MONTAGE, REALISM AND THE ACT OF VISION
Victor A. Grauer
©Victor A. Grauer, 1982
Montage and the Temporal Field
The Cinematic Denial of Difference
The historical outline presented in the last two chapters is intended to bring forcefully into the foreground that which Bazinian realism, semiotics and even art history have either ignored or trivialized:1 the profound link between radical modernism and realism. As should now be clear, the paradoxes of realism stem from the hidden idealism (ideology) of conventional iconographic ("positive'') syntax. As the more critical realism of Cézanne and the Cubists develops, positive syntax, with its dependence on the conceptual totalization of "reality,'' dissolves, and negative syntax emerges as the structure of disjunctive seeing. The realist quest thus leads to that very modernist fragmentation that the film realists abhorred in montage. Understanding this, we may now return to questions of cinematic ideology first broached in our discussion of semiotics.
A. Time and The Apparatus
Insofar as cinematic "screen-space'' is concerned, everything that has thus far been said about photography in relation to the ideology of perspective syntax is, of course, directly relevant. More difficult and far more basic, is the application of what we have learned about perspective to an analysis of cinematic time. The mechanics of the motion picture camera subjects the temporal continuum of "reality'' to an "analysis'' not entirely unlike that performed on the phonetic continuum by a syntagmatic breakdown into phonemes. The characteristic division of the film strip into a series of similar but discontinuous "frames'' is thus analogous to the purely spatial division into bits of grain of a photograph as analyzed by Eco.
According to Jean Louis Baudry, the projector restores the original continuity, "but it is precisely ...the restoration of continuity to discontinuous elements which poses a problem. The meaning effect produced does not depend only on the content of the images but also on the material procedures by which an illusion of continuity ...is restored from discontinuous elements.'' The differences between the frames are necessary for the illusion, "but only on one condition can these differences create this illusion: they must be effaced as differences ...In this sense we could say that film lives on the denial of difference.''
We are here reminded of the "double aspect of montage,'' which hinges on the same opposition. The "scandal''
of montage is, of course, effaced in the "denial of difference'' which is film language itself.
Baudry relates denial of difference to a "principle of transcendence'' linking meaning with consciousness itself:
...what was already at work as the originating basis of the perspective image, namely the eye, the "subject,'' is put forth, liberated ...by the operation which transforms successive, discrete images ...into continuity, movement, meaning; with continuity restored, both meaning and consciousness are restored.2
Baudry continues, relating the cinematic process to psychoanalytic themes which we must pass over for the time
being (see chapter 12). What must concern us here is his notion of film time, which, like traditional pictorial
space, is first analyzed into fragments, then reconstituted synthetically to form a conceptual whole. The fragments
are the individual frames, synthesized when projected, to produce the illusion, the idea, of motion within an ideal
time field which contains the motion as perspective space contains objects.
That this kind of time is not really new, but based on a conventional attitude that has been prevalent in Western thinking for centuries, is the central idea behind the philosophy of Henri Bergson. For Bergson, in fact, motion picture film provides a convenient metaphor for the rationalistic basis of Western thought. In his major work, Creative Evolution, he has provided a classic analysis of the workings of the cinematographic apparatus in relation to what Baudry would call "ideology.''
Pointing out that film is made of "a series of snapshots'' each of which is immobile, Bergson, like Baudry, is fascinated by the manner in which the projection apparatus "reconstitutes the mobility'' of the original scene. He observes that the unrolling of the film through the projector provides the actual movement by means of which the pictured objects appear to move. The process then consists in extracting from all the movements peculiar to all the figures an impersonal movement abstract and simple, movement in general, so to speak.
Bergson then proceeds to compare this process with that of "our knowledge'' itself in a key statement which must be quoted in full:
We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality, and, as these are characteristic of the reality, we have only to string them on a becoming, abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge [like a movie projector] in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself. Perception, intellection, language, so proceed in general. Whether we would think becoming, or express it, or even perceive it, we hardly do anything else than set going a kind of cinematograph inside us ... The mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographic kind.3
To the film viewer, the actual movement of the film strip is "abstract, uniform and invisible.'' It is,
in fact, the equivalent of what we usually think of as "time itself,'' moving uniformly at its own pace within
which every other movement is contained, against which all motion is measured. It is this traditional, mechanistic
ideology (Bergson of course does not use this term) which, to Bergson, calls forth a completely misleading notion
of "becoming,'' the very basis for "perception, intellection, language.''
The Spatialization of Time
For Bergson, "cinematographic time'' illustrates a general misconception which he calls the "spatialization of time.'' To grasp his meaning, we must recall that the film strip is, in fact, a linear space. Bergson contrasts our notion of time as something that can be measured along such a strip with a formulation of his own: "pure duration.''
While his definition of this term is somewhat problematic, in essence it involves the direct intuition we have of time when we enter in to events themselves rather than attempt to measure them according to some uniform, external and abstract "flow.'' For example, if we wish to know when a pot of water has begun to boil, we can either set an alarm to ring at approximately the right moment or we can stand before the pot and watch for the signs of boiling. In the first case, we are placing the event within the abstract context of universal clock time. The boiling of the water, measured against the space of the clock face, will have no real duration for us. We will be interested only in the "point in time'' marked by the alarm.
In the second case our experience of time will be totally different. We will be placing our awareness within the boiling process itself and actually experiencing its duration. This type of experience does not involve anything abstract. The duration of this particular boiling will be a particular duration, concrete and with a unique "weight'' of its own (a "weight'' which can, indeed, make us feel quite uncomfortable).
For Bergson, the first case would illustrate the common tendency to perceive time in terms of space. The second
case, in which time is experienced in itself, and space plays no role at all, would be an example of "pure
duration.'' This distinction is the basis for Bergson's claim that time as we actually experience it is totally
unlike space, a claim that rules out any attempt to draw an analogy between them. His forceful arguments have had
a powerful influence on modern philosophy to the extent that many thinkers of today believe that our intuitions
of time and space are so utterly different that there can be no basis for comparison.
Pure Duration and Negative Space
While critically scrutinizing the traditional view of time, Bergson has apparently been willing to uncritically accept the traditional view of space. As we have shown, however, conventional pictorial syntax is as dubious a model of spatial experience as"cinematographic time'' is of "pure duration.'' As we encounter time in the Bergsonian sense, as "contained'' within the event itself, we are involved in a mode of experience beautifully parallel to Cézanne's encounter with the space that is "contained'' in objects.
In a spirit remarkably close to that of Bergson, Cézanne entered in to things themselves. Just as Bergson's "pure duration'' is the characteristic time of each event, so space, for Cézanne, begins with the characteristic form of each object. The proper analogy is not, therefore, the one denied by Bergson, but the one he ought himself to have made: abstract perspective space is analogous to abstract "cinematographic'' time; the contained negative space of the object or facet is analogous to "pure duration.''4
"Cinematographic time,'' in this context, is not a function of the simple material space of the film strip,
as Bergson implies, but of the conceptual synthesis of static fragments into integral movements. What Bergson has
criticised as the "spatialization of time'' is really the synthetic conceptualization of time, directly analogous
to the synthetic conceptualization of space as found in scientific perspective. The time of film as we usually
experience it is thus analogous, not to space in general, but the highly rationalized space of perspective painting
B. Montage, Positive and Negative
Strictly speaking, the analogy between perspective space and cinematographic time remains completely unproblematic only to the extent that the latter remain "abstract, uniform and invisible.'' As soon as there is a break in the continuity, a "cut'' in the action, the uniformity of the implied time "container'' may be threatened. What the average viewer would prefer to subliminally sense as an abstract time field might be perceived as a dislocation of time, the psychological effect of the impingement of the actual motion of the concrete strip of celluloid on the threshold of awareness. It was, indeed, fear of destroying the illusion of the uniform, completely abstract time field that caused film makers before Griffith to be so conservative with cuts. What Griffith noticed, and what amazed Kuleshov, was the fact that the uniformity of the time field was so resistant to such breaks in continuity.
Montage and Continuity
A little reflection on the nature of iconographic codes should clarify the relation between montage and continuity. As we have already learned, any "readable'' image can be broken down into discrete codes. This is as true of the "transmission codes'' of photographic grain as it is of the various levels of iconographic paradigm in traditional pictorial design. Each frame of a motion picture film is already a tiny disruption of temporal continuity. As a factor built-in to the apparatus itself and designed to be completely subliminal, this disruption may be regarded as part of a cinematic "transmission code.''
Montage, though not part of the transmission code, is, nevertheless,a similar type of disruption; "morphemic,'' say, rather than "phonetic'' or "phonemic.'' While physiologically speaking, montage disruptions are not subliminal, their psychological effect, determined largely by syntax, often renders them completely unnoticeable. Thus we often "read'' a sequence of shots as an "organic'' totality in a manner similar to the way we combine iconographic signs for nose, mouth and eyes into an integral image of a face in a painted portrait.
The rules of "positive montage'' syntax enable the film maker to deal with each shot in such a way that the sense of a continuous, abstract, overall "time field,'' as in a continuous, long, unedited shot, would be preserved despite the breaks in continuity necessitated by the cuts. In a good, professional job of editing, the great majority of cuts will literally not be seen. Thus montage also "lives on the denial of difference.''
Let us carry our parallel between pictorial and cinematic syntax a bit further in order to clarify a key aspect of montage strategy. We have already discussed the threat to the uniformity of traditional pictorial space when a painter tries to accomodate certain aspects of perceptual experience (e.g., the enlarged appearance of a distant mountain) to the rigid demands of "scientific perspective.'' Such accomodations had been made by the "old masters'' as a matter of course. A device such as passage, which creates areas of vagueness, permitted discrepancies to co-exist side by side without being noticed.
