Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

[This is not the most thorough reading. . . and my understanding of Deleuze has yet to be worked out. . .]

Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour explores a new cinematic approach to the progression and integration of dispersive elements in space and time. The film itself speaks at once of the differential and unifying elements that compose our spirit. Resnais evokes the spirit in two different, but convergent ways. In one way, it seems, Resnais works with what Deleuze would call "liquid perception," and in a second sense, sometimes separately and others simultaneously, with a maximum quantity of movement. A film so radical as this does not necessarily seem to invoke the same systems or perceptions that would come from the "French school," but it nonetheless uses these two characteristic modes in its own way. The film claims these elements in order to speak of the subjects’ (i.e., the events of Hiroshima and the event of loss in the face of love) unjustifiable and unachievable reclamations. It is impossible to realistically form an image or narrative that embodies the essence of these issues/events. What one can do is attempt to recognize these events in abstract, artificial, and poetic terms. This, if anything, extracts from these events a sense that we can consider these experiences, yet at the same time, we can never accurately describe their realities. The truth is that both of these events (Hiroshima and the woman's loss) work in more reconstructive terms. For Hiroshima is a blank slate, the events are not rendered first hand, they are secondary, just as the story is secondary, it is artificial; and, the woman's account of the events is secondary, it is in relation to artifacts and news/broadcast reels. For the woman is also a part of this blank plate. Her inability to move beyond her bereavement tends to leave her at a loss, an emptiness. This is a gap that she fills with the things of the world around her. She replaces her (past and present) understandings with "remembrances," with objects and locations, with acting (becoming someone else). She claims that she knows Hiroshima through the objects she has seen (presumably at the museum, and other monuments or spaces in the city); the man however denies this. She does not know Hiroshima, she knows the artifacts of Hiroshima. Her tendency to engulf these objects, and further, to be swallowed by these objects and images is expressed in the cinematography of the film. Here the idea of liquid perception comes into play. When she says "I am afraid everywhere," Resnais cuts to shots (close-ups) of objects and spaces around her. There, we move "to a liquid state, where the molecules move about and merge into one another," and where her fears are embodied in these objects, the entire experience gains this auratic spiritual element. Deleuze says of liquid perception, that "by putting the center of reference itself into movement, the movement of the parts [is] raised to the set (ensemble); that of the relative to the absolute; that of succession to simultaneism" -- this is precisely what her character embodies, a movement toward simultaneism. She is the blank center, and yet, as abovementioned, everything she encounters she engulfs (and vice versa), she becomes; it is this characteristic that ties her blankness to the image; it is a tendency toward simultaneity, even as she becomes her “remembrance-images,” -- she is simultaneously past, present, and imagined past -- she is objects, and she is space. In addition to that, we experience this simultaneity all the more when we encounter a maximum quantity of movement in the image. Resnais maximizes the slowness, the fastness, and the “direction-ness” (max. friction) of the image. Think about the scene where they are walking through the Hiroshima memorial parade (which is a scene in the film within the film), this movement swallows the two characters into the elements that oppose their direction. Or, there are the scenes where the present (of the film) is nuanced by a slowness of objects (and models) to a maximum capacity so that we feel this slowness (emptiness). It is also a maximum slowness (emptiness) that exists in order to maximize a fullness of the image. This opposition creates a sort of rupture of the image. I am thinking here of the scene where the woman is sitting on the bed and she screams to forget. Her scream shatters the fragility of the successive images of slowness that came before it, those images which quantitatively added up in order to build this qualitative fragility, all of course in order to present this rupture; because if she would have screamed without the existence of these nuanced subtleties (the slowness) such an event would not have created a rupture, it would have been a stand alone scream, an impotent wail. This rupture in turn unifies these “maximum” elements because of their reciprocity for one another; and furthermore, because of her reflexive stillness (in the image of her), she is inscribed by the (quantitative) movements and the images around her, which unifies her presence, and the story, in this movement toward simultaneity (and reciprocity). It is much like the (fragmented) embrace that entangles the two in the beginning, fragments come together in an abstracted unification...

