Nov. 22, 2006
Essay 2/Question 1
Presenting the Mechanical Process of Film as a Subversive Act
Baudry's main problem with narrative cinema is that it deceives the audience, through indoctrination, into maintaining the illusion that what's being shown on screen is a product of egocentrism (as experienced through eyes) as opposed to the mechanical process that it really is. The absolute manifestation of the film experience is that of machine-produced images being transmitted through flashes of light, and any visual interpretation less genuine than the true reality of the situation could only be achieved through an ideological challenge, and that this perverted ideology is the dominant one expresses the need for counter-culture cinema. Another falsehood derived from narrative cinema is the concept of the "transcendental" subject (Baudry 360), in that despite the idle position of the viewer's body, he/she nevertheless relates visually to camera movement, perspectives, lenses, framings, etc., despite being in a static position with unchanging function of the eyes. While the accurate response would be to recognize the visual experience as a product of the camera as an intermediary source (and thus be subconsciously aware of the work involved), any notion of indirect exposure, both in dismissal of the filming process and the presenting through a projector, is mostly eliminated and replaced with narrative in which the mechanical aspects are an obstacle despite being omnipresent regardless of circumstance. Thus, for a film to be wholly subversive it must not only challenge dominant political ideologies but also the dominant ideology governing the perception of narrative, as a film can’t completely threaten a false interpretation if the film is manifesting itself through the ideals of another falseness.
Two or Three Things I Know About Her exhibits counter-culture values in the way it rejects and even destroys any perceived concept of narrative. The opening sequence with the two women declaring their roles as actresses clarifies the production gap between scripting and performing, an act that dissolves the illusion of the contrived fiction which narrative cinema relies on. The reality of an actor's or actress's performance is to behave in a specific manner and recite written words, so therefore the perceived identification of character is an ideological construct that isn't portrayed in any sensory function (Althusser describes this effect as “pure illusion; as nothingness” .) Further aiding in this detachment from character is the displaced verbal commentary which has no internal figure to identify with, forcing the audience to recognize two simultaneous realities represented by diegetic and non-diegetic sound, breaking the sense of immersion in that this parallel is only recognizable through mechanical means. This commentary coupled with the presentation of the film in ordered but nonlinear chapters (laced with scenes of construction work which are unconnected to what limited narrative exists) serves to strongly reinforce the presence of the film as a symptom of its own being.
Born In Flames challenges the narrative structure primarily by constantly reminding the viewer of their active subjective role through juxtaposition with mechanical surveillance. As shown in the scene with Adele’s munitions negotiations and romantics that transforms into a frame from a camera, the mechanization of the visual is a reminder of the same mechanization taking place for the viewer (even in regards to the perceived still-frame which is actually being displayed through a sequence of multiple frames.) Due to the lack of focus on plot (especially in terms of specific character development), the film relies more on montage and ideological (as opposed to character) development, establishing the film itself as a political act rather than presenting ideas in a centralized way (as with Lorelei and Dorothy’s conflict in Gentlemen or the interaction between the Charlies in Shadows.) As a result, the audience is made more conscious of the directorial intentions, and, recognizing the external effects of the director on the film, also recognize the concepts of work and production that separate narrative from unadulterated cinema. This function is essential to the disruptive nature of the political film, as explained by Comolli and Narboni in that the “act only becomes politically effective if it is linked with a breaking down of the traditional way of depicting reality” (816), a statement that Born In Flames relates to in that not only are its ideas counter-culture but the way the ideas are presented is counter-culture as well, which magnifies the effects of both aspects of the film.
It’s important to consider that narrative films aren’t necessarily a problem in themselves, but rather the issue is that as a result of psychological indoctrination from narrative films the true mechanical nature of cinema has been suppressed. All films are mechanical ones, but the deliberate acts of Godard and Borden are required to attempt to re-establish this fact as the prevailing ideology. The “nothingness” that Althusser mentions, while abstract, can be somewhat quantified in terms of ideological strength and in the same matter can be weakened through disruptive processes. Additional counter-values that are relevant would be a more socialistic (and less egocentric) mindset which would assist the viewer in recognizing their subsidiary position in regards to production and presentation of film. Only through these forms can the overarching concept of narrative be suppressed to its initial state which would allow cinema to operate in a purer fashion in which it would be less corrupted by illusionary constructs.
Baudry, Jean-Louis. “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus.”
Film Theory and Criticism. 6th ed. New York: Oxford, 2004: 355-365
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and the State.” Blackboard.
Accessed Nov. 22, 2006. 140-177.
Comolli, Jean-Luc & Narboni, Jean. “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism.”
Film Theory and Criticism. 6th ed. New York: Oxford, 2004: 812-819
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