Remarkably similar devices have been used for years in conventional film editing. Here, for example, is a passage from a recently published film manual:
When a match cut, a cut between shots of the same subject in what is to appear a precisely continuous time span, is used, the rule is to cut on motion to minimize viewer awareness of the cut. Cutting on subject movement helps cover up slight mismatches from one shot to the next, since the action is what draws the attention of the viewer.5
As defined above, the match cut involves the transitional use of motion to cover over discrepancies in a manner strongly analogous to the workings of passage. Less subtle transitional devices are the cutaway, frequently used to absorb temporal elisions, and the dissolve, which literally means "passage of time.''
As the positive syntax of spatial perspective was powerful enough to endure a certain amount of deviation without
a breakdown of the effect of uniformity, so the positive syntax of filmic "time perspective'' is able to absorb
discrepancies of continuity and temporal elisions. The conventional "language'' of montage is thus very close
in its treatment of time to that of the modified perspective "language'' of the old master painters in their
treatment of space.
The Secondary Role of Screen Space
As should by now be clear, the analogy we are drawing is between pictorial space and cinematic time. Any attempt to apply principles derived from the study of pictorial space directly to cinematic screen-space as some theorists have done, will remain incomplete and only partially satisfactory.
The importance of screen space to cinematic positive syntax should, of course, never be underestimated. The great majority of films depend on the creation, in the mind of the viewer, of a unified space (or, as Stephen Heath has put it, "place'') which must survive any number of montage displacements. The creation of this sense of "off-screen'' space which contains and unifies a series of limited on-screen spaces is as essential an illusion of narrative film as the sense of space-in-depth in traditional painting.6 Yet, as is the case with pictorial depth, off-screen space is a product of positive syntax, not its ground. As the syntax which induces the sense of depth operates on the two-dimensional space of the canvas surface, so the syntax which induces off-screen space operates on the one-dimensional, time-producing space of the film strip.
The relative priorities are reflected in montage "grammar,'' much more permissive with respect to space
than time. Within the overall purview of a suggested off-screen unifying space, montage is remarkably free to produce
a wide range of spatial displacements. We can go from a mountain range to a cabin interior to a close-up of a pair
of eyes with no difficulty. We can cut from a medium shot of someone opening a door on screen left to a close-up
where the doorknob is suddenly on screen right and there is no problem. If the turning of the knob is partially
repeated, however, or omitted entirely, we perceive a break in "continuity.''7
Two Kinds of Clarity
When montage is carefully achieved according to conventional codes, there is a clarity of off-screen space and time "depth'' equivalent to the clarity of spatial depth in old master painting. The representational effect of such montage, like that of perspective painting, involves a clarity that is, however, essentially conceptual, abstract. Clarity of seeing-determined-by-meaning is what emerges from all the various codes.
That the Russian avant-gardists were aware of the potential of montage for the clarification of vision in quite another sense is evident in the following statement of Eisenstein's contemporary and fellow Kuleshov pupil, Pudovkin:
When we wish to apprehend anything we always begin with the general outline, and then, by intensifying our examination to the highest degree, enrich the apprehension by an ever-increasing number of details. The particular, the detail, will always be a synonym of intensification. It is upon this that the strength of the film depends, that its characteristic speciality is the possibility of giving a clear, especially vivid representation of detail...The camera, as it were, forces itself, ever striving, into the profoundest deeps of life; it strives thither to penetrate, wither the average spectator never reaches as he glances casually around him.8
By thus presenting us with vivid details, film can intensify our apprehension of reality, continuing that "struggle
to see'' begun by Cézanne. The filmic close-up is indeed intimately related to Cézanne's ability
to present an object or facet in its own space. Montage can go farther, however, by breaking up temporal vision.
A prolonged glance becomes simply an "autistic'' stare, analogous to the vague trance-like view obtained when
we try to fix our attention on a large part of the field of vision all at once. It is only when the spatial close-up
is coupled with the temporal "close-up'' (the focussing of attention on the temporal detail through rapid
montage) that the vividness of the glance can be intensified beyond the limits of a non-temporal medium.
The Negative Time Field
The notion of a temporal "close-up'' calls forth yet another analogy. As a spatial detail generates its own space, so a temporal detail can generate its own time. In positive montage, the various "micro-times'' are reconciled (through the use of devices such as the match cut, cutaway, dissolve) within the "macro-time'' field generated by "perspective'' time.9 They and the movements in them are thereby tied to the fictitious, integral "movement'' of that "abstract, uniform and invisible'' time deplored by Bergson; all sense of duration in the Bergsonian sense is lost. If the various micro-times are juxtaposed with no attention to the codes of positive film syntax, they will still become united within a vaguely defined but nevertheless essentially "positive'' time through the workings of the context of implication.
Clearly, any temporal reconciliations that are also going to preserve the unique temporal quality (duration)
of each shot must involve some kind of actively constituted negative time, which would tend to separate,
rather than unite, the various micro-times. As with Cubism, where discontinuous negative space is the equivalent
of negative syntax, liberating the signs, so, in some sort of analogously ordered film, the discontinuous negative
time field would be the equivalent of a negative syntax, keeping the "signs," the images,
separate and distinct. Thus, not only would each shot be preserved in its own characteristic time, but, by virtue
of that, each image imprinted on that micro-time field would preserve its own unique look, free from the context
of implication, uncompromised by any need to "redeem'' itself through association within some conceptual scheme.
The "intensification'' dreamed of by Pudovkin, synonymous with "clear, especially vivid representation
of detail,'' would become a reality--but the detail, seen simply as light projected from the film strip, would
be presented, not represented, an image simply, not a thing.
Time and the Struggle to See
The development of filmic negative syntax would carry us far beyond the rather naive naturalistic project of re-creating the way we "normally'' see. The "normal'' mode of vision is too closely tied to conceptual synthesis, to the piecing together of disparate images to form an ideal whole. It is positive montage which more or less successfully attempts to recreate this kind of vision. As our discussion of ideology has shown, this is not realIy seeing, however, but essentially a mode of thinking, returning us to the idealist world, revealing, in fact, the idealist roots of simplistic naturalism.
To more fully grasp this, let us return to our original description of the visual process. We see by placing our attention on specific details, one after another, in a manner analogous to conventional montage. Each view is spatially discontinuous with respect to those before and after it. The spatial discontinuities break up temporal experience as well. But there is a continuous, subjective sense of "lived time'' which underlies all the spatially and temporally disparate views and makes a coherent series out of them. It is this almost subliminal linear temporality (analogous to that of the "invisible'' film strip) on which we are able to "hang'' all the disparate views and synthesize them into what we think we see: a stable, homogeneous, unproblematic, spatially and temporally continuous external scene.
This is the sense of underlying time which Bergson associates with our traditional notion of becoming, the "illusion'' of "cinematographic time.'' It is this uncritical "becoming,'' this "denial of difference,'' which turns the question of the way we "actually'' see into a conundrum; which makes our apparently innocent and natural "ordinary, everyday,'' vision of the world so profoundly vulnerable to "ideological effects'' such as positive syntax and the context of implication.
In order to counteract such effects, negative montage would not seek simply to recreate "ordinary'' vision
but actively oppose the invisible, continuous "lived time'' sense which underlies it. Since we cannot "simply
see,'' we must "struggle to see.'' The movie camera and montage, no longer simply metaphors for "normal''
vision, would, in negative montage, become tools in the active struggle for fresh vision, the deepest sense
of Pudovkin's "camera ...ever striving...to penetrate, whither the average spectator never reaches as he glances
casually around him.''
C. The Search For Negative Montage
Futurism, Constructivism and Film
If any one aspect of the above analysis deserves emphasis, it must surely be the distinction between simple discontinuity (the montage cut) and the disjunctive principle (negative montage). Failure to discriminate on precisely this level led the Futurists to both underestimate the radical nature of Cubism and overestimate the "modernity'' of the popular films of their day. Indeed, as Bergson's analysis makes clear, in choosing such films as a model for their theories on art, the Futurists were flirting with a danger that has seriously compromised many "modern'' art movements: the reconstitution of the idealist point of view with its naive emphasis on a "wholeness'' that is in fact a completely artificial systemazation of fragments into a dubious synthetic product. Boccioni's idealism as revealed by Rosalind Krauss (see the conclusion of chapter 5), is indeed a direct outgrowth of the kind of synthesis that Bergson finds so questionable in film.
But the situation is not quite that simple. The Futurists could write idealistically of "persistent symbols
of universal vibration'' and the " `dynamic sensations' with which painting must render the universal dynamism,''10
and yet, on another occasion state that "against the conception of the immortal and the imperishable, we set
up the art of the becoming, the perishable, the transitory,and the expendable.''11
There was, indeed, a genuine split at the heart of Futurism, an idealist -- materialist conflict which, as might be expected, was greatly amplified as Futurist ideas prompted the development of Russian Constructivism. The ideological split gave rise to two distinct wings of Constructivist activity. One, best known in the West, led by Naum Gabo, was, in the words of Rosalind Krauss, concerned with "the kind of sculptural idealism which we have seen operating in the work of Boccioni...obviously directed toward the revelation of a transcendent reality...'' The other, led by Vladimir Tatlin, was concerned primarily with the surface of its materials and the contingincies of the situation, spatial and otherwise, of its immediate existence.12
The latter group, calling itself the "production group,'' won out over the former and was the dominant force in the Russian avant-garde at the time Eisenstein appeared on the scene. Eisenstein in fact associated himself actively and enthusiastically with the "production group.''13 Nevertheless, as we have seen, his attitude toward modernism generally was deeply divided along the very lines which divided the two Constructivist groups.
