Posts Tagged ‘modernity’
The box will be covered in rich (probably pink, as you might have guessed) fabric and the video projected will be in stereo! The project hopefully should be finished by Xmas…
conceptual map for a short paper for Henry Jenkins’ class on medium specificity about peripheral, “toy” media such as cabinets of curiosities and the phantasmagoria, as well as their modern descendants, media phenomena that lack the specificity and institutional discourse granted cinema or even games, but that have played and continue to play a historical role in multiplying the terrain of technological, spiritual and aesthetic experience.
Bunuel, in his autobiography, writes that he finds the thought of destroying a museum more appealing than the idea of building a cultural center. The exercise of building entails casting things in stone all over again, issuing precepts, binding cultural forms according to a discipline of structural soundness and reliability. A cultural center is a didactic institution – it hands down knowledge, it propagates and reproduces. By extension, an exercise in destruction (in the form of an exuberant attempt, a gesture ) feels like a motion of freedom – from various architectures of thought, from institutionally invested representations. The ideology of cultural destruction is the hope of the decimation of ideological frameworks.
Land Without Bread‘s ambiguously sarcastic voice-over upends not only the idea of the possibility of sober and objective representation (in the tradition of Rosen’s historical Chronicler and the modernist project for a scientific treatment of actuality) but destabilizes, decades before the practice of digital manipulation, the photograph’s indexical relationship to the real. In las Hurdes what we see is not what we see: a donkey falling to its death from a cliff (as we are told) is a setup _ the “real” meaning of the image (what actually happened) is completely obscured, irrelevant. In effect the idea of “real” meaning, of a grounded indexical relationship between the image and the way we read it is dismantled. This methodical decimation of sense is pursued in the sequencing of “events” that we are told occur before the camera: a child is “sick”, a shivering man is “sick”, a child lies down, “dies”.
And yet the intellectual suspicion of the image that the snarky narrator communicates is not enough snuff our quasi automatic emotional allegiance to the image. We are hammered with tales of woe and poverty while village scenes unfold and in spite of rational uncertainty we are already half-way towards believing the story: we have to rein in or check spontaneous movements of shock, sympathy, horror within us. We remove our faith from the idea of the interpretational authority of the filmmaker only to assume a form of authority from ourselves: the power to be critical but also, in the end, to feel affect, to feel involved. The metaphor that unfolds in the final moments of the film, when the scene of a poor family lying down to sleep is repeatedly cut with the image of an old woman crying out the announcement of a death through the streets of the village delivers a punch that no longer owes anything to the indexical relationship between the image and actuality. The specter of death that weighs over the inhabitants is a concretely felt reality or hypereality that emerges from the visual text. Have we then left the realm of documentary to enter a fiction? I am reminded of Rosen’s reiteration of Baudrillard’s claim the cinematic can not (or can no longer) reproduce reality, it can only produce more / other reality. And yet, seeing Las Hurdes or any documentary representation that rings a bell of recognition, of understanding (one dare not say truth) I retain the suspicion that metaphor, if not indexicality can still constitute grounds for a certain form of worldly evidence…
This film opens up a world, another level of “reality” that is more than the sum of its parts. Emerging out of a vision of other time – time mechanized, measured, dislocated, arrested, superimposed – is the vision of a other way of life, a life energized by the fullness of the juxtaposed moment, a society aligned with Vertov’s and the communist project’s ideal of a union of the activity of communal / industrial daily life and the vital élan, the joyful exercise of each individual’s humanity. The world invented / discovered by Vertov’s camera erases the division between labor and “one’s own time”, between citizens and the city, between the producers and the technological means of production, between products and their consumers. Every element that is captured by the apparatus meshes with a multiplicity of analogous moments or rather analogous vectors, snippets of temporal trajectories in which the world and all its inhabitants seem to freely throw themselves into each others’ paths.
Brecht-like, Vertov pulls down the wall between the screen and the audience, allowing the subjects-spectators possession of their photographed selves, assigning the camera (and the filmmaker) to be as much a participant in the buzz as its privileged observer. This move is incredibly satisfying and startling at the same time: I do not feel I am presented with an object, a result, a work out of or beyond actuality for me to consume but that the windows of actuality have been blasted open all around me and that I find myself almost on the same ontological plane as the (human, technological) population of the film. Rather than bringing the world to me, it brings me into the world – as a spectator I feel simultaneously transformed into an actor, an agent, part and parcel of the aliveness of the kino-eye. It’s the first time I’ve seen “Man with a Movie Camera” . I cannot remember having ever been so engaged (as opposed to engulfed, enchanted, immersed) by a work of art.
