- 1 references from thesis proposal
- 2 references from project proposal (methods for general reserach on image-making)
- 3 Feelings etc.
- 4 Memory and documentary
- 4.1 John Berger: Understanding a Photograph
- 4.1.1 Uses of photography/for Susan Sontag
- 4.1.2 Paul Strand (relevant to my method as a filmmaker and relationship to the camera)
- 4.1.3 Appearances (here Berger answers how an image might lead to meaning!!)
- 4.1.4 >>Stories
- 4.1.5 >>Christ of the Peasants: Markéta Luskačová: Pilgrims
- 4.1.6 >>W.Eugene Smith: Notes to help Documentary Film-maker Kirk Morris Make a Film about Smith
- 4.2 Memory, DoCA
- 4.3 Documentary, DoCA
- 4.4 Film: A Very Short Introduction
- 4.1 John Berger: Understanding a Photograph
- 5 What makes it cinema/cinematic
- 5.1 Narrative Space
- 5.2 Andre Bazin: The Evolution of the Language of Cinema
- 5.3 Andre Bazin: The Virtues and Limitations of Montage
- 5.4 David Mamet: On Directing Film
- 5.5 The Cinematic, DoCA
- 5.5.1 Michael Tarantino: A Few Brief Moments of Cinematic Time, 1999
- 5.5.2 Susanne Gaensheimer: Moments in Time, 1999 (the same exhibition appears in Michael Tarantino)
- 5.5.3 Wim Wenders: Time Sequences, Continuity of Movement, 1971
- 5.5.4 Bearumont Newhall: Moving Pictures, 1937
- 5.5.5 Peter Wollen: Fire and Ice, 1984
- 5.5.6 (haven't written) Constance Penley: The Imaginary of the Photograph in Film Theory, 1984
- 5.5.7 Christian Metz: Photography and Fetish, 1985
- 5.5.8 Laura Mulvey: Stillness in the Moving Image, 2003
- 5.5.9 Catherine David: Photography and Cinema, 1989
- 5.5.10 Agnès Varda
- 5.5.11 Gilles Deleuze
- 5.5.12 Peter Wollen
- 6 Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
- 7 Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images
- 8 Cinematic experience/cinematography
- 8.1 Is a Museum a Factory?
- 8.2 Archaic Paradigms of the Screen and Its Images
- 8.3 The concept of the Mental Screen: The Internalized Screen, the Dream Screen, and the Constructed Screen
- 8.4 Digital Cinematography: Evolution of Craft or Revolution in Production?
- 8.5 Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality
- 9 Laura Mulvey, Autotheory, Organization of autobiographical and critical writing
- 10 films
- 10.1 Light of My Life (2hr feature)
- 10.2 Stalker (3hr film in two parts)
- 10.3 The Mirror (2.5hr film)
- 10.4 Solaris (3hr film in two parts)
- 10.5 Beginning sequence (almost 4 minutes of quietness with sparse environmental sounds)
- 10.6 Tigers Are Not Afraid (feature fiction film)
- 10.7 Salt (one-woman play)
- 10.8 I Can Make You Feel Good, photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s (Exhibition at FOAM. 1995, US)
- 10.9 Three Identical Strangers (feature documentary)
- 10.10 Minding the Gap (feature documentary)
- 11 IFFR learnings
references from thesis proposal
- CARRIÓN, U., & SCHRAENEN, G. (2016). Ulises Carrión: Dear reader, don't read.
- CHEE, A. (2018) How to write an autobiographical novel : essays.
- PROULX, A. (2012). Bird cloud. London, Fourth Estate.
- AUFDERHEIDE, P. (2016). Documentary film: a very short introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
- MAMET, D. (1992) On directing film. New York: Penguin Books.
- SCHRADER, P. (2018). Transcendental style in film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.
- SVENDSEN, L. F. H. (2017). A philosophy of loneliness.
- WOOD, M. (2012). Film: a very short introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
- Sontag, S. (1984) On photography. 6E dr edn. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- Stallabrass, J. (2013) Documentary. London: Whitechapel (Documents of contemporary art).
- ASMA, S. T., & GABRIEL, R. (2019). United by Feelings. https://aeon.co/essays/human-culture-and-cognition-evolved-through-the-emotions
- BAZIN, A., GRAY, H., TRUFFAUT, F., & ANDREW, D. (2005). What is cinema? Volume 1.
- BERGER, J. P., & DYER, G. (2013). Understanding a photograph. New-York, Aperture.
- BROWN, B. (2004). Things. Chicago, University Of Chicago Press.
- CAMPANY, D. (2007) The cinematic. London: Whitechapel (Documents of contemporary art, 2007: 5).
- Chateau, D., & Moure, J. (2016). Screens.
- Kern, S. (2004) A cultural history of causality : science, murder novels, and systems of thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Farr, I. (2012) Memory. London: Whitechapel Gallery (Documents of contemporary art).
- Miall, D. (2011) Emotions and the Structuring of Narrative Responses. Poetics Today 1 June 2011; 32 (2): 323–348. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1162704
- Mulvey, L. and Backman Rogers, A. (eds) (2015) Feminisms : diversity, difference and multiplicity in contemporary film cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press (The key debates. Mutations and appropriations in European film studies, 5). doi: 10.5117/9789089646767.
- Nussbaum, M. (1988) Narrative Emotions. Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 2., pp. 225-254.
- Shouse, E. (2005) Feeling, Emotion, Affect. M/C Journal 8.6. <http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php>
- Sontag, S. (2002) Against interpretation: and other essays. Repr. and enl. edn. New York: Picador
- Voìgt, Ellen Bryant. Image. New England Review, Vol. 13, No. 3/4, 1991, pp. 254–268. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40243421.
- CARSON, A., CURRIE, R., & CATULLUS, G. V. (2010). Nox. New York, New Directions.
- Merewether, C. (2006) The archive. London etc: Whitechapel etc (Documents of contemporary art).
- NELSON, M. (2016). The argonauts.
- PATEL, S. (2014). Migritude. New York, Kaya Press.
- RIDER, B. K. (2010). The vertical interrogation of strangers. Berkeley, Calif, Kelsey Street Press.
references from project proposal (methods for general reserach on image-making)
- The Cinematic, ed. David Campany
- On Directing Film, David Mamet
- Transcendental style in film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, Paul Shrader
- Understanding a Photograph, John Berger
- Image, Voìgt, Ellen Bryant. New England Review, Vol. 13, No. 3/4, 1991, pp. 254–268
- The Mirror (1975), Andrej Tarkovski
- Birds of Passage (2018), Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra
- Minding the Gap (2018), Bing Liu
- Gulyabani (2018), Gürcan Keltek
- Light of my Life (2019), Casey Affleck
- Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie) (2019), Koki Tanaka
- Salt (2018), play by Salina Thompson
Feelings, Emotion, Affect
paper by Eric Shouse
In this article Shouse differentiates feelings, emotion and affect, not as a psychologist but as a scholar of media culture. The vocabularies and theories hinge on psychology, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies, as Shouse states that feelings develop through language and personal biography, while emotions are projections of them. In his words, affect is "the most abstract because affect cannot be fully realised in language, and because affect is always prior to and/or outside of consciousness." I don't fully agree with this definition. Having read about and experienced accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP) or the similar, affect is what some therapists might call "core emotions", i.e. fundamental complex physiological mechanisms that have been named grief, joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, etc, more or less products of evolution for survival. (Hilary Jacobs Hendel LCSW) My comparison may put affect in a different body of knowledge and would require more thorough research if I were to write a paper about it, but equating affect to core emotions suffice the current stage of articulation in my opinion.
What enlightens me from this article is not the technicality of terms, but the connections between feelings/emotions and their respective developmental and social context. The theories around affect can be useful when articulating emotional content in a piece of work and, hence allows room for elaboration when the terms emotion/feelings are misused.
Narrative Emotions: Beckett’s Genealogy of Love
article by Martha Nussbaum
In this extensive essay, Nussbaum walks the readers through the project of Samuel Beckett's Molloy trilogy, assess the extent of it to end the socially constructed forms of emotions and their cause and effect. She does so by characterising the project, critiquing the specifics of the trilogy, and comparing them to two related philosophical enterprises (Lucretius and Niëtzsche).
In the first part, she lays down the context that emotions (such as love, fear, guilt, disgust, hope) are social constructs. Stories reinforce (cultural) narratives, the logic of causality. "We learn how to feel, and we learn our emotional repertoire. We learn emotions in the same way that we learn our beliefs — from our society." But rather than "propositional claims" through which beliefs are taught, emotions are learned through stories. Cultural paradigms produce "paradigm stories." The story reflects the emotions, and "the emotion itself is the acceptance of.... a certain sort of story." (225-226)
In Beckett's fiction, the voices of isolation and despair are also those of "fearful, guilty and disgusted love", which is, "the only love they know." (226) The voices show the origin of feelings within the protagonists, but at a somewhat meta level reveal the pattern of the formation of these feelings. "If stories are learned, they can be unlearned. If emotions are constructs, they can be dismantled." (227)
The subversion Beckett brings with his work is for anyone who thinks about 'the relationship between narrative and human self-understanding or who approaches narrative searching for an understanding of human life and its prospects. Fictional narratives are not by nature reinforcement of truth in human self-understanding. What Beckett attempts to do through his work — as is referred to as "the project — is to supplement "abstract philosophical attempts at self-understanding with concrete nrrative fictions... to contain more of what is relevant to our attempts to imagine and assess possibilities for ourselves, to ask how we might choose to live." (227)
The second part delves into the contextual relevance of the project. It concerns the activity of reading and the thinking that comes with reading. It expands on Henry Jame's claim, that a novelist assists us in self-understanding by "expressing a 'projected morality' and an active 'sense of life'" and Proust's that "only in a text having a narrative form that certain essential truths about human life can be appropriately expressed and examined." ^ Beckett's project joins the two aforementioned in that it "call forth certain specific softs of practical activity in the reader that can be evoked in no other way." (229)
The critical part of the project takes a bearing on Aristotle's norm of practical "perception", which considers complex human cases as particular and difficult to generalize, that "the emotions have a valuable informational role to play within the ethical life..." It poses the link between emotions, cognition and "intrinsic ethical value." In the context of literary study, the project establishes "the connectedness between narrative to forms of human emotions and human choice." It also calls for a discourse that connects the "narrative movement and the...activity of the reader." It adds to the postformalist studies of "narrative as human structure". (230)
The next part focuses on emotions and emotional activities. Emotions are not simply "blind surges of effect" but "have a cognitive content...related to belief or judgements." Belief is the basis for emotions, informed by claims from Aristotle and the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus. (231-2) The author analyzes the logic of anger and fear. She states by changing the thought that leads to the emotion, the emotion itself changes or disappears. "If we believe that a life with emotion beliefs [...] in which we both suffer agony ourselves and do harm to others, then we would have good reason to set about undoing those beliefs." The interactions between parents/society and children "provide paradigms of emotion and teach the cognitive categories that underlie the experience of emotion." (233) ^^
Stories are powerful ways of learning values. "Stories first construct and then evoke (and strengthen) the experience of feeling... So a criticism of emotion must be... an unwriting of stories." The common ground is the major cognitive theories of emotion, from ancient Greek thinkers to philosophy of psychology, cognitive psychology and social anthropology. "The cognitive conception makes change a logical possibility...change depends on further beliefs about how structures of this sort can be challenged." ^^^ (234)
Nussbaum observes that parents "embody and teach the social conception of which they are apart" from the psychoanalytic thought. Though families resemble one another in different societies, the ways emotions relate and signify differ. If stories are vehicles of emotional teaching, then an emotion is the acceptance of a story. Reading Beckett's stories requires understanding of the life of the emotions in those stories (e.g. how love comes with guilt, sinfulness, fear of judgement and impossible hope). The criticism of these stories is the criticism of our own patterns of love, for example, based on the reading experience. The social constructionist theory of emotion does not lead to loss of agency. "The depth at which these stories dwell in us is sufficiently great that change is going to be a matter of prolonged therapy, not of one-shot argument. But I see no reason to suppose that we cannot devise therapies capable of altering us, even at the unconscious level." We do not need to be critical about the stories in order to read them, and our change does not depend on the critical premise. (235) ^^^^
^ The same can be said about narrative film.
^^ This is the part that I don't agree with. The article is written with the cognitive paradigm in mind. Perhaps there was not enough research about core/basic/primary emotions at a evolutionary and neurological level around that period around 1988. The author also overlooks attachment theory during early childhood, which is not purely cognitive. Despite the different basis, the conclusion of changing one's beliefs (or how we feel about the world) is similar to what I am trying to investigate/achieve.
^^^ Change does not have to rely on an intellectual realization. I would say it usually starts from the very personal.
