Thoughts On: May 2018

30/05/2018

Projection & Possession - What Is Photogénie?

Thoughts On: Cinema, Archetypes, Projection & Possession

An analysis of positive and negative uses of character archetypes.


As we have been intermittently doing for quite some time now, we are going to delve into some film theory through the ideas of Carl Jung. The idea, or set of ideas, we will be using in this post concerns being possessed by one's archetypes, and the central question is quite simply: What is the difference between being possessed by one's archetypes and unconsciously accessing their depths?

To begin, I shall give a brief introduction to archetypes themselves. Jung uses this term to describe primordial images or imagos; concepts developed in our biologically, culturally and psychologically early or pre-history that represent ourselves and other conscious bodies in our world. The archetypes are idols inherently embedded in our consciousness that we use to categorise and interact with the world as a set of universal forces. For Jung, there were an unlimited number of archetypes, but four central ones: the anima/animus, self, persona and shadow. These four archetypes form a cross of sorts. Pointing downwards is the shadow as it represents, put simply, the dark side of the mind. Pointing upwards is the self, which must be cultivated, and it represents who we can be if whole and unified. Pointing left and right are the anima/animus and persona. These are representations of female and male respectively and representations of ourselves as we would like others to see us. These are archetypes as Jung believes that everyone has these idea structures embedded within them, no matter where or when they were born or how they were raised. Moreover, they are so central because they dictate behaviour on a personal and collective level to the highest degree and with the greatest intensity. One could also suggest that these idea structures are most difficult to integrate into a unity, thus producing a self. Other archetypes include the wise old man, the trickster, the child, the mother, the father, etc. These are less central in the unconscious mind as they are more direct representations of exterior functions and so can be embodied by people we may come into contact with. Unlike the anima, shadow, self or persona, we can then meet and talk to what we believe is our mother, child, trickster or wise old man archetype. Nonetheless, they serve a similar purpose to the more central archetypes as they are fundamental idea structures in the form of ideal images.

Whilst the archetypes are central to the human psyche, and so one may suggest humanity itself, Jung is highly weary about their manifestations around the individual via projection or possession. That is to say, when one allows, for example, their animus, the male part of their psyche, to take the central place in the mind and rule over all functions, something has gone wrong. Likewise, when an individual projects their idea of the ideal man, their animus, onto another individual, something has also gone wrong. The archetypes seem to function best when they remain images in the mind by virtue of the fact that, though they are simplifications of the world, they are dexterous, malleable and imbued with potential when preserved in the fluids of unconsciousness. When the archetypes are extracted from their place in the psyche, that is projected onto other individuals, they turn to stone. Likewise, when an archetype that is not the self (which is essentially an assimilation of all archetypes and thought structures) takes hold of the psyche, possesses it, the mind too turns to stone. One can think of this process as akin to Perseus' confrontation of the mortal Gorgan Medusa.

In the Greek myth, as it has descended through time, Medusa was first a beautiful, though vain woman, possessed by her own beauty and the image of her hair. She was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. What this means is difficult to say. Poseidon was an amalgamation of three central ideas; he was the god of the sea, of earthquakes and of horses. The sea is generally thought to be an embodiment of the unconscious mind itself. Thus, Poseidon was the god of earthly unconsciousness - Hades was ruler of the dark underworld, the world of shadows, and Zeus was the god of the firmament, the higher self. Poseidon also embodied the rage of the earth below people; he ruled earthquakes and so the devastating change they forced upon the ground beneath people's feet; this was, arguably, his link to, and how he linked humans to, Hades, who existed deep below the earth. Furthermore, he embodied freedom via the horse, a freedom that was itself conscious and captured, alas friend to man in that the horse can be rode by a person. (Notably, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus each had symbolic horses attached to their presence). Poseidon more generally seems to be a ruler of some of man's unconscious urges, those connected to nature, its expanse, its destruction and its freedom. With her vanity, Medusa seemingly calls Poseidon to her. Taken literally, this appears to be a highly misogynist statement that implies, because she was beautiful, she was asking to be raped, but, in the confines of ancient mythology, this idea is one that is recurrent and more complex. Just like Persephone, goddess of the underworld and Hades' captor, had her virtues nestled in her power and strength, Medusa has her virtues in her beauty. And just like Persephone had a negative element to her character, she hid away from the other gods with her mother who kept her from being with the male gods, so does Medusa with her vanity, which functioned in a manner to keep men away from, yet yearning to be with, her. The rape of Medusa by Poseidon, much like the abduction and rape of Persephone by Hades, seemingly reflects the dark element of male gods; Hades, ruler of shadow, Poseidon, ruler of unconsciousness, ensnaring women and taking from them what they hide and imprisoning them in what they repress. Thus, the shadow arises from under the virtuous and pure Persephone, taking her from her protective mother, and, in essence, possessing her. Persephone, stripped of her mother and purity, becomes the female counterpart to the shadow, known for her formidable presence. In parallel to this, Medusa, stripped of her beauty, becomes chthoic and daunting, too. Her beauty, which signifies her to be a higher, self-conscious being, is reversed, and she becomes a shadow of her high and consciousness self. Much like the pure Persephone is possessed by that which she repressed, her shadow, so is Medusa; she is taken by the dark side of nature, and brought down into a lower place of consciousness by not only becoming a snake of sorts, a reptile of conniving and dark symbology, but repulsive.

Medusa's move away from self-consciousness and vanity down to unconscious hatred is catalysed by Athena, goddess of war, handicraft and wisdom. Interestingly, whilst said male gods represent typically female elements, Poseidon nature and the ocean, Athena embodies typically masculine attributes in war, wisdom and handicraft. Maybe this is a process by which masculine was embedded in feminine, feminine in masculine, by the Greeks causing men to associate the anima with Logos and women the animus with Eros and vice versa, but, I digress. With Athena essentially punishing Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon, she is punishing her for being an incomplete and faulted individual; she used her consciousness for benign purposes (self-worship) as opposed to formulating a family and integrating into the masculine component of the world. Zeus punishes Persephone in a very similar manner by permitting Hades to abduct her. However, what occurs to the punished females is, in part, ironic: they become far more powerful (though, no more complete or happier). This power, Medusa's ability to turn men into stone, Persephone's rule of the underworld, simultaneously marks a significant character arc away from an initial, incomplete state as well as a literal possession of one's own archetypes. Medusa then becomes her persona, Persephone her shadow. This does not free them, nor does it make them entirely whole. Instead, they become archetypes themselves: female tricksters you may suggest. Medusa is then equal parts magnetic and repulsive before and after her transformation; she draws men with her beauty, but sends them away out of vanity as a human and draws men with her monstrous nature, but repels them with her stare as a Gorgon. The change that occurs is that her conscious magnetism becomes unconscious; the beauty she cultivates and is well aware of becomes monstrosity that, whilst it remains out of her control, draws men to her to be conquered. In parallel to this, Medusa's unconscious repulsion, her self-obsession becomes conscious; she chooses to destroy the hearts of men not because she is blind to them as she was as a self-obsessed human, but because she can turn her gaze onto them as a Gorgon. This punishment as given by Athena is not a simple penalty as Medusa is transformed from a victim into an oppressor. As a result, she becomes a literalised and emphasised version of her previous self; not necessarily condemned, but turned into an (dark) idol of her previous self. Athena then takes an embodiment of the evils of men, a girl who is raped, and turns her into a slayer of men; she does not change positively, but she does achieve some sub-form of apotheosis in serving the gods and implementing their wrath. Thus, the goddess of wisdom sees a vain maiden transformed into her subconscious, destructive persona as to punish any man who would dare to try and conquer her. The incomplete female becomes a deadly trap for the incomplete man.