How is “Man with a Movie Camera” a documentary? Grierson’s “the creative treatment of actuality” seems too indeterminate a definition to characterize Vertov’s utopian project. Actuality here is certainly treated, openly, visibly mediated by a community of agents : by the apparatus (which eerily and comically becomes an animate character of its own)_ by the camera operator, the camera’s appendage or transport device whose main task seems to be to enable the camera’s heroic phenomenological agency_by the editor, who, in a sequence showing shots of frames on a film strip followed by shots of the same frames projected at their proper speed, finalizes the machine’s God-like powers to set time in motion. This candid mediation takes the sting out of “creative treatment of actuality”: we are informed as to the “how” and encouraged to jump into the project ourselves.
The filmmaker does cease to be a conjuror and becomes an epistemologist – rather than doling out a spectacle (even a spectacle structured by an argumentative, informative or ideological purpose, on the non-fiction side like Grierson or on the fiction side like Eisenstein) the kino-glaz (a gaze that is simultaneously the filmmaker’s, the spectator’s and the camera’s) inscribes a map of actuality, in fact writing by the exercise of looking / scoping /projecting.
Argumentation becomes problematic at such a level of investigation into the actual, not least because we are placed in a realm beyond language or discourse into something that is purely cinematic – if we are mobilized politically it is on a poetic level, where social issues cannot be divorced from their embededness in an entirety of human meaning.
Another epistemologist – phenomenological camera in Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil”. “Sans Soleil” also takes actuality as its material, but is it a documentary? When does not the poetic treatment of actuality but the poetic purposes of the filmmaker diverge from a “documentarian” purpose. “Sans Soleil” is about actuality, although a highly subjective one. Does it count? Or must a documentary necessarily address some form of consensus reality – must it necessarily inform in addition to express?
Playing with the idea of a haunted portrait _ the ghost appears like the absconded presence of the camera, staring out from the double mirror of the photograph. The idea of the dead coyly sitting in on the poised, posed family pictures of the living – unheimlich at it’s most potent, what is buried won’t stay buried but leaves secondary evidence, leaves tangible traces of doubt.
The inappropriate sneaks up behind your back, the camera becomes the eye in the back of your head: new weapon against the uncanny or projector of hidden horrors?
The fake spirits accusing the photographer of fraud – first betrayal of the photographed image’s promise to reproduce reality. William Mumler in the 1860s already destroying the metaphysically automatic/newly automated line between reality and metaphor, conjecture, phantasie. The sought for and unwelcome guests usher these bourgeois families into modernity.
Don’t these apparitions look TRAPPED? Their imprint gelled, their first effort at substantiation caught in the middle. Nothing left to do but appear, put on an appearance without the evidential accoutrement of an indexical relationship…ontologically exiled, phenomenologically virulent. First clue that the photographic apparatus is a creative as well as a reproductive machine: “documentary is the creative treatment of actuality”, according to Grierson and these spirits are products of an indexicality machine, they document the ghostliness of the apparatus, they rise out of the machine, immanent smoke that manufactures a referant for the new photographic sign…
These texts and clips had me thinking about the relationship between the modernist concern with contingency (starting with the ubiquitous presence of photographic arts from the early 20th century onwards) and the movement of situationism as it flourished in the late 50s and 60s – I see another line or relationship between the flaneur, the nomad, the cyborg and the situationist as precursors of immersive arts/installations practitioners…immersion is basically the design of playful space.
Debord advised drifters to allow themselves to be guided by those features of the street neglected by most pedestrians, like “the sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters” and the “path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the contour of the ground)”. the determinants of drift, apparently, were alternations in emotional and ambient intensity; “the appealing or repelling characters of certain places”; and the drifter’s tendency to “drain” along relatively unresistant paths, “the fissures in the urban network”. The Lettrist International even “envisaged a pinball machine arranged in such a way that the play of the lights and the more or less predictable trajectories of the balls” would represent the “thermal sensations and desires of people passing by the gates of the Cluny Museum around an hour after sunset in November,” as though drifters were like ball bearings, propelled through the city’s channels by the energized “pins” of the unities of ambiance.