In a sense Eisenstein was in a position close to that of Cézanne, who, after all, wanted to reconcile the fragmentary details of the motif, to preserve its overall integrity. Eisenstein's films, like Cézanne's paintings, are compromises employing a sort of ad-hoc, negative-positive, syntax, now favoring connections between details so they begin to merge to form wholes, now isolating details so they begin to assert themselves as equals to the whole.
Moments in certain Eisenstein films do seem to verge on something akin to Cubist disjunction.14 But such moments
function as tours de force, always controlled by a strong narrative context. It was, of course, in the acceptance
of narrative that Eisenstein made his greatest concession to convention. But use of narrative is secondary to the
presence of the kind of compromises that permit narrative to arise through montage in the first place. At his most
compromised, Eisenstein's shots are simply symbols to be read through synthesis with other symbols within the context
of a visual rhetoric closely akin to Futurist fetishization of the negative. Indeed, his early tendency to speak
of both montage and dialectic in terms of "collision,'' "explosion'' or "shock'' betrays a strong
kinship with Futurist hyperbole.
Except for certain brief tours de force, Eisenstein never really arrived at montage disjunctions comparable to those of Cubism. He was, however, certainly not the most adventurous of the Russians. We have, in fact, thus far neglected to mention the most brilliant of Eisenstein's contemporaries, very probably the most radical and innovative of all the Soviet directors, Dziga Vertov.
Not only was Vertov among the earliest and most vociferous promoters of extreme montage, he was also among the earliest exponents of what today is called the "documentary'' film. And if this is not enough of a contradiction, we must add that his particular approach to documentary, as original as his montage technique, anticipated by decades many of the basic principles of cinéma vérité.15 The polemical writings of this extremely interesting figure reveal some remarkable insights into the nature of film realism. Anticipating to some extent current semiotic thought, Vertov rejected the notion of a dichotomy between formalism and naturalism. To Vertov, the camera was a research tool for systematic exploration of "the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe,'' on the road "toward the creation of a fresh perception of the world.'' Vertov's "Kino-Eye'' introduces itself "into the apparent chaos of life...to find in life itself an answer to the questions it poses.''16
Vertov's version of the camera "eye'' is much more complex and sophisticated than that of Bazin. To Vertov the camera was a magnificent "eye'' not because it could imitate the passive human eye, but because it could actively outdo it in dozens of ways. Montage was simply an extension of the resources of the camera-eye. Indeed, Vertov embraced every device, no matter how artificial, that could enhance and extend perception. True to his word, he produced films that were at once spontaneous penetrations into the life around him and dazzling montage contrivances. Best known, and probably his masterpiece, is Man With a Movie Camera, an essay-poem on the powers of the Kino-Eye that is, among other things, a superbly "semiotic'' self-analysis.
Vertov's work is certainly highly relevant to a study of negative film syntax. There is a good deal in his theories
of montage time and space which, to some extent, parallels the analysis presented here. There is much in his montage
practice that evokes a sense of what we have called "negative time.'' Yet, for all his radicalism, there is
really nothing in either his films or theories that can be said to partake wholeheartedly of the uncompromising
and rigorous attack on conceptual-seeing that is at the heart of true Cubism. Despite his many attacks on literary
modes such as narrative and conventional drama, Vertov's work depends heavily on the rhetorical codes that were
a major preoccupation of the Russian Formalist literary critics: metaphor, simile, synecdoche, parataxis, hysteron
proteron, etc.17 While Cubism reveals such codes only in the process of deconstructing and defusing them, Vertov's
films draw upon them for their life's blood.
No discussion of montage experimentation can afford to ignore the astonishing work of Abel Gance. In his films La Roue (1922) and Napoléon (1926) he created incredible tours de force of the most extreme montage to be seen until the American experiments of the Sixties. Such brilliant set pieces as the pillow fight and snowball fight sequences from Napoléon sustain barrages of extremely short (4,3, or even 2-frame) shots over appreciably long periods.
It is not difficult to grasp the obvious links of such montage with Futurist pictorial rhetoric. The above mentioned
"battle'' sequences call to mind paintings like Carra's highly dramatic Funeral of the Anarchist Galli,
where extreme fragmentation (fetishization of the negative) leads to reinstitution of positive unity in an overdramatized
form. Gance's montage fragments fuse with one another stroboscopically at a level only slightly slower than that
of the shutter mechanism itself. Each detail is completely subordinated to the recreation of a sense of a unified
(really overunified-"electrified'') temporal field within which the action takes place. Montage like this
can be truly exhilirating but presents no real problems for the viewer, who can easily grasp the dramatic message.
Films Inspired by Cubism
The existence of the book Cubist Cinema by Standish Lawder encourages us to consider the Cubist links of the film artists with whom he deals.18 Lawder's study, excellent as history, is compromised theoretically by a too easy acceptance of the most idealist notions about Cubism and Futurism. The films he discusses are inspired by Cubism but, with one important exception, fail to develop the radical fragmentation of space and visual syntax that lies at its heart. The completely abstract works of Eggeling and Richter are especially weak in this respect, aping abstract paintings and constructions of the kind that grew out of Cubism, but invoking few of their visual tensions. Any potential spatial tensions are instantly dissipated by the animated movements or transformations of the forms. The temporal structures are continuous and matter of fact. All motion takes place within a totally conventional positive time field.
The single exception among the film makers discussed by Lawder is also the one to whom he devotes the most space: Fernand Léger. Léger was, of course, one of the founders of Cubism, a key figure of Twentieth Century art. As the only major Cubist to concern himself directly with film, he is of special interest to us. The relevance of Leger's ideas to the context we have evoked is evident in an important article of 1926, "A New Realism-The Object (Its Plastic and Cinematic Graphic Value).'' Dismissing "all current cinema'' as "romantic, literary, historical, expressionist, etc.,'' Leger invites the reader to "forget all this and consider if you please: a pipe-a chair-a hand-an eye-a typewriter-a hat-a foot, etc. etc.''
The technique emphasised is to isolate the object or fragment of an object and to present it on the screen in closeups of the largest possible scale. Enormous enlargements of an object or a fragment gives it a personality it never had before and in this way it can become a vehicle of entirely new lyric and plastic power...19
Leger's historic first and only film, Ballet Mécanique, may well be the only non-abstract film of its period to completely do away with both narrative and rhetoric. True to his word, Léger makes his film a study of objects, mechanical and human. And as we might hope, Ballet Mécanique does, to a certain extent, invoke perceptual disjunction. It is mainly in the "irrational'' choice of images and juxtapositions, however, that Léger's "negative syntax'' makes itself felt. Understandably for one who had concentrated his past efforts on the purely spatial, his film fails to establish a true negative time field.
We see disparate images juxtaposed in some extremely clever and amusing ways. Machines seem almost human; humans
are fragmented and mechanized like machines. As there is no strong negative time field to break up the context
of implication, ambiguity arises, calling forth a distinct Surrealist quality, probably not intended. Lawder's
remarkably thorough and probing analysis reveals the extent to which Leger did indeed work to give the film a rational
temporal structure. but the effect is merely "musical,'' conventionally so, lacking the boldness and sophistication
with which Leger has treated space in his own paintings and constructions.
Surrealism and the Aesthetization of Ambiguity
Irrational disparities in the juxtaposition of images and spaces are, of course, characteristic of Surrealist films. As with all Surrealist works, the ambiguities resulting from such juxtapositions are deliberately cultivated. The context of implication is brought into the foreground, questioned, explored reflexively. The viewers are encouraged to react critically toward the workings of their own minds vis a vis the various relations of things and spaces on film. They are not encouraged, however, to vividly see. There is no link with realism, hence no need for a negative temporal field.
Many other "artistic'' films, abstract and otherwise, depend on the context of implication simply as a vague mechanism of continuity. The "artistic content'' is often heavily centered on the "esthetic'' aspect of the images, the way they move or are transformed, and/or such qualities as design, texture, color, etc. Often the various images are vaguely linked more through the context of implication than any active structuring on the part of the artist. The resulting ambiguity adds to the overall "esthetic effect.''
Brakhage And The Achievement of Filmic Negative Syntax
The work of Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, Gance, Leger, Richter, Eggling and the Surrealists belongs to what is now sometimes referred to as the "old avant garde,'' the initial wave of experimental cinematic activity that crested in the Twenties and had spent itself by the mid-Thirties.
In the late Forties, largely in the United States, a new film avant-garde began to develop. To some extent, especially in its early stages, the new avant-garde took up where the old left off. By the early Sixties, however, it was apparent that the new movement had become radically different from the old, a difference rooted in significant technical and social developments.
During the earlier period film making had been a cumbersome, complex and expensive undertaking, The Soviet experimentalists were, through a remarkable series of developments, actively encouraged and subsidized by their government. The others depended either on considerable private support or, as in the case of Richter, the financial backing of a large commercial studio. In no sense could films produced under such conditions be compared, as personal statements and stylistic explorations, with the paintings, poetry or music of the same period. These arts had long since liberated themselves from the more extreme demands of private patronage and public subsidy.
Not surprisingly the experiments of the "old''-avant-garde did not produce a truly Cubistic cinema. Not
only would films of so radical a kind have failed to find much of an audience, even among the cognoscenti; the
deep involvement with the medium required by such a difficult undertaking on the part of the artist would have
necessitated heavy funding purely for the sake of preparation. Even the most poverty-stricken painter can experiment
on drawing paper or work the same canvas over repeatedly.
Artists like Vertov and Eisenstein, who, of course, were able to develop a deep involvement with their medium, were commited to a social program which precluded the kind of experimentation for its own sake that would have been required. Their films had to and did speak to large audiences. The artist most likely to have developed a truly Cubist cinema, Leger, was either unwilling or unable to completely immerse himself in the medium.
By the time the new avant-garde had begun there had been radical changes in film technology which made a great deal of difference. Foremost among these was the development of 16 mm film, initially as an inexpensive means of "home-movie'' production. This new format, followed, of course, by even less expensive "8'' and "Super 8,'' made it possible for individuals of below average incomes to produce films entirely or almost entirely on their own.
