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


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for your ongoing and heroic efforts --- my comment is not directed at this post alone, therefore, but to the project in its entirety ... until someone is wise enough to publish a translation of La Rampe or, more likely a "selected writings", I will have to continue recommending non-French readers to come here for an explanation of what I am speaking of. Having just today received my copy in the post of Manny Farber's "Collected Writing" in a deluxe Library of America edition took me back to the late 80s when I had only an old and tattered hardcover of "Negative Space" and approached both Annette Michelson and Jonathan Rosenbaum, two people I didn't know at all, asking why Farber's book was not available. Some time afterwards the expanded version of the book appeared in paperback and nearly 15 years later, finally, a handsome, sturdy edition worthy of its writer. I do not understand why this has not happened with Serge Daney and am doubly-depressed to have learned that POL has decided not to continue their series, making the complete Daney an unreality in his own language. Still, the Farber book did arrive in the post today, something I would have not expected to see 20 years ago.

    I felt it polite to inform you that I have listed this blog on my own blog:

    if for any reason you would rather not have it listed there, please let me know.

    Thanks again, and I hope to see some new texts soon.

  3. Thanks a lot for the good words maready.

    The lack of interest to publish Daney is quite puzzling. Would you believe that I have a few translations who can't find publishers?

    Yours is a cool blog.


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