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Approaching Present Infinity, Part 2

 | Essay |

  BY Devdutt Trivedi

The first part is available here:

If the function of film thus is to film nature it is obstructed by a force in order to create tensions, opposition which can then reach a climax, asin the Hollywood film, or move as far away from possible from the climax to create new sensations via ‘accidents.’ The opposition in most cases to simply filming nature is the text from which the film derives its ‘substance.’ This propagator of the Bergsonian élan vitale, which has been called the ‘text’ is mainly literature. Whether or not a film is a direct adaptation of a text its fundamental creative tendencies of sound, image and their alignment come from literature. Whether it be the relation between Renoir and Balzac, Shinoda and Tanizaki, Truffaut and Flaubert or the American avante-garde and Burroughs, the image comes from the word i.e. a description of the space. The function of the image is not to create an environment or mood (like a succession of words) but to create a space which the mood or environment occupy. This occupation of space is ultimately realized in a film like Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp(1956) where the point of filming infinite nature, yet creating microspaces which the characters simply occupy is emphasized. This case of text being literature is not all-inclusive.

Exceptions only exist in the non-narrative cinema. The narrative cinema takes much more from literature than merely the narrative. The best cases of the American avante garde seen in the works of Gehr, Jacobs and Snow explicitly take the space as deriving its source to be created ie to ‘create the same space.’ This tautology can be simplified by accepting the perception image as being the implicit aim within the narrative but the explicit aim in creating space. Since the avante garde consists only of space without narrative, camera distance,image design, the use of lens, creation of false temporality, use of sound as well as the materiality of the space snowball into opportunities to explore intentionality and causality. Similarly successions of other kinds such as sport (Pelota, Jorgen Leth,1984), music (Dhrupad, Mani Kaul,1984),cinema itself (I’m Bobby, Xav Laplae,2003), and repetition through progress to create déjà vu, are some of the examples of texts used other than literature to forward the process of creating spaces.

These numerable texts other than literature, at the same time have the same function as that of literature ie to create an opposing space and create a violation. The illusion of such institutions such as the United Nations, the promotion of human rights and the increase in conservative diplomacy, violence comes almost as a surprise to the spectator. This surprise is not so much as because of the graphic details of violence (increasingly emphasized by the media) or by the emphasis given to violence as being the conclusion of more and more films from the mainstream ‘popular’ cinema. The reason for  this  rejection of violence is its seeming lack in causality in a world where  everything is explained. The political content of reality is hidden behind a veneer of organizations consisting of merchants interested only in profit and loss. Those aware of this lack of cognition of political content or even the political content itself are relegated to the knowledge building institutions and therefore cannot address the political situation within the realms of a reality. In the process these knowledge building institutions are left impotent with the proliferation of merchants interested in buying and selling. With this vanishing of a political reality the independent function of a violation, outside its political implications and reinforcement of values, is lost. This vision views man as one willing to stretch his humanism through ‘human rights’ and ‘ethics’ but at the same time using forms of violence to increase his dominance in the space of buying and selling.

If the function of art is thus to create a fresh aesthetic which understands a mold forming in society in the present day society, it must stretch the intentionality and the causality of the various factors that create this mold, even if it results in a situation in which nothing can be explained. This would require a violation by either the artist or by the subject itself much like plucking the strings of the sitar which produce a false continuum which immediately have an adverse effect of the player’s fingers. An increase in intensity of strokes which produces an in tune note infinite yet restricted to couple of seconds, may even make the index finger septic immediately, and that too for a player irrespective of his caliber. If the intentionality, causality and the violation are made taught so that everything else within the realm of the artwork such as socio-political commentary and truth content vanish or at least appear to vanish, the sole remaining aim shall be to study a violence which creates certain circumstances within the temporality created by the artist.