Parallel with this was a social development of much greater impact. Heralded by the "beat'' writers, jazz
musicians and abstract expressionist painters of the Fifties, a new anti-authoritarian spirit sprang up which was
ultimately to dominate the Sixties. To the yoing film makers this meant that all established "codes,'' from
the rules of montage language to narrative itself must be ignored, rethought, or actively opposed. For the most
committed, deep personal involvement and exploration took the place of theoretical study and apprenticeship. Among
the outstanding figures of this cinematic revolution is the individual who is to be the real focal point of our
inquiry; the development of whose work parallels and recapitulates the whole evolution of the realist impulse from
Cézanne to late analytic Cubism: Stan Brakhage.
Brakhage and the Avant-Garde
Brakhage's work is, among students of the film avant-garde almost universally acknowledged as representing a revolutionary break with the past. He is probably the single most influential (and highly praised) member of the so-called New American Cinema. Because his work is extremely complex, difficult to understand and resistant to analysis, however, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding it.
Aspects of his work (e.g., rapid montage, painting on film, use of black or clear leader, superimposition, time
lapse, flicker, in-camera editing, jump cuts, hand-held camera-one could go on and on) have had enormous impact,
certain film makers building entire careers on the exploration of a single one of his discoveries. His style as
a whole, however, has rarely been imitated with any success. Most who try, usually enthusiastic beginners, soon
grow discouraged by failure to match his intensity.
Brakhage's style is thought to be entirely idiosyncratic to him, an attitude that he himself has fostered in his own writings, especially by the claim that he both shoots and edits his films in a state approaching trance. So personal, complex and intense a style strongly discourages followers. The current avant-garde has taken the hint and, having plundered his work for ideas and techniques, has moved on, stylistically, to a world remote from his.
Brakhage and the Critics
Partly because of the apparently subjective nature of so many aspects of his films, partly because of attitudes expressed in his writings, Brakhage has come to be regarded by critics as an arch-Romantic, a visionary neo-idealist. Annette Michelson's "Camera Lucida Camera Obscura'' is a comparison of Eisenstein and Brakhage; the former "lucida,'' the latter "obscura.'' Eisenstein represents the "epic'' tradition, shaped ideologically by "dialectical materialism,'' formed artistically by "the poetry, painting and theater which developed ...from Futurism through Cubism and Constructivism.'' Brakhage represents the "lyric'' tradition, shaped ideologically by "romantic idealism,'' formed artistically "in the movement from the space and conceptual framework of Cubism through Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism.''1
In more or less the same vein, P. Adams Sitney finds, in Brakhage, "perhaps more intensely than anywhere
else, the strains of Romantic and post-Romantic poetry in American art [converging] with the aesthetics of Abstract
Expressionism.2 Malcom LeGrice, following Sitney's lead, writes of Brakhage as "epitomizing the direction
of personal, visionary cinema, establishing, more than any other film-maker, the camera as heroic protagonist...
Brakhage is prlmarily an Expressionist,...concerned with utilizing subjective means towards expressing a personal
Brakhage and Cézanne
An unequivocal refutation of the prevailing view can be found in the words of Brakhage himself. He has stated, paraphrasing D. W. Griffith, "all that I really want to do is make you see.''
I wanted to feel like I lived in the same world with other people. That's not the same as communicating... My primary need was that, at some point, I share a sight with them... I don't think it has much to do with the creative act.
In the same context, Brakhage describes himself as "the most thorough documentary film maker in the world because I document the act of seeing as well as everything that the light brings me.'' Criticizing P. Adams Sitney for having "no fix on the extent to which I was documenting,'' he complains that Sitney "and many others are still trying to view me as an imaginative film maker, as an inventor of fantasies or metaphors.''4
Obsession with the "act of seeing'' dominates Brakhage's major theoretical statement, his book, Metaphors on Vision, which opens with the following oft-quoted but little understood passage:
Imagine an eye unruled by manmade laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of "Green?'' How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye?... Imagine a world before the "beginning was the word.''
Brakhage's evocation of Ruskin's "innocent eye'' has done much to foster his reputation as Romantic anarchist. But he goes beyond Ruskin. Refusing to dwell on the infant's eye , which soon enough "learns to classify sights,'' Brakhage states that "only the ultimate of knowledge'' can compensate for the loss of innocence. Far beyond the naive attempt to subjectively recreate an Edenic state of pure receptivity is "a pursuit of knowledge foreign to language and founded upon visual communication, demanding a development of the optical mind, and dependent upon perception in the original and deepest sense of the word.''5
In evoking a purely sensory "knowledge,'' opposed to the conceptual, Brakhage links Ruskin's theory with
the far more sophisticated project of Cézanne, for whom "optics'' meant "a logical vision.'' The
process of turning away from conventional, language dominated modes of seeing, struggling to see with the eyes
only, not the mind, a process that Cézanne attempted to describe sporadically and with great difficulty,
is set forth in Metaphors on Vision with exhaustive (and exhaustingly confusing) detail. While Brakhage
was undoubtedly aware of Cézanne, there is no question of direct influence. Brakhage was clearly determined,
as was the great painter, to live every detail of the process through his own experience, taking nothing at second
hand. Metaphors on Vision is, among other things, the kind of document phenomenologist admirers like Merleau-Ponty
would have liked to have had from Cézanne.
Brakhage and the Apparatus
While, consciously or not, echoing Ruskin and Cézanne, Metaphors also anticipates Baudry's critique of camera ideology. Contrasting the human eye, "capable of any imagining'' with "the camera eye, its lenses grounded to achieve 19th century Western compositional perspective,'' Brakhage ironically reveals the debt of motion picture "science'' to 19th Century romantic sentimentality.
Standardized shutter speeds are "geared to the feeling of the ideal slow Viennese waltz,'' The tripod is "balled with bearings'' to give it a smooth "Les Sylphides motion;'' restricted to horizontal and vertical movements in the spirit of "pillars and horizon lines.'' The lens is coated and filtered, the light meter balanced and the film chemically designed "to provide that picture postcard effect (salon painting) exemplified by those oh so blue skies and peachy skins.''
Brakhage continues, recommending a host of "remedies'' designed to wrench the apparatus free from perspective
and its attendent rigidities: spitting on the lens, throwing it out of focus, speeding up or slowing down the shutter,
hand-holding, over- or underexposure, etc.7
A Facetted Vision
If Metaphors on Vision reveals a truly dialectical grasp of theory, it reveals also the energy with which Brakhage has pursued the practice of vision itself. The following passage demonstrates how the intensity of his investigations of the act of seeing brings him to the point of Cubist fragmentation:
concentrated once upon my wife's arm, elbow to hand, my eyes drew every possible line out of it until all seemed strands separated as if in a dissection of its light and shadow surface. Then a semi-reformation produced multiple arms, moving independently in this re-defined space, superimposing over each other, all differently drawn... Eventually it became impossible for me to discern the originating image.8
If we see the "multiple arms, moving independently'' each in its own fragment of time, as a series of very brief shots, we have something very close to one aspect of Brakhage's montage.
Rapid montage is, of course, the strongest and most pervasive aspect of Brakhage's mature style. Taken in itself, it can be regarded as both the most and the least original feature of that style. At the time of its emergence in his work (the late Fifties) montage of this sort was considered complelely outdated, a brave experiment that had failed; it was no longer "being done.'' The novelty of Brakhage's montage was therefore enhanced by the almost total eclipse of the Russian masters who, as he readily admits, had influenced him.
Nevertheless, a single viewing of a film like Brakhage's Anticipation of the Night, his first really ambitious venture in rapid montage, will reveal beyond any doubt the enormous gulf between his approach and that of his predecessors. Although this film has been paraphrased by Brakhage in narrative-symbolic terms, none of its narrative or symbolic aspects is in any way reinforced by any of the elements of film language or rhetoric pioneered by the early montage masters.
The result is extremely confusing, even after several viewings. There is an avalanche of shots, shots of shadows,
of trees, of the sun, of water of grass. Many of these are blurred by very rapid camera movements, often to the
point that we cannot "read'' any image at all. Even when we can read the images, nothing seems to hang together
in any of the ways that we have learned to expect from our previous experience with montage. Brakhage's time facets,
like the "exploded'' spatial facets of late analytic Cubism, break down continuity much more radically than
anything in Eisenstein, Vertov, Gance or the Futurists. Time seems to be starting and stopping anew with each shot,
which refuses to "link up'', conceptually,with its neighbors. There is no sense of a time "container''
within which a single coherent event might occur.
Analysis of films like this has proven a tremendous stumbling block for critics. The simple observation that Brakhage has thrown conventional narrative overboard, while certainly true, is only a beginning. Many critics rest content with haphazard descriptions of particular techniques, reserving most of their powers to the piecing together of some sort of more or less reasonable quasi-narrative exegesis.
Writers with some background in modernist art invariably make a special point of Brakhage's treatment of screen-space. According to the prevailing wisdom, modernism has something to do with the flattening of space; much of Brakhage's camera work has the effect of flattening space; ergo, Brakhage is a modernist. Moreover, the spatial effect of Brakhage's images, so often vague, blurry, distorted, even messy, easily calls to mind the treatment of space so characteristic of certain Abstract Expressionist painters, particularly Pollock and de Kooning. Given the historical situation, coupled with the apparently subjective tone of Brakhage's own writings, it is not difficult to see why his work is almost always discussed within the context of Abstract Expressionist esthetics.