^^^^ Do we read stories for catharsis, or for feeling (aka. acceptance of our emotions...)?
article by Ellen Bryant Voigt
United by Feelings
Aeon essay by Stephen T Asma and Rami Gabriel
The article is a shorter version of the book The Emotional Mind: The Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition (2019). The assumption is that we share universal natural emotions from an evolutionary point of view. Unlike thinkers and scientists who believe emotions are rapid "mental constructions" (Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made), whom the authors identify as the constructionists, the authors believe emotions are inherited universally rather than mere intellectual/cognitive processes. Following our late mentor Jaak Panksepp (1943-2017), we think that all mammals share seven foundational affective systems: FEAR, LUST, CARE, PLAY, RAGE, SEEKING and PANIC/GRIEF, each of which has specific neural pathways and accompanying feeling states and behaviour patterns. The taxonomy of the exact primary emotions are subject to change, but the underlying ideas stay.
Darwin suggests that feelings motivate people. The mind is not a computer. Artificial intelligence based on algorithm does not mean it represents what intelligence actually entails. Neuroscients Jaak Panksepp, Antonio Damasio and Richard Davidson have been developing a new field of affective/emotional) science since the 1990s. Affective neuroscience focus on the brain systems shared among humans and other mammals.
Emotions are biological adaptations who in some cases lead reasons. Primatologist Frans de Waal studied emotions in other primates; psychologist Daniel Kahneman investigated the emotional grounding of irrational decision-making in economics; and philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote that emotions acted as pseudo-judgement.
Whereas Barrett claims our minds suggest automatic ways to link feelings into instinctual (by way of lack of access to the mental process) emotions, the authors and others invested in the affective science think deep emotions such as lust, rage, care, fear, seeking, grief and play are not conceptually constructed. Recent study also show a less mapped relationship between perception and emotion. Emotion seems to influence perception, not the other way around. This means that the permeability of perception in fact cuts against the argument that emotion is another form of cognition since it reveals a physiological causal force (viz, the affective systems) that shapes and constrains perception and cognition.
Affective science posits a layered brain. There is the reptilian brain for involuntary regulations (breathing, e.g.) and fight/flight/startle. Anger, for example, belongs to the mammal brain because it aided survival. The neo-cortex/tertiary brain is surrounded by language, culture and conscious deliberations, but does not influence emotions at all levels. Higher level emotions involve more cognitive and cultural processes (e.g. ellipsis), but might take root in a primary emotion. (Ellipsis share phenomenological similarities with grief.) Studies mapping the neural pathways of primary emotions reveal fear as a brain signature. The constructionist view on emotions falls short when concerning nonhuman animals or human babies.
The emotional brain evolved over 200 millions years for adaptive causes while the neocortex has been around for 1.8 million years. Primary emotions are old capacities. Human brains create feedback loops among the layers of brains.At the lower layers, we have basic drives that prod us (and other animals) out into the environment for the exploitation of resources. Thirst, lust, fear and so on are triggers in evolutionarily earlier regions of the brain that stimulate vertebrates toward satisfaction and a return to homeostasis (physiological balance). At the lowest primary level, fear, for example, is radical. Under threat, the fearful animal voids its bowels, and a surge of activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus readies it for defence or escape...At this top level, the tertiary level, fear is enmeshed with higher-level conceptual and narrative thinking...Higher-level emotions (tertiary affects) are still rooted in lower brain areas, but are associated more closely with the more evolutionarily recent parts of the brain.
There are both bottom-up and top-down causes of the mind. Top-down causes are those feedback loops that link limbic regulations with cognitive and behavioural strategies. Primary and secondary (which ones) emotions have been categorized as the "unconscious." It is probably most accurate to say that primary and secondary emotions have phenomenal consciousness (experiential feeling), but lack access consciousness (the ability to rationally access, manipulate and reflect upon emotions).
Previous paradigms have focused on only one layer of the brain (e.g. language and attention, or reinforcement and conditioning). Affective science provides a framework for the permeations of these layers and illuminate the relevance of feelings to perception, thinking and decision-making. Meaning is...a product of embodiment, our relation to the immediate environment, and the emotional cues of social interaction, not abstract correspondence between sign and referent.
A Cultural History of Causality | Chapter 5: Emotion
book by Stephen Kern
Kern starts by situating the readers in the history of emotions in existential philosophy. He recounts thoughts from Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. Nietzsche sees emotions as "the heart of the Dionysian spirit" (189) while Heidegger and Sartre attribute "uncanniness and uncertainty" to emotions (190). (The literature cited: The Birth of Tragedy (N), Being and Time(H) and Being and Nothingness (S).) The emergences of existentialism and psychoanalysis mark the differences between Victorian and modernist novelists, especially in their rationales for their characters' behaviours.
The majority of the chapter focuses on the role of jealousy, revenge and greed in murder novels. In Victorian novels, jealousy from a love affair usually result in a murder. Kern observes a correlation: the more emotional responsibility one has towards oneself, the less satisfaction one gets from killing. Responsibility here means the ability to discover and acknowledge one's "own deficiencies." Authors such as Dickens , Hugo and Tolstoy, in writing their novels, were able "to understand and reconstruct the destructive potential of their character's ignorance about jealousy and inability to accept responsibility for it." (194) However, while they demonstrated "the destructive potential" they did not reveal the insight of the jealousy: the Victorian authors made excuses for their characters' lack of emotional responsibility, be it from their upbringing, so-called destiny or current difficult situations.
In Sartre's view, jealousy involves obsession with another and the inability to resolve deficiencies within oneself. (I don't know if it is the author's or Sartre's preference to call the inner needs and wants deficiencies; it certainly has a negative association, which is biased.) Kern uses Lolita to illustrate the incorporation of theories of psychoanalysis in modern novels. "The deeper Humbert digs, the more unfocused and unjustified his jealousy becomes."(197) Kern uses White Noise as an example where technology "deforms and diffuses" jealousy (198). The modern authors (Sartre, Nabokov and Delillo) created characters whose motives and actions were not linked by a generalised emotion, jealousy, but who were effected by the increasingly more complex causalities.
The same shift appears in revenge and greed. The moral certainties from God (201) dominated Victorian novels and dramas. Yet modernists were unable to experience or rationalise revenge the same way. Revenge became detached from its function of "restoring honour" and unjustifiable like its manifestations: dueling, lynching, wars and capital punishment. (206) With greed, desire ended with "a paramount gain" (207) with Victorian novels. Modernists, in trying to understand the underlying motivation of greed, discovered more complexities and revealed materialistic value as a superficial reason for murders (208) as the world changed into a less deterministic one.
In the end of the chapter, Kern includes the subject of physiology of emotions. He traces the history of studying emotions. The studies of emotions correspond to the development of science: first comes measuring and collecting, then comes systems of weighing the knowledge. The 19th-century methods included kymograph that measured changes of blood pressure in 1847, to Darwin's The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), to the invention of polygraph in 1865. (217-220) More recent scientific studies use methods at a molecular level (e.g. the role of neurotransmitters). From "an electrical model to a more precise electrical and chemical model," the studies reveal "ever more precise casual determinations." (221)
What is an emotion is not a new topic, only a question that has been answered differently. In a famous article in 1884, "James argued emotions originate in the body and visceral experience and are subsequently conceptualised and named by the mind."(222) The recent studies from MIT suggest "emotions do not originate exclusively in either the body or the brain but in both together and are a manifestation of a simultaneous interaction of brain function, neurological transmission and 'information substances' including peptides." (223)
The key point Kern reaches is that modernists understand emotions from the perspective of self-identity instead of peptides (224). (He did not recount the developments in psychoanalysis and psycho therapy at all, which made this conclusion a bit of a jolt. I do find the approach of self-identity a more relevant one to my work, so will continue reading articles in that regard.)
Emotions and the Structuring of Narrative Responses
paper by David S. Miall
This essay brings to the foreground several key components of feelings in reading literary narrative: self-reference, anticipation, narrativity, integrative functions and anthropism. "Such feelings may then play a critical role in developing the reader's sense of significance, including the personal meanings of the narrative, as well as its structural and aesthetic properties." (345) The author surveys a great amount of existing literature -- including empirical studies, literary text, theory and informal study done by the author himself -- to demonstrate the possible frameworks to further study emotions in reading.
Miall is interested in the "ordinary emotions", which happen as the readers empathize with the protagonist. He cites studies/theories that investigate how these emotions are initiated and keep the reader's attention and participation ("immerse themselves") in the text. He views feeling or emotion as a process, and a primacy in reading. (324)
My take-away from this paper is the indication of the studies: they clarify the process of emotion and introduce useful vocabularies. For example, "literary reading seems likely to provide a continuously renewed array of affordances: each point of ambiguity represents a nexus of affective possibilities," (334. Ellis 2005). Another example: "Emotional experience is, to a large extent, experienced action tendency or experienced state of action readiness." (336. Frijda 2004). These, as I read further, will connect to the therapeutic reasons for making images and film, which has helped me clarify what I make and why I make.
The most relevant part of the paper to me is on the narrativity of feeling (337-339), Miall maintains that emotions and feelings are "intrinsically narrative" (338). The visceral response to a narrative = "telling stories". (Damasio, 1999) Emotions are micronarrative. (Hogan, 2003). Emotions are taught through stories. (Nussbaum, 1988) READ AGAIN for the relationship between feelings, emotions, narrative and image. I am drawn to narrative because it elicits emotions and sometimes, it IS emotion.
Since a lot of studies are designed to study linguistics - word, semantics, discourse, etc. they are not directly citable for image-making. However, one study I find directly relevant is on the literary and expository texts. "Descriptive passages elicited the most remindings, rather than scenes of action or dialogue. (Larsen and Seilman, 1988)" Miall suggests descriptive passages may "present a degree of uncertainty, challenging the reader to locate a meaning for them through the feelings they evoke."(333) Foregrounding - where an author establishes an atmosphere through "the sound of language, its syntactic structure, or the use of semantic features such as metaphor" - also evoke feelings. (334) From another of Miall's study (Miall and Kuiken 1994), he finds it likely that "indeterminacy or ambiguity in literary texts will be a particular focus for readers' feelings." (ibid)
Abstract by author -->>> Research that suggests the primacy of the emotions provides the context for a study of some of the processes sustained by the emotions during literary reading. In particular, the early processing of emotion in response to language, including narrative, is shown by several ERP (evoked-response potentials) studies that focus on the first 500 msecs of response. These studies suggest the possibility that emotion plays a key role in subsequent cognitive processing, including the making of inferences, invoking the reader’s memory, or relating empathically to a character. Emotions evoked in these ways during literary reading embody a number of distinctive processes, and some of their implications are then examined here. These include self-reference (e.g., autobiographical memory), which may occur more often in response to literary than to other texts; anticipation (e.g., suspense, forming goals for characters), which also seems more frequent among literary readers; an inherent narrativity of emotions that prompts us to construe situations in narrative terms; a capacity of emotion to integrate experiences, whether through similarities across conventional boundaries or through a process in which one emotion modifies another; and a tendency to animism, the interpretation of objects and events through human emotions, especially in the early phases of response, prior to consciousness.
I have marked the bibliography of this paper in detail for further readings.
The Awe of Being Alive
Memory and documentary
John Berger: Understanding a Photograph
Uses of photography/for Susan Sontag
Berger analyzes the uses of photography in 1978, in responses to Sontag's essays in On Photography.
