Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Circle Game

A shot from Pravda (the Dziga Vertov Group, 1969):
















What seems to make the circle such a compelling social shape in French cinema? Think not only of this shot above from Pravda, but the traffic jam in Week End, the ending of Tati's Playtime, the famous moment in Le Crime de M. Lange, or (at least once) in Guy Debord's Critique de la séparation ('61) a pre-Godard 360-degrees pan. Whether inscribed by the camera's movement or identified from an aerial perspective, there's something there ...

5 comments:

andyhorbal said...

Or present in the title: Le Cercle Rouge. Or in the animals Chris Marker fixates on: he represents both cats and owls very circularly (if you will)...

Duchamp (Anémic Cinéma) and Méliès (Le Voyage Dans La Lune)...

Andy Rector said...

A great figure to ponder, Zach...it's also there in Godard/Mieville's FRANCE/TOUR/DETOUR/DEUX/ENFANTS, I forget which episode, where several women are seen jogging a circular track-and-field-type track situated in the city, JLG/AMM following them with a zoom; one of the narrator's remarks "it takes a kick in the arse to see this without all the concrete and stuff" (a rough paraphrase)...

Mubarak said...

Other memorable circles amidst city traffic (with invisible axes): a continuous circular pan from the middle of the road in Jackie Raynal's Deux Fois, and the seven-minute opening shot in Straub/Huillet's Too Early, Too Late, which is filmed from inside a car that is going around a traffic circle in Paris. Specificity of the gaze is dissolved and reformed as patterns and landmarks emerge...

And my favourite: in the middle of a flat desert landscape in La Cicatrice intérieure, Philippe Garrel leaves a hysterically weeping Nico and starts to walk in what seems like a straight line, but eventually comes back to Nico again, revealing his path to be circular (with 'Janitor of Lunacy' playing in the background all the while). The inevitability of the circle...

Andy Rector said...

wow Mubarak those are great examples! I haven't seen Raynal's film but what I find astonishing in S/H's TOO EARLY, TOO LATE is the length of time it takes for one to realize a circle is being described and, for me, that's precisely when disorientation sets in. The serpent of history biting its own tail instead of moving forward?

Another set of circles: Franju's LA TETE CONTRE LES MURS (Head Against the Walls). Opens with young rebel Jean-Paul Mocky scooping giant half circle patterns in a dirt ravine on his motorcycle...later after Mocky breaks out of a horrifying mental hospital he goes to get a job in a bar where there's a long scene of men watching a roulette table. Mocky watches the men watching. Lengthy shot of the silver ball circling the table over and over until it settles into one of the numbers. Mocky realizes the insanity of the world he has escaped to -- all the worse because no dictator rules over them (like in the mental hospital), just the money that can be had by watching the little silver ball. Full circle alienation.

Zach Campbell said...

Fantastic examples--Andy H., I haven't seen the Melville film, but I have seen (some) Marker on both cats and owls, the Duchamp is a superb example, and the Méliès is like a wellspring.

Andy R., I have to find time to check out France/tour... in the video center during one week after work. I have seen that Franju film, but I don't remember it very well.

Mubarak, I haven't seen any of your examples (I'll turn in my cinephile card), though I have seen the clip of the desert walking (Andy R.'s comrade Andre Dias of course is the one who put it up on YouTube, if I remember correctly).

Thanks for all these figures to consider, fellas.