The ornamentations in this sparse and bleak portrait of art, in this case cinema, come under the image and sound, but mainly in the image ie in the space. The actor functions as the body moving endlessly within the finite space to relate body with space and voice to text. The voice may be enforced (e.g theatricality in Godard) to create a stasis or suspended (e.g. suspension of voice in Bresson) to emphasize movement. Eisenstein first referred to this in his essay where he says the quality of interval determines the pressure of the tension, and after this makes a direct reference to music. In BlowUp Antonioni integrates temporalities that do not belong to the film, but to other films in order to change his approach (dy/dx a minute change in the curvature of an infinite object) in integrating body,voice, theatricality with the absent or negative text, in this case Cortazar’s stream of consciousness text of the same name.

Starting from BlowUp and through the works of Antonioni and upto Nazar (The Gaze, Mani Kaul, 1989) , film artists began emphasizing and questioning the process of image making with respect to the frame until Nazar where Kaul starts developing a disdain for the frame by having his cinematographer not look through the lens. In Kaul’s own words:

One of the three experiments I desired to attempt with this project is to not let the cameraman Iook through the camera while a shot is being taken. Doubtless, I have already tried this experiment in my earlier films but to a limited extent. I believe the moment the eye looks through the camera it 'appropriates' ,the space: it is filming by a dichotomous organisation that splits the experience of that space into a fork: of being wither sacred and/ or of being profane.

This interest in create a random space reemphasizes the cinematic figuration of the image by highlighting the force created by the material elements of the image. This can be compared by the emphasis on a particular note in the unfolding of a raga. The opposition here is between the figuration with the space (static) and the randomly moving camera which wants to break this stasis. This creates a two way force and the image becomes bi-polar much like a magnet with its North Pole and South Pole aligned depending on the arriving magnetic field. In the case of film, this magnetic field accumulates across time and at the same time can be intensified or rarified by the intentionality of the auteur. This ‘magnetic’ force within the field of the image creates a fresh binding throughout the chunks of space. This binding across the chunks of space would be in an electromagnetic process, the current. This causal process of magnetic force resulting is current is also made non-causal by the reversal of direction in movement to create a current in an opposite direction. This criss-cross, forward and backward movement of current will create an ‘accident’ which has no causality and is unplanned by the experimenter (in film, the director).

In the case of video, this approach to image through text is made redundant by removing a movement-stasis opposition to instead create infinite number of planes (visual and aural) in a limited space and at the same time repeat the circumstances which make the space relevant. In the process the much enviable achieving of balance of space and time (best seen in the works of the Asian post-modernists) is lost to an endless fetishization of space. This creates a proliferation of magnetic effects which make the unfolding of the image in time fairly predictable: a magnetic will eventually be created across time and the materiality within the image shall be drawn towards this magnetic force.

The main factor which opposes this strictly magnetic fetishization is the actor.The actor’s alignment in space is much like a steel plate once it becomes magnetically charged. The north and south poles are suspended at an angle. With the suspension of framing the actor the body takes up the state of suspension within this magnetic field taken up by materiality.The actor is suspended between an modernist materiality ( in this case Bresson’s masterpiece Pickpocket (1959) which later becomes a materiality consisting of objects.

Martin LaSalle and Marika Green in Pickpocket (1959)

The actor functions as mediator between the body (of the actor) and materiality. At the same time he is responsible for destruction of this materiality (shown exceptionally by Tarkovsky in the sequence where the antique vase is broken in The Sacrifice (1986)). This intentionality of the actor to decide to destroy materiality is taken away by the director. Both the actor and objects are made to float in perception: the perception of space, in order to create a magnetic or electromagnetic force. Sometimes the actor and the object are interchanged ie they start behaving like each other or are made to do so by the auteur in order to create a single unity of experience for the viewer.

Whereas the Europeans starting from Bresson approach objects directly (and vice versa for Hollywood), Ozu creates a relationship between the actors and the objects without addressing either one of them. Godard does so by using politics or any other such dimension which belongs only to the mind, to show a process of rapid intensity and then overthrow that process with a faith in the object, image or the body itself. Critics such as Seymour Chatman associate Antonioni as being the director who explicitly associates body with surface and ‘objective’ correlation. However correlation and surfaces do not justify the approach to the material content of the frame. Antonioni does explicitly relate body and objects, even with rhetoric on functionality of both body and objects, upto his 1962 work ,L’Eclisse. However by BlowUp, Antonioni’s rhetoric is replaced by an ability to change the relationship between objects and bodies with the passage of time. Other excellent directors such as Kiarostami, Truffaut and Ghatak supersede this relationship between objects and bodies through images with the voice and therefore create an engagement similar to Hollywood in the power given to the voice.