He starts with the history of photography. The photo camera was a gadget for the elite when it was first invented, but became "the dominant most 'natural' way of referring to appearances." (49) This truthfulness it brought did not last long as photos became media of propaganda during WWII. The usage of photography became "habitual", reinforced by the invention of light-weight camera, the forming of photojournalism and advertising. He refers to Susan Sontag here who comments on this period. "The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque." (50, On Photography 23)
The birth of the first mass-media magazine — Life, 1936, US — defined the reading of photography. Here Berger launches into a discussion about the faculty and phenomenon of memory, which photography started to replace. Photography is a trace of the subject and fixes the appearance of a moment. (51-52)
"Yet, unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances...prised away from their meaning. Meaning is the result of understanding functions." (52) He quotes: "And functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time. Only that which narrates can make us understand." (OP,23)
There are two distinct uses of photography: private and public. The private photograph of a family member, for example, carries the context. In this case, the device of camera "contributes to a living memory." The public photograph of an event offers information but does not necessarily contributes to memory; or it contributes to one irrelevant to the those who see the photo. Public photographs, not being associated with anyone's particular memory, are "subject to any use." (53)
In the culture of capitalism, "has camera replaces the eye of God? The decline of religion corresponds with the rise of photograph." Berger observes. The camera, replacing the eye of gods, deities and spirits, now link to justice and judgment. "The distinction between remembering and forgetting is transformed into an act of judgement...where by recognition is close to being remembered and condemnation is close to being forgotten." As Democracy and Science become "the agents of judgement," photography "owes its ethical reputation as Truth." (53-54)
The opportunism of the later half of the 20th century turns everything into spectacle, which the camera implements. Time starts to become "interesting events...worth photographing" (OP,11) and "memory ceases to be necessary or desirable." Meanings erode. Monopoly capitalism becomes the god whose eyes are cameras. "Is there an alternative photographic practice?" Berger asks. (55)
Returning to the distinction between private and public use of photography, Berger suggests the alternatives lie in the reconstitution of meaning in photography, as it has carried in private ones. (56) This alternative adds to the social and political memory rather than substituting it — which changes both the way photos are taken and they way they are used.(57)
The photographer is no longer a reporter but a recorder that addresses the suffering they see. The photograph memorializes. (58) Instead of illustrating an argument or demonstrating a thought, photographs speak of experience, social experience, social memory. (59)
The context "re-places the photograph in [narrated] time," which respects "the process of memory" and thus the meaning it should carry. (60)
Paul Strand (relevant to my method as a filmmaker and relationship to the camera)
There is a widespread assumption that if one is interested in the visual, one's interest must be limited to a technique of somehow 'treating' the visual. thus the visual is divided into categories of special interest: painting, photography, real appearances, dreams and so on. And what is forgotten -- like all essential questions in a positivist culture -- is the meaning and enigma of visibility itself. (44)
The social approach of Strand's photography of reality might be called documentary or neo-realist in so far as its obvious cinematic equivalent is to be found in the pre-war films of Flaherty or the immediate postwar Italian films of de Sica or Rossellini. This means that on his travels Stand avoids the picturesque, the panoramic, and tries to find a city in a street, the way of life of a nation in the corner of a kitchen.(45)
Berger writes, "he has an infallible eye for the quintessential."(44) The photographs "enter so deeply into the particular" to "reveal the stream of of a culture or a history which is flowing through that particular subject like blood." (45) But what makes him unique as a photographer is his method.
While the photographic moment for Cartier-Bresson is "an instant", the moment for Strand is "a biographical or historic moment, whose duraion is ideally measured not by seconds but by its relation to a lifetime. [...He] encourages a moment to arise as one might encourage a story to be told." (45)
Berger's analysis on Strands method, marked with their "intentionality" (45)
- He decides what he wants before taking the picture
- He does not work with "the accidental"
- He works slowly, hardly ever crops a picture, still uses a plate camera
- He formally asks people to pose for him
- Style: Very frontal portraits. Subjects look at us; we look at them.
- His camera position is chosen with intention - "not a where something is about to happen, but where a number of happenings will be related." Thus, without using any anecdotes, he turns his subjects into narrators. The river narrates itself. The field where the horses are grazing recounts itself. The wife tells the story of her marriage. In each case Strand, the photographer, as chosen the place to put his camera as listener. (I have been doing something similar with my camera. Needs more articulation!)
The approach: neo-realist. The method: deliberate, frontal, formal, with every surface thoroughly scanned. (46)
Berger goes on to describe of the resulting photographs (47)
- the photographs are dense with substance per square inch (Here I think of what André Bazin calls "spatial density.")
- "the surface we read with our eyes become the chafing texture of her daily life". As one looks, "her being as a woman (her own existence for herself) begins...to rub through the materialism of the image."
- "the whole photograph -- space -- is part of the skin of their lives"
These photographs are result from the Strand's:
- technical skill
- ability to select
- knowledge of the places he visits
- his eye, his sense of timing, use of camera
How can a still image become narrative? How does a photo convey "a sense of duration?"(48) "I am all that has made me so. It is more than a statement than an immediate fact: it is already an explanation, a justification, a demand -- it is already autobiographical." (48) Berger writes, "Strand might have all these talents and still not be capable of producing such pictures". What determines the success of his picture (Berger implies the meaning of success in this text) is "his ability to invite the narrative: to present himself to his subject in such a way that the subject is willing to say: I am as you see me."(47)
Trust is important in making the telling of I am possible. "Strand's photography suggest his sitters trust him to see their life story", and "The exposure time is a lifetime." (48)
Appearances (here Berger answers how an image might lead to meaning!!)
Contemplating on a photography a friend shows him, Berger begins his contemplation on the "a game of inventing meaning." (61)The photo of a man and a horse can be interpreted freely without context. The photo offers evidence of the existence of the man and the horse, but "it tells us nothing of the significance of their existence." (62) The photograph has two messages: the existence of the event and the shock of the discontinuity. (62)
"Between the moment recorded and the present moment of looking at the photograph, there is an abyss." If photo is personal, this "shock of discontinuity" (by death, separation, etc.) becomes "more traumatic than most memories or mementos because it seems to confirm, prophetically, the later discontinuity created by the absence or death. Imagine for a moment that you were once in love with the man with the horse and that he has now disappeared." But the public photograph seems to only allude ot an event, and one invents stories for it.(63)
A photograph has appearances, which is more concrete and present than any invented stories or explanations (in verbal terms, I assume). "[A]ppearances may tell us little, but they are unquestionable." (63)
The look of the world confirms the "thereness" of the world and "nourishes our sense of Being." (63) --> potentially expand?
A photograph preserves a moment of time and prevents it being effaced by the supersession of further moments. In this respect photographs might be compared to images stored in the momery. Yet there is a fundamental difference: whereas remembered images are the residue of continuous experience, a photograph isolates the appearances of a disconnected instant.
And in life, meaning is not instantaneous. Meaning is discovered in what connects, and cannot exist without development. Without a story, without an unfolding, there is no meaning. Facts, information, do not in themselves constitute meaning... [W]hen we give meaning to an event, that meaning is a response, not only to the known, but also to the unknown: meaning and mystery are inseparable, and neither can exist without the passing of time. Certainty maybe instantaneous; doubt requires duration; meaning is born of the two. An instant photographed can only acquire meaning in so far as the viewer can read into it a duration extending beyond itself. When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future.
tbc tbc tbc
>>Christ of the Peasants: Markéta Luskačová: Pilgrims
>>W.Eugene Smith: Notes to help Documentary Film-maker Kirk Morris Make a Film about Smith
edited by Ian Farr
Margaret Iversen: Resistance to Replication (description of Rodney Graham's work)
A wider reading on Benjamin reveals the motivation of resistance to replication. The auratic lies in the reciprocity of the gaze, "bound up with...memory and present experience." Iversen suggests that the fear that the "intersubjectivity, memory, the unconsious and exposure to the other" would disappear is the reason for the resistance.
The example of Rodney Graham's work ('An Aside', part of Tacita Dean, a show curated in 2005): a large 35mm cinema projector, a series of static b&w images of a sleek 1930s German typewriter, slowlly buried by a silent fall of snow-like sifted flour. "These just-obsolete technologies seem to condense both a promise for the future and a melancholic acknowledgement of the fading of those hopes. As 'found objects' they weave together past and future, memory, anticipation, and create a fabric of associations."
from Tate Papers (Autumn 2007)
Peggy Phelan: The Ontology of Performance: Representation without Reproduction (description of Sophie Calle's work)
Sophie Calle photographed the galleries of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
"Calle interviewed various visitors and members of the museum staff, asking them to describe the stolen paintings. She then transcribed these texts and placed them next to the photographs of the galleries. Her work suggests that the descriptions and memories of the paintings constitute their continuing 'presence'... The fact these descriptions vary considerably - even at times wildly - only lends credence to the fact that the interaction between the art object and the spectator is, essentially, performative = and therefore, resistant to the claims of validity and accuracy endemic to the discourse of reproduction... Calle asks where seeing and memory forget the object itself and enter the subject's own set of personal meanings and associations."
from Unmarked: The Politics of Performance
Siegfried Kracauer: Memory Images, 1927
from Memory. Edited by Farr, I. (2012) Documents of Contemporary Art
The text is short, so I will just copy a relevant paragraph. Highlights are mine. It is a starting point to articulate the relationships between images and memories and the feelings associated. To be further articulated.
. . . Memory encompasses neither the entire spatial appearance nor the entire temporal course of an event. Compared to photography memory’s records are full of gaps.The fact that the grandmother was at one time involved in a nasty story that is being recounted time and again because one really doesn’t like to talk about it-this doesn’t mean much from the photographer’s perspective. He knows the first little wrinkles on her face and has noted every date. Memory does not pay much attention to dates; it skips years or stretches temporal distance. The selection of traits that it assembles must strike the photographer as arbitrary. The selection may have been made this way rather than another because disposition and purposes required the repression, falsification, and emphasis of certain parts of the object; a virtually endless number of reasons determines the remains to be filtered. No matter which scenes a person remembers, they all mean something that is relevant to him or her without his or her necessarily knowing what they mean. Memories are retained because of their significance for that person. Thus they are organized according to a principle that is essentially different from the organizing principle of photography. Photography grasps what is given as a spatial (or temporal) continuum; memory-images retain what is given only insofar as it has significance. Since what is significant is not reducible to either merely spatial or merely temporal terms, memory-images are at odds with photographic representation. From the latter’s perspective, memory-images appear to be fragments but only because photography does not encompass the meaning to which they refer and in relation to which they cease to be fragments. Similarly, from the perspective of memory, photography appears as a jumble that consists partly of garbage.
from Siegfried Kracauer, “Photography.” Translated by Thomas Y. Levin. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Spring, 1993), pp. 421-436/extract from 'Das Ornament der Masse', Frankfurter Zeitung (serialized, 1927); trans. Thomas Levin, The Mass Ornament" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995) 50-51
Film: A Very Short Introduction
by Michael Wood
I enjoyed the book because the author takes an angle on the medium, the history of it, and chooses films he thinks represents important themes, developments and movements in film. I especially admire his articulation on the difference between documentary and fiction (pp42-3) and his conclusion about the nature and future of film (pp114).
Between Documentary and Fiction
In his description of The Hurdanos by Luis Buñuel, he breaks down his version of relating to the film.
"But literally we have never lived there or, most of us, been anywhere like it, so the film catches us between an imaginative identification of the kind Rothman evokes and the radical priviledge that watching such a film offers to us. Documentary works regularly and usefully entangle us in these ambiguities of ethnography. If the 'others' were not to some degree like us, we couldn't care about them. If we really were the others, the very notion of caring wouldn't come up."
He quotes Jean Rouch, director of Chronicle of a Summer (1961):
"there is almost no boundary between documentary films and films of fiction. The cinema, the art of the double, is already the transition from the real world to the imaginary world..."
He echoes Rouch's thought and continues his observation about relating:
"We can't take an interest without using our imagination, and this is as true of the real as it is of anything else...all films, documentary or not, are shaped by someone's imagination before we see them, angled, edited, pitched, paced... As Jacques Rancière suggests, one question to ask about any documentary is what sort of fiction it is. He classifies fiction as -- "self-declared", "not myth or falsehood but imaginative arrangement" that evokes "an illusion of reality."
The boundary between fiction and documentary, in his argument, is "not of the authenticity of the camera but of our trust in the image." Our trust results from "pictures and stories... from a world that is not only like ours but is ours, historically verifiable, visitable, a world that has left marks for us to find if we care to look."
Nature and future of film
He marks two senses of film.
First, "a film is a story or a proposition... that is shaped, angled, finite, intended, whether it is a documentary, an art installation, a bit of gritty realism, or a full-blown fantasy... A film-maker is a person who makes such things.
Second, film can mean "footage: fragments or sequences, short or long, fictive or actual, of motion caught in the act," which "may add up to a film in the frist sense."
He refers to Noel Burch's idea that film is subject to chance and "yet has made its history by seeking to overcome it." Film-makers, in doing so, banish the world of sheer chance.
- Jacques Ranicière, La fable cinématographique (Paris: Seuil, 2001), pp 201-2
- Noel Burch, Theory of Film Practice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p 118
What makes it cinema/cinematic
Heath argues "the role of the character-look" turns abstract space into specific place ("a spatial unity of narrative impolication.") His examples:
- the magnifying glass in Grandma's Reading Glass
- Lina's short-sightedness in Suspicion
- the windscreen and rear-view mirror in Taxi Driver
- the keyhole of A Search for Evidence
- flickers over Brody's glasses in Jaws as he turns the pages of the book on sharks
- extended dramatization in Rear Window and Peeping Tom
The sequence or focus of vision, which Heath (and other literature) refer to as "truth", is how the spectators make sense of a film. The characters in the film contribute to the making of a place: the world in the film is constructed by "a narrative organization of look [of the character]." The looks function as such: they provide perspective within the perspective system, "regulating the world, orientating space, providing directions."
What happens outside of the frame becomes interesting in the film. "The screen is... a mask which allows us to see a part of the event only. When a person leaves the field of the camera, we recognize that he or she is out of the field of vision, though continuing to exist identically in another part of the scene... hidden from us." (Quote from André Bazin, What is Cinema? Vol.2. p100)
Off-screen space becomes on-screen space when continuity is used skillfully. Off-screen can literally mean a black mask over the current scene or the frames being cut out. They are a response to the narrativization. The coherence in time comes from an event taking place... and thus "the narrative itself."