[Edit - More thoughts:]
Also, there seems to be an occasional move toward a gaseous perception. The best example is when Resnais cuts between images of (locations in) Hiroshima and images of Nevers. These city elements cut in and connect any-space-whatevers, which allow us to freely associate one image with the next at any-point-whatever...

Furthermore, when Deleuze speaks of any-space-whatevers he speaks of the post-war condition of "deconnected or emptied spaces," saying, independent of the cinema there was "the post-war situation with its towns demolished or being reconstructed, its waste grounds, its shanty towns, and even in places where the war had not penetrated, with its undifferentiated urban tissue. . ."

And in post-war cinema there is "a crisis of the action-image: [where] the characters were found less and less in sensory-motor 'motivating' situations, but rather in a state of strolling, of sauntering or of rambling which defined pure optical and sound situations. The action-image then tended to shatter, whilst the determinate locations were blurred, letting any-spaces-whatever rise up where the modern affects of fear, detachment, but also freshness, extreme speed and interminable waiting were developing. . ."

Friday, September 19, 2008


Bresson's Pickpocket takes us in and out of space and time, in a constantly fluctuating experience of fluency and distaciation. The most defamiliarizing shot in the film is the close-up. It renders the particular hand gestures and actions of Michel as something of importance to the narrative and mise-en-scene. However it also takes the scene out of its element, out of its coordinates in space and time in order to shock us. For instance, in the end we only see Michel’s hand being cuffed by the officer. Prior to this every other close-up of his hands exhibits his ability to freely pick-pocket--moving into some unknown space and connect back to world of things--where he would slyly enter contact with someone empty handed and exit with some new object (whether it be a wallet, money, etc). However, this final occasion does the exact opposite. The officer enters contact with him and grabs his hand as the newly acquired object. Our desire to see him succeed and grab the man’s (officer’s) cash is immediately destroyed (de-automatized). Here Bresson takes the pattern, or the automatization, of the close-up shot (i.e., the meaning involved in them, the model’s movements, and the shot composition, etc, which form their own conjunctions) and subverts it with its dialectical opposite, which is him getting caught. This forces the spectator to think about these “codes” implanted in the close-ups of the film, noting in particular the hierarchy that these shots receive in the overall shot analysis. The spectator also has to render with his own thoughts the events of the film, consciously thinking about such things as authority, property, power, etc in relation to particular objects in themselves.
The story of the film is subverted, or deformed, by the filmic elements that he employs in tandem with the film's plot. He creates a poetic language out of certain shots, e.g., as abovementioned, the use of close-ups and the actions within them. He gives life to these “codes” which he provides in the close-up shot. He then uses the deformation of these “codes” to create a de-automatizing effect. Also, when he is sent to prison there is no ability to follow him around anymore, instead we are as trapped as he is. This order of mise-en-scene subverts the pace and space of the film; the time is slower and less intense, and the space is smaller and more claustrophobic, creating a sense of impotence. The entire film works on our perceptions, the way in which we feel these figural elements (speed, movement, spatial arrangement, etc) and how they influence our thought and preconceived notions of movement, space, and time.

