Archive for Andrei Tarkovsky

Research Paper ‘Director’s Cut’

Posted in Cinema, Critical theory, MADA Coursework, Moving image techniques, Research Paper with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

Click the link and it will send you to a pdf of my research paper Mental space on screen: through the examples of Last year in Marienbad, Stalker and Lost Highway as submitted for the MA.

Research Paper: Mental space on screen (Melanie Menard)

Abstract

This paper explores how the different elements of a film work together to depict the mental space of the characters, that is, give the impression that the events shown on screen reflect their subjective experience, and the space shown on screen is a projection of their mental state. Through the examples of Alain Resnais’ Last year in Marienbad (1960), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1996), I show how similar techniques recur in films made in completely different cultural contexts, but that have in common to picture the subjective world of the characters. These techniques are: narrating events as the characters think about them, remember them or imagine them rather than how they actually happen; a labyrinthine set design where the inside and the outside contaminate each other; lighting and colours that reflect the mental state of the characters; rhythm that traps the viewer inside the characters’ subjectivity and, finally, sound that creates a mood of its own rather than illustrating or simply enhancing the images, with sparse dialogues becoming an integral part of the sound design.

Keywords: space, subjectivity, cinema, cinematography, sound

A few sections of the research paper were removed to keep word count down. Mostly I rephrased and condensed, which accounts for the somewhat dry style, and the lack of sometimes explicit transitions between ideas. The dry style is fine by me, it’s a research paper not a literary work, but I think more explicit transitions between ideas would have made the paper more reader friendly. However, I had a word count problem and decided to sacrifice a bit of fluidity in order not to cut out relevant ideas. I think the 2 last sections ‘sound’ and ‘rhythm’ are written more fluidly, with more explicit transitions between ideas. That’s because I wrote my paper backward so I was not so worried about concision when I wrote them (the last sections, more technical, were written first, and the first sections, more general, were written after).

However I cut out 3 complete paragraphs because they were interesting but not so directly relevant. I put them here.

1)This was cut out because it was a discussion where neither me, nor the person whose idea I was discussing, were really convinced of what we said. We were both formulating hypothesis to open up discussion, without being personally convinced of these hypothesis. So it was interesting but non essential.

Vida & Petrie (1994, p190) discuss Tarkovsky’s habit to shoot dream scenes in black and white in most of his films, and compare it to Stalker:

‘The choice of black and white for dreams may reflect the conventional idea that most people dream in black and white, but more probably implies, in line with Tarkovsky’s belief in the essential “reality” of black and white, that the inner truth of our experience is to be found within our dreams. In Stalker the basic pattern is reversed, with black and white creating the sordid reality of the everyday world of the future and color representing the potential escape from this offered by the Zone.’

This leads to an interesting issue. The only sequence in the Zone that contains monochrome shots (sepia rather than black and white) is indeed the dream sequence. If characters are dreaming, they may approach their inner truth. It is possible, then, that the Zone as a whole offers fake hope and illusion rather a gateway to inner reality, an interpretation that could be corroborated by the characters’ final decision not to enter the room. Maybe the Zone is, like in Lost Highway, the world of illusion and fantasy, rather than the world of hope and spirituality.

2)this was a transition between the ‘rhythm’ and ‘sound’ sections. It contained an interesting reference for further research, but was non essential to the subject.

Quoting Vlada Petric, Vida & Petrie (1994, p240-241) list ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of them, not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’  ”Camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation”, ”illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings”, ”dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity”, ”ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real” together correspond to the combined action of discontinuity editing and slow rhythm described in this section. “Color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery” has been discussed in the previous section. ”Sight and sound counterpoint” will be discussed in the next section.

3)In the conclusion, I discussed the philosophy of art of the 3 directors, and the way a film interacts with its audience. This was interesting but not directly linked to the subject, so was cut out.