A character looks to the right. What's the next cut that's logic? "The look joins... the composition of the images and their disposition in relation to one another." POV, for example, places the viewer where the character is.
Heath differentiates subjective camera from subjective image. The former can be a POV, but the latter comes from the viewers themselves. The latter is a synonym to mental image, and more specifically filmic, memory image. "A true subjective image would...need to makr its subjectivity in the image itself." For example, the blurred image of Gutman in The Maltese Falcon. A POV shot is a mix of first and third person. If the image is marked, the viewer might identify with it and thus the camera. Once the viewers identify, they identify with the sum of the scene by having a vision of the same image.
Movement can disturb, intentionally sometimes, when the camera is placed in the impossible place (Branigan) (too high, low, from the eyes of a fish in a fishbowl, etc.) or when the camera becomes an autonomous figure. Classical cinema makes film an invisible process and intends for absolute "realism". Disturbance in identification ("narrative-subject binding") happens when the content and form of cinematography contradict each other.
"The spectator is the point of the film's spatial relations."
Andre Bazin: The Evolution of the Language of Cinema
from What is Cinema, vol.1
Bazin traces the development of cinema, stating "by 1928 the silent film had reached its artistic peak." He questions if a new cinema started to emerge with the addition of sound during 1928-1930. He categorized films from 1920-1940 into two trends: "those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality."
By "image" I here mean...everything that the representation on the screen adds to the object there represented...it can be reduced to two categories: those that relate to the plastics of the image and those that relate to the resources of montage, which, after all, is simply the ordering of images in time.
The plastics of image consists of the set, make-up, performance, lighting and framing of the shot. Bazin credits Malraux (Psychologie du cinéma) to state that montage is what created language of the cinema.
Prewar classics on the American screen generally involves "invisible" montage. Films are edited according to the "material or dramatic logic." The spectator silently agrees with the director, who justify his choices by "the geography of the action or the shirting emphasis of dramatic interest." (24)
Bazin continues to analyze that the potential of montage does not fully realize with the invisible editing. Beyond the invisible, there is parallel montage (sense of simultaneity of two actions taking place at a geographical distance, via Griffith), accelerated montage (multiplicity of shots of decreasing length, via Abel Gance), and montage by attraction (an reenforcement of the meaning of one image by associating it with another, via Eisenstein).
"...Kuleshov, Eisenstein, or Gance did not show us the event; [they] alluded to it." Meaning does not derive from the images themselves but from the juxtaposition from one image to another, although reality is still an element in the images. (25) "The substance of the narrative...is...an abstract result." Bazin summarizes that plastics and montage were two pillars of the cinematic language in silent film, for which sound was only "a counterpoint to the visual image." (26)
(note: A recital of images which creates meaning is not similar in the way poetry works.)
Further from directors who exemplify montage and image "as the essence of cinema" were those who did not use montage. Flaherty portrayed time with one shot. "The length of the hunt is the very substance of the image, its true object." F.W. Murnau was interested in "the reality of dramatic space." "In Tabu, The arrival of a ship from left screen gives an immediate sense of destiny at work..." Erich von Stoheim's rule for direction Take a close look at the world, keep on doing so, and in the end it will lay bare for you all its cruelty and its ugliness."
The moment that you cease to maintain that montage and the plastic composition of the image are the very essence of the language of cinema, sound is no longer the aesthetic crevasse..." (28)
Hollywood cinema dominated during the 1930-40, mainly producing: American comedy, the burlesque film, the dance/vaudeville film, the crime/gangster film, psychological/social dramas, horror/fantasy films and the western. French cinema offered "somber, or poetic, realism." Montage and sound reached balance.
The cinema language of the 1930's (with sound and pan-chromatic) was influenced by development over the decade, the silent film and the gradual "stablization" of technology. Increase of sensitivity in the panchromatic stock allowed shooting at a smaller aperture, increasing the depth of field in productions and thus "eliminating the soft-focus background once considered essential."(30)
Bazin states that since the technology (panchromatic stock, microphone, cranes) has been available since the 1930's, the evolution of film language is less dependent on technology by itself and more on the pursuit of expression.
Editing from the era of silent film is "expressionist" and "symbolic" while the new form of storytelling is "analytic" and "dramatic." (31)
The editing here emphsizes reality -- the meaning of the scene would not change if the camera angle did. ...[T]he stage director like the film director has at his disposal a margin within which he is free to vary the interpretation of the action, but it is only a margin and allows for no modifications of the inner logic of the event. Editing remains "on the level of reality," which accounts for the diminishing usage of optical effects (superimposition) and extreme close-ups in the US, both of which would make the audience conscious of the cutting. In American comedy camera angle returns to a shot of the character from the knees up in order to keep the audience's attention. (32)
The sound image is less flexible than the visual image, claims Bazin, which lead films towards realism and away from plastic expressionism and the symbolic relationship between images. In 1938, editing such as shot-reverse-shot (in dialogues) predominated because of this affiliation to realism. Bazin used Citizen Kane as an example for the in-depth shots. The camera was fixed and dramatic effects resulted from the movement of the actors in this fixed frame. Soft focus only appeared with montage. [I]t was a logical consequence of montage, its plastic equivalent. Shifting of focus "isolates" the subject of shot in space. (33) Orson Welles's precursor, Jean Renoir, used panning shots and entrances for the continuity of dramatic space and its duration. Welles's himself refuses to cut the action and instead uses one-shot sequences. Comparing a film from 1910 and one from Welles, one would find the former frames a shot as a "substitute fro the missing fourth wall of the theatrical stage" while the latter treated the frame as if it were a "working drawing." (34)
Shooting in depth is a step forward in the film language (from montage and soft focus). Bazin speculates the effects of a cinema with more depth: the image is more realistic, the spectator can choose what to look at, montage rules out ambiguity of meaning while depth of field reintroduces it as a possibility.(35-36) Italian neorealism also give back a sense of ambiguity - stripping away expressionism and montage. (37)
Bazin sums up the changes of montage. In sound film, montage no longer brings out "discontinuous description and the dramatic analysis of action" but instead becomes "metaphor and symbol." (39) He compares the filmmaker to a novelist, no longer the competitor of a painter or a playwright. (40)
Andre Bazin: The Virtues and Limitations of Montage
from What is Cinema, vol.1
Bazin analyzes two films in this essay: Une Fée pas comme lesautres and Ballon Rouge.
The first one uses montage to suggest anthropomorphism. The story is constructed out of montage alone, with the only variable for the shots their durations. The narrative builds up with large numbers of characters and the complex relationships among them. "The apparent action and the meaning we attribute to it do not exist...prior to the assembling of the film." (44) Bazin goes on to observe that montage is "the abstract creator of meaning...[which] preserves the state of unreality demanded by the spectacle." (44-45)
In comparison, the meaning of Ballon Rouge does not derive from "the extensions" of montage. The balloon moves within the shot (with tricks nonetheless), creating illusions "out of reality itself." While montage makes things stay in the magic world and on the screen, the balloon in the shot brings the viewers back to reality. (45)
Bazin also observes that the cinema-goers have the literacy to distinguish a shot based in reality and a sequence composed of montage (and thus distinguishing magic and reality). Because the story is part of the shots rather than the montage (or process shots? - does this mean composite), Ballon Rouge is a "tale told in film", "an imaginary documentary." Bazin argues that instead of montage, essential cinema is in "the unity of space" in shots, representing "photographic straightforwardness." (46) Larmorisses's films uses reality as part of its construction. The side of documentary provides "support for the myth." The cinematic reality depends on the documentary reality, but it is does not mean the events portrayed are true. (47) In this sentence: "It is that fringe of trick work, that margin of subterfuge demanded by the logic of the story that allows what is imaginary to include what is real and at the same time to substitute for it", Bazin tries to draw the faint line between documentary and reality. He acknowledges the direction ("trick work" -- multiple horses, actor training) and the fictional construction ("subterfuge") -- though unreal, they use elements from the physical world to make-believe a sense of reality.
The constructs substitute the reality of everyday experience; they need to have the same "spatial density as something real." (48) Bazin used the sequence of Crin Blanc dragging the boy as an example of a weak use of montage. Regardless of the doubles for the horse and the human, when the horse slowed down there was no shot showing the horse and the boy in the same space. The camera fails to "authenticate." (49) In the footnote, Bazin points out a scene in Where No Vultures Fly where parents, child and a lioness are in the same full shot. If it were done in montage, "it would have had the impact only of a story and not of a real event." (49, footnote)
Bazin sums this up by writing a law of aesthetics. "When the essence of a scene demands the simultaneous presence of two or more factors in the action, montage is ruled out." A single-shot sequence versus montage might not effect the story, but dilute the spatial density. In the case of splitting a single-shot up into multiple shots, the real changes into the imaginary. Conversely, to restore reality one can bring separated shots divided by montage into a single shot. Newsreels from early days reconstruct real events this way, which says something about viewer expectation. This does not apply to didactic documentaries. (50-51) Spatial unity also applies to comedy of slapstick comedies such as Chaplin or Keaton. (52)
David Mamet: On Directing Film
The book consists of lectures Mamet gave to students at the film school at Columbia University in 1987. In the preface, Mamet mocks himself: "I had just finished directing my second film, and like the pilot with two hundred hours of flying time, I was the most dangerous thing around." He warns the reader about his "scant experience" as a director, but offers his seasoned perspective as a screenwriter and dramatist.
Throughout the book he emphasizes the uninflected shots. He offers the pragmatics of Eisenstein's montage: "a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between these images moves the story forward in the mind of the audience" (2)
He sees documentaries as essentially a sequence of uninflected shots. "[Directors] should all want to be documentary filmmakers."
The work of a director is to create a shot list. The audience needs dramaturgical development (or simply referred to as drama) instead of information. In his writing one can easily sense his discipline: no narration/exposition (if something calls for narration, it is not important.)
He elaborates what it means to be uninflected: do not try to be interesting. A scene works in storytelling not based on the appearance, but the meaning it creates. Mamet works as a strict dramaturg: what does the protagonist want? This is the question that move the story forward. A scene ends when the protagonist gets it.
He talks about identification as a product of narrative, and especially, drama. Now, don't you go 'establishing' things. Make the audience wonder what's going on by putting them in the same position as the protagonist. As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something. As long as the protagonist is clearly going out and attempting to get that something, the audience will wonder whether or not he's going to succeed. The moment the protagonist, or the auteur of the movie, stops trying to get something and starts trying to influence someone, the audience will go to sleep.(14)
In a lecture with students, he devises a scene with students (a man trying to get retraction from his instructor) to demonstrate objective and beat. To avoid narration is to save the audience from the unessential. Rather than all-knowing, the audience become the protagonist, or, the director has put the audience in the same position as the protagonist. (If the protagonist is anxious, we are anxious, because we don't know what he is early for, and what he is preparing... we just know he is preparing...)
His take on specificity (and art): Not "how might anyone pay homage?" but "what does paying homage mean to me?" That's what makes art different from decoration. (30)
He comes back to the uninflected shot, citing The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim, who used the example of Hitchcock: "the less the hero of the play is inflected, identified, and characterized, the more we will endow him with our own internal meaning -- the more we will identify with him...the more we will be assured that we are that hero." (38) ++++++++++++++
In a footnote he writes that the moment serves the superobjective, and beautiful. If it only serves the superobjective, then the drama falls into a message. If it is only beautiful, then it becomes self-indulgent.(40)
He holds the view that if the shots do not progress according to the development of the drama (lingers too long), the movie taxes the audience. In this case the viewers do not identify with the drama, but rather "indulge you for political reasons." They start to agree based on taste ("I like it") and identify politics ("I like the...statement. I am one of that group, and I endorse the other members of this group, who appreciate the sort of things this fellow is trying to say") (60)
In setting up the environment for storytelling, the audience will try to make sense of the events they see (even though they can be random juxtapositions) because that is how brains function -- a reason that bad films can "succeed." Without storytelling, the progression of images need to become more "interesting" which Mamet calls inducement, i.e. visual extravagance or explanation, i.e. narration. (62)
"If we don't care what happens next, if the film is not correctly designed, we may... create our own story in the same way that a neurotic creates his own cause-and-effect rendition of the world around him, but we'reno longer interested in the sotyr that we're being told." (62)
Mamet inserts his speculation about bad or non-existing storytelling: a filmmaker getting more and more outré and a culture degenerating into depravity (remember he wrote this in the 90's?).