Analysis of this sort does make some sense, as far as it goes. Brakhage's esthetic has undoubtedly been deeply
touched by Abstract Expressionism. The influence has been most obvious in his handling of the camera, almost always
a matter of spontaneous, unpremeditated involvement, akin to "action painting.'' Everything in the workings
of the apparatus designed to give a neat, orderly spatial impression in depth is strongly resisted. True to his
written testimony, he has spat on the lens, thrown it out of focus, jiggled the camera. He has resisted the all
too easy tendency of the lens to generate automatic perspective space in a hundred ways, from the use of distorting
lenses to emphasis on extreme close-ups.
Editing and Spontaneity
While Brakhage's "expressionist'' treatment of screen-space is an undeniable aspect of his style, analysis in terms of space alone can be of little use in the effort to grasp his far more characteristic and consistent approach to montage. There is, moreover, really nothing in Abstract Expressionist esthetics to prepare one for the situation encountered in the editing room. Here, no matter how spontaneous one might like to be, the laborious process of locating specific pieces of film, deciding where each will fit and precisely how long it will be, invariably demands a certain amount of conscious, even calculated decision making.
While much has been made of Brakhage's experimentation with films edited in the camera, the great majority of
his major works involve enormous amounts of post-facto editing. This indeed is usually the stage where various
pieces of footage, shot with no particular context in mind, are brought together and the film as such takes shape.
This "analytic'' process, often involving laboriously detailed notes and sketches, is deliberately omitted
by certain film makers, influenced by Brakhage, whose work can much more succesfully be identified with Abstract
Expressionism: Andrew Noren, Werner Nekes and Paul Winkler, among others.
Screen-Space vs. Time
Over and above the issue of "Abstract Expressionist spontaneity'' is the basic issue of space vs. time in film. As I have already argued, treatment of screen-space is much less of a problem in film generally than treatment of time. Only the time-producing space of the film strip itself can, after all, be regarded as the ground of film syntax, positive or negative. Screen-space is highly flexible -- idiosyncratic spaces do not need to be reconciled, as in a painting, since they can readily be replaced. Idiosyncratic events must, on the other hand, take their place as permanently determined elements of the time field.
Film, moreover, is not a particularly plastic medium in its spatial dimension. As with photography generally, there has been a considerable sacrifice of plasticity to the rigid optics of "realism.'' Outside the realm of animation, precise spatial facetting in film would be extraordinarily difficult. Strategems such as spitting on the lens or shaking the camera, while effective in neutralizing certain built-in effects, can hardly be taken seriously as attempts at spatial determination. Film is precise exactly where it most needs to be: in time.
The essential structural element in Brakhage's work is the precisely controlled temporal discontinuity of his montage, directly analogous to the precise spatial discontinuities of Cubism. Unlike Eisenstein, Brakhage does not compromise in order to preserve the sense of a coherent, even partially continuous time field. There is rarely any attempt to correlate the shot to shot sequences as edited with some kind of "normal'' sequence of events, either narrative or documentary. On the contrary, techniques which defeat "positive'' temporal continuity are liberally employed: jump cuts, both forward and backward in time; immediate repetition of similar shots; recurrance of similar shots at various, often widely separated parts of the film; the use of "rhythmic'' montage; shot to shot variation of movement-tempo and direction of movement; extreme fragmentation of the time field through rapid cutting. Sound, traditionally a powerful reinforcer of continuity, is eliminated.
The meaning of Brakhage's montage vis a vis continuity and discontinuity, Abstract Expressionism and Cubism, is far from obvious. We can go more deeply into both issues by pursuing a revealing, if quite natural, misunderstanding. We have already had occasion to cite Annette Michelson's "Camera Lucida Camera Obscura,'' where she associates Eisenstein with Cubism and Brakhage with Abstract Expressionism. Toward the end of this article, she sums up an aspect of their relationship as follows: "If Eisenstein's cinema of intellection depends upon the unity of the disjunct, sensed as disjunct, the cinema of sight [Brakhage's cinema] will be, from this point on [since Anticipation of the Night], incomparably fluid.'' A bit later, writing of Anticipation of the Night, she clarifies this as follows:
Its fluidity almost belies its total sovereignty. The cuts are many and quick... but -- and this is Brakhage's point of dialectical intensity -- they are fused by a camera movement sustained over cuts. Disparate images ... are united by movement or direction either repeated or sustained through the cut. Disparate spaces are unified in a consistent flatening or obscuring of spatial coordinates and that unity is intensified by the synthetic effect of continuous movement produced in editing.9
Anyone familiar with Brakhage's work will recognize in the above a description of what he has called "plastic cutting.'' Defined by P. Adams Sitney as "the joining of shots at points of movement, close-up or abstraction to soften the brunt of montage,'' plastic cutting is a pervasive element of Brakhage's approach to editing which can take many forms: he may cut from a shot which ends in black to one which begins in black; or from white to white; he may cut from movement to movement or blur to blur so that, in the confusion, the exact time point of the cut is obscured; he may match the shape of one part of an image with a similar shape in the same part of the frame in the next shot; he may superimpose film rolls so that cuts on one are masked by bright areas on another; he may combine any of the above.
While all forms of plastic cutting tend to fuse juxtaposed shots, contrasting such fusions with the disjunctions
of Cubism, as Michelson does, is a fundamental error. Plastic cutting is, in fact, closely analogous with Cubist
passage. The connection will be more evident if we backtrack a bit to our earlier discussion of positive montage.
Passage in Conventional Montage
As was then pointed out, devices such as cutting on motion (the match cut), and the dissolve are temporal reconciliations of a kind very similar to the spatial reconciliations of "old master'' passage. Like their spatial counterparts, these filmic devices contain the seeds of radical disjunction since they take place, not in representational time, but on the "surface time'' of the film strip.
Because such a time field has no representational meaning, the viewer interprets its emergence as a "warping'' of the time "ground'' enclosing the time "figures,'' the events; hence the interpretation of the dissolve as "passage (i.e. distortion) of time.''
Cutting on motion is a bit more subtle. Nevertheless, in distracting the viewer momentarily from motion contained
in representational time to uncontained motion "in itself,'' carried over from one shot to the next,
the match cut sets up a tiny kinetic "charge'' of "surface time.'' When, as in less conventional films,
cutting on motion is used more agressively to link two ordinarily unrelated motions (e.g., the swinging of a tennis
racquet and the lurching of an automobile), its artificial, purely formal invocation of the filmic surface is more
pronounced. Such an effect is often used as a "sophisticated'' substitute for the dissolve. Other, closely
related effects are produced in what is called "associational editing,'' a famous example being the well-known
transition from scream to railroad whistle. Again the viewer is distracted momentarily by a purely formal link
on the "temporal surface.''
Plastic Cutting As "Cubist'' Passage
All of the above devices verge on the subliminal, having, like "old master'' passage, traditionally been treated with great restraint and a host of taboos. Brakhage's plastic cutting, in the spirit of Cubist passage, agressively violates the taboos. Extreme intensification of the transitional negates its original function, transforming "old master'' and even Cézannian reconciliation into Cubistic disjunction.
Where a professional editor will, when cutting on motion, take great care to preserve the sense of representational time-flow, Brakhage will deliberately disrupt it. Through plastic editing, for example, the motion of a person's head turning to screen left may be completed by automobile headlights turning in the same direction. A zoom-in on the headlights may "become'' a child's face rushing toward the camera. These motions have nothing in common as far as representational time is concerned -- the flow from one to the other cannot be contained within it.
On the contrary, the fusion of any two motions in this manner calls forth the otherwise subliminal temporal
"surface,'' which, like the pictorial surface of Cubism, causes juxtaposed representational elements to repel
one another. Paradoxically, therefore, it is through the fluidities of plastic editing that Brakhage most completely
resists the fusion of his images into conceptually manageable perceptions.
Michelson has oversimplified by failing to recognize the dual function of Brakhage's fluidities. Eisenstein's clear cut fragmentations, like those of the Futurists, fail to generate the strong negative field which alone can prevent them from reuniting within a heightened positivity. His straightforward "collisions'' simply generate a more highly charged "current'' of positive syntax through which the narrative may more dramatically flow. Brakhage's fluidities, on the other hand, "short circuit'' this current by fully opening forbidden channels.
Motion And Stasis
It is hardly an accident that so much of the preceding has hinged on Brakhage's treatment of motion. Unlike Eisenstein, who preferred to juxtapose essentially static shots, Brakhage typically places great emphasis on mobility within the shot, to the extent that some of his films seem in perpetual motion. Even when his subject is not moving, his camera usually is, often violently so. This intensive, highly original and varied use of motion is extremely problematic, generating results that are often contradictory, as we have seen. In order to understand it, we must probe more deeply the nature of the cinematic apparatus and its effects.
If film can be described as in some sense uniting time and space, its capacity to generate motion (or the illusion thereof) is the most dramatic evidence of this union. Motion can, in fact, be regarded as itself a kind of passage uniting the two fields. At the same time it can be said to generate a somewhat independent secondary "field'' of its own, best understood by analogy with time and space. In this respect, motion must be considered in relation to its opposite, stasis. Specifically, motion can be regarded as the "figure'' seen within the "ground'' of stasis.
As with the background space of positive pictorial syntax, the stasis of positive filmic syntax operates as an invisible, abstract field within which motion takes place. In conventional film, the viewer must never be in doubt as to which is which. This is by no means as simple as it seems, for either the camera or the photographed object or both may be moving. If the object is to be perceived as moving, the camera must be perceived as a stable ground. If the camera is to be seen as moving (as in a wide angle horizontal pan), the image (a landscape, say) must be seen as ground. If camera and object are both perceived as moving, the"figure-ground'' stability is in danger of breaking down altogether-often there is some other element on the screen which must be read as stable.