When all these elements are combined, we get what Deleuze (1985, p35) calls a ‘conscience-camera’, that is a camera that ‘subordinates the description of a space to the functions of thought’ and ‘enters’ inside ‘mental relationships’. ‘Objective and subjective’, ‘real and imaginary’ then become ‘indiscernible’. The camera is no longer descriptive: instead it ‘questions, responds, objects, provokes, theorises, hypothesises and experiments’. This new nature of film allows new possibilities (Deleuze, 1985, p210): it ‘elaborates a circuit between the author, the film and the spectator’. This circuit has two ways of communication that work together: first a ‘sensory shock’ that ‘elevates the images to conscious thought’, then thought that brings the viewer back to the images and gives them an ’emotional shock’. This ‘coexistence’ between ‘the highest degree of conscience’ and ‘the deepest level of the unconscious’ is what makes, for Deleuze, the power of ‘Time-image’ cinema.

This vision of the dual nature of film, intellectual but also unconscious, sensual, emotional or irrational, the later allowing a direct connection between the artist and the audience, is shared by Tarkovsky, Lynch, and Robbe-Grillet. Tarkovsky (2008, p176) states that ‘cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world’ and ‘a film is an emotional reality’ perceived by ‘the audience’ ‘as a second reality’, which ‘allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work’. For Lynch (interviewed by Rodley, 2005, p140), films are ‘a subconscious thing’. In an interview together with Resnais, Robbe-Grillet (Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967, 170) says that art is ‘a reminiscence’ or ‘an illumination’ of ‘the world’ and that it ‘interests us because we find in it ready-made the things to which we feel impelled by the emotions reality has generated in us’, and Resnais agrees with him on that. Robbe-Grillet also says that ‘when an image strikes [him] in the cinema, it is always because [he] recognise[s] [his] own experience’ in it, and this shared experience is what makes ‘communication’ possible between the artist and the audience, through the medium of the work.

All sources for ‘mental space’ in ‘Stalker’

Posted in Cinema, Critical theory, Reading notes, Research Paper with tags , , on December 14, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

Tarkovsky, A. (1994) Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986. London: Faber and Faber.

(Tarkovsky, 1994)P156: diary entry September 20th 1978
“This film is terribly difficult to make. […] There is no sense of place. And no atmosphere. I am afraid it may be a disaster. I just cannot see how to shoot the dream. It has to be utterly simple.
We are failing to achieve the most important thing of all: consistently developed sense of place.”

Tarkovsky, A. (2008) Sculpting in Time:Reflections on the Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P138:
Perhaps the effect of colour should be neutralised by alternating colour and monochrome sequences, so that the impression made by the complete spectrum is spaced out, toned down. Why is it, when all that the camera is doing is recording real life on film, that a coloured shot should seem so unbelievably, monstrously false?

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P139:
Strangely enough, even though the world is coloured, the black and white image comes closer to the psychological, naturalistic truth of art, based as it is on special properties of seeing as well on hearing.

P152:
Sometimes, the utterly unreal comes to express reality itself. “Realism”, as Mitenka Karamazov says “is a terrible thing.” And Valéry observed that the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P159:
I should like to hope that it [music in his film] has never been a flat illustration of what was happening on the screen, to be felt as a kind of emotional aura around the object shown, in order to force the audience to see the image in the way I wanted. In every instance, music in cinema is for me a natural part of our resonant world, a part of human life. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that in a sound film that is realised with complete theoretical consistency, there will be no place for music: it will be replaced by sounds in which cinema constantly discovers new levels of meaning. That is what I was aiming at in Stalker.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P162:
In itself, accurately recorded sound adds nothing to the image system of cinema, for it still has no aesthetic content. As soon as the sounds of the visible world, reflected by the screen, are removed from it, or that world is filled, for the sake of the image, with extraneous sounds that don’t exist literally, or if the real sounds are distorted so that they no longer correspond with the image – then the film acquires a resonance.

P176: against the Structuralists
Cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world. In cinema, man’s innate drive to self assertion finds one of its fullest and most direct means of realisation. A film is an emotional reality, and that is how the audience receives it – as a second reality.
The fairly widely held view of cinema as a system of signs therefore seems to me profoundly and essentially mistaken. I see a false premise at the very basis of the structuralist approach.
[…] Cinema, like music, allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work.
P177:
I want to emphasise yet again that, with music, cinema is an art which operates