Rather than inducement or explanation, "the structure of any dramatic form should be a syllogism -- a logical construct of this form: If A, then B." (63)
In the following chapter Mamet answers two questions: what to tell the actors and where to place the camera. To the first, his answer is "the actors do the actions -- not emote, not discover." To the second, his answer is "over there in that place in which it will capture the uninflected shot necessary to move the story along." (73) He acknowledges he does not have visual acuity and does not know better.
In devising the shots for Pig (another lecture) he talks about direct depiction. The audience will either think "oh, dash it all, that's fake" or "oh my God, that's real!" Each one takes the audience away from the story, thus "violateing the aesthetic distance." (footnote, 87)
When he speaks about his intuition, it's not without foundation. The thorough dramaturgy of the script throughout development following the montage theory allows him to slack a bit on camera placement. And his experience in theater taught him about great acting.
The Cinematic, DoCA
Campany, D. (2007) Documents of Contemporary Art
Michael Tarantino: A Few Brief Moments of Cinematic Time, 1999
Tarantino annotates the following moments of cinematic time with case studies.
suddenly in Potemkin (1925)
[B]efore Eisenstein film progressed in "logical" development of shots from beginning to end. The new film-rhythm introduced by Eisenstein through cutting and editing reflects his interest in psychological research...
The combination of events renders images not "chronologically" but "associatively."
out of the blue in Psycho
The film starts with a slow pace and speeds up out of the blue, "brutally direct." The violence is the moment of change, dividing the film into pre- and post-moment, . "The rest of the film's narrative [is] a voyage through a kind of dream landscape, in which time is always measured by the possibility of another violent eruption of shots."
When Hitchcock talks about the viewer's sensation of time passing being conditioned by memory, i.e. the shock of experiencing speed (usually communicated by montage) or the pleasure of experiencing slowness (the long take, the moving camera), he is really talking about a kind of anticipation. We expect a rhythm based on what we have seen.
When the scenes in Psycho are drawn out and in a way, deconstructed in Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho (1993), the rhythm from the original film is re-defined and does not have the same effect on the viewer.
anxiety and reality in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
"Jeanne taking abath, Jeanne washingthe dishes, cleaning the house... these events, normally excised from film narratives or greatly reduced, seem totake place in real time."
During its initial screen at MOMA in 1975, the 3 hour 20 minute film made many viewers "unable to deal with" what the film "demands" on them. "Perhaps they were uable to see where the narrative was leading. Perhaps they could not make sesne of why these ' non-narrative' events were elevated to such an important level." Those who stayed till the end of the film "let out a collective scream at the climax of the film." The real-time-like appearance of the film built up real anxiety.
blind spots in La tache aveugle (1978/90) via The Invisible Man(1933)
By drawing out that moment, that establishing shot, the artist renders the very act of seeing to be problematic. It is a moment which is almost 'out of time'. The artist fetishizes it by making us regard an image we cannot read, cannot... describe.
a few moments in time
- Willie Doherty, Somewhere Else (installation)
- Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West
- Michelangelo Antonioni, L'Aventura - "Here once's sense of time passing is that it is endless. The film's version of 'real time ' seems almost hallucinogenic."
- Andy Warhol, Empire
- Michael Snow, Wavelength
- Marguerite Dura, Le Camion
- Gena Rowlands, Woman under the Influence
- Wim Wenders, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter
The author recalls going to the movies with his father and, having missed the start, staying until the second play reached his arrival point. "Time was predictable and it was on our side."
Susanne Gaensheimer: Moments in Time, 1999 (the same exhibition appears in Michael Tarantino)
The author connects art works at the exhibition, Moments in Time (1999), with theory from Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. Slowless manifests in two ways (via two groups of art). The first type of slowness is produced in the work itself by certain technical means (reduced frame speed, or shot at a higher speed and play at normal 24FPS). The second type is not so much from the work itself (its mechanism) but "in the observer's cognitive process of perception."
Notice how the author describes the art work (these are reference to concrete description of an image and/or a mechanism, helpful in art writing).
James Coleman, La tache aveugle
In 1978 James Coleman created the first version of his slide projection La tache aveugle, in which thirteen frames from a sequence of about half a second from the 1933 film The Invisible Man by James Whale are projected onto a large wall for a period of more than eight hours... By extending this brief sequence of about half a second over a duration of more than eight hours, the intervals between the individual frames are stretched to more than 36 minutes.
Douglas Gordon, 24 hour psycho
Douglas Gordon projects a video copy of Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho in extreme slow motion and without sound onto a freestanding 3x4 metre screen. The otherwise unaltered tape is played at the greatly reduced speed of about two frames per second, so that the projection of the whole film lasts 24 hours. The screen is visible from the front and the back.
Bill Viola, The Greeting
This 1995 installation is a large-format projection showing the encounter of three women. The scene was originally shot on 35 mm film and then transferred to a laser disk. A wind-like sound is added to the scene... Viola himself has filmed a staged scene at 300 frames per second. Thus it was possible to produce extreme slow motion and at the same time maintain the pristine pictorial quality of a film made at the normal speed of 24 frames per second. The scene's real time of about 45 seconds is drawn out in the video to last ten minutes.
Steve McQueen, Bear
This 16mm film, transferred to a laser disc and projected onto a large wall, shows a scene that is formally reminiscent of the classical boxing match in popular films: From a mostly low angle, which simulates the perspective of a fictional observer 'close to the ring', the camera focuses on two naked men in a match-like situation. What one initially perceives as the beginning of a fight soon becomes an ambiguous game of desire, intimacy and aggression. The men circle and approach one another, finally falling into an intimate embrace that suddenly turns into a wrestling match..."
"This issue [of the act of making], as far of [Steve McQueen] is concerned, is always one of narrative intelligibility. Not [...] packaged Hollywood-style as a form of story-telling, but narrative which is pursued in and through the act of making, almost as a form of tactile, psycho-visual enquiry. Every decision is made as a part of a process, and the process is itself evidence of the presence of narrative." (Jon Thompson, It's the way you tell'em)
"With reference to Henri Bergson, who in Creative Evolution (1907) describes perception as a cinematographic process whereby we take 'snapshots' from the 'passing' reality and 'string them on a becoming, abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus section.' Deleuze elaborates on Bergson, defining "the medium of film as number of snap shots (as opposed to the long-exposure photograph), which are transferred to a framework (that is, the film) at an equal distance from one another and transported by a mechanism for moving the images."
"Deleuze defines duration in terms of relations. Reducing the movement means dissolving the relations; the meaning-giving link between the actions disintegrates."
Wim Wenders: Time Sequences, Continuity of Movement, 1971
Wenders is intrigued by the act of watching. He marvels at the simplicity of early cinema, in which something is simply recorded with few possibilities of "directing." The message of the film is not interesting to him as he prefers the process of revealing: films with images that "don't come complete with their interpretations."
In this essay he wrote about two of his works. In Summer in the City, he and his colleague loosely followed a script, leaving a part of the film to chance. He described one two-minute shot in Urania, a Berlin cinema where nothing happened and another eight-minute shot driving through the Kudamm tunnel, which was the time it took to pass the tunnel. His observation: when people think they've seen enough of something, but there's more, and change of shot, then they react in a curiously livid way.
He has an unwillingness to modify cinema time, which in his view should "should keep faith with the passage of time". It is worth noting that the article was written in 1971 and he shot with 16mm film in black and white. With today's digital tools, an eight-minute footage (or something longer) would be inexpensive to shoot. But with film, there was a certain sense of being economic, and in my opinion the choice to let the film run for eight-minutes was more deliberate.
In his other work, The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, he kept shooting with continuity of the movement, which anchored events in real time. To Wenders, "films are congruent time-sequences, not congruent ideas." He had trouble viewing changes through editing (from change to locations to close-up shots that showed different characters in one conversation) and writing ("cutting off an action that you know is actually continuing").
He never mentioned the word "montage" in his essay. Perhaps he hated it so much that even the thought of it was unbearable...
Bearumont Newhall: Moving Pictures, 1937
Peter Wollen: Fire and Ice, 1984
In this essay Wollen started with a recount on Roland Barthes' "antipathy towards cinema," in which images followed "an imposed reading time" and narrative. Wollen suggested a more nuanced relationship between the concept of time and narrative.
He used the concept of Aspect (Bernard Comrie) to dissect the functions of duration, creating semantic categories for photographs based on whether they represented states, processes, or events. News photographs signify events, some documentary photographs and Muybridge's series: processes, art and some other documentary photographs: states. Wollen modeled the "minimal story-form" on the sequence of "process, event, state," which could take the form of the series of a documentary photo, a news photo and an art photo. He found this structure parallel to the early film minimal narrative: someone is doing something, another person provokes a situation, now someone has fallen to the ground and is upset.
Wollen acknowledged this sequencing would be the result of editing and affirmed that individual still photographs would be elements of narrative. The time in each photograph itself "endures". A photography suggesting an event would imply state changes before or after the event, for example, which made the "enduring" a paradoxical one. Wollen called that "a frozen tongue of fire."
He used La Jetée" by Chris Marker to demonstrate a narrative created with still images. Still photographs can "order and demarcate time". Depending on how the story was told, still images could inherit different tenses, "set in the future/in the present as past-of-the-future/in between near-future."
Could a still photographic image contain a whole narrative, and yet still be without tense? In Wollen's analysis, the Capa photograph of the Spanish Civil War soldier which captured the moment as he is felled, would be an example for that narrative: a complete action with beginning and end. "The subject is split into an observer of himself."
With the semantic categories and the tense created for the images (in fiction, mostly), Wollen concluded his essay reiterating his difference from Barthe. "Unlike him, I am not always longing for a way of bringing the flow to a stop." Wollen's introduction to the semantics of time (and how narrative and time could be combined and created at different levels) is worth considering, especially when creating works around memory, fictional memory.
(haven't written) Constance Penley: The Imaginary of the Photograph in Film Theory, 1984
Christian Metz: Photography and Fetish, 1985
The first difference is the "spatio-temporal size" of the lexis (defined by Danish semiotician Louis Hjelmslev as "a socialized unit of reading"). The cinematic lexis (a screen in the movie theater) is larger than that of a photography (e.g. a print on the wall); the cinematic lexis involves a fixed duration while the photographic one does not. Metz proposes that the "smallness" and "possibility of lingering look" make photography more likely to become a fetish.^
The second difference lies in the connection between cinema and collectivity and that between photograph and privacy. Metz suggests the reasons of this is the lack of accessibility to film production and the availability of photos, though both film (collective entertainment) and photography (record of a family birthday party) in certain ways are considered as art. He brings in sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to confirm the meaning of photography as souvenir. Metz uses theories from Charles Sanders Peirce and Philippe Dubois and suggests that both film and photography are indexical. The shared qualities of film and photography are that they are both "prints of real objects." But they differ when film starts to have narrative, creating the "unreal," while photography stays close to the index.
The third difference is a result from the physical nature of the two medium. Films are a plurality of images that often convey movement. Even when images are still in a film, the immobilities create an "ideal movement."^^"Movement and plurality both imply time, as opposed to the timelessness of photography which is comparable to the timelessness of the unconscious and of memory." Metz further distinguishes cinema from photography from a technical standpoint: films are made of images and sound, whereas photography is silent.
Metz elaborates the relationship between photography and death. The most immediate connection is the social practice of keeping a photo of a deceased, loved one. But even when the person is still alive, the moment the photo is taken is gone, vanished. The snapshot presents another connection to death: the optical registration "abduct[s] the object out of the world into another world [...and] time." In this sense, cinema unfolds time similar to that of life, a process that enables "forgetting." Photography takes a fragment of time and space and preserves the memory as the rest of the world "continues to change."
The next part of the essay analyze fetish based on Freud's theory. [He also makes observations about the place of psychoanalysis in the reading of film, photography, literature, etc. But I find it less relevant to the quality of the medium from a perspective of 2019.]
One things worth noting from Metz's analysis is the off-frame space of the two medium. The filmic off-frame space is "substantial" in the sense that the viewers can expect the happenings or return of a character, whereas the photographic off-frame space is "subtle": nothing returns, and absence prevails.
A few descriptions from Metz are illuminating. "A fetish has to be kept, mastered, held like the photography in the pocket" while "[in film] things are too unstable" with movements and different sensorial engagements.
"Where film lets us believe in more things, photography lets us believe more in one thing."
^ "A fetish...is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others... In common parlance, the word fetish is used to refer to any sexually arousing stimuli, not all of which meet the medical criteria for fetishism.")
^^ Consider the mechanical movement during projection.
Laura Mulvey: Stillness in the Moving Image, 2003
In this essay, Mulvey articulates stillness in cinema where electronic/digital technologies have prevailed. She suggests that new technologies bring out the property of the celluloid (a term that she uses "advisedly," as a frame of reference rather than the actual material). (New technologies at that time was the DVD player. However, the analysis still applies at the age of internet streaming.)
