Thursday, June 18, 2009

Freeze-image / Arrêt sur l'image

Last translated extract from L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur.

Serge Daney's concept of "arrêt sur l'image" is a tough one to grasp and is difficult to translate. It's a pun on "arrêt sur image" (the French term for "freeze frame") but means much more than this. To translate it, I've been hesitating for some time between "stop on the image" (which I've used in The Tracking Shot in Kapo) and "freeze-image" (which I'm trying here). Daney develops the concepts more fully in 1989 article From Movies to Moving.

Hopefully, the text translated below - Daney's 1988 computer notes for the 1989 article - will help.
6 April 1988 - Freeze-image. We were immobile in front of images that moved. We move along immobile images. Immobile like those men and women who "walk the streets" and who, for that matter, strike a pose. "Propositions" (as we say in fashion). The more an image is in simultaneous competition with all the others, the less it has to move (the street corner, the ad 'space' is expensive, one has to occupy his space and be his own logo). To watch again in this light Fellini's films (City of Women) and the idea of 'parading' in his films and in Godard's (Here and Elsewhere).

A history of the freeze-image would be instructive. For me, it starts with the final shot of The 400 Blows. But there's also a fantastic freeze-image at the beginning of Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (a fascinating film). The freeze-image (return to the inanimate - death drive) means that there are images beyond which movement does not continue. They can be one of the 24 ordinary moments in a second of recorded film. But at one point they are no longer ordinary at all: they are - by essence - 'terminals'.

The 'terminal'-image is the signifier which demands its due, a petrified movement, a pose, an image with no Other (another image, off-screen), it is maybe in that respect a pious image. In reverse, cinema knew for a time how to welcome and organise unfolding images. In the two poles formerly seen as opposites (let's say Rossellini-Eisenstein) there was the same concern to articulate (famous question: how to move from a shot to another), to modulate time, to pay attention to the metamorphoses of an image into another, to accompany the movement while reorienting it slightly (movement of the words as well, metaphorical, literal). To see something move was therefore the best bit of my love for cinema: to see it endure as itself while transforming itself for good. Pushed to the limit: the absolute gaze of the one who sees each thing progress at its own speed (from the clouds to actors, from ideas to emotions). That's why, even in bad films, the "gimmick" of time passing-by and of the actor made up to look artificially aged always touches me (Cavalcade, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Giant, Paradis perdu, etc.).

Today's image is bound to immobility, to freeze. It's not because it's animated that it is "in motion". Television is the realm of animation, not movement. TV sees the animation (as little as possible) of emblems, figures, logos, brands. These have no specific future, apart from being replaced by others. They can't evolve much because it would be detrimental to their "image". They are used until they're no longer useful. The best that can happen to them is to "be an image" and become transcendent to their support so to be always recognisable. It's the meaning of Andy Warhol's genius stroke with Marilyn "and" the Campbell soup.

But more generally, the image is not subject to anthropomorphism. By presuming that images have adventures, gather speed, develop their own story and organic development ("our friends the images"), we make images the equivalent of the characters (real or fictitious) that the image used to provide. Known situation: to tremble for what happens to the character, then for what happens to the image of the character. Possible morality (Godard as always).

Today, we are more and more dealing with a virtual moment in a simulation. It's, even in future perfect, a freeze-image which will have allowed to eventually actualise such or such stasis of a process from which it is possible to anticipate. "looking" no longer comes first but, in the best of scenarios, second. To see first (mystical?), to see after (pragmatical?).
pp. 38-40, POL, 1993, my translation

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twin Peaks

Online coincidence.

Jonathan Rosenbaum just published on his blog his 1990 review of Twin Peaks as I was finalising the translation the notes Serge Daney took on his computer when the series was broadcast on French television a year later.

Both reviewers see something in Lynch's young characters. But where Rosenbaum admits being "bored stiff by most of the teenagers in Twin Peaks" and prefers "the adolescent eye trained on the other characters", Daney feels an "intense curiosity for the way young and seducing beings, boys and girls, seem to succeed under our very eyes at the passage from the fashion catwalk to the psychological TV series."

And where Rosenbaum refers to Peter Greenaway, Daney mentions Hitchcock and Tourneur.

Anyway, I let you make the connections. For more by Daney on David Lynch, see his review of The Elephant Man.
25 May 1991 - Lynch. I saw, a bit by chance, with S.P., an episode of Twin Peaks on TV. I had already seen one and had been intrigued (in a good way). Same feeling yesterday. Same pleasure to let myself into the "chain" of the film, once I am (vaguely) related to the plot and once I am in the passage, always stimulating, from a scene (a shot) to another. Ah! Here's some cinema, one notices. It constantly articulates something.

It makes me doubt (a bit) about certain of my dictates. A certain number of things suddenly seem viable, a bit like movement is proven by walking. For example there's a possible use of advertising beauty in a story, outside the short scripts of advertising. I saw "advertising" to avoid saying "artificial". My old hate of the American-style artificial star (from Lana Turner to Dallas) is here transformed in an intense curiosity for the way young and seducing beings, boys and girls, seem to succeed under our very eyes at the passage from the fashion catwalk to the psychological TV series.