Bob le flambeur

Jean-Pierre Melville trumps the typical conceptualization of the classic noir and gangster film. He takes these genre out of their element and colors them with a visually lyrical piece of work. His visual play of elements such as lines, stripes, and sharp contrasts give the film a particular auratic quality--a hovering feel of emptiness and fullness, a push and a pull. We constantly juxtapose differences in light and color. From Bob's white hair pinned against his black suit, or at times his gray trench coat to the checkers on the wall of the bar, the film speaks more in tones than in text. The de-dramatized characteristic that run through most of the film work through these contrasts. The film works in vagueness despite the lyrical contrasts of the set. Melville clouds the scene. He wants us to feel the ambiguities, to bathe in sustained moments of puzzlement. The narrative is relatively simple, composed basic plots that move along. However, the film's overall vagueness and simplicity emphasizes the peculiarity of the main character, Bob, and the relationships at hand. Bob's code of ethic is worked out in his actions, e.g., the way he takes in the young girl from the streets, or when he leaves Paolo and the girl to rest at his place. In these moments, it is his sincerity that leads him. When he finally runs out of money he is left to fend, as any man would. In Hell, fending is about lying, cheating, and stealing, which all tend rest on one thing: chance. This brings Bob back to a history he must rekindle. It is this reaching back to his old ways that leads the way for him. The old way, the idea of a heist, launched him into a new element. The game now is much grander, the stakes much larger. As the film peaks, when these various ties to Bob (the cop, the girl, Paolo, the man and his wife) pull Bob into a multitude of directions, he escapes. He gets away by trying his luck, trying his hand. His solace in the game, in gambling, reminds him that it is all luck: the game, the heist. Give or take, Bob is in for it. The fortuitousness of the end, that is, Bob's final win with chance, materializes these cinematic contrasting elements. It is either win or lose, black or white. Bob takes the win in the end, after chance settles the score. He counts his losses (Paolo, possible jail time) and contrasts it with his winnings. There is no game chancier than life. Bob lives the gamble, and for that reason alone he is Bob the gambler. Not for his gaming habits, but for his living habits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Jean Luc Godard's entrance into the cinematic landscape marks a peculiar point in the history of cinema. Not only is the mirror turned on the gamut of practices and conventions, but the entire fashion is swallowed into a fissure of artificiality. What strikes me as the most remarkable aspect of Breathless, and even Godard's cinematic oeuvre for that matter, is his contentiousness with certain cinematic codes, i.e., operating within a given framework and rarely ever escaping it. His remarks toward the cinema are not scathing, he quotes his professors (with all of his allusions to B-movie and classic Hollywood directors/films), and weaves in and out of genre, but as is abovementioned, he turns the mirror, and furthermore skews it a little. In fact the film is more synesthetic than anything; it's visual jazz, pure and simple. Breathless marks Godard as one of the most enigmatic (cinematically) lyrical improvisers ever. His genius, like that of Coltrane or Davis, is in the way he careens and caresses the nodes of each cinematic turn, all the while making you feel the verve and spontaneity of the experience. In his case, the film is not the script, the film is an explicit liberation of text; it says, "I can cover everything text does and more, I can move you like no text can move you; watch how I play with these elements." It is precisely in this play of elements where Godard achieves his glorious pet, and charms us with his horn. His disjunctive methods-- the jump cuts, the interlaced and jarring dubbing, the narrative jump from action to affect and back again-- these all render a new and inventive cinematic practice (and potential). Even his lighting, with its maximization of natural light, calls attention to the artificiality of classical cinema, which tries to sell itself as seeming natural. All of this runs against the grain of things prior, as far as cinematic conventions are concerned. He is making the classic seem so much more artificial, and his work so much more self-referential that it creates a sort of schism. Professionalism of classical cinema is precisely that, a type of "professional" code with which to render the entire cinematic experience. Godard debunks that, he denaturalizes the whole breadth of it, and laughs at it, much in the way Michel addresses the camera, when he is driving into the city from the provincial freeway, "If you don't like the sea/ and don't care for the mountains/ and don't like the big city either/ go fuck yourself!" and that is that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

400 Blows

Francois Truffaut's 1959 feature film 400 Blows is one of those films that resonates with you long after it is over. The film takes an unconventional approach for its time, both narratively and stylistically. Truffaut uses the camera to write a story near and dear to him. The various autobiographical elements confer with the spectator ideas about what it takes to make a film something prodigious. The film is a testament to many of the concepts that are contained in the cinema itself; and Truffaut explores this reciprocity and reflexivity, not just in narrative content, but also in terms of cinematic content.

Truffaut reincarnates his adolescence through the experiences of Antoine, played by young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud. First of all, this alone is quite a unique reference to the cinema's close relation to memory, history, and identity. It is the cinema which remarks on and re-enacts recollection, remembrance. The cinema is in its very nature like that of a memory. It is composed of various elements (various times, spaces, rhythms, etc) which are condensed/conflated and assembled to create an experience. The film much like the memory is not one long continuous (uninterrupted) stream of experience, it is composed of multifarious elements, which both enter into and exit out of remembrance (and conscious experience). Yet, all the while, as spectators we are able to encounter the cinema as we would a memory. The memory, so close and yet so distant, is something of a challenge to consult with. Nevertheless, Truffaut sets up a film where we can both enter the characters and at the same time see them from a distance, much in the same way that we experience memories.