This brings us to the Perseus myth. Polydectes was the king of the island upon which Perseus lived with his mother, Danaë. The king had fallen in love with Perseus' mother, but Perseus didn't like him, so he protected his mother from him. The king had to then devise a plan if he were to gain access to her. He threw a party to which guests had to bring a gift; a horse for Hippodamia, a queen who was known as the tamer of horses (in other words, she who transforms unbridled freedom into freedom that a man can control and utilise). Perseus did not have a horse and so, having turned up to the party empty-handed, promised to give the king whatever gift he desired. Polydectes desired the head of a Gorgon. With this, the king asks Perseus to decapitate a negative anima, Medusa. In turn, Perseus is put on a quest to prove that he is not possessed by his mother - that allegedly being the reason why he keeps her from the king, who has fallen for her. That is to say, consciously or not, the king sends Perseus on this journey as a way of testing his relationship with females and questioning if he is in the grips of an Oedipal mother-son relationship. So, to prove he is not coddling his mother, unreasonably keeping her pure image from desecration at the hands of another man, Perseus confronts the deadly vain female. He in turn confronts she who turns the hearts of men into stone. Translated into psychological terms, he confronts an archetype that threatens to possess him, to turn his psyche into something unchanging and non-functional. In defeating Medusa, in taking control of her gaze, Perseus overcomes possible possession. He does this by using weapons of the gods, a sword and shield from Athena and Zeus, a cloak from Hades and sandals from Hermes. He then gains the ability to protect himself from she who is wise and destructive; he gains the ability to slay from he who is wise, who looks down from the sky; he gains to ability to hide from the shadow; and he gains the ability to fly from the trickster. Each of these gifts then imply an individuation process, Perseus becoming a complete individual by assimilating into his self multiple forces and personas. He completes part of this cycle by defeating Medusa. And what springs from her is the Pegasus, which is what she was impregnated with by Poseidon; nestled in Medusa by becoming possessed was what she likely sought, but, in the eyes of the gods, misused, all along: freedom. Perseus lets loose this freedom, a horse, which, ironically is the symbol that sent him on his quest all along. As a result, he allows self-autonomy to emerge from a possessed female; he does this literally for Medusa and symbolically for his mother as he proves that he is not trying to possess her, but protect her from a king who, it turns out, is possessed himself - he projects on to Danaë his archetypes and he uses trickery to attempt to posses her. The most complete version of the Perseus and Gorgon myth, in my view, then concludes with Polydectes opening the satchel holding Medusa's head and being turned to stone himself.

The Perseus myth provides an expressive exemplar of what archetype possession and projection then are as it essentially breaks a cycle of animas being forced upon women and, in turn, destroying men. We shall need to keep this allegory at hand as we go on to discuss the phenomena of projection and possession in cinematic stories. So, let us then take a step away Greek mythology and towards a cinema of sexploitation.

Around the late 50s, there exploded a pornographic cinema of powerful women, pathetic men, nudity, crass humour and absurdity. The cinema of Russ Meyer is arguably the foundation of this wider body of films. Films of his such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and The Immoral Mr. Teas are then the embodiment of a filmmaker being turned to stone by Medusa. Such remains true with exploitation films that are descendent of Meyer's cinema; films like Slashdance, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, 1977's Cinderella and more. What these films so often represent to the highest possible degree, is a filmmaker that is possessed by his archetypes, his anima most commonly, projecting them through a lens of a cinematic story. In these stories, female is impure yet all-powerful whilst men are pitiful and weak. Nonetheless, under the control of the dominatrix that is male sexuality itself, men find pathetic pleasure in ogling at the female form in its impure and powerful glory. They stare into the eyes of Medusa and find bliss in being turned to stone. Whilst this cannot be more true in regards to films such as The Immoral Mr. Teas and Faster, Pussycat!, it can be seen to some degree in less exploitative, more mainstream and less absurd cinemas. Here we quickly come upon the realm of the mainstream 'male gaze'. If one takes a film such as Flashdance from 1983, they will find a movie that has the pretence of being about empowered females, but, in large part, plays out just like a sexploitation film with females serving the role of embodied anima, impure and powerful, the holder of the serpent gaze, but not yet a Gorgon, instead, just the victim of Poseidon's rape. A film such as Flashdance clearly conforms to feminist criticisms of cinema concerning scopophilia, the male gaze and castration. Alas, I am not a fan of terminology such as the 'male gaze' as it is inarticulate to a rather reprehensible degree. Where one may say that an individual is possessed by their anima, many choose to say that a male gaze is simply cast; that man is inherently oppressive and, just by looking and having his look satisfied, something troubling is occurring. There is nothing inherently corrupt about male or female, however, conceptions of what is male and what is female are all too easily corrupted. This is what we see in Meyer-esque exploitation films and those who exist in its shadow.

We have come upon this subject matter before in a post in which I provide an alternative to a theory of the male gaze with a theory of objective and subjective impressionism. However, whilst I dealt with films that are primarily mischaracterised by the too-simple theory there, with reference to Jung and possession, it becomes clear where I agree with the theory despite its inarticulations. But, it is from this point that we can continue to further question where the theory of the male gaze can (if it should ever) be applied, and where it maybe should not.

Embedded in the theory of objective and subjective impressionism is the idea that people are simultaneously object and subject, individual and idol - in fact, this may be the very heart of the theory and a primary criticism of a theory of 'visual pleasure' that does not account for this. It is then in my estimation that a viewer can all too easily confuse the representation of archetype with archetype possession. And this is quite an alluring trap as it takes a kind of embodiment for a filmmaker to project an archetype into a cinematic space. However, there is obviously a difference between embodiment and possession, between a filmmaker representing an anima or a shadow on screen and being possess by it. If one, for example, looks to a film such as No Country For Old Men they will see an astounding projection of the shadow in Anton Chigurh. The shadow is used in this film to do great evil. However, evil does not possess the story; it is not its primary function to be amoral. If one looks to a more difficult example, they can turn to a film such as Irreversible or Salo. In both of these films the shadow is centralised, which is to say, immorality is the focus of a narrative in which great evil seems to preside over all things. However, I would not suggest that either film is the product of possession. I do not think that Salo is a particularly articulate or purposeful film, but Irreversible certainly has some substance to it because it generates photogénie.

Photogénie is an idea of filmmaker and theorist Jean Epstein and is profound, but simple:
What is photogénie? I would describe as photogenic any aspect of things, beings or souls whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction. And any aspect not enhanced by filmic reproduction is not photogenic, plays no part in the art of cinema.
Photogénie is a shot, or rather, it presides over a shot that morally enhances its subject matter. With photogénie, an object or subject is assigned meaning that calls out to a viewer. So, though Irreversible is a film that contains an almost unending rape scene that bears no photogénie, its final shots are highly photogenic - and by virtue of the extended rape scene. It is then with the conclusion of Irreversible that time is shown to destroy everything; and in juxtaposition to the rape, it is directly implied that the rape will be destroyed by the flow of time and, in turn, will give way to a brighter spark of life: a baby. The images that carry this meaning are photogenic and so the film proves itself to not be possessed by its archetypes, instead, it holds in its hand the head of Medusa having released Pegasus.

And such is the function of films that exist close to possession: they are the ones who most clearly come to hold the head of Medusa and who best free the Pegasus, providing an example of artistic freedom being used for substantial good. Meyer-esque sexploitation films open the satchel holding Medusa's head and become stone, they do not free a Pegasus; they are possessed.

It is with photoénie that we have a tool with which we can distinguish the possessed narrative from the narrative that embodies and uses archetypes. If a film is, in total, photogenic, is morally enhancing in some way shape or form, then I do not believe that it can be possessed. Functional and positive morality is a function bound to the complete and whole self. To perceive morality is to perceive the truths of the self and in turn one can trust that, though archetypes are present, they are integrated into a higher system that we call the self. Translated into cinematic terms, if a narrative can become whole and meaningful by virtue of its archetypes, it is an infallible one (infallible as films, which can never be perfect, can be).