What is singular in them, is that their "look" stays the course, as we say a makeup or a lifting "holds on". It's the "perseverance in their appearance" which becomes the essence of these characters and it's maybe the liberty of the open TV series (and of a script that we lose sight of after so many de-multiplications) which allows to make us accept this.

I find two traditions behind these "looks". The tradition of Hitchcock and of a certain cloning specific to the B series (Tourneur). I've been thinking for some time that David Lynch seems to be a very serious heir to Hitchcock. The common points are obvious: same sexual obsession between bawdiness and phobia, same fluctuations between the unsavoury organic and the glaze of a smooth surface, same co-existence of dry logic and irrationality (which will remain so), same taste for the audience wherever it is (in front of the television), same talent of a visual artist generously releasing formal - or formalist - "ideas", same fashion designer's culture, same - sometimes zany - irony embedded in the form itself (it's the form that makes itself ironic - via a small excess, a minimal exhibition, just before it gets uneasy - and not the spectator that creates irony - from outside - with its cultural knowledge). The cop has the same acting rhythm as Gary Grant and I like a lot the way his caustic lines are lost to almost everyone. I like the French version of this (there's no particular desire to listen to it in English).

From B series, the film takes the Dana Andrews aspect of the same character (mineral, ultra-combed) and a certain cloning of the bodies. As if everything was seen through the star models of a unique catwalk, up to them to invent time, duration, acting that makes them last. This duration is subject to the blackmail of a suspense that mustn't be too diluted. But, for example, I like a lot the status of the flashbacks which come less to explain things than to play the role of footnotes or brackets in the middle of the text which, thanks to electronics, emerge and recede like attempts at Eisenstein or Vertov editing.

We enter Mannerism when we take (from inside) and we leave Mannerism when we animate (from outside). Mannerism is a game because it's very close to the pleasure of a child who plays at disemboweling his dolls or at dismantling his toys. Mannerism is therefore destined to a certain disappointment (no knowing how to put back together what has been broken). It's the moment when, from an aquarium - this cultural breeding ground and catalogue of existing effects - we pull out a few fishes and make them last a bit more, the time to watch them do a few movements outside their natural element. The proof is: what usually doesn't convince me in Lynch's films is precisely what I like in Twin Peaks. The spectacle of time is perhaps better "at home", where people waste their time in front of the TV.

These movements are very particular: convulsive, made as parody, self-generated and eventually deadly. Where the movement stops, it's enough to instill some from outside by treating them like inert toys, puppets, freeze-images (and that's perhaps what Pompier art is).

Two examples come to my mind. What I've written about Kurosawa's Ran: the energy stored in the bodies is made visible in their chaotic agony (the malefic-technical energy stored in the planet threatens this one). What I've written about Rumble Fish, a mannerist film, precisely with the two fishes taken out of their aquarium, the red and the blue.
L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur, pp. 332-5, POL, 1993, my translation

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A trip to JLG's

9 March 1990 - A trip to JLG's. With S.T. in Rolle for the evening, in Nyons for the night (Beau Rivage hotel). Fifteen years ago, the two of us already (with A.C.) in Grenoble where JLG projected for us Ici et ailleurs on a wall (the emotion was so strong that I vomited on the way back). Today, the same ones, not that different. Only time brings us closer to the old monster from whom we no longer expect fine touches but rather almost a degree of affection. The ritual: Hervé D. (friendly, devoted and too close to the kitchen not to be critical) collects us by car in Geneva, then the hotel in Nyons, then rue du Nord in Rolle, then the the dark den and the engine room where JLG, alone, with tousled hair, puffing on a cigar, is alone with his images. Today the images of Nouvelle Vague which he is editing and of Rapport Darty which he has just finished. Chit-chat (he saw Pelechian's movies: very impressed), viewing, detour - unavoidable trip to the nearby restaurant where the unchanged menu promises fatty perch fillet, beer, expedited dinner, we leave each other in the Grand-rue: we can feel the solitude of the man, and in ricochet, ours, return to Nyons, Geneva and Paris.

The JLG-effect today. Before we even have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, the image and its sensual and screaming luminosity, the undergrowth, the lake, the bodies of the "actors" who are there as the sound punctuation of the landscape and who talk, more and more, in original version between inverted commas. This time (according to Hervé D.) the "dialogue" is entirely made of quotes ("Life could be sad" is from Renan) but so close to each other that they generate anxiety. The third reel, the one we see, shows some human beings engaging in the rare "actions" that JLG finds interesting: exercising power, giving a phone call, talking to no-one in particular, letting oneself drown (literally) in front of each other, being living reproaches. Nature is superb and indifferent. Delon is one of the extras, no more no less. From now on, what remains of the acting of the actors consists in placing an intonation randomly in a sentence that is strangely naked or, contrarily, literary.
pp. 196-7, POL, 1993, my translation

Follows a fascinating text inspired by the restaurant discussion on the parade (cinema, a thing after another, always new) and the round dance (theatre, when things end up returning) comparing Godard with Fellini, Fassbinder and Woody Allen... too much and too difficult to translate now.