Mani Kaul uses the inorganic logic of Indian classical music emphasized by microtones and chhanda. Chhanda is the forward backward movement of notes to create taans or a body of notes. This forward backward movement is executed by pulling back the central note and pushing back the successive note to create a vacuum or delay in time in between. This technique is used tangibly in film editing by Bresson himself in the sequences where the Michel pickpockets on the train. This delay gives rise to an ellipse (tone) and further a micro-ellipse (mini-ellipse) that can be spread through micro time (dt in mathematics of the film) or spread across the sensory content of the film (most often in the details of the image-sound).  This inorganic and false progression in time is best put in Kaul’s own words:

(The function of music is to understand) how independent each tone is and how when tones come together we have a sansaar (a world), full of cause and effect, full of illusion.

In Kamal Swaroop’s 1988 masterwork, Om Dar B Dar, this inorganic approach is mixed with the organic properties of kitsch to engage in a dialogue (and not a performance) with the mainstream cinema, myth and popular culture. This is different from Alain Robbe Grillet who mediates inorganic ‘false temporality’ to cinema with the flesh best seen in his work La Belle Captive.

In the political context this logic of cinema through exceptional focus on diversion as well as the inorganic can results in an absence of dialogue between spectator and film maker. Godard serves as an exception: with his emphasis on text, sound and reinforcement of documentary/banal event to create a new ‘reflection of a reality.’ At the same time Godard raises questions which he only partially answers.

With the increase in ‘penetration’ by news media, a political event is made foreign to a viewer as though he/she isn’t aware of its truth content. In the process he/she assumes that the although the content affects him, it isn’t directly within his day to day interactions and therefore is within the intentionality of a third party in this case the world leaders or violators of assumed conservatism (now known as ‘terrorists’).These violators obviously are aware of the relationship between their day to day interactions and the intentionality of politicians which for them doesn’t have any logic of  uncertainty (with reference to Heisenberg’s principle this would refer to the individual’s inability to separate political causes and consequences from socio-economic consequences)  or randomness (with reference to Chaos theory) but instead results in  suspension of their own intentionality and submission to fate. At the same time such individuals form groups and mini societies that react to this direct cause-effect in their own lives with an abstraction which is causal for them but lacks causality for those societies to whom this abstraction is communicated. In the case of this abstraction becoming purely creative ie in the case of an artist, it results in the artist turning towards the self destructive. Much like Rothko’s abstractions, which were thought to be designs without truth content, a terrorist’s abstractions are restricted to the field of violation without causality in societies where conservatism (especially in transactions) are assumed. The difference between Left-wing and Right-wing abstractions only differ in their focus on the inclinations of self. In the case of the Right, the self points at the world outside to provide for a space where it can exist at any cost. In the case of the Left, the abstraction comes from the world outside and since this abstraction is much more whole (consisting of an integration of different elements in the world outside based upon the subjectivity of the individual’s mind) it results in a displacement of the self with the world outside. Sartre, Camus and Robbe-Grillet are correctly attributed to the Left as in their work the individual is replaced either by the larger social mass (Sartre,Camus) or by randomness (Robbe-Grillet).In the case of Kafka the individual is faced with the decision to choose between the self and the world which results in a sensory confusion that can result in the various psychotic perceptions that Kafka explores in his best work The Castle.

Whether or not these image making forms can result in exclusively organic and inorganic forms is a decision which can be arrived at when several factors come together (organic) or move away (inorganic). However with the arrival of such image-dominated concepts such as genre the organic assumes  a  form which is inorganic, and in this way covers up the political content of the spaces. This battle is seen best in the films of the contemporary Japanese artist, Aoyama, who confronts text with phenomenology, at the same time keeping the two as separate.From these different axes of perception, that result in creation of the film (and not this essay) comes the desire to create an image to not limit the study to academia but entire an exteriority which begins at the culmination of the thought process, the image.