 80-81.
17Stephen Lapthisophon, The Sound of Music / The Theory of Praxis / The Tyranny of Repetition in White Walls #10/11 (Spring/Summer 1984), p. 81.
18Ronald Aronson, The Dialectics Of Disaster, (London, 1983), p. 301.
19Andre Bazin, What is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), p. 150.