Motion figure-ground can lead to illusions as powerful as any associated with perspective. For example, in a
typical pan, say from left to right, we might see a group of buildings literally moving across the screen from
right to left. If, as is usually the case, we read the buildings as stable, the screen itself must take on the
motion and appear to move from left to right. The mind of the viewer is able, with no trouble at all, to accept
this impossible situation by creating an unseen element, what we may call the "omniscient viewer,'' an all
seeing Godlike eye. When, according to the logic of motion figure-ground, the screen (the camera) must appear to
move, this movement is understood as movement of the "omniscient viewer.'' The image of buildings drifting
right to left across the screen thus becomes the left to right motion of the "omniscient viewer's'' head''
as it scans the horizon.
Through his characteristic use of the camera (coupled with plastic editing), Brakhage tends to destroy the figure-ground relations of conventional film motion. One might say that his extreme camera movements and his tendency to cut on movement generate a "negative'' motion, analogous to negative time and space. For instance, Brakhage's version of the pan described above might well be extremely rapid and irregular, with a sudden downward tilt of the camera at the end, so that the buildings lurch upward. This upward motion might be continued in the next shot by, say, a flock of birds rising out of a tree. As most beginners know, a too rapid horizontal pan in itself can radically disrupt our normal manner of perceiving motion. This, coupled with its irregularity and the sudden lurch at the end, would make it all but impossible to read in terms of an "omniscient viewer.'' Any tendency to interpret the upward lurch of the buildings as the secondary result of a downward movement of such a viewer's head (or even "realistically'' in terms of camera movement), would be seriously weakened by the continuation of the upward flow in the "primary'' motion of the birds. As any two motions fuse through plastic editing, it becomes exceedingly difficult to "read'' each as having an independent source.
In this kind of context all motions will tend to be seen simply as movement of images across the screen. If an image is moving from screen right to left, we will not tend to read it as the stable "ground'' of some inferred movement from left to right (such as that of an "omniscient viewer'') but will be more or less forced to accept it as right-left movement "in itself.'' Thus, in his radical complication of motion, Brakhage induces us to simplify our means of comprehending it.11
That our analysis of negative motion is still incomplete, however, will be evident if we ask ourselves what it means to say that "an image is moving from screen right to left.'' No thing is actually moving across the screen, only something we call an "image.'' The cinematic image, as we know, is the result of light projected through a photographic emulsion which either lets it pass or, to some extent, interrupts it. This play of light and shadow is clearly visible as such in the space between projector and screen (given a certain amount of dust and/or smoke in the screening area). Studying this space during any but the most completely static scene, we can appreciate how the notion of cinematic movement "in itself'' is intimately tied to the formation of a "readable'' image which must function as a "figure'' of motion. In the absence of such an image, our eyes removed from the screen to the space directly above us, we see that motion of light in one direction is equivalent to motion of shadow in the opposite direction. Placing our attention on one, we may see motion from right to left; shifting our attention to the other, all else being equal, motion is suddenly from left to right.
Brakhage's tendency to weaken the figural impact of the image (through out-of-focus photography, spitting on the lens, etc.), coupled with his radical complication of motion (as described above) often does, indeed, lead to effects of just this kind, not in the space overhead, but on the screen itself. In such instances, all sense of motion figure-ground can collapse, motion literally dissolving with the image itself into a play of light and shadow. What we see may be changing but is not moving. Thus in their most extreme violence, Brakhage's motions can lead to a kind of stasis.
As should now be evident, the entire dialectic of film motion and stasis parallels that of pictorial figure and ground in the movement from perspective space to Cubism. In each case, as the "negative'' asserts itself, the passive background comes forward. Stasis, as the "background'' against which motion is perceived is, in the great majority of films, simply weightless and invisible, like the ground of pictorial positive syntax. When, with Brakhage, the figure-ground of positive cinematic motion is weakened, the ground, or "negative'' of motion asserts itself. In its weaker form, this "negative motion'' can cause us to perceive the simple "surface'' motion of the image across the screen rather than the implied motion, in the opposite direction, of an "omniscient viewer.'' In its stronger form, it reveals itself not simply as the negative of any particular direction of motion but of motion itself: negative motion is stasis made visible, analogous to the Cubist pictorial surface, made visible through the assertion of negative space.
But what can it mean to say "stasis made visible?'' How can one equate an abstract concept with something
concrete, like a pictorial surface? Once again, we must return to our basic analogy: as a pictorial figure presented
against a ground is equivalent to a form seen within passive space, filmic motion presented against
stasis is equivalent to an event perceived within passive time. Stasis, is, in fact, equivalent to
what we have been calling time. As negative pictorial syntax brings space actively forward as a concretely perceptible
surface, so negative filmic syntax brings time (stasis) forward in a similar way. Thus, in Brakhage, time is perceived
largely in its own terms, as specific "weighted'' duration, rather than in terms of some motion contained
in it, which can only imply its existence. Duration in this sense can, ultimately, be determined only in terms
of the linear space of the film strip itself, that array of totally static images on which cinematic negative motion,
negative time and stasis ultimately find meaning, identity and concrete existence. Thus has Brakhage written of
creating his films "with an eye to their speaking just as strips of celluloid held in the hand ...'', stating
that "all my significant splices ...are the result of viewing the film to be edited both through the editor
at an approximate 24 frames a second and also as stilled strips of film ...''12
Resisting The Conceptual Order
As the above analysis demonstrates, Brakhage's compositional "strategies'' involve the complete dismantling of cinematic positive syntax, from the intricacies of montage language and perspective time all the way down to the fundamental "denial of difference'' which is the illusion of motion itself. While it would undoubtedly be misleading and in any case grossly anachronistic to characterize Brakhage as a "Cubist'' film maker, our theoretical framework clearly reveals a profound structural affinity between his strategies and those of Cubism.
Most obvious, of course, is the parallel between Cubist facetting and rapid montage. More fundamental is the analogous treatment of the syntactic field generally. As with Cubist passage, Brakhage's plastic cutting simultaneously breaks up the overall field of representation (positive time) and unites the various micro-fields (the individual shots) on the "surface'' (the negative time field generated by the film strip-fundamentally, the film strip itself).
As the negative space of Cubism destroys depth, Brakhage's negative time (and negative motion) destroys time "depth.'' Each moment tends to become static and isolated, an event unto itself, freed from dependence on past and future, experienced as a unique time of its own. As in Cubism, negative determination of the perceptual field is equivalent to the disruption of positive syntax -- negative time is negative syntax. Each image is thus isolated within its own static micro-time as each painted sign becomes isolated within Cubist space. Union of and on the surface becomes representational (and perceptual) disjunction.
While Abstract Expressionism lays positive syntax aside and simply affirms the surface, the negative syntax of Brakhage and the Cubists actively engages positive syntax in a struggle for the surface. Without such a struggle, as has already been emphasized, the context of implication will arise from the ashes of positive syntax, giving birth to ambiguity and its attendent mystifications.
In Brakhage, for the first time in the history of film, the context of implication itself is consistently encountered
and disrupted. As a result, his images as images appear with a unique clarity -- even the blurred images, seen
as blurred, are vividly clear. Despite the fact that the film maker has done nothing to help the viewer "get''
the ideas "behind'' the film, there is no feeling of ambiguity in the usual sense.
We may certainly be confused when watching a Brakhage film -- we will not be led to believe that everything we see implies something else, that when two images are juxtaposed in time this is more than a "mere'' juxtaposition, that there is some relationship between them, clear or ambiguous, which must, as in the Kuleshov experiment, be revealed in our "imagination.'' It is this ability to create juxtapositions which resist our need for what Rosalind Krauss has called a "conceptual order...transcending the materials of experience,''13 that is the true achievement of Brakhage's montage, the heart of his cinematic revolution.
The Link With Realism
The preceding discussion, necessarily highly formal, might lead one to conclude that Brakhage's films are, indeed, totally abstract structures, presentations of isolated bits of time or film completely devoid of significant connections with any outer or inner reality. Such a conclusion would be totally inadequate, a crude simplification of an extraordinarily rich and complex creative nexus. Brakhage's films are strongly rooted in the deepest possible involvement with the outer and inner worlds and the relation between them.
Turning first to the former, we have already cited his view of himself as fundamentally a documenter, a view reinforced by much in Metaphors on Vision. As our transition from the naturalist viewpoints expressed in this work to the "Cubistic'' organisation of the films themselves was rather abrupt, the link with realism may have depended too much on the purely theoretical analogies involved. Now that the theoretical points have been made, let us, for the sake of argument, lay them aside to ask ourselves a very basic, practical question which goes to the heart of realism: how can we best present an ordinary event filmically in such a way that it is perceived as much as possible in and for itself (rather than in terms of something else) with maximum clarity and minimum distortion?
We could, of course, film it cinéma verité style, in a single long take. Let us even assume that we could accomplish this in a manner that did not evoke any of the overtones of film language. What would such a procedure accomplish? Upon careful examination, we would discover that our long take of an "event'' actually consisted of a myriad of shorter events, all running into one another. A long take is, in time, what a wide angle shot is in space. We get a total picture but lose all sense of detail. If we are serious about clarity, we must concern ourselves with detail. Let us therefore redefine "event'' as a relatively brief occurance which can be fully grasped in a single act of perception. In order to do justice to this detail, we must somehow isolate it from the surrounding events.
Within a long take, a single event can be isolated by zooming in on it. If the cameraperson failed to zoom, the effect can be produced on an optical printer. The sudden, close-up view will, indeed, enhance clarity and detail; it will also unavoidably call forth overtones of film language. The detail will, in fact, lose its "ordinariness.'' Singled out in this manner, it will be "read'' as having a special significance, a veiled meaning in terms of some context not yet completely clear.
