Sunday, October 15, 2006

The politics of catastrophe movies 1

Being busy with my new baby boy, I’ve found a new advantage to Daney's articles: I can read exactly two of them while putting my baby to sleep. Since I do this every three hours at night, I've been reading quite a bit of Daney lately, especially his early writings.

And since I’ve noticed a pattern in Daney’s remarks towards catastrophe or horror movies, here is a selection of quickly translated quotes from his 70s articles in Cahiers du cinéma. Interesting if not always original; rather typical of how Daney stayed loyal to pure cinephilia during the left-wing tendencies of the time.

Grey Matter – Jaws by S. Spielberg

(…) This “Booh! Scare me!” is therefore heavily related to a “How to reassure them?” and to a “What is the price to pay?” A misplaced desire (the young people smoking by the beach that the fiction will promptly get rid off) will be replaced by a more social desire, the desire to end the horror, the desire to return to normality. This is the function of catastrophe-movies. It is not the only one though, for what is given to desire is the norm. And in this way, this cinema, at its limit, is fascist.

What can scare more than three hundred thousands spectators in one week? And what can reassure them? The mise en scène of violence which, as Alain Bergala rightly points out “guarantees the precise conditions of the spectator’s pleasure and his subsequent adhesion to any form of counter-violence.”

This is the same old shout of “I only want to see one head in the rank!” Nothing must stain: one body (military or social), full, sleek, homogenous. A body that can be compared to a circle closing on itself – except in one place where there is a gap. This place is where the shark comes forward: the shark is what Lacan calls the obturator, the a object. Who is the shark? Nothing more than the actualisation – from a hallucination – that there is something rotten inside which attracts the fish.

(…) A normative imaginary, which must be staged, simply. It means shooting (events, extras) from two – and only two – points of views: the hunter’s and the hunted’s. There is no other point of view (spatial, moral, political), no other place for the camera, and therefore for the spectator, than this double position. We talk lightly of “identification” in cinema if we haven’t seen that in these types of movies, it is identification to the hunted/hunter couple, with speculative oscillation, bypassing of knowledge and point of view, loss of any reference, getting under the other’s grey skin, and in a word: everything that leads to a total irresponsibility. Flapping between these two points of views, the camera is with the swimming child for whom the shark is only a dark rectangle, and it is with the shark is in the next frame, for whom the child’s leg is only what stands out from the surface of the water.

in La Rampe, 1983, my translation

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