To provide one more example, I have to turn to the cinema of Satyajit Ray. It is Ray who has captured, in my opinion, some of the most profoundly affective photogénie upon the face of Madhabi Mukherjee - in, in particular, Mahanagar and Charulata.



These two films are quintessential examples of photogenic narratives as they operate with a key visual philosophy: The sovereign individual is an idol. This philosophy emerges through Ray's treatment of Mukherjee's image and character. In both Mahanagar and Charulata, the wife character played by Mukherjee, is trapped by the confines of the wife and mother archetype. That is to say that she understands the duties of both mother and wife, but seeks more and, at the same time, is not necessarily recognised as a whole individual transcendent of the archetypes she imitates. However, mechanisms of freedom are presented to her through work and writing; it is by working and dressing for work as well as writing and interacting with another writer that she develops as an individual, confronting her fears, playing multiple roles beyond a singular persona and expressing her developing self. We recognise this with Ray's close-ups of her face and eyes in particular. And in this process of filming, Ray constructs a 'crystaltype', which is to say, he makes an idol and an individual out of Mukherjee's image and character. This character and image are not purely individual as they are not free from archetype projection, but it is nonetheless through projection that they shine individual humanity. And so Mukherjee's individual is two-fold, both masked by duty and archetypal cordiality whilst exuding truths of the intimate self. Photogénie in such circumstances mediates between archetype and individual, archetype embodiment and projection and self expression, but is not so simple as to be a product of possession.

To move towards a conclusion, we can proffer an answer to our initial question. What is the difference between being possessed by one's archetypes and unconsciously accessing their depths? The difference is moral enhancement and the recognition of self via photogénie that produces substantial meaning.





28/05/2018

Children Of Heaven - Where Shoes Carry You

Quick Thoughts: Children Of Heaven (بچه‌های آسمان‎, 1997)


Made by Majid Majidi, this is the Iranian film of the series.


I cannot remember the last time I watch a film and was so thoroughly transfixed and emotionally attached to what was occurring on the screen as I was today. Children of Heaven is a pure masterpiece and a quintessential exemplar of the realist cinematic tradition. Like many other great realist works, this is a beautifully simple film, smaller than small yet bigger than big. Most reminiscent of De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's Home, Children of Heaven is about survival balancing on the edge of a pin with its central symbol representing, not faith and employment as in Bicycle Thieves, not loyalty and education as in Where is the Friend's Home, but a synthesis of all such themes within a thematic bubble of responsibility. What carries all of this film's meaning is then a pair of shoes, which in turn carries a brother and sister.

As a child, like most children I suppose, my shoes were a significant element of my life. Shoes meant that you could play, that your feet were safe, and so they sat at the bedrock of your consciousness, far more significant than you'd ever realise. That is, until you ruined them. And I scuffed, tore, ripped and ruined a lot of shoes. This meant that shoes rose up into the fore and dominated as the problem of all problems in my rather unproblematic existence. Ruined shoes were a source of embarrassment, pain, trouble and unknowing. You knew you were going to get in trouble, and you knew the price of new shoes was the reason why.

Shoes meant much more than this as you got older; you had to have nice shoes and the right shoes and so the problems only ever worsen. As a consequence what is both literally and metaphorically underneath you, carrying you through life, becomes a force of physical and existential weight as it essentially calls into question what you do with your feet.

Your shoes, as representatives of yourself, let a lot more through to others than you'd like; this is particularly true for children in school. Thus you have to become responsible for them, and in turn, you have to become responsible for how you walk - both literally and metaphorically. And such is the crucial focus of Majidi's narrative. It tracks the ways in which two children take responsibility for their shoes and, in turn, the way in which they walk through life. One of the narrative's greatest questions then concerns what you call to yourself, and what you simultaneously run towards, by travelling in the right way and taking care of one's shoes as you know you must. This opens up the narrative to the idea of confronting fate and questions of how your feet can essentially feed and be embraced by the world around you with water and fish as symbols of the world and positive archetypes of the unconscious mind.

Alas, without wanting to spoil this film--and without having too many words to confront it as of now--I'll end with a firm recommendation to see what I can comfortably call a new personal favourite.

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End Of The Week Shorts #59

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27/05/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #59



Today's shorts: Pete's Dragon (2016), The Dirty Picture (2011), George Carlin: It's Bad For Ya! (2008), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Le Trou (1960), Escape From New York (1981), Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), Street of Crocodiles (1986)



The 70s Pete's Dragon is just plain bad, and whilst this newer version is an improvement in some respects, it's not much better.

In short, this is just fluff; the whole movie could be reduced to a few shots of people beaming cringingly warm smiles at one another. To be a tiny bit more specific, this is a pretty literal story about a kid who is looked after by a dragon and then found by a nearby town. There are some allusions to ideas of deforestation and animal protection, but these go nowhere. Without anything going on in the subtext, you're left looking for some substance and force of heart in characterisation, but, as said, everything and everyone is just filled with fluff. What are you supposed to do with a movie that has no real character and heart and that disengages its mythological and unconscious underpinnings? Nothing. And that just about sums this movie up. A waste of time.



The Dirty Picture is a semi-successful film that deals with eroticism in Indian cinema by formulating a loose biography of Silk Smitha and other actresses of the 70s and 80s who were typecast and utilised a little like Marilyn Monroe was in Hollywood during her day. In such, this focuses on the love-hate dichotomy audiences (male audiences) seem to have with sexual icons of the screen as well as the struggle that the humans behind the iconography endure.

I fear I give the film a little too much edge in saying this, however, as, whilst its commentary is embedded in irony and satire, it fails to humanise its main character. In such, it takes on a form that is not too different from erotic set-pieces in Indian movies, but still tries to tell a story of the person behind such a veneer. And whilst one could argue that the point of the film is found here, I can't see such a technique bearing much fruit. Interesting, but only so much.



As prolific and iconic as Carlin is, I can't say I think he is a truly great comic. Carlin was an ingenious writer and performer, and if his specials were supposed to be rants, not stand-up, then you could easily call him a master. The truth is, however, that I very rarely laugh when watching Carlin's later stuff. His early stuff from the 70s is ridiculously good as it combines his ability to go through long, fluid and complicated bits with his ability to be self-deprecating and uncannily perceptive. It's then his bits on time, dirty words or stuff that sees him make fun of commonalities from various strange angles. When he applies this approach to politics, consumerism and road rage, the results are novel, but not as funny; they lack humanity and character. Sure, they have personality and opinion embedded in them, but it's only so entertaining to hear an old, angry guy rant about stuff he doesn't like.



Snow White is a drastically incomplete fairy tale that lacks crucial characters and character development. Missing from this narrative is then Snow White's parents, the original king and queen, as well as any development of the relationship between Snow White and the prince and Snow White and the dwarfs. This has an incredibly significant impact on the meaning underlying the classical tale of Snow White, which essentially divorces this narrative's meaning from that of the original. Disney's Snow White is then reduced to a film about the preservation of one's 'innocence' and the gradual confrontation of masculine figures. There is some value to be found in this, but, with a longer run time and a more expansive narrative that wasn't focused on simple musical spectacle reminiscent of Disney's earlier shorts, this could have been much more. Alas, still a classic and a nice film to experience once again. I had hoped to find more in this than I previously have, but unfortunately not.



Le Trou is the kind of film that not invites, not pulls, but imbibes the viewer, entirely absorbing their gaze into the fabric of film, action, drama and light. Time then very much so suspends itself as we simple observe a selection of processes - tunnelling, hammering, watching, waiting - and such brings about a kind of time that is similar to, but functionally abstract of Tarkovsky-time. What emerges from Le Trou is not an observation of time that gives way to a higher, poetic sense of reality, but is almost non-conscious in its fascinating monotony. One doesn't necessarily think when watching the presented processes through, nor do they feel anything of particular complexity; one watches and waits. Some call this tension, but I could equate this experience to thoughtless meditation; existence in a state of patience, with hope for, but without thought of, the future. And such reveals the heart of a film that I cannot spoil, only recommend to all.