She writes from three points of departure: spectatorship, indexical sign and narrative. "As narrative coherence fragments, as the indexical moment suddenly finds visibility in the slowed or stilled image, so spectatorship finds new forms." (134, The Cinematic)
Compared to her earlier writings (i.e. the female star, visual pleasure, etc.) her new interest lies in "the presence of time itself...behind the mask of storytelling." (135, ibid) New technologies allow the spectator time to stop, which creates a possibility that connects photographic theories to the moving image.
Mulvey writes that movement exists on three levels for (celluloid) film: the machine that drives celluloid (thus creating the illusion of movement), the camera itself, and the "conceptual and ideological properties" of storytelling. She uses the phrase "obsession with movement" to capture the discourse about cinema in its early days and cites Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida) who draws a hard line between photography and cinema as demonstration.
She continues to analyze the "conflicting temporalities" in narrative cinema: between the moment of registration (i.e. when the image is created via a lens onto photosensitive materials, "there-and-then-ness") and the presence of a narrative ("here-and-now-ness"). The different properties of cinema emerge because of the "objective alliances" between the narrative and the camera/projector.
Mulvey adapts Raymond Bellour's concept of the pensive spectator. In his essay, Bellour contrasts photography ("immobility, the past, a certain absence") and cinema ("illusion", "movement, the present, presence"). In his argument, direct reference to photography in a film is a confrontation to the spectator, blending two kinds of time. Mulvey suggests that the pensive becomes the curious (who are also intellectual and informed about feminism), as new technologies enable the pause/break of a moving image with the simple push of a button. The new spectator is also "fetishistic". "Certain privileged moments can become fetishized moments for endless and obsessive repetition," freed from their original narrative. (From the point of a critic/theorist, this "fragmentation of narrative" did exist before new technologies via textual analysis, but it was difficult to realize because of limited access to flatbed editing tables.)
Stilling (as a verb) the moving image reverses the conflicting temporality in the narrative, and gives the the spectator agency to fetishize any moment. (Think meme.)
Catherine David: Photography and Cinema, 1989
In this article (lecture transcript) David analyzes the difference and cross-overs between photography and cinema from two perspectives: historical and structural.
From the historical point of view: photography was invented around 1826, and cinema 1895. The cinema from a photographic origin is not the same as the origin of the cinema, observed by the French theorist Alain Jobert, who finds the concept of movement already present in photography (so as to argue that movement, or narrative did not start with cinema). He continues: some early photographers are influenced by conventions from painting, sculpture, theatre, which lead to "a certain mode of choice, scope, cutting and editing (pictorialism, monumentality, the picturesque)" while others find a logic in the succession of images, producing what was "strongly narrative, such as the series, the sequence, or reportage." Jobert illustrates these two ways of image creation by comparing documentary photography by Felice Beato (ambiguous, "beginning of narration") and John Thompson ("picturesque register").
The discourse in which photography pertains to stillness and cinema, to motion is "too neat and organized." In David's view, "it's more legitimate to make a history of viewpoints than a history of forms, in terms of certain bodies of work in both photography and cinema." She refers to Paul Virilio, who describes the end of the 20th century as "the era of logic" and a "privileged moment of collaboration between art and artists." Avant-garde artists made photography and cinema side by side. The high point of the photography and cinema parallel was the 1920s. In the case of the Russian avant-gardes, photography and cinema were made with the same goal to make art accessible for the masses with art forms that connects to "the real."
David quotes Jeff Wall, cinema is a paradigmatic form of modern art. Cinema is defined by its relationship with the institution and with industrial production. A 1929 exhibition, "Film und Foto", in Stuttgart captured the tight-knit relationship between photographers and film producers, featuring Dziga Vertov, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Sergei Eisenstein, László Moholy-Nagy. A new edition of the catalogue of the exhibition was published in 1979, with an eclectic collection of works.^ The exhibition would be impossible with the abundance of video and synthesized images, which has since pulled apart photography and cinema. In the 20's and 30's there is both aesthetical bleed over from photography to film, as shown in Robert Siodmak's film Menschen am Sonntag, and "complex, photo-type montage" such as Moholy-Nagy's Dynamic of the Big City.
This close relationship between photography and cinema fizzled out with the rise of fascism in the 30's, as artist communities dispersed and independent cinema suffered from economic difficulties. In the 1950's, André Bazin brought the photographic aesthetic back to film (neo-realism), in which "cinema is a photographic act of the recording and the representation of the real."
David perceives a gap between Bazin and the present and phrases the current state of images as "the crisi of images," "the unfurling of images, the proliferation, the haemorrhaging of images" with TV, advertising and entertainment. These images constantly "lose their meanings" and become invisible, abstract, replaceable ("like merchandise.") She quotes a film critic "the only thing left for us to do is to free the cinema from the image" and notes that here the word choice is image rather than photography. (Image as in body image, for example.) Synthesized images lose analogous relationship to the real. (At this point David associates all digital image as synthesized and unreal... The line between real and unreal, and the mediums associated with them seem rather simplistic. But bear in mind that was pre-internet in 1989.)
David brings up a kind of resistance in photography and cinema against publicity and synthesized images. Here she articulates what she means by the photographic image (different from the two), "images that mediate subjects." She uses Jeff Wall's images to illustrate the cinematic, which are also images possible post the invention of the cinema experience ("a point of no return, a historical moment"). "When Wall says that these pictures arrest and make dense that which cinema lets pass by or obscures, I think that he is really making a choice."
She compares him to some contemporary filmmakers (i.e. Wim Wenders, Straub-Huillet) as they have a similar relationship with time, fixation and distortion. Wenders makes photographic cinema: he favors the accidental and works as a photographer waiting for the captive moment. Straub-Huillet works in real time with a fixed plan and fixed shots, establishing a process similar to that of photography. "My last comment on these pictures [by Wall] is that they rely on a condensation of all the phenomena, all the transactions which are at stake in the interior of a film in order to five all the immobility, the weight, the density of a kind of photographic image back to the cinema."^^
David shows extracts of Persona by Ingmar Bergman (attention to photography, with the photographic image) and The Power of the Word by Jean-Luc Godard (attention to the real, with "the contemporary image").
^The list includes:
- Jeanne d'Arc (Carl Dreyer) 1928
- Secrets of a Soul (G.W. Pabst) 1926
- Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann) 1927
- Ten Days That Shook the World (Sergei Eisenstein) 1927
- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari(Robert Wiene) 1920
- The Circus (Charlie Chaplin) 1928
- Ballet mécanique (Fernand Léger) 1924
- L'Étoile de mer (Man Ray) 1928
This part concerns film history. For someone unfamiliar with these names/films, the connections or significance are not visible. But based on the what the author argues in the article these films illustrate the close relationship between film and photography in the 20's among the avant-garde artists. Perhaps read a bit more about the art history from that period.
^^David goes on to show photos of Susanne Lafont - a different kind of cinematic photography ("conscious of the passage of time").
Agnès Varda, response to "3 Questions sur: Photo et Cinéma', in Photogénies, no.5, ed. Raymond Bellour, Sylain Roumette, Catherine Sentis (Paris: Centre National de la Photographic, April 1984) n.p. Translated by Ian Farr, 2006
Photography never ceases to instruct me when making films. And cinema reminds me at every instant that it films motion for nothing, since every image becomes a memory, and all memories congeal and set. In all photography there's the suspension of movement, which in the end is the refusal of movement. There motion is in vain. In all film there's the desire to capture the motion of life, to refuse immobility. But in film the still image is in vain, like the foreboding of a car breakdown, like watching out for death.
Gilles Deleuze, Beyond the Movement-Image//1985. Cinema 2: The Time-Image (london: Athlone Press, 1989) 16-18
The vase in Late Spring is interposed between the daughter's half smile and the beginning of her tears. There is becoming, change, passage. But the form of what changes does not itself change, does not pass on. This is time, time itself, 'a little time in its pure state': a direct time-image, which gives what changes the unchanging form in which the change is produced. The night that changes into day, or the reverse, recalls a still life on which light falls, either fading or getting strong (That Night's Wife, Passing Fancy, 1930). The still life is time, for everything that changes is in time, but time does not itself change, it could itself change only in another time, indefinitely. At the point where the cinematographic image most directly confronts the photo, it also becomes most radically distinct from it. Ozu's still lifes endure, have a duration, over ten seconds of the vase: this duration of the vase is precisely the representation of that which endures, through the succession of changing states... It is in this way that nature or stasis was defined, according to Schrader, as the form that links the everyday in 'something unified and permanent'. There is no need at all to call on a transcendence. In everyday banality, the action-image and even the movement-image tend to disappear in favour of pure optical situations, but these reveal connections of a new type, which are no longer sensory-motor and which bring the emancipated senses into direct ration with time and thought. This is the very special extension of the opsign [pure optical image]: to make time and thought perceptible, to make them visible and of sound... <----- still image here directly contrasts that in Varda's view, but it makes sense, how still life (shots of objects) can convey a passage of time, though not always
Peter Wollen, 'Fire and Ice', in Photographies, no.4 (Paris, April 1984) 118-20.
The lover of photography is fascinated both by the instant and by the past. The moment captured in the image is of near-zero duration and location in an ever-receding 'then'. At the same time, the spectator's 'now', the moment of looking at the image , has no fixed duration. It can be extended as long as fascination lasts and endlessly reiterated as long as curiosity returns. This contrasts sharply with film, where the sequence of images is presented to the spectator with a predetermined duration and, in general, is only available at a fixed programme time.
Photography appeared as a spatial rather than temporal art, vertical rather than horizontal (simultaneity of features rather than consecutiveness) and one which allowed the spectator time to veer away on a train of thought, circle back, traverse and criss-cross the image. Time, for Barthes, should be the prerogative of the reader/spectator: a free rewriting time rather than an imposed reading time.
Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
Shrader analyzes films by the three filmmakers in-depth to illustrate (and conclude) a universal style that is the transcendental style. Definitions are set in the introduction and observations are carried out in the conclusion. I skipped the chapter on Dreyer because points on Ozu and Bresson prove enough of the author's arguments.
The main take-away is the author's analysis on the use of "realism" to illustrate spiritual quality. (157) Realism turns outside in. (Sypher) Ozu and Bresson use the everyday, worldly imagery as the abundant (naturalism) and their ways of flattening the image for the sparse (disparity). Their films reach stasis, through which the viewers transcend (aka. experience the transcendental). The abundant encourages empathy and maintains the viewer's interest while the sparse brings appreciation and respect and thus "elevates the soul." (155)
The everyday: a meticulous representation of the dull, banal commonplaces of everyday living (39)
Disparity: an actual or potential disunity between man and his environtment which ulminates in a decisive action (42)
Stasis: a frozen view of life which does not resolve the disparity but transcends it (49)
Introduction and conclusion
Transcendental style uses precise temporal means — camera angles, dialogue, editing — for predetermined transcendental ends. (3)
Transcendental style is not religious film. The transcendent is "beyond normal sense experience, and that which it transcends is, by definition, the immanent." Authors definitions:
The Transcendent: the "Wholly Other", the transcendental: human acts/artifacts which express the Transcendent, transcendence: the human religious experience motivated by a deep psychological need (Freud) or by an external Other (Jung) (4-6)
Causal necessities and objective determinism do not lead to the sacred. (Amédée Ayfre)
Transcendental style, like the mass, transforms experience into a repeatable ritual which can be repeated transcended. (11)
naturalism, tradition v. (individual) style, asceticism (153)
Film provides: a sense of verifiable reality, factual surety, comprehensible environment (160)
Overabundant: the religious film uses a style of identification rather than of confrontation. The spiritual drama becomes an escapist metaphor for the human drama. (164)
Oversparse: the stasis film requires the viewer to have knowledge and commitment of past achievement of film and art. (Wavelength, Micheal Snow; Still Life, Bruce Baillie; Song 27, Stan Brakhage) (167)
Shrader analyzes Ozu's films within the frame of Zen aesthetics. While Zen — its rituals and aesthetics — is specific, Shrader argues the transcendental style goes beyond culture. (I looked up wabi, sabi, aware no mono and yugen and their translations, albeit in Chinese. I can infer certain nuances of these terms, but don't see them as priorities for investigating further.) Notes:
- restricted cinematography: camera is always at the level of a person seated in traditional fashion on the tatami, about three feet above the around...it's the attitude for watching, for listening...from which one sees Noh...partakes of the tea ceremony. It is the aesthetic attitude; it is the passive attitude (22)
- ritual over variety, controlled accident
- To Ozu film is not expression but function
- The character's individual feelings are of passing importance
- Shrader used the term coda to describe composition. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coda_%28music%29
- the infrastructure of ritual: A certain pattern of shots is repeatable within an Ozu paragraph, a certain pattern of Ozu paragraphs is repeatable within an Ozu film, etc.(33)
- "realism" as a springboard for other interpretations of life, overlaying seemingly realistic environment with fantasy, folk-myth, expressionism, and so forth (39)
- transcendental style is a form (expresses the Transcendent/common ground), not an experience(only expresses one man's reaction to that common ground)... (51) <-- I don't necessarily agree with this because my understanding of the common ground is through each individual's reaction, aka. affects are universal.