We could go farther, taking the event completely out of context by literally cutting it out of the long take, attaching head leader, tail leader, and rather clinically, projecting it as a totally isolated shot. In the abstract, this might seem reasonable. In practice, it would be extremely difficult to properly prepare viewers for what they are about to see. After an indefinite length of time during which blank leader is on the screen, the shot would suddenly appear. If truly brief, it could well be over before the viewers realized it had begun.
An obvious solution to the above problem might be to project the shot in slow motion. This would give viewers time to adjust to the shot's appearance; it would also enhance certain details. The value of slow motion with respect to detail has indeed been so highly touted that its one serious drawback is rarely mentioned: it involves a distortion of the time field. Perceiving an event in slow motion, we cannot grasp it as it happened in its own characteristic tempo -- its inherent evanescence, the special kind of clarity made possible by the vivid apprehension of a brief moment, would be lost.
Splicing the head of the clip to its tail, we could make a loop which could be repeated indefinitely. The many repetitions would enable viewers to grasp a good amount of detail without the need for slow motion. However, such a recourse would still involve serious drawbacks: by being repeated, the event would be overemphasized, losing its special quality as something unique; such repetition can very quickly induce viewer fatigue and/or something like a trance state, hardly conducive to clear perception; finally, repetition will invariably call attention to itself -- viewers will tend to see the form, the repetition, rather than its content, the event.
The nature of the problem should, at this point, be relatively clear. There would seem to be no way to simply and/or systematically achieve what has to be one of the fundamental requirements of film realism, the clear presentation of an ordinary event in its own terms, within its own time frame. Sensitive to this basic difficulty, Brakhage, like Cézanne, realized that the problem of clear seeing in itself called forth a complex, highly intuitive process of active vision.
In the spirit of Cézanne and the Cubists, he set out to place each event within a context of similar events, a context specifically created, composed so that each would set the other off, with none dominating. Only through an actively determined, complex composition of this sort, in which each event can be apprehended in its own unique evanescence, set off by, but not confused with or dominated by neighboring events, can we hope to achieve realism in any rigorous sense. The struggle for perception on this level, with each thing seen in and for its own uniqueness, rather than as a part of some larger, transcendent "reality,'' is only another way of describing what we have called "negative montage.'' Thus everything already discussed on the formal level has roots deep within the soil of the realist quest.
We may, at this point, return to the passage from Erwin Panofsky, quoted in chapter 2. It will be recalled that Panofsky referred to the "idealistic conception of the world'' implied in "all the representational arts,'' a conception causing them to "operate from top to bottom,'' starting with "an idea...not with the objects that constitute the physical world.'' According to Panofsky, only "the movies'' operate in the other direction, from "bottom to top,'' thus doing "justice to that materialistic interpretation of the universe which...pervades contemporary civilization.'' As our discussion of ideology has made clear, such a statement can only be taken as representing a potential state of affairs, not something simply given through use of the motion picture camera, as Panofsky implies. Not, in fact, until we reach the mature work of Brakhage is the promise of a true film realism along materialist lines fulfilled.
In his films we are, for the first time, completely freed from the domination of the "idea,'' either, as
in narrative, "Russian'' montage and much experimental film, explicitly present as a structural and interpretive
force or, as in Cinéma Vérité, implicitly present as a conventionalized constraint
on vision itself through dependence on the apparatus and its ideology. Through development of the complex interactive
process that we have called "negative montage,'' Brakhage has been able to free both the "material''
of everyday life and the "material'' of film itself from the necessity for conceptual mediation, liberating
them from systematic control to speak, essentially, for themselves. Thus, not simply through manipulation of a
technical device, but by means of a creative accomplishment of considerable scope, Brakhage's films finally do
illuminate that infinitely rich "bottom'' of which Panofsky speaks.
The Associative Nexus
Having addressed the problem of Brakhage's link with the outer world, we must now speak to his relation with the inner. No aspect of his work has been so fully discussed, yet so often misunderstood, as his apparently fanatical absorbtion in the "mythic'' aspects of his own life and personality. This extraordinarily intense inner quest has, understandably, generated a good deal of skepticism regarding his claims as a "documentarist.''
Unquestionably, Brakhage's earliest cinematic impulses stemmed from a deep need for self-exploration. When he began making films in the early Fifties, the prevailing mode of American cinematic experimentalism was what P. Adams Sitney has called the "trance'' film (also referred to as "psychodrama''). For Brakhage, as for his mentors (among the most prominent, Maya Deren, James Broughton and Kenneth Anger), the trance film, essentially a created film-dream, was a means of self-analysis very much in the spirit of Freud. Indeed, as Sitney has written, "Freud has never meant as much to any other film-maker'' as to Brakhage,"14 whose relation to psychoanalysis rivals Eisenstein's to dialectical materialism. Another influence, equally popular among the intellectuals of the period, was Surrealism, itself heavily in debt to Freud.
Central to both psychoanalytic and Surrealist technique is a process known as "free-association,'' a means of short circuiting the convention-bound workings of the rational mind in order to reach the unconscious. In free-association, as in Surrealist "automatic writing,'' the subject is encouraged to develop word associations devoid of either syntactic connection or consciously derived symbolism. One simply speaks or writes the "first thing'' that comes into ones mind.
Few artists have applied free-association so rigorously to every aspect of their work as has Brakhage. His determination to "turn off'' the workings of the conscious mind is, indeed, his closest link with Abstract Expressionist painting, itself born from a similar mix of Surrealism and Freud. While free-association is used rather timidly in the early trance films, largely as a source of "plot'' elements, the later films draw on it far more intensely as a guide to camera work and montage.
In psychoanalysis, the analyst uses the patient's free associations as a guide to help sort out the "inner meaning'' of dreams and fantasies which are presumed to stand for "censored'' unconscious thoughts. Brakhage has often written of his own films as though he himself were the "analyst,'' struggling to reach the hidden depths symbolized within Following his lead, most commentators have adopted a similar strategy, treating his films as dreams to be explicated in symbolic terms.
While interpretations of this sort can be highly relevent and revealing, as with psychoanalysis itself, too much dependence on associative symbolization can lead to endless and pointless ambiguities. In therapy, the justification for any given method is its promise of a cure -- what justifies any particular method of filmic interpretation? The "totalizing end'' of Brakhage's film, Dog Star Man, for P. Adams Sitney, an outstanding Brakhage explicator, is not what it is for Brakhage himself. To Sitney, the climax comes with the image of the Dog Star Man furiously chopping the tree, a chopping which "becomes a metaphor for the splicing of film.'' According to Sitney, "the apotheosis which Brakhage describes (Dog Star Man assuming Cassiopeia's throne in the sky) appears for but a second on the screen and it is not the last image of that figure. We see him furiously chopping again...''15
In the absence of any theoretical framework above and beyond Sitney's vague allusions to Blake and the Romantics,
there is no meaningful basis for choosing either version or for assuming that the film has an "apotheosis''
at all. In view of the fact that Brakhage very definitely does employ free-association, the sensitivity to its
workings undoubtedly displayed by commentators like Sitney has genuine value. In the last analysis, however, such
commentary, even by Brakhage himself, is tentative at best and all too often misleading.
The Pitfalls of Paraphrase
The heart of the difficulty with symbolic paraphrase of a mature Brakhage film is the extremely problematic relation between free association, conventional film language and negative syntax. Brakhage's films are more than associationally determined strings of imagery. Not only do they put aside the conventions of film language, they actively oppose such conventions. What is more, if our analysis is correct, they oppose the implicational context which permits any sort of symbolism, even of the most unconventional kind, to arise. While many Brakhage commentators reveal some awareness of the above, the great majority proceed as though the distinctions involved did not somehow really matter.
As an example, let us remain with Sitney, whose interpretations are so insightful as to be all the more misleading. For Sitney, Brakhage's The Animals of Eden and After "portrays the process of convalescence as a normalization or accomodation to socially dictated patterns of perception and thought.'' Describing the turning point of the film as the birth of a goat, he characterizes this event as the point, "within the narrative of the film,...at which the child, [the film's 'protatagonist'] witnessing the birth of the animal, imagines his own birth.'' At another point Brakhage "intercuts [a] caged bird with the crying child...The trapped bird now stands for the feeling of the weeping child.''16
The difficulties of this kind of exegesis are immediately apparent upon a viewing of the film. As with most Brakhage works we are presented with a barrage of disjunct images linked by no trace of film language; organized, as we have already stressed, in such a way as to defeat any possible coding process before it can begin. We see images of a young boy in bed. Nothing in the film informs us that he is the protagonist of a narrative. We see a goat giving birth, but there is nothing in the way this event presents itself that can lead us to understand it as a "turning point.'' If a shot of the boy directly follows a shot of the goat, it is Brakhage's special achievement, all but unique among filmmakers, that we will not fall victim to the Kuleshov effect and automatically assume that the child is "witnessing the birth'' of a baby goat. Similarly, a juxtaposition of a shot of "the crying child'' and the caged bird cannot, in the context created by Brakhage, cause the bird to "stand for the feeling of the weeping child.'' If Sitney's interpretation were as straightforwardly accurate as his presentation implies, he would be describing something completely conventional, an episode from The Waltons, perhaps.
A clue to what is going on in the above "reading'' is provided by the Freudian context to which we have
already alluded. Sitney is reading, probably with genuine insight, not the film, but the nexus of associations
behind it, associations which have left their trace upon the film itself as though it were a dream. The object
of his analysis, therefore, is not Animals of Eden and After, but Brakhage himself. As a series of insights
into Brakhage's state of mind, projected onto the images of the sick child, Sitney's analysis is unquestionably
valuable. In failing to distinguish between the film itself and the associations surrounding it, however, he makes
the fatal mistake of treating Brakhage's later work as though it were still at the "trance film'' stage, a
series of symbolic film-dreams. In settling for a "dream analysis,'' in which Brakhage's overriding concern
with the destruction of conceptually determined vision is treated "metaphorically,'' Sitney leads his readers
away from the struggle, so apparent in the films themselves, for the real thing.