In terms of cinema, I was raised on popular Hollywood movies from the 80s and 90s. There were a few movies that many would deem essentials that I missed, however, and, up until now, Escape From New York was one of them. Alas, having finally seen this film, I'm not sure if I was missing out on much.

Escape From New York is interesting for its ironically positive nihilism. It by passes emotion and valour in search of stoic resolution much like we see in Leone's spaghetti Westerns - and such is a difficult thing not to observe thanks to Kurt Russell's explicit Clint Eastwood impersonation. This produces a commentary on a world still trapped in a Cold War that, whilst it has its punch, lacks expression due to the ways in which this technically lacking (sound design, action, general logic). So, whilst there is much that could be said about what Escape From New York is trying to say, I can't say I was gripped or that it convinced me of too much.



This is a biographical film depicting Karen Carpenter's struggle with anorexia. It functions with a double-layered narrative. Fundamentally, this is a tragedy about eating disorders, repression and self-control. In turn, factors such as family and fame are shown to play a key role in suppressing Carpenter's sense of freedom and exacerbating her struggle to gain a control over her body and mind that wasn't self-destructive. On another level, this film formulates a social commentary on freedom that allegorises Carpenter's story in an attempt to show how a consumerist, war-waging society that is far too controlling catalyses the self-destruction of individuals. The contrast between control and freedom in such a respect is presented first and foremost with the use of Barbie dolls that represent people. Alas, the commentary is fleeting and so lacks depth or complexity. What's more, it feels like Karen Carpenter is used as an idol or device and not really investigated as a true person - not because she is represented with a doll, but because characterisation is pretty shallow. For this, I have to say that this is only slightly successful in its aims.



It's difficult to come up with words that can properly describe what Street of Crocodiles is. A mixture of musical montage, sharp camera movement, abstract biography and surreal animation, this defies analysis and becomes a sensory experience. In feeling the tortured and anxious movement of strings and shapes, the folding and twisting of grime, I thought most about construction and the title's reference to crocodiles.

Crocodiles are monstrous reptiles when alive, but, slaughtered and fed through a mechanism, they can become something as benign as shoes or a bag. We seem to exist at the level of the crocodile bag within this short, in the realm of the grotesque and the manufactured that, given artificial life and seen from the right perspective, retains threat and starts to eek towards monstrosity again. Maybe this says much about the allegory for Bruno Schultz's childhood that this is supposed to be?





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25/05/2018

The Grand Illusion - As Unconscious Truth Rises...

Thoughts On: The Grand Illusion (Le Grande Illusion, 1937)

A group of French POWs try to escape their rather cordial prison camps.


It is far too easy to say, but, The Grand Illusion is a masterpiece, and whilst I wouldn't say that it is my favourite film, it is impossible to not hold this movie dear to oneself as an example of a cinema that is eternal; that will seemingly forever reach out to audiences and have its impact. Because it is so widely lauded, finding something to say about Renoir's masterpiece is a difficult task. However, what fascinates me most about The Grand Illusion is the juxtaposition between what it says, how it says it and the fact that it is considered a masterpiece. In turn, I'm interested in why The Grand Illusion is considered, not just a masterpiece, but one of the greatest films ever made. But, before discussing exactly why I believe this to be the case, it is appropriate that I should briefly build a case for this being such an important film.

In essence, The Grand Illusion is a reflection upon all that went wrong in the 20th century. It emerges from the earlier half of the 1900s, but, this turns out to be a great advantage for the fact that, in the mid to late-30s, Renoir would have been quite far removed from WWI, and so capable of beginning to see how exactly it was going to shape the world. Moreover, he was not immersed in the chaos of post-WWII Europe and so his view doesn't become muddled by a cloud of grey - which is what many cinemas became lost in during the later 40s and tried, in various ways, to move away from throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. Alas, one of The Grand Illusion's key realisations, a realisation or premonition that hung over Europe and even the entire world for much of the 20s and 30s, was that there was another Great War to come. And such is the 'Grand Illusion' that the film references; the illusion that war is over, the illusion that war has a purpose and, in turn, that once wars conclude social problems will be resolved and there will be ceaseless peace. In essence, The Grand Illusion then realises that, though WWI was an indescribable horror, it certainly wasn't the war to end all wars. And it makes this point just before the out-break of WWII in a context of growing tensions and developing ideologies that would come to conflict for the much of the century to come (those primarily being fascism, communism, socialism and capitalism).

In making such a point, The Grand Illusion doesn't become fear mongering propaganda, and nor does it use tragedy and reductive commentary. And this is why I believe that this is such a powerful film. The Grand Illusion confronts ideology and war without the pretence of an ideological solution, just human commentary. One could certainly argue that Renoir attaches himself to some ideology, maybe humanism, with The The Grand Illusion. This assertion could be based upon the fact that Renoir was a particularly political person who was bound to the Popular Front movement in France during the 30s, an organisation that collected left and far-left viewpoints (socialist/communist). But, whilst one sees elements of a Marxist commentary in The Grand Illusion's apparent documentation of the fall of aristocracy and the bourgeois to the working class man - it is in fact accepted as an inevitability not to be hindered by some characters - there is certainly a lack of a fundamentally Marxist viewpoint centred on the oppression of the lower classes via the power of the higher classes. In fact, to say that The Grand Illusion is particularly Marxist, communist or socialist in its ideals would leave anyone attempting to access its meaning scratching their head. Seeing this film from such a political context would even lend one to criticism which would blindside them to the point made by the narrative - which is quite hard to bind to a coherent ideology.

Exuding a basic interest in humanity, The Grand Illusion moves beyond the sphere ideology, which is a conscious and egoic one. The wealth of humanity is nestled in the unconscious mind, not the conscious mind, and it is best expressed by the integration of unconsciousness into consciousness. This is a Jungian philosophy and he called such a process of balancing the unconscious with the conscious as to become whole 'individuation'. He has then said the following:

There were psychic processes and functions long before any ego-consciousness existed: "Thinking" existed long before man was able to say: "I am conscious of thinking".

Such an idea for Jung validates the focus on understanding the unconscious mind as the source of a person's true being. Moreover, this statement when juxtaposed with Jung's theory of the archetypes suggests that, not just thinking, but understanding existed long before man was able to say, "I am conscious of understanding". This embeds an element of profound truth in the unconscious processes, which puts a much higher value on this dark and numinous aspect of humanity. Consciousness seems to be a filter that mediates between reality and the perception of self. Freud would describe such a phenomena in terms of the ego as one's idea of "I", the id as one's unconscious (what Jung would emphasise is only the personal unconscious) and the superego as the force that mediates between the outside world, personal impulse via the id and one's idea of themself via their ego. Consciousness in such a respect is burdened by its need to know, to figure out the world and identify with the best solutions - which is what one does when they use their ego to formulate functional personalities. Alas, what Jung and the psychoanalysts emphasise is not that one figures out the world and goes on to function properly, instead that one only struggles to understand themself. One must understand themself as answers lie trapped within, or rather, mechanisms for answering lay trapped within. As great poets once said: Forget your lust for the rich man's gold; all you need is in your soul... be a simple kind of man. To understand oneself, one must learn how to articulate and shape what is within; what resides in the unconscious mind. And such is Jung's theory of individuation re-articulated. One is born with the ability to make noise, in turn, they are born with the potential to speak. Alas, it is through the mediation of unconscious ability and conscious effort that noise turns into babbling, into basic speech that gets more complex, that can one day see someone write a book or a movie that has a profound impact on others, that can see someone form great friendships, express their love and humanity and uplift others.