- Bresson and Ozu are both formalist. Both have a rigid, predictable style that varies little from various films/subjects. Spiritual sentiments lead to formalism. The subject of a film is only pretext. Form is a primary method of inducing belief. [60-61]
- Cinematic attention to the surface creates a documentary or quasi-documentary approach - "the aspect of truth." Bresson uses obvious documentary methods: actual locations, nonactors and "live" sound. "Yet there is no desire to capture the documentary 'truth' of an event (the cinéma-vérité), only the surface Bresson documents the surfaces of reality." The realistic surface is not simply realism, it is the raw material of the Transcendent.  !!
- surface aesthetics - Byzantine scholar
- Plots in Bresson's films are predestined, beyond the viewer's expectations. In other words, beyond expected causality. Bresson despises the dramatic stories and acting.  (The way Bresson goes about actors makes them sound like only capable of melodrama - "it is only he who creates, not you". I disagree. I think he means the uninflected image like what Mamet (aka. Eisenstein) says.
- Bresson's camera angle: chest level of a standing person. A frame for the action: a character enters the frame, perofms an action, and exits. Bresson's static camerawork nullifies the camera's editorial prerogatives...postpones emotional involvement. 
- "documentary" sounds  Viewer's emotions have been superficially rejected -- towards disparity: predictable, ordered, cold.  (I think the "cold reinforcement of the everyday" strains the viewers.)
- Bresson's characters resond to a special call with no natural place/causality. "the environment suggests documentary realism, yet the central character suggests spiritual passion." "spiritual density within a factual world creates a sense of emotional weight within an unfeeling environment. Disparity suggests the need, but not the place, for emotions." "The very detachment of emotion intensifies the potential emotional experience." [77-78] (The last quote is a speculation.)
- is stasis catharsis? is sublime the ultimate?
Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes
Films and Feelings by Raymond Durgnat
Abstraction and Empathy by Wilhelm Worringer
Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images
The book gives a comprehensive introduction to photography criticism. The author is American and uses a fair share of examples from the era of Cindy Sherman. I find the following worth the read. Including notes of my own stance.
Verbs associated with photography criticism
describe, interpret, contextualize, judge
Facts about artist, title, medium, size, date and place or type of presentation are meaningful descriptive data.
Interpretation based on intentionalism (whether artist achieved what they set out to do) is problematic for a few reasons: a photographer might not have expressed or does not want to express his/her intent - not all photographers engage in both image-making and criticizing - artists working intuitively don't "intend" when making. The interpretive task should be on the viewer. An artist's explanation is not more privileged than other criticism.
From brief section on interpretation and feeling: Feelings provide important clues to learning about the content of an image...What is that I am feeling? Why am I feeling it? Is there a certain subject or form or a particular use of the media that I am reacting to? Being attuned to our feelings when viewing images is a way to get beyond the obvious, to begin to identify the connotations of images. (58)
The community of interpreters: critics, artists, historians, dealers, collectors and viewers — I see this as a rather conservative circle. It rings true, and the significance of each of the roles depend on the artist's operational circumstance.
Types of photography, the interpretive process
4 stylistic trends from Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography
straight (texture, recorded by camera as is, Ansel Adams), formalistic (form for its own sake, Man Ray), documentary (journalistic), equivalent (inner meaning)
The author added new categories: descriptive, explanatory, interpretive, ethically evaluative, aesthetically evaluative, theoretical. -- I don't find these entirely useful for artists, perhaps more for curators and historians...
The photographer's eye (Nelson Goodman): It selects, rejects, organizes, discriminates, associates, classifies, analyzes, constructs. It does not so much mirror as take and make...
A few of the author's bullet points. It is obvious he criticism is part of larger cultural theories. I don't necessarily agree with these seeming aphorisms — they are his opinions and point of view. But it's worth comparing to how I see an image and deem it meaningful when I see it.
- SUBJECT MATTER + MEDIUM + FORM + CONTEXTS = MEANING
- Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
- Photographs are cultural rather than natural.
- Photographs should be seen as opinions.
- Photographs acquire meanings by how they are read.
- All images are in part about the cultures in which they emerge.
- All images are in part about other images.
- The admissibility of an interpretation is determined by a community of interpreters and the community is self-correcting. <-- this speaks about the wider field of art.
- Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to think on our own.
good: plausible, interesting, enlightening, insightful, meaningful, revealing, original
conversely: unreasonable, unlikely, impossible, inappropriate, absurd, far-fetched, strained
"To dismiss a careully thought out opinion with a comment like 'That's just your opinion!' is intellectually irresponsible." (55)
Judging a photograph
A few questions that help me explain images:
- By what criterion does this photograph seem to want to be judged?
- By what criterion will I judge this image?
- How might I help someone else appreciate this photograph?
- Is this photograph better than that photograph?
- Is this a good use of photography?
Theory, photography history
ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics
"Theories can be partial, incomplete, and fragmented. We move through the world with such theories and may not be cognizant of them until questioned about them. Such theories are probably better understood as assumptions rather than theories about reality, life, art, and photography." (178-79)
Crudely speaking, I found myself more interested in the history of photograph before it was accepted as a form of art and associated with art movements and cultural theories(modernism, post-modernism - read: Walter Benjamin, marxist/feminist/multicultural/queer theory, etc). To be engaged with ethics from these angles (especially the more recent networks of theories) seem to be politically correct, but I am not personally motivated by these discourses (that's of course a gross generalization).
- Digital image production grant photographers access to previously inaccessible level of information (silver halides and other material basis).
- Realist theory. e.g. Positivism and the camera grew up together (John Berger, 1982). Camera provides objective data (Allan Sekula, 1986).
- Conventionalist Theory. e.g. Photographs are not natural phenomena, but we came to think of them as such (Joel Snyder)."Styles of representation... are invented by artists and draftsmen in a culture, and then learned by viewers in that culture." (for example, slow shutter speed --> motion blur) (Nelson Goodman)
- "Even given all you can do with changing the photographic image using Photoshop, I still think that there is a directness of refernce to the thing that is photographed. It's less mediated by individual idiosyncratic choices about how to render — all of those things — than other media." (Adrian Piper - realist position)
Roland Barthes's phenomenological approach to theory. From Camera Lucida:
Each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares).Interms of image-repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object.
Sontag on suffering and spectatorship. From "Looking at War":
To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment... It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify "the world" with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people's pain, just as it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.
Is a Museum a Factory?
Hito Steyerl, 2009. Extracts from 'Is a Museum a Factory?' e-flux journal, vol 7 (jun - aug 2009)
"Imagine: Workers leaving the factory. Spectators leaving the cinema - a similar mass, disciplined and controlled in time, assembled and released at regular intervals... [I]magine: Workers leaving the factory. Spectators trickling out of the museum (or even queuing to get in). An entirely different constellation of time and space. This second crowd is not a mass, but a multitude. The museum doesn't organize a coherent crowd of people. People are dispersed in time and space...
This spatial transformation is reflected by the format of many newer cinematic works. [...] While the traditional cinema set0up works from a single central perspective, multi-screen projections create a multifocal space. While cinema is a mass medium, multi-screen installations address a multitude spread out in space, connected only by distraction, separation and difference. [...]"
"Cinema inside the museum thus calls for a multiple gaze, which is no longer collective, but common, which is incomplete, but in process, which is distracted and singular, but can be edited into various sequences and combinations."
Archaic Paradigms of the Screen and Its Images
José Moure, from the book Screens (ed. Dominique Chateau & José Moure)
"My concern here is with the adoption of the screen as a condition of filmic imagery. Neither of the earliest successful moving-image systems had foreseen projection on a screen as the mode of display."
Projection + screen becomes a standard after Lumière's cinematograph.
Phantasmagoria, late 18th century
Lantern-based shows, mid 19th century
broad adoption of screen + projection in beginning 20th century
The essay lists specific developments in material choices and asthetics (eg. beveled) of the screen. The scale and size differed among countries (e.g. UK and US).
Competition with television provoked the development of scale and shape of the auditorium. 3D, immersive experience, and IMAX are some examples of the developments.
The concept of the Mental Screen: The Internalized Screen, the Dream Screen, and the Constructed Screen
Definitions of the screen: more or less large physical surface where text, still/animated images, interface controls are displayed. Display modes: projection, transparency slide, scanning, contact.
the internalized screen
What is the cinema space now when people think of cinema? an enclosed space with spectators present, a projection in the dark, surround sound. -- Cinema has become a mental screen. The authors used a few abstractions to differentiate the experience that is cinema (and that is not, or somewhere in between).
Discursive introducers: mentally enter the cinema space (seeing a movie on TV)
Pragmatic introducers: devices intending to modify the physical space of the viewing (Dolby sound at home)
Exclusive rigid connector: cinema experience linked to a specific space and not via TV or phone
Inclusive rigid connector: one abstract oneself from the physical context
Flexible connector: home cinema
Open connector: viewers enjoy what they see without thinking too much
the dream screen
"The dream screen would be an operator that one an hold in one's hand, watch as long as one likes, as many times as one likes, alone or with others, a screen that one can carry around, that one can keep with oneself at all times, an operator allowing for exchange and discussion...passed from hand to hand and that would even allow one, like photography, to send moving images to distant family members or friends." Today, it is the phone.
the constructed screen/screen as a frame
frame = a will to communicate
transform the world into an aesthetic space
Digital Cinematography: Evolution of Craft or Revolution in Production?
John Mateer, 2014
Mateer refreshes the two camps on digital cinematography: the evolutionists, who view technology as a natural progression with other technical advancements in cinema, and the revolutionists, who argue technologies changed the nature of cinematic storytelling as well as the view experience.(3)
The cinematographer is knowledge in both the artistic and the technical - some are have more restricted roles (dir. Hitchcock) than others (dir. Woody Allen). The cinematographer also needs to possess the material knowledge: ensure the material and equipment for filmmaking can withstand the conditions of the set and that they can scale for reproduction. "The modern professional cinematographer is part artist, part scientist and part businessperson..." (4)
The evolution of digital motion pictures: in the beginning SD digital video has "too low a resolution (0.4 megapixels), too little latitude (about 6-8 f-stops compared to film's 13/14), and insufficient color depth" to be capable of being a viable medium. With the introduction of charge-coupled devices (CCD) digital videos offered the same resolution as 16mm film stock. HD arrived in 2003.
In the film studios, digital intermediate (DI) process was standard. (Film negatives are scanned into digital form for editing, compositing and finishing.) HDCAM brought complete digital postproduction. Because HD (1980x1080) is similar to 2K (2048x1556), DI process adapted to HD materials. HD systems did "not represent a new paradigm" of existing techniques and did not immediately replace the established 35mm practices. Images produced by CCD did not capture as much information in shadow and highlight areas. Nonlinear distribution of luminance, used in processing these images to resemble film stock, produced artifacts and increased visual noise. (6)
Technology advanced in both image reproduction systems and in computer processing performances. Cinematographically, CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semi-conductor) increased the efficiency of the digital workflow and produced images close to the look of film. New cameras by Arri was capable to utilize a CMOS chip to produce similar result as 35mm.(7)
The start-up Red introduced a new CMOS chip to improve camera performance, disrupting the high cost and technical conservatism in the industry, (8)
production cost comparison
Despite the technological changes, the tasks of cinematography remain similar: lens choice, shot composition, and means of camera movement. Changes occur in operation. With the digital workflow came digital imaging technician (DIT) who keeps data integrity in check and backs up properly. Because new digital cameras now captures much more data than before, the final look of the image has shifted to post-production. (9-10)
The author concludes the digital advancement is more evolutionary than revolutionary: "Systems used in the creation of motion pictures have been emerging and changing...: hand-cranked cameras gave way to motorized systems; film stocks grew in gauge and sensitivity color systems were introduced, developed, and refined, as was sound; wide-screen formats have come and gone..." The role of the cinematographer, "creation of images through the understanding of light, optics and story", remains the same but the skills required for the role have changed. (10-11)
Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality
This essay is the first one I read where reality is discussed in depth (rather than an inherent property of images captured by the camera). I have since read more elaborate literature and more in-depth discussions about realism. Moving on.
Maya Deren, 1960
- cinematography v. photography
In this essay photography is a synonym to images captured with a photochemical process (and thus used as a higher category for cinematography).
The authority of reality = knowledges and values we attach to direct address (159)
Authority, in a more useful way of framing, would be the potential of evoking empathy because is it so real. I compare it to tragedy ("what the hero is going through could happen to me").