What is remarkable about the character Antoine is his reluctance to speak. His internal experience rarely reveals itself directly to the viewer. This inability to latch on to a verbalized expression forces the external to compose the character. All things external--the composition of the scene, the gestures of Antoine, the music, the rhythm of the camera--spell out the experience and memory of adolescence. The one time when Antoine verbalizes himself is when he talks to the woman at the reformatory. This moment is peculiar because of the way in which the sequence is revealed and Antoine's awareness is divulged. We never see the woman speaking, she is an acousmatic voice, filling the screen with her invisible presence. She is a rupture, she is a surrogate, and she is omnipotent as far as we are concerned. He reveals himself to that which we cannot see. She is both a presence and an absence. But why, why would Truffaut compose the sequence in this manner? As Michel Chion notes in Voice in the Cinema, it is the acousmetre that "brings disequilibrium and tension," as it is something of a mystery. The only other woman that Antoine interacts with is his mother, who in both her words and actions betrays her responsibility and love for him. This other woman, however, has no attachment to him, she is a mere assessor. As an assessor, she takes no authority over him, instead she allows Antoine to freely express himself. In order to learn more about Antoine's awareness we must work with the acoustmetre, as Chion says of the acousmetre, it is she that "invites the spectator to go see, and (s)he can be an invitation to the loss of the self, to desire and fascination," which in our case it is to discover not herself, but Antoine. That is the difference. For Anointe's mother is always commanding and manipulating him for her own needs, she leaves no room for expression. Adolescents do not necessarily grasp all of what is around them, but there are many things which a young person senses and grasps without it seeming so. Such is the case between Antoine and his mother. Truffaut explores this, for instance, when the mother comes in late one night and we see her legs enter into the screen as she quietly walks through Antoine's room, across his bed. And then following that there is the offscreen (acousmatic) bickering between the parents, which he witnesses aurally, when Antoine should be asleep. He uses a scene like this to communicate to us indirectly the experience of adolescence.

Another important aspect of the film is the way in which he conveys the experience of adolescene through cinematic techniques. The entire film is composed around a relationship between adult characters (models) and confining spaces (sets). These two figures are linked together to convey a feeling of oppression. His parents, the teachers, the police, are all confining him to tight quarters. They are also restricting him to mechanical and conforming movements, explored both through cinematic techniques and acting. His somber mood in and around their presence also adds to this oppressiveness. Against all of this however, Antoine is secretly desiring autonomy. We see this in his actions, i.e., in his constant desire to escape these people and environments. In particular, there are two scenes that rupture the entire pace and space of the film. One occasion is on the day Antoine and Rene skip school, and venture out into the streets of Paris. The first time we actually see Antoine happy is when he is spinning around on the "rotor" amusement park ride. Cinematically there is a rupture, when the elements on screen free up from the rigid confines of a set, of a room. The ensemble of props, the models, and Antoine all become a swirling blur. The rhythm of elements is no longer the same as it was throughout the film up to that point. Although walls are still surrounding him, Antoine manages to escape his situation through both movement and affect. He no longer has to express himself, or do anything for that matter, instead he gives himself to the movements and feelings experienced by the "rotor" ride. You can really see and feel the freeness of this moment, especially when Antoine manages to move himself upside-down, thus rendering his world in a completely new and autonomous light. The other moment where a sort of rupture occurs is at the very end. He escapes the reformatory, he runs and runs, until he finally meets the water. There all the walls (those ever confining walls) drop down. There he is truly free. Unlike the "rotor," where through cinematic elements he becomes rhythmically free, there at the beach he is spatially free. No longer do walls, or bars, or persons get in the way of his freedom. And I think this is his most genuine expression. He never really verbalizes himself, because his true expression, his true desire is this autonomy which cannot be rendered in words or scathing complaints, it is rendered in action, an action which meets a point of complete openness. An openness that one might say resembles those things which words, and consciousness cannot even begin to explain. In sum, it really seems to me to be about truly living: living as expressiveness, living as creative potential, and thus, potentially freeing, liberating.

Michel Chion, Voice in the Cinema (pp.24)