A patient in the hands of a psychoanalyst may well be doomed indefinitely to the ambiguities of free-association. An artist can go beyond this stage to work precisely and unambiguously within the formal possibilities of a particular medium. In wedding his highly original formal strategies to an essentially derivative but deeply felt involvement with associationally determined subject matter, Brakhage has employed the former to clarify the latter, bringing it up out of the obscure realm of dream, "visionary'' experience, and "poetic'' ambiguity, into the clear light of organized "ordinary'' vision. In the extraordinarily complex films which result, ambiguity is "resolved'' into something with which it can easily be confused, a rarely achieved mode of perception which provides the key to Brakhage's relation with his subject matter. Let us call it by the self-descriptive, if somewhat awkward, term, "multi-referentiality.''
Ambiguity and multi-referentiality represent different stages in the process leading from naive realism to negative syntax. The contradictions of realism first manifest themselves as ambiguities, of vision, representation, or both. Two or more interpretations present themselves in a context (the context of implication) which demands resolution on some "higher'' level. As no such level is perceptually evident, it is inferred in the realm of "meaning.'' A vague aura of mystery arises through the contemplation of some level of "inner meaning'' on which such seemingly disjunct elements can be unified. As the ambiguities become more intense, the explanations in terms of "inner meaning'' become more farfetched. Thus do the extreme ambiguities of Cubism call forth speculations regarding the "fourth dimension.''
As the apparently strange and mysterious spaces of Cubism resolve on the matter-of-fact surface, so do its ambiguities give way to multi-referentiality. In this context, there is no sense of implication, no paradox that must be resolved within some higher or broader field which might encompass it. A passively "aesthetic'' sense of awe in the face of deep, impenetrable mystery, is replaced by an active struggle to see and understand purely on the basis of what is directly perceptible and thinkable. Whatever one may conclude remains open to revision, rethinking, relooking.
True multi-referentiality is extremely rare and represents a profound achievement, enabling both artist and involved viewer to come to terms with what is presented to the eye and mind on many different levels, each with an equal claim. Thus, the fact that Brakhage's images are, in a sense, "mere'' juxtapositions, does not by any means force us into an abstract viewing, purely in terms of light, shadow, color, rhythm, etc. On the contrary, it frees us to search for the meanings that we ourselves can find as we struggle with our own associations.17
We are now in a position to draw some provisional conclusions. Clearly the importance of Brakhage goes beyond the great praise that has been heaped upon him as a unique, isolated "genius,'' whose work is utterly subjective, thus beyond rational analysis. While many aspects of his films are highly personal; while he probably does put himself in something like a trance state in order to free associate filmically; while he often writes about his work in transcendental, even "cosmic'' terms; we have seen, nevertheless that his work is fundamentally grounded in structural principles that can yield to analysis; that can be discussed objectively; that do, in fact have precedents with which they can be compared. Far from being either a formal purist or formless romantic, he has been able to transcend such alternatives in the creation of films which are simultaneously documents, subjective visions, and highly disciplined structures.
What, however, are these films? How are they put together, shot by shot? What, specifically, are the principles that guide their composition? What is the relation between specific trains of image association and the formal strategies that actualize them in any given film? What, finally, is the meaning of Brakhage's achievement with respect to that debate over fundamental ideological issues which has so absorbed the current avant-garde, yet, apparently, passed him by? Our discussion thus far has of necessity been highly general and incomplete. We will be in a position to do justice to specifics, basic principles and questions of cultural relevance only after we have probed more deeply into the foundations of negative syntax itself.
NOTES FOR PART III
Chapter 6--The Cinematic Denial of Difference
1. A typical example, from the realm of art history, of such trivialization, can be found in Linda Nochlin's Realism (Harmondsworth and New York:Penguin, 1971), already becoming a standard text. With regard to "the painting of the future,'' Nochlin writes of "the transformation of the Realist concept of truth or honesty, meaning truth or honesty to one's perception of the external physical or social world, to mean truth or honesty either to the nature of the material--i.e. to the nature of the flat surface--and/or to the demands of one's inner `subjective' feelings or imagination rather than to some external reality.'' (p. 236) Many a modernist "theory'' has foundered on just this point.
2. Baudry, op. cit. pp. 42, 43.
3. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1907), trans. A. Mitchell (New York:Holt, 1911) pp. 304-306.
4. Bergson's formulation of "pure duration'' is actually more complex than that presented here, which may best characterized as inspired by Bergson.
5. Edward Pincus, Guide To Film Making (New York:New American Library, 1969) p. 124.
6. Important studies of screen-space have been made by Noel Burch and Stephen Heath, among others. The contribution of both authors to our understanding of the role of mise-en-scène in the creation of off-screen space is especially meaningful. But, as I hope my argument makes clear, for all its elaborative value in the enhancement of cinematic illusionism and the generation of narrative, screen-space, unlike the stable pictorial space of painting, can never in itself be a determiner of syntax in any fundamental sense. See Noel Burch, Theory of Film Practice (1969), trans. H. R. Lane (New York:Praeger, 1973); To The Distant Observer (Berkeley:University of California Press,l979 ); Stephen Heath, "Narrative Space'' (1976), "On Suture'' (1977/78), Heath, in Questions of Cinema(Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1981),
7. The primacy of the temporal with respect to cinematic continuity goes far in explaining the special nature of the jumpcut, in which a slight spatial discrepancy is perceived as discontinuous while a larger one is not. The former case can only be interpreted as a spatio-temporal break; the latter, by asserting spatial difference more forcefully, can be accepted as a purely spatial break within temporal continuity.
8. Pudovkin, op. cit. p. 91.
9. The discontinuous spaces of montage do not pose the same problem. As each spatial field is replaced completely by each new shot, the shots need not be spatially reconciled (except within a purely mental off-screen space). The discontinuous times do need to be reconciled because the time-field of which they are a part cannot be replaced. A shot which is, say, 35 frames long, takes its place as part of the determination of the overall time of the film--even after those 35 frames have been seen, they remain as part of the experience of the time-field, just as a patch of red one inch long on a painting is always a part of the spatial field of that painting.
10. The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910), quoted in Jane Rye, Futurism (London:Studio Vista, 1972) pp. 20, 23.
11. Marinetti, Le Futurisme (1911), quoted in Rye, op. cit. p. 107.
12. Krauss, op. cit. pp. 51-57.
13. see Standish Lawder, "Eisenstein and Constructivism,'' in The Essential Cinema, ed. Sitney (New York:New York University Press, 1975) pp. 60, 61.
14. See Annette Michelson's description of the drawbridge sequence from October in her "Camera Lucida Camera Obscura,'' in Artforum XI, 5 (Jan. 1973) p. 34.
15. Indeed, his term Kino Pravda literally means "film truth.'' The French cinema vérité was first used in 1961 specifically in homage to Vertov. See Louis Marcorelles, Living Cinema (1970), trans. I. Quigly (New York:Praeger, 1973) pp. 34,35.
16. Dziga Vertov, "Resolution of the Council of Three'' (1923) and "Kino--Eye, Lecture II'' (1929), quoted in Dziga Vertov, "Selected Writings,'' trans. S. Brody, in The Avant-Garde Film, ea. Sitney (New York:New York University Press, 1978) pp. 3,5,11.
17. Vertov's use of rhetorical codes is the subject of Annette Michelson's "From Magician to Epistemologist,'' in The Essential Cinema, op. cit.
18. Standish Lawder, Cubist Cinema (New York:New York University Press, 1975).
19. Quoted in Malcom LeGrice, Abstract Film and Beyond (Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 1977) pp. 36, 37.
Chapter 7--Brakhage and the Achievement of Filmic Negative Syntax
1. Op. cit. pp. 31, 32
2. P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film (New York:Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 233.
3. Le Grice, op. cit. pp. 88-90.
4. "Stan and Jane Brakhage Talking,'' interview with Hollis Frampton, in Artforum XI (Jan. 1973) pp. 76-79.
5. Stan Brakhage, Metaphors on Vision (New York:Film Culture, 1963) unpaginated.
6. "We have to develop an optics, by which I mean a logical vision ...''--Cézanne in conversation with Emil Bernard. Emil Bernard, Souvenirs sur Paul Cézanne (Paris, 1912); quoted in Merleau-Ponty, op. cit. p. 13.
7. Brakhage, op. cit. (unpaginated)
9. Op. cit. p. 37.
10. Visionary Film, op. cit. p. 176.
11. The foregoing analysis should serve, among other things, as a refutation of the "subjective viewpoint'' theory, proposed by Sitney and others, for which a typical Brakhage film "postulates the film-maker behind the camera as the first-person protagonist of the film.'' (Ibid. p. 180)
12. Brakhage, op. cit.
13. Rosalind Krauss, op. cit. p. 53.
14. Visionary Film, op. cit. p. 175.
15. Ibid. p. 216.
16. P. Adams Sitney, "Autobiography in Avant-Garde Film'' in The Avant-Garde Film, op. cit. pp. 217, 219-223.
17. As the first draft of this monograph was nearing completion, my attention was called to a fairly obscure essay by Fred Camper, expressing views, regarding Brakhage gratifyingly close to my own. For example: "No Brakhage film can be simply seen, but rather the viewer must continually struggle to see and resee it; and watching it becomes a continually shifting exploration of the very process of seeing.'' See Stan Brakhage:A Retrospective, notes by Fred Camper, for the 1976 Los Angeles International Film Exposition. Camper's essay reveals a rare grasp of the role of disjunction and multireferentiality in Brakhage's work.
Similar insights, less rigorously applied, can be found in Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema (New York: Dutton, 1970), especially in his discussion of "synaesthetic cinema,'' pp. 75-91.