Ideology emerges from the conscious mind in that it is a knowing reflection upon ones temperament (which is embedded in unconsciousness). It is then one part of a puzzle of humanity that is subservient to more complex structures embedded in unconsciousness. Above ideology is then social rule. One may argue that social rule is an ideology, but, that is not the case. Social rule, like thinking, existed long before man was able to say, "I am conscious of social rule". Being conscious of social rule provides one the opportunity to turn what are fundamental terms of engagement into an ideology that either supports or denotes what it emerges from. Ideology will nonetheless appear fickle before social order because such a phenomena is not arbitrary (which is not to say that all ideology is) and it is not conjured up in the conscious mind and formulated on a piece of paper. Social order is an expression of a collective unconscious. The means by which the collective unconscious, or essential humanity, is expressed is always imperfect by virtue of the fact that 'expression' means that unconscious truth must pass through consciousness. The degree to which this is measurable and obvious, however, is far less intense than is the case with ideology. Thus, social rule is less an 'idea' made into an -ism, and more an impulse acted out.

I linger on this argument because it not only reflects much about the content of The Grand Illusion, but clarifies the process by which Renoir formulates his content. Putting aside his own explicit ideology, Renoir delves into the unconscious in search of humanity. He thus pushes aside ideology and dogma as they are packaged by religion, class and politics to determine what the foundations of human connection are and how, possibly, positive thought structures and ideologies can emerge from such a place. And for such a reason it becomes most tolerable and easy to associate The Grand Illusion with humanism; it centres the value of human life above all in its ideological make-up. And it does this to explore, sympathetically and with interest in character and self, the ideals of Germans, Frenchmen, Jewish people, aristocrats, middle-class and working class men, etc. In parallel to this, The Grand Illusion forms a rather objective allegory about the rise of the common man and the fall of old social rules that primarily represent the functions and duties of the highest classes. Without explicit depiction and without any illusions about the inability for such things to simply dissolve, Renoir then touches on the dissolution of social class boundaries, showing all soldiers as equal men. These 'equal men' are not the same, however. They conflict because they are bound to differing cultural structures; aristocrats don't easily mix with working class Joes, Jews do not easily mix with Christians, German, French and English men don't easily mix and so fourth. Alas, whilst this remains true, it does not impede fraternity and dutiful, human function. This is at least shown to be true with all conflicting cultural attributes apart from race - a theme that is only alluded to with a black man being ignored.

What unfolds in The Grand Illusion is consequently two-fold. Renoir shows how, on multiple levels of analysis, humans can connect to one another; can perceive what is not explicitly their own self as partly their self and so imbued with incorruptible value. In becoming connected Renoir's characters move closer together, but do not lose their individual humanity - which is to say, they do not become godly saints floating in the ether of an imagined utopian collective unconscious. Nonetheless, the world and individuals emerge all the better for the progress that is made over the course of the narrative. In conjuncture to this one fold of The Grand Illusion is then Renoir's venture to suppress ideological, or rather, conscious premeditation for an in-moment enquiry of meaning and true, fundamental rule. The rules of Renoir's world are predicated on a failure to understand how to do anything but what one can only perceived to be of the highest moral right. There is then introduced an element of moral relativism with Renoir showing how a German commander is doing a moral good by killing a Frenchman. But, Renoir's point is not that the German commander did his duty and in turn became a patriot, but that he played the game he knew he had to and that the Frenchman knew he had to, and that the playing through of this game freed two men and gave the sacrificial Frenchman, who is seemingly bound to greater moral substance in being on the Allied side of the Great War, a good death. It is through this set of moral quandaries that the German actually served the higher moral right by killing the Frenchman - which he in fact didn't want to, and didn't mean to, do. And such is a perfect example of how Renoir uses ideology, for example, nationalism, to mine down through the shallow depths of consciousness into the humanity that lies under and that, by the will of good and the luck of humanity, will continue on as social order morphs and changes in the hands of those who will live on in the future.

To conclude, it appears to me that The Grand Illusion is such a powerful film and a masterpiece so widely and prevalently lauded because it manages to move past ideological facades in search of humanity. In performing this rare cinematic act, Renoir formulates an additive commentary that seeks humanistic transcendent ascension over reductive social critique and in turn resonates with the truth of the collective unconscious presiding over cinema - an ether into which this film has been firmly integrated.







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24/05/2018

Game Night - Screwball Heart

Quick Thoughts: Game Night (2018)

A group of friends get caught up in a murder mystery game that just might not be a game.


Game Night is a pretty brilliant comedy. At the most fundamental level, it simply succeeds in creating humorous scenarios through solid characterisation. Specific character traits are then funnelled and manipulated into a convoluted mystery plot that, thankfully, distracts itself with character. My only criticism of the film comes from the fact that it does distract itself with characterisation - which is to say that, it feels like one half of a larger game that, just maybe, has too many parts. But, whilst character, and subsequently a meaningful conclusion, doesn't naturally emerge from this narrative--which leaves many traces of the construction a writer must do to create comedy, character and a complex plot--it doesn't seem to want to make statements that are too grand. At its core, Game Night is a screwball comedy that, in spirit, is reminiscent of Bringing Up Baby. Game Night is more complex and self-aware than the 30s screwball comedy, but it preserves its ability to see two people combat in a seemingly unbreakable relationship, and in turn develop through absurd comedic quarrels. This is in fact repeated about 5 times over between the three couples, a police man and a brother. Each character is then given their comedic faults - arrogance and stupidity - but the faults are distributed well so that there isn't just one fool, instead a foolish group, and, whilst no one sheds their foolishness completely, it acts as a painful road towards greater truth and harmony between the numerous couples. So, like Bringing Up Baby and many other screwball comedies of its kind, comedy is used to manifest conflict between characters that doesn't result in true drama, but, comedic drama that will eventually bring two combatants closer together. And such, macrocosmically, is the general point made by the film: When you play through your stupidity earnestly and with good intentions, you can only ever carve out more space in your own mind and in your world of friends for growth. For this, I have to say that Game Night holds as a comedy of somewhat rare class; not only is it funny, but it has heart. Less cerebral and more entertaining (or rather, less European and more American), Game Night is a contender to last year's The Square as a top comedy of recent times.

To bring things towards an end, I'll leave things with you. Have you seen Game Night? What are your thoughts?






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The Look Of Silence - Humanity, Humility, Humiliation

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22/05/2018

The Look Of Silence - Humanity, Humility, Humiliation

Quick Thoughts: The Look Of Silence (Senyap, 2014)


Made by Joshua Oppenheimer, this is the Indonesian film of the series.


Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, which is certainly the centre-piece of his retrospective documentation of the 1964-65 killings in Indonesia, is one of the greatest achievements ever made in the realm of documentary. However, the film feels incomplete. It feels incomplete because it is a success. The Act of Killing is made complete, however, with the failure that is The Look of Silence.

Where The Act of Killing succeeds in getting the perpetrators of heinous crimes to confess and reflect upon their pasts, revealing their simultaneous humanity and inhumanity, The Look of Silence sees the victims of the crimes seek a response and all fail in securing anything of much substance at all. And such seems to reflect the reality of the situation in modern-day Indonesia; truth now floats semi-freely, but no one can grasp and deal with it; the facts are there, but no one is willing to take responsibility for them. In watching The Look of Silence, you're made to question how anyone could take full responsibility for such monstrous crimes and in turn pay just penance, but, these questions quickly fade away and are replaced with a vacuum of humiliating inertia. And I believe that such is the key failure of The Look of Silence - again, this failure does not mean that the documentary is bad, rather, it seemingly reveals the true nature of the film's subject. The Look of Silence is about displaced shame and unjustly inherited humiliation with truth somehow shedding all that is shameful about history and the lies weighing down the present victims with impossible humiliation - so much so that humiliation and humility come to mean one and the same as we stare at the vacant and devastatingly human powerlessness in victims' faces.

Little can really be said about The Look of Silence as all that is it is encapsulated by the title; this documentary exudes dumbfoundedness and the best any audience member can do is look at it.

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21/05/2018

Shades Of Consciousness & The Cinematic Dream

Thoughts On: Types Of Meaning In Cinema

This is a look at how we engage different kinds of films and their meaning.


In my best estimation, art is simultaneously a collective dream and collective dreaming. That is to say that art is the product of unconscious minds and thus a projected dream, but also a perceived dream and thus a vision dreamt somewhat unconsciously. I believe this to be especially true with those who simply experience art. For the general audience member who just watches movies, just sees paintings and just reads books - often with the genuine, but ill-understood belief that they are only being entertained or are just entertaining a hobby - art remains as pure of a dream as it can be. This is especially true with children. A different process occurs with those who analyse and critique arts. This process sees the dream move out of the unconscious and up into the conscious and maybe even back down again. Alas, whilst dreams can be analysed, they never stop being dreams, which is to say that they retain a mysterious and shadowy element of unconsciousness no matter what.

What fascinates me most in regards to this idea of art, more specifically cinema, as a dream is the element of meaning. As is the philosophy of the psychoanalysts, the unconscious bears the most meaning and the most profound answers to questions of human psychology and the human complex. The dream is one of the primary roads to the unconscious for the psychoanalysts, and so it is a primary road to understanding and meaning. Alas, whilst a figure like Freud considered this idea literally, Jung is one of the key figures who sees the fundamental narratives we tell as dream-like, and so roads into, not just the individual unconscious, but the unconscious of all of us: the collective unconscious. Jung's philosophy of the collective unconscious was profoundly simple. He posited that we so easily consider ourselves collectively human in regards to our physiology and biology, and can do so through our psychology too. In regards to biological science, every human is a unique individual, but nonetheless operates with a heart, lungs, brain, spine, etc. that aren't unique at all on a macroscopic level. What then makes us all biologically human is not necessarily our individuality alone - our unique genetic code - but our capacity for individual expression through our common constructs; through eyes, which everyone has, reaches out the soul. Such is just as true in the psychological domain for someone such as Jung. Psychologically, we are all individuals. However, there are psychic constructs that are tantamount to hearts, lungs and spines. Jung called these the archetypes and they were concepts of moral and behavioural being that we all embody, reflect upon and project onto the world, and must in turn wrangle and contend with as to express our higher individuality. It is through the archetypes that Jung found meaning in the unconscious; meaning that transcends personal existence and is in communication with the great human conception of the beyond from which we emerged and were gifted our consciousness. I believe a very similar process can occur through cinema.

With cinematic stories as dreams, they become gateways into the collective unconscious presiding over modern society. And this is not to say that movies express a quality of the unconsciousness that some of our oldest mythological narratives do. Movies interact with the collective unconscious somewhere between unconsciously and consciously. That is to say that they are operating on levels far more self-aware and conscious than more fundamental stories are thought to. As a result, they mould meaning, comment on meaning, and also mean to have meaning, they do not just embody/express it. They do this knowingly and unknowingly and so put between the screen and the abstract collective unconscious a persona and an ego via the very present artist. Because cinema is always constructed, it is not a true dream - but a dream of sorts, I believe, it nonetheless is. Alas, before anyone can begin analysing the elements of any cinematic dream, routing out its archetypes and, in turn, accessing its meaning, it would be important to ask what kind of dreams cinema can dream up.

Cinema is a construct, a dream if you'll have it, that exists between a screen, an audience and filmmakers; it exist between objective reality, perceptual interpretation and perceptual projection. As a result, there are three factors that determine the kind of dream that can be conjured and called cinema. Firstly, there is the objective reality: the screen. One (audience and/or filmmaker) can watch a film with the screen being a screen, or a screen as a window into a different reality - one can even mediate between these two views of what a screen is. As a result, there are two key philosophies of what a screen is; a screen can either be a human construct, and thus all that it contains is seen as a human construct, or it can be a functional illusion and a magic box that allows us to peer into other 'real' realms that are, themselves, autonomous and self-dependent. As a child, one often assumes the latter, that the screen is a window into alternate reality. That isn't to say that the screen is literally seen as a portal into a different place - though, for some particularly young children, maybe this is true. Whilst a toddler or a young child can tap on a television screen as a movie plays and know that what exists within isn't truly existing within, they do not necessarily perceive what is within to be non-real and, in turn, inconsequential. Movies can deeply affect children. As most parents know, movies can scare children because they do not understand that what they're seeing isn't real. And parents understand this quite specifically. It is not that the child doesn't know that an evil clown can't come out of the TV, it is just that they can't separate their unconscious fear from such a recognition and perceive what is on the screen as truly inconsequential. We know this to be true as adults. We know that monsters can't come out of the TV - moreover, that they don't exist within. Nonetheless, movies can still scare us because we do not always have the ability to separate this fact from our unconscious urge and recognition of consequence; the evil clown surely can't come out of the TV, but try tell you're unconscious nervous system this when you jump out of your seat.

In truth, some people can assure their nervous systems that they are safe and, in turn, that the screen is just a screen. Some of us can then tell ourselves that "this is just a movie" and not be affected by even a jump scare. We do the same thing any time we start to question how a filmmaker blocked a scene or achieved a certain shot. We stop seeing the constructed illusion of a cinematic space and the screen stops being a portal into an alternate dream-reality. One mediates between these two modes when they not only ask what a filmmaker is doing with a camera, but asks why and how this affects story. In such a circumstance, a screen is simultaneously real and unreal. In being both, a screen can become supra-real and thus transcendent of the dichotomy of real and unreal and thus something new, whole, unified and imbued with greater meaning.

The screen is just one component of three. The next we can discuss is the audience themselves who can project into the cinematic space between the screen, themselves and the filmmaker, a persona or self of varying quality. We can save the individual analysis of the filmmaker's role as they project into the cinematic space a persona or self, too. The difference between the filmmaker and audience, however, is that the audience projects a persona or their self as to understand and experience a movie in the context of themselves; a filmmaker projects a persona or self to express something, to put out, not to receive.

The difference between persona and self is quite simple. The persona is a conscious construct guided by unconscious drives. The self on the other hand cannot be constructed; it is what we inherently are and so it oversees all that we become. The self can then be consciousness guided by unconscious drive, or it can, to some degree or another, just be unconscious drive for a person who never engages in introspection and self-analysis, who is not self-aware. By projecting a persona into a cinematic space, an audience member or filmmaker is choosing to play a game of sorts; to construct a framework through which a cinematic story can either be told or received. An audience member or filmmaker can do this as they watch/make a movie and decide to do so with certain ideological constructs. When they watch a movie, they project a persona that is constructed by the rules of an ideology of any kind and thus operate in regards to it. For example, if you like looking for the 'sins' a movie makes, you subscribe to a set of ideals and one of them may be that exposition is bad. If you project this persona into a cinematic space as you watch it develop, you will see and interact with it with little tolerance for exposition and in turn mould the cinematic space around rules it may not have been constructed to comply with. Another example may be found in being a teacher. If you watch a film as a teacher, you will see it in regards to the lessons it can help you teach children or the lessons it is already teaching children. What becomes obvious here is that the rules that come along with that persona drastically affect the cinematic space - whether you are projecting into it as a teacher who is making a film or gleaning from it as a teacher in an audience.

As opposed to projecting a consciously-constructed persona into a movie, which, to a degree, is inevitable, one can engage it unconsciously. This, quite ironically, can take conscious effort. Nonetheless, it is possible to watch a film as an individual who is not just bound to a set of ideas and ideals, but is the conveyor and manager of all such things. When one watches a film with multiple personas I believe they make a move towards watching it as a true individual. This is because, if you are both a teacher, a father, a husband, a Jew and a part-time fire-breather, you will be able to have multiple sets of ideals conflict and conflate when you watch a film in a manner that simulates the way in which your self conflicts and conflates multiple domains and rule sets as to be you. By watching a film as the multiple yous, in turn, the overarching you, you begin engaging cinema as an individual self and, in turn, project your unconscious temperament and abstract ideals into a film. This is just as true for a filmmaker constructing a film. They can choose to make a film as a feminist and thus will construct a political document, or, they can choose to make a film as a wife, daughter, Cambodian and knife-enthusiast with a masters in business management. For the fact that people are always and inherently composed of multiple personas in such a respect, I find it reasonable to suggest that we watch and make films as our selves--through our self--far more than we do our personas. Alas, it remains a possibility that one can make or watch a film as just a persona or as a self despite the fact that there is always, at least, some minor conflation and confusion between the two.

To take a step back, we have three major elements of the cinematic space - the screen, the audience and the filmmaker - and, in turn, we have the three factors of its construction: objective reality, perceptual interpretation and perceptual projection. These three factors are divided by 4 positions; objective reality, the screen, can be seen as real or unreal; perceptual interpretation, the audience, can function in regards to a persona or self; and perceptual projection, the filmmaker, can also function in regards to a persona or self. What emerges from the collision of these different positions are 4 different kinds of cinematic space with 4 different kinds of meaning. These four types are: conscious, non-conscious, unconscious and subconscious. These four terms imply the kind of dream-meaning that a cinematic space can be perceived as having and so we shall look at each individually and then in regards to the equations that build them up.

Conscious dreams are pseudo-dreams; they are imaginations and thoughts sold as products of the unconscious when they are, in fact, tightly wrapped in conscious decision. The conscious cinematic space is manifested when the screen is real and the audience and filmmaker projects a persona:

real + persona + persona = conscious

This kind of cinematic space is often reserved for documentaries, especially those of the political kind. Experiencing documentaries of this kind, the screen presents itself as a message board of facts whilst the filmmaker and audience member analyse those facts with pre-constructed sets of ideas. Narrative films that operate with the same equation will break the cinematic space whilst demanding and receiving a specific set of ideals so that it may be interpreted. This kind of cinema can then be propagandistic, highly reflexive or exploitative. Most propaganda then assumes people are thinking a certain way and enforces their beliefs with what should be perceived as just reality, or a highly symbolic reality, emitted from the screen. Deeply reflexive films, however, play games. This game is acknowledged with the screen being seen as a screen, as real. It is then played with using sets of rules, or sets of ideals, that must clash. An example of this could be Interior. Leather Bar. This is a film that has you perceive the screen as real and unreal, but mostly real (meaning consciously constructed), and then introduces rules of identity politics that must conflict and conflate. How one concludes will determine if the meaning of the film is solely conscious or if it transcends consciousness and becomes deep or poetic (terms we will come to shortly). Finally, the exploitation film perceives the screen as a board upon which to play a game; the audience and filmmaker becomes players who bring forth personas: the filmmaker must scare, disgust, arouse, etc. and the audience must refuse or indulge and/or confront this. Conscious cinema of this kind is sometimes an ironic test of the cinematic space. Alas, the meaning of the game played needn't always be conscious. It can very easily be non-conscious.

Non-conscious cinematic spaces are like dreams that are forgotten or maybe never even realised by their dreamer. They require the screen to be unreal, in turn, it is not seen to be constructed, and the audience and filmmaker project personas into them:

unreal + persona + persona = non-conscious

This kind of cinematic space is so often entertainment that is not assigned meaning. It is then created by an audience member who thinks they are just a consumer waiting to be entertained and a filmmaker who thinks that are just a producer who must entertain. With the screen operating as a fantasy-land and an illusion that is never questioned, it engages the senses, but remains benign and cannot be interacted with. Thus, it is never given meaning and/or the meaning that may reside within it is never found. The kind of films with non-conscious spaces are so often pop-corn movies that no one takes seriously - or are very hard to put meaning into. This space can, however, also be tantamount to propaganda with a false reality being sold and understood by simple idea-structures. It lacks real meaning and is just a means of projecting rules and engaging certain feelings.

Next, we come to unconscious, or deep, cinematic spaces - spaces that delve into the unconscious and so have meaning buried within them. These spaces operate with the screen as unreal or real and the filmmaker and audience project their selves into the space:

real + self + self = deep
unreal + self + self = deep

These two kinds of spaces are rather precious as they come to represent two deeply personal kinds of cinema that require a genuine and complete engagement with what is on a screen. The difficulty that arises when cinema becomes highly personal, however, is that meaning can become too difficult to find. This becomes the case when the screen is seen as unreal. In such circumstances the filmmaker and audience do not know how to decode what they sense to have deep meaning and to be bound to the essence of their being. However, when the screen becomes real, when it is seen as a construct, coherent meaning is much easier found and placed. This isn't to say that deep cinematic spaces with unreal screens do not have meaning; these bear the potential to have the most meaning - it is just most difficult to find. As a result, a mediation between seeing what is on the screen as constructed and a functional illusion often helps tease out truth. I find that our personally favourite movies have deep cinematic spaces with unreal screens. Deeply profound and difficult movies, or decoded personal favourites, usually have real screens.

Finally, we come to sub-conscious, or poetic, spaces. Poetic cinematic dreams are dreams that are stuck between consciousness and unconsciousness. These are the most likely films to emerge from cinema because cinema itself is also stuck between consciousness and unconsciousness. Cinema strives to journey downwards, but so often only gets so far, and so becomes sub-conscious; not completely unconscious, but almost there. These spaces utilise real and unreal screens and are built upon a disagreement between audience and filmmaker:

real + persona + self = poetic
real + self + persona = poetic
unreal + persona + self = poetic
unreal + self + persona = poetic

These four equations' outcomes are quite similar, but we should split them further into abstractly and technically poetic spaces. Thus, spaces made upon a disagreement between audience and filmmaker, but have real screens, are technical whilst those with unreal screens are abstract:

real + persona + self = poetic-technical
real + self + persona = poetic-technical
unreal + persona + self = poetic-abstract
unreal + self + persona = poetic-abstract

The poetic spaces emerge from an audience member wanting to interpret a film in a certain way or a filmmaker wanting to say something specific. When the audience member wants a movie to say something in accordance with their persona and ideological make-up, but are confronted with a cinema that is more complex than what it is created due to its projection through a genuine and complex self of a filmmaker, then the audience member either provides 'a perspective' or simplifies the film. This can be good or bad, it simply depends on how well this is done. To provide an example, a feminist film critic will see all films in accordance to the structure provided by their ideology. A filmmaker may not make a film as a feminist--if they do, the film becomes a conscious or non-conscious document--alas, if a filmmaker does not make a film as a feminist, but has their film read by a feminist, poetry is made out of the matter of life; the feminist turns the life provided by the filmmaker into poetry. In the reverse, when a filmmaker makes a film as, for example, a feminist, but is read by just an individual without this lens, they will make poetry out of rules.

It is dependent on how the screen is seen that will determine if the poetic space is technical or abstract. If a screen is real and constructed, it will be analysed as if it is meant to say something or as if it is already saying something. Those who take a film projected by the self of a filmmaker and engage it with a persona will find meaning through reduction. Those who take a film projected by a filmmaker's persona and engage it with their self will find meaning through addition; they build towards the rules, or build off of them.

Conversely, if a screen is unreal and an illusion, it will be analysed as if it is unconsciously saying or merely implying something. Meaning is then abstractly given to a film by an audience member. This can be done reductionistically or additively; reductionistically if the persona reads the self and additively if the self reads the persona.

***

There are values and virtues embedded in each of these spaces. However, there are also pitfalls and vices. One can easily interpret these for themselves and so I will not provide such an analysis. Nonetheless, having provided these different kinds of cinematic spaces and the meanings that they produce, we can become more capable of recognising what filmmakers are doing, how they are operating and how we are operating. In some cases we can alter our perception, in others we can focus our analysis and criticism. But, the point of the exercise one may engage when using these ideas is to become conscious in our journey into and out of unconsciousness and thus become more efficient and capable miners of different kinds of meaning.






