Wednesday, December 12, 2012


More scribbled notes.  Let's posit two different tendencies toward approaching the evaluation and explication of what V.F. Perkins termed film as film.  One is to presume a natural response to a film, and react, after the fact, to excavate the relations between our experience and the film's mechanics.  (By "natural" here what I mean is the extent to which a response is conditioned by such determinants as mood, exhibition setting, race, class, gender, physiology, etc.)  This is the easier tendency to explain to Average Joe who wants to understand what makes The Dark Knight so good, so gripping: "You see, what Christopher Nolan did here was ..."  In many ways it's also the cinephilically-popularizing method of David Bordwell's blog.

Another tendency, less widespread, less commonsensical, but still quite influential, is to approach cinema as an act of discovery, and so watching a film becomes an act of participation in a project, an ethos: Bazin's ontology is but one expression of such an attitude.  The "natural" responses one has to a film may well still pertain, but they are no longer privileged as the ground upon which to unpack all cinematic meaning; instead there is an implied field of intersubjectively-affirmed inhabitations of aesthetic gestures.  We relive the mechanical trace of a cinematic choice.  The "act" of something like a camera movement is thus potentially of moral, ethical, stylistic concern simultaneously, and in this tendency one rejects or advocates such acts not because one has bracketed out aesthetics but because one has, in comparison to the other tendency, relocated the place of aesthetics.

I should stress that this is all quite abstracted and schematic; it is purposely so.  Surely both of these tendencies occur in anyone who sets before herself the task of understanding film, or a film.  These tendencies relate and influence each other in so many ways that it would be wrongheaded to proceed much further

Cause versus effect, effect versus cause.  Effect: we examine what a film did to get us there, wherever there is and was, almost as a case of reverse engineering.  Cinema is like a machine - and I do not mean this in a crude or anti-mechanical way, either, for our bodies too are machines - and we look upon this field of bodily and mental effects (tears, butterflies in the stomach, clenched fingers, stiff backs, numb butts, eye-tracking, deduction, inference) as epiphenomenal signs that the cinematic machine is working.  Cause: the aesthetic experience involves the inhabitation, the repeat performance, the approximation of an ever-deferred trace.  This endeavor is always in vain, it never completely matches up, but it is in the echoing of such paths (Guy Davenport wrote a relevant essay, "Wheel Ruts") that gives tradition, that gives a connection to & through history and thus a means - a ground - of critique outside of a status quo.  Or in other words: outside of the determinations of a so-called natural response.

No doubt I've unnecessarily privileged this thing "cinema" here, when in fact I could be extending some of these points to talk about a much wider field of cultural production.  But it's just a starting point ...

No comments: