Thoughts On: Image In Motion - Autonomy Over The Cinematic Space


Image In Motion - Autonomy Over The Cinematic Space

Thoughts On: Image in Motion

An exploration of autonomous functions attached to the cinematic space.

Image in Motion is an essay by Pat Berry that I stumbled across recently. It strikes me as a particularly whole and enclosed piece of work, not too limited, but conclusive and incisive. I am particularly struck by Berry's formulation of cinematic language and the camera's role in relation to the audience's psyche.

The essay opens with a selection of arguments unequal in quality and depth. Written from a psychoanalytical perspective, this readily reduces the experience and place of film to pleasure. Such is a dominant axiom of filmic discourse that has seemingly sat at the core of film theory (in a Freudian casing) since the 60s and 70s. I find the reduction not unacceptable, simply cliched and uninspiring. From the opening paragraphs, it is clear that Berry means to explore the almost infectious and feverish attraction that visual art can become, and comes across a rather eloquent conception of why this is the case:

... the transformation that occurs in the act of filmmaking creates or perhaps releases the "psyche" of the subject... We experience this transformation from nature to art, and are magnetised by it.

Berry goes on to soon after say "the transformation into art provides form and an aesthetic value of excitement: pleasure". The fascinating line of this thought rests in the idea that nature becoming art gives art value. Historically, dramatic theories of mimesis have of course echoed similar sentiments - that art imitates the world, that art emerges from the world, and is therefore stimulating. At its heart, Berry's initial statement is an Aristotelian one - albeit, simpler and more ambiguous in nature and therefore, in my perspective, a little more eloquent. Furthermore, her suggestion that artistic creation releases the psyche sounds somewhat similar to a theory of catharsis, but, is again more fascinating thanks to the psychologically-based articulation. These ideas are, as implied, limited by the reduction of this transformation's 'magnetism' to pleasure in my opinion; however, I find the basic formulation here highly agreeable.

Less agreeable is Berry's exploration of film's birth through Méliès and the Lumières. Here we have another cliched reduction that is neverendingly recycled: cinema begins with the documentarians and the magician. Again, I find this not unacceptable, just inane. Alas, Berry establishes her major point with her discussion of visual attraction and early filmmakers: film is a kind of therapy or psychological requirement. This point is not a new one. Early filmic writers in the early 20th century, like Berry, pointed to film as a new art for the modern age, a new fast art, technological and in motion. The revelation here is not particularly profound, but this is only where Berry's thinking begins.

Having established art's position as a reflection of the psyche, as something therapeutic or pleasurable, Berry indulges yet another cliche and yet finds some piercing insight. In conceptualising the camera as an 'eye,' which was done most famously by the likes of Dziga Vertov, cinema is seen as more than vision, a vision, or even a camera's vision; cinema is seen as a construction of an imaginative eye:

... if we begin with the assumption that imagination/image is primary, then everything we look at will be one or another form of imagining/imagery. Actually the eye, the way of seeing, is what is truly imaginative. But an imaginative way of seeing is imaginative not because it proceeds from a realm or a category designated imagination, or "visionary," but because imagining is how this seeing sees. Thus, imagination exists insofar as the engaged eye is seeing imaginatively. So too, the product of that seeing is a product of imagination, whatever the genre or form.

Berry's language here is rather complicated due to its repetition of difficult to distinguish terminology that require us to, for example, think of imagination in differing ways simultaneously. The indulgence of complicated language is unnecessary as this formulation is complicated enough. The basis of Berry's idea rests in the recognition that images always have to be 'made'; that all that exist in a cinematic image is a 'constructed reality'. Nuance is required here as well as a debate on realism, but it is generally acceptable that the cinematic image is a contrived one - especially in narrative, fictional cinemas. This contrivance is the fundement of cinematic production: an image has to not just be created by a filmmaker, but conceptualised in the imagination of the spectator. We have thought in these terms before:

Cinema is not necessarily something existent in a screen. Cinema exists in between a subject (audience member), object (a screen of sorts) and a mediator (filmmakers). It is the contribution of each of these elements that leads to the creation of the cinematic space as without either an audience, a filmmaker or a screen, cinema cannot exist.

It is this 'imagined' realm that defines all cinema. However, Berry suggests that we require another step into this thinking. It is not just that cinema is imagined, but that cinema has a certain autonomy. Cinema sees imaginatively in parallel to being imagined. It becomes clear what Berry means by this soon after the above paragraph. Cinema seeing is related directly to cinematic language - the way in which a scene is shot; with a low angle, with a moving camera, with certain blocking, mise-en-scène, etc. So, whilst cinema comes into existence when a screen, filmmaker and audience member come together, a film comes to life when the camera moves. There is a prickly complication here present not because of Berry, but because of myself. The camera can be thought of as an extension of a filmmaker, and so cinematic language can be said to be present without this added conception of cinema seeing. It is true that a filmmaker moves a camera, decides, to some degree, how cinema sees. However, in the same way that a writer or actor does not invent or own genre or drama, I do not believe that a filmmaker can own cinematic language (camera movement for instance). Genre, drama and cinematic language are fundamental elements of film form that are pretty much universal. Thus, their being always stretches beyond one film and one filmmaker. They are in turn conceptualised as somewhat independent by an audience and should be in theory, too. We should then comfortably be able to accept the idea that whilst a cinematic space is constructed, is imagined, it also has autonomy; drama is one autonomous function, as is genre, as is sight: cinematic language.