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20/05/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #58



Today's shorts: Jason And The Argonauts (1963), Deadpool (2016), Paheli (2005), Force Majeure (2014), Bill Burr: I'm Sorry You Feel That Way (2014), Tabu (1931), Pete's Dragon (1977)



It is no doubt dated and quite dry, but Jason and the Argonauts may be the best Greek mythology film ever made.

First and foremost, this is a technical masterpiece - and it is made so just for the final scene with the skeletal 'dragon offspring'. The stop-motion animation put on display in this sequence, which took four months to put together and lasts just a few minutes, is truly astounding; it is probably some of the most advanced and impressive animation of its age and can quite easily contend with all else.

It cannot be overlooked, however, that there is a strong story holding this film together. It deviates from classical mythology quite a bit, but remains symbolically and archetypally expressive whilst exuding clarity and spectacle. And it's this unity of technique and story that makes Jason and the Argonauts, arguably, the best mythological film ever made.



I remember having a real blast with this when it first came out. Having seen this quite a few times since, I have to say that it has depreciated quite a bit. This is primarily due to the fact that the outcomes and sources of most jokes are too obvious. There's a few ingenious lines and pieces put here and there, but it's hard not to say that this is trying a little too hard to be subversively self-aware and comic. In fact, despite what the opening credits tell us, I don't think the writers are the real heroes; for the large part, they seem to simply let loose a snarky flow of consciousness onto the page.

I nonetheless think that this is a pretty awesome movie; maybe a classic in the making that film students will look back on in 50 years and, despite their initial groans concerning the old superhero movies with crappy CGI, will love; our age's Singin' In The Rain if you'll have it.



Imperfect on the surface, but, at its heart, this is a pretty brilliant movie.

Paheli, or Riddle, is about a husband who leaves his wife on business with plans of not coming back for 5 years. A spirit falls in love with the woman and impersonates the husband, finding a place in the family. This fairy tale construct picks up on the duality of a husband and formulates an allegory about the concept of presence and materiality; what is objective and tangible is nothing if it is not given meaning and value attached to a cohesive moral and human good. Wealth is for people; people are not made for wealth.

If this was more concise in the story department (an elaboration on one or two songs wouldn't do harm), I'm sure I could call this perfect. As is, Paheli has a bit too much fat and CGI in it, but is nonetheless a good watch.



Absolutely brilliant.

Force Majeure deals with angst, reversal and imbalance in an imperfect familial equation; in a family where the bratty kids seem to run the show, where the father is dishonest and rather pathetic and where the mother wants to escape. This family is confronted with a symbol of their faulted state of being that sees the father fail to be the man he is expected to be and who he knows he should be. And the film blossoms from here, not necessarily analysing this symbol, but observing how the interpretation and confrontation of this symbol effects the family dynamic. In turn, we are made to question the validity and purpose of the symbolic event with all the arguments that emerge from it being about what the argument is about, in turn, what family means, as opposed to anything literal. As a result, this becomes a brilliant, slightly tragic, slight comic, uncannily human open study in what family is supposed to be. My second Östlund film and I like this director even more.



I can return to this a thousand times over and it will still be hilarious.

Yours goes quack-quack, mine goes quack-a-fukin-QUACK... the stuff of brilliance. This might be Burr's most physical and acting-centric specials - and it benefits so much from this. In not just telling stories, but stepping inside and getting lost in them, Burr moves past whatever his opinion may be, bringing us with him, and reveals his subject matter's hilarious side. The jokes then become infectiously funny and a straight face impossible to keep. Recommended to all comedy fans.



Tabu is a film that provides an answer to the question: When does a system of customs become tyrannical? Its answer is beautifully constructed with the use of expressive symbols and archetypes, and it goes as follows...

When a system not only disregards an individual's will, but betrays those that become heroes by swimming into the depths of the forbidden, shadow-unconscious to defeat a monster (that which is tyrannical in the system) and emerge with a precious jewel that represents their triumph and will be shared with a greater community, then a system is corrupt. When ritual becomes dogma that squashes all worthy rebuttals to concrete law then only tragedy can befall the innocent and the good. This is the quintessential Murnauan story seen in Sunrise and The Last Laugh powerfully told with mythological and futile overtones. I highly recommend this.



I used to watch this a bunch as a kid. It wasn't a particular favourite, but some of the songs and the image of Elliot the dragon has stuck with me. As I started to re-watch this today, I didn't expect too much - you never really should when it comes to live action Disney - however, I hoped it'd be clunky, but likeable. To a degree, this is, but... it is, technically, far worse than I imagined it to be.

The acting is pretty poor, the writing is ridiculously childish, the special effects are shockingly hammy and the direction never manages to sell the magic that the narrative really relies on. And I think the lack of magic is really the core problem with this movie; the fantasy just doesn't take. So, whilst a song or two made me smile and, overall, this kept me awake for 2 hours, I can't say this is any good for anyone over the age of 4.






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18/05/2018

Cinema & The Big Bang

Thoughts On: The Essence of Cinema

The following are the edited notes I made when trying to think about light and the purpose of cinema. I have not tried to turn these notes into an essay as I usually do because they are so abstract and probably best kept as is. I hope you find some value in them...


What is light
Light is photons
Photons are packages of energy that are emitted when electrons move
They aren't just created, but are the transference of energy

No energy is created, it is transferred and was put there by the big bang
The big bang wasn't just the start of matter, but the start of energy?
What is energy
It is a force of effection that becomes affection;
The objective becomes subjective
Did the universe create humans to take in energy;
Are we vessels that catalyse the transformation of effect into affect
Do we give energy meaning, do we assign value to the energy in the light

What is the difference between affection and effection?

Affection leads to the creation of the non-literal?
Affection creates meaning?

Affection is creation, effection is transference

Emotions are transferred;
They move in the collection unconscious

Affection is the movement into a system that is so complex that it is not just a basic process;
It is two dimensional in that it is aware, it both is and can see that it is;
It is present and knows of the past and that there is a future to come

To be conscious is to understand time
You facilitate process and time;
Space and time

What is it to know and understand?
Bear properties that can interact with time

To process something is to do more that exist in a system;
It is to propagate it;
Is to have function, and function is meaning

What is the difference between functioning and having function?

Time is eternal, space is finite
Time is eternal because it destroys space;
It transcends what it possesses
Space is finite because something can only function for so long
If something is to go on, then it must change
To change space must be created and in turn effect time before being destroyed
To function is to contribute to change before being destroyed
To have function is to change forever

Function is finite, having function is eternal

Acting is finite, having meaning is eternal

What is the fundamental meaning?
To exist

Somehow having function - meaning - is to start existing;
Meaning only wants to be preserved because it did manage to come into being

What came first, wanting to exist or existing?
Wanting?

How do you want?

Space is being, time is meaning

Did I find meaning in cinema after watching it or did I watch it because it had meaning

Light hit my eyes and it gave me access to time
Time carried meaning to me

What is the singularity of meaning
Why did time start moving

To overcome not knowing

Not knowing creates the friction that emanates time
Friction can only be there if someone witnesses it

Wrong
That is the illusion

Light can only be certain colours;
Colour is finite
Light is not light if it does not fit within ranges of possibility

There is no impossibility, there is only what is possible
We escaped it and are escaping it
Time is possibility emerging from impossibility;
Something from nothing

There was never nothing, there was only ever increasing probability

Probability is the unity of the impossible and possible;
The positive and negative

Impossibility is eternal, possibility is finite;
It is smaller and there is less of it
However, possibility wants to grow

Though potential initially laid dormant, potential wants to consume all

Why?

That is its nature;
Its being is wanting to be whilst not being;
It is function having function:
Masculine-Feminine:
Unity

We try to imitate and embody potential;
That is human existence
We are trying to be function having function

Cinema is one of the facilitating processes






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End Of The Week Shorts #58

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