Reality can also be a metaphor. The invented accident "borrows reality from reality". (156)
slow-motion: undoing of time
- time form (160)
narrative, poetry (emotions), memory
Laura Mulvey, Autotheory, Organization of autobiographical and critical writing
Longitudinal reading of Laura Mulvey
Autotheory as Rebellion: On Research, Embodiment, and Imagination in Creative Nonfiction
interesting: Edmund Morris, biographer of Ronald Reagan, became a fictional narrator in the biography.
The Autobiography of My Novel
To weave the text together, I have been paying close attention to the structure of paragraphs and noted strategies used by Nelson. I intend to implement similar ones, including: - direct transitions from personal memory to critical observation from one paragraph to another, manifesting a process in which memory provokes thought (p60, Butler) - leveling non-critical writing (own or from others) and theories (own or from others) in the same paragraph when the boundaries between feeling and thinking are porous (p55, Bellamy) - equalizing own critical thoughts and those from others in the same paragraphs, creating a nebula of significant observations regardless of discurve hierarchy (i.e. being a friend to a theorist, rather than a disciple) (p48, Carson)
Light of My Life (2hr feature)
Casey Affleck, 2019
Stalker (3hr film in two parts)
Andrei Tarchovsky, 1979
Characters become archetypes, muses-wanna-be.
But there is one moving moment. Why?
The Mirror (2.5hr film)
Andrei Tarchovsky, 1975
Solaris (3hr film in two parts)
Andrei Tarchovsky, 1972
Beginning sequence (almost 4 minutes of quietness with sparse environmental sounds)
- The film begins with water. Green hue. A pond. A leaf passes. The camera follows.
- Cut to: another type of underwater floral, camera moves to center on a man, close-up, who looks off to somewhere our of the frame, holding a metal box
- Cut to: soft, belt-like grasses underwater, camera zooms in.
- Cut to: plants, the camera moves to the man again, who walks out of the frame in search of something.
- Cut to: tree, camera moves to reveal the same man in a distance, again walking out of the screen.
- Cut to: man passes the pond, out of the screen, camera moves to reveal the house.
- Cut to: man walks into the frame to the pond
- Cut to: a horse gallops in the woods, camera follows it
- Cut to: man walks along side the pond, puts down the metal box, washes his hands
- Cut to: close up of the ripples of water, camera moves to reveal his hands in a medium shot and stops as the man look up
Cloud sequence & family footage
The cloud sequence is part of Burton's report of his trip. The clouds are supposed to be footage on a screen (the meeting TV device:A) inside a screen (the house TV device:B) inside a screen (the film itself:C). The audience sees the footage directly on C — I see this as an intellectual exercise of collapsing the recorded image (but then, it seems to only intellectual). There is no sound of the cloud footage.
The family footage is what Chris shows Hari the Visitor. Again, the collapsing of screen happens.
The film was "arduous" as come critics note. Even in the opening scene this is exemplified. 1 + 3 try to emphasize 2. 5,6,7 can be combined in one take. Same with 9 and 10. (Each individual cut has great aesthetics but the duplication introduces too many gaps.) These gaps are present in: Burton's retelling of his story through the TV-like screen; intercuts of close-ups of the committee members, Burton, and the family in the house are well framed, but seem repetitive for the narrative. Burton's call on the drive lasted another 4 minutes, with most of the shot as a record of highway driving. The highway is metaphoric of a near-future backdrop (shot in Japan), but tests the audience's endurance in the dark theater.
All characters speak in an enigmatic manner (from the father, to Chris himself, to the other two scientists on the station). The layers of cosmic sci-fi, withholding information and stoicism make the narrative opaque for a long time. I feel alienated from the story for most of Part I.
Part II becomes easier to understand.
Great cinematography, drawn-out narrative, opaque dialogue, water as symbol — at times too on the nose, such as in the final sequence.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (feature fiction film)
Sat in the wrong theater and saw this by accident. Fantasy horror - still can't stomach gruesome images of ghosts and bodies, but what makes it better than other horror film is that all seems to be a child's dream, and in this case, nightmare. Memorable scenes:
- Morro (5/6 years old) getting shot led to immediate tears: Morro looked down at the wound, hand covered in his own blood, silent - shocked - confused
- depiction of an odd and desolated environment (plastic dolls with two heads)
- abandoned theater filled with juxtapositions: hall with broken fish tank and a puddle of fish (Estrella and Shine sits across the puddle), kids playing with the balls they find, talent show where 'rappop' beatboxes
- kid gang setting the piano on fire; the conversation darkens as the piano burns down
CLOSEUP: Shine finishes painting, touches the painted hand, CUT TO wider shot of the graffiti of the three kids saying goodbye to Morrito
Handheld cinematography is a deliberate choice. In a story filled with fantasy and drama, the slightly shaky camera brings the viewers back to reality: the feeling that "this happened" and "this exists."
Salt (one-woman play)
written by Salina Thompson
Royal Court Theatre June 2019
I saw this play on the trip to London for MIASMA. Seeing a play was exciting and comforting, like visiting a friend who I had not spoken to for a while.
We waited outside of the space. A line was forming. Fifteen minutes, ten minutes, five. They finally opened the door. The man who were the head of the line reasoned, "it's just one actors. They probably don't want too many audience in there early. It would be overwhelming."
At center stage: a plump, black woman in a white dress. In front of her: a table with a large block of salt, a large mortar and pestle, incense burning. Above her: soft, white neon of a triangle.
Bench seating. The first two rows were equipped with safety goggles. I picked a seat on the second row.
Play began. The actor gave instruction: during the play I will be using a sledgehammer. Please have the goggles on when I have them on.
Then she said, as the first lines:
I am black. I am twnety-eight.
Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Tire. She hit the salt as she recounted stories, some from her grandmother and parents, but mostly from herself, about slavery, colonial past, loss of identity, institutional racism. I don't remember when I started crying, but I cried throughout the play. I related to her anger, frustration, sadness, tire. The notion of being somewhere yet not belonging. This diaspora (although different in our respective context). This loss of home, being privileged yet forever burdened by the past, this alternating reality of emptiness (deprived of identity, or inability to trace something and make it coherent) and lack of or mis- understanding from others.
As she laid parts of the salt down she visualized institutional racism. And she repeated
INSERT FROM SCRIPT
I was wearing my goggles. And my tears were filling them up.
Perhaps that's how affect worked. Extreme vulnerability, extreme pain, and extreme empathy.
However, I do wonder what the white, especially male and white audience thought of it.
I Can Make You Feel Good, photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s (Exhibition at FOAM. 1995, US)
I went to FOAM on May 24, 2019. There were a few exhibitions. One of the pieces caught my eye. It is as if the captive moment is extended. Images are repeated, but each time slightly different, just like memories are slightly different (not that precise/alters with time). I lied there for a good five minutes. The position reminds me of the actual staring at the sky (which appears in the image from time to time, deliberately framed).
Four large bean bags on the ground.
One high-definition projection mounted to the ceiling.
The visitors lie down and watch slow motion scenes of:
- teenage boy on the swing (large aperture, point of focus is his face, before/after out of focus)
- teenage boy jumping rope
- teenage boy hula-hoopiing
- teenage boys playing
- teenage boys swimming (shot from under the swimming bodies)
- teenage boy eating ice cream (shot from under as the melting ice cream drips to the glass (seems to be above the lens))
Most of the scenes are shot from a few different angles. For example the hula-hoop scene. In the frame there is a large swath of sky. Camera tilted up to focus on close-ups of the upper body and the hoop. In a different frame it features two boys. Mid-range shot.
One of the most memorable scene was two teenagers skate in tandem. The camera (pointing up) captures two teenagers holding both hands, moving in and out of the frame. CUT TO: the camera (shooting from side) captures two slopes in the skate park (left third of the frame) and the teenagers skate in and out of the rest of the frame.
My least favorite scenes are about eating ice cream. A teenage boy looks at the camera (pointing up) and eats a melting ice cream which drips on the glass. The scenes are done with one pink and one brown ice cream.
The only times the characters look at the cameras are when they are on the swing and when they eat the ice cream. Both take the viewer out of the work.
Simple ambient music composition.
Three Identical Strangers (feature documentary)
Director: Tim Wardle, 2019
Shot: Interviewee comes in to the center of frame against a dark green backdrop. Starts his story. Animated.
Shot: 1970's. Outside of a house in Upstate NY. Young person loads an old car.
The first half of the documentary is composed of direct interview of the subject (e.g. David), re-enacted scenarios (per accounts from the subject), and interview of the participant of the event (e.g. newspaper editor). It's shot and edited in a conventional documentary. For example, other than the protagonists, the other interviews are off-center with a shallow depth of field. As the interviews continue, clippings from yellowed newspaper (enlarged to a degree where the half-tone pattern of the paper is visible) and old footage of television shows (again, enlarged to show the low-res look from the 90's) appear as evidence. It feels very much like a feel-good story of re-union, told via the subjects themselves, friends, relatives, newspaper editor. The overall feeling is cheesy entertainment.
The story changes rather unnoticed when the interviews with the journalist starts. It introduces the supposed evil (the experiment). The film goes on with the tone of uncovering conspiracy. As the conspiracy (and the effects) grow darker, the so-called plot thickens. The visual language remains the same. The characters (old + new ones such as the old assistant of the scientist) start to give different "sides" of the extended story. At some point the two protagonists start to recall the death -- which seems to be the central turning point, the big reveal of the absence of the third brother. The director probably ask him to recall everything in the fashion of plainly explaining.
After that the documentary continues in present tense. E.g. one brother phones the organization about the record.
A few things irk me. The director withholds information from the audience blatantly. You get the "murder mystery," but half way through you know that everyone in the film already knows the story and it's been revealed to you because sorry, you are on the other side of the screen. "I can easily see it on Netflix", a friend said after watching the movie. It is a telling: there is a hook in every step... The story becomes about plot, which makes it somewhat cheaper.
Then when you think back about the cheeriness of the first half you feel betrayed rather than being there with the protagonists. There are still moving moments, but in a way the story is exploited to give shock and ask for sympathy.
Compared to Minding the Gap (the film I write about below), the director treats the audience as entertainment seekers, a bit brainless maybe, rather than equals. This is a good pair to compare how a film withholds and its effect on the viewer.
Minding the Gap (feature documentary)
Director: Bing Liu, 2019
The films starts as a skater movie, portraying young people in a skate park and friends having a good time. The characters emerge quickly: Zack, Keire and Bing (the filmmaker). Secondary characters: Nina, Keire's family...
The first half of the film feels somewhat conventional: footage from the past with voiceover talking about teen years, interviews with a documentary look. But even in the beginning something is different from a "proper", educational documentary. When Bing interviews the skate shop owner, he asks to talk about his impression of Bing as a teenager. (The filmmaker paints a self-portrait without painting it himself.) As he walks through his old house, his half-brother says "this is my brother's room," to which Bing responds off-frame, "you can refer to me."
This director's ease (or choice to be perceived this way) of being in and out of the frame (from different angles, mostly virtually) is unique. Bing's presence in the film is self-aware, both as a character and a mediating voice. What strikes me the most is his ability to hold his discovery (about Zack and Nina'a argument) and the choice he makes to continue observing. In a car, he directly and respectfully asks Nina (in the driving seat) how he should approach the subject (Zack is out buying food). Nina tells him to not to just as Zack opens the car door. This scene, as I recall it now, is filled with weighted decisions.
Bing develops the weight through further conversations with Keire — who apparently does not know about the incident. Throughout film he never reveals to Zack (or any of the main characters) what he knows. When he asks Keire to speculate, he asks in a non-judgemental way. In doing this, the audience and the director are withholding what they know together and waiting to find out about what the other person has to say.
Bing never confronts Zack directly. When he films Zack in Colorado, Zack jokingly asks him "is it one of those films where I talk to you or one of those where I pretend you are not there?" Bing answers, "it's up to you, how you feel." The trust involved in this film is incredible. Without this trust Zack would not have been able to talk about his desperation towards the end of the film, and we would have never got to know him as a full human being. It feels as if that Bing knows Zack more than what he does, and however disagreeing his acts were, he sees him as a whole person. And in developing the narrative around Zack, he lets the audience go through the same depth of understanding.
The revealing v. not revealing is also quite unique. Other than the knowledge about Zack, Bing tells Keire later on about why he is making this movie. "I am making it because I see myself in you." This surprises Keire, "wow, I never knew." The trust is also apparent when Bing captures Keire's visit to his dad (in which Keire cries).
The deliberate framing the talk between Bing and his mother is interesting, but perhaps not the most affective scene... Somehow all the other emotions ring true, but this one feels — because it is framed, almost in a performative situation, with the mother in front of the light and the filmmaker/son on the second camera from the side — wrapped up on a pedestal. The conversation is heart-wrenching. Bing remains stoic until he says, "I cut."