This is an idea I find particularly profound and deserving of emphasis: art has autonomy and is independent of its creators to some degree. This is a structuralist belief that can easily be re-shaped within a Jungian conception of art. Structuralists such as Northrop Frye suggest that literature creates literature; that literature is written by re-writing old literature; it is because of this that genre emerges, that formal rules exist and arts can be structuralised, formalised, understood and allowed to articulate with coherence. There is truth in this, but the theory is limited. Art creates art, yes; as we have emphasised, it has autonomy. Originality, however, has its place in art. And so does reality and the collective unconscious. Art is not entirely autonomous. Art is a human construct, but the human is a projector of their own nature, their own nature a projection of universal law, of God, of Tao, of that which engendered them with life. Art's autonomy arises from this phenomena.

There is an element of art that humans cannot call theirs: this is that you may call essential symbolic and archetypal material. Humans manage, shape and dress the symbolic and archetypal, but they do not--we cannot--create it. We can call our management of the symbolic and archetypal our own if we must so inclined to do so. However, certain systems of management and formulation quickly stop being one individual's. When forms of presenting the archetypal and symbolic become universal and common place, phenomena such as genre, drama and language arise. These are human constructs that become too complicated and too closely associated with the symbolic and archetypal which they manage for them to be individually contrived, controlled and conceptualised. So it then appears that there are two orders of art's autonomy: there is the archetypal autonomy and structural autonomy. Not only is the essentially meaningful independent of human construction, but so are genre, drama and cinematic language (and any other structural elements of cinema I haven't the sight to mention presently). We can now reach a fascinating formulation:

It is not just that the subject (audience), object (screen) and mediator (filmmaker) come together to create a cinematic space, but that each of these three entities stretch out into, or have contact with, the structural and archetypal space. This is a means of visualising the idea that not only is cinema a product of imagination, but that it is a product of, as Berry suggests, art, for one, seeing, and art descending from the transcendent. Art is imagined, is alive and is divine; as is the subject, the object and the mediator. This is to say that not only is cinema a pathway to a beyond, but that technology (the object) has autonomous processes (in Berry's words, film thinks) and that artist and spectator alike have in them humanity that connects them to a great unknown from which they glean knowledge and insight. This is what the above diagram represents.

We have strayed from Berry's essay. It is this work that suggests that that cinema has imagination, that the camera sees imaginatively. What she outlines - somewhat muddily - is the dichotomy of cinema having its own perception and being perceived. One can read this here:

... if we begin with the assumption that imagination/image is primary, then everything we look at will be one or another form of imagining/imagery. Actually the eye, the way of seeing, is what is truly imaginative. But an imaginative way of seeing is imaginative not because it proceeds from a realm or a category designated imagination, or "visionary," but because imagining is how this seeing sees. Thus, imagination exists insofar as the engaged eye is seeing imaginatively. So too, the product of that seeing is a product of imagination, whatever the genre or form.

Cinema is seen and sees, it is constructed and constructs, it is dependent on humanity an is independent of it, it is wielded and yet it teaches. This, I believe, is the essence of Berry's conception:

How does film think? Certainly in a way that attempts to parallel, yet also challenge, human perception. Film thinks in many ways, as it reflects and creates human experience. Thus film thinks perspectively - from a perspective.

We are certainly going beyond Berry's thinking in our exploration, but here is the seed of her theory from which ours has sprouted. What is so inspiring about this statement and Berry's subsequent filmic analysis is the description of cinema as conscious and perceptive; a great clarification of the 'camera as eye' cliche. In general, Berry treats the formal creation of cinema (the use of certain angles, cuts, movements, etc.) as a pathway towards the collective unconscious and a means of uncovering the unknown. It is because the camera has a perspective, that cinema has autonomy, that the spectator can look at the world and into themselves anew. Cinema then facilitates and requires pathology; in Berry's words, 'creative arts need pathology'. The assertion here is simple: film explores various perspectives and assumes various identities with which to investigate the world. Consider then the varying ways cinema can 'look' at love.

Love can be presented, can be looked at, by melodramatic epics such as Titanic as a fleeting ideal, as passion, truth, freedom. Love is perceived by Disney films such as Cinderella as an ideal one must sustain under, must strive towards via interior endeavour. In the masculine, action romance, such as Rocky, love is a judge and must be lived up to; one must prove themselves to be a man as to be loved and to love. In teen comedies such as American Pie, love is a byproduct of stupidity and uncontrolled sexuality. In horror films such as The Shining, love is death, is far from enough to nourish the isolated soul. The camera in each and every one of these films looks differently; it can idealise, can hide, can expose, can invade, can linger, can unflinchingly stare. In conjunction with this, drama operates differently and genre bends space and time uniquely; these films may be presented realistically or unrealistically and we may watch them as comedic, romantic, thrilling, racy, horrifying, fantastical, etc. These three key independent structural mechanisms (cinematic language, drama, genre) inform and shape the kind of archetypal space a film exists in; they see varying incarnations of the anima/animus (anima/animus as ideal, as judge, as object, as possessor), they may require a hero, a fool, a shadow and they will have symbology reflecting various pathways of being and confronting meaning. It may indeed be pathological that humans require and yearn for all of these various identities and perspectives. Berry puts things as such:

We can get these pathological experiences precisely because our identities are loose, dissociable. Because we are less centered we can be more multiple. We do not know our point of view surely, how we think, so we take pleasure seeing life through others' eyes, thinking others' thoughts. We learn to know ourselves through being someone else.

It is with these words that I draw our investigation into Image in Motion to a close. We drew some key concepts out of this essay and expanded beyond some with our own theory, but there is still more in Berry's work. I would then recommend you find the essay; I came across it in Hauke and Alister's Jung & Film.

Previous post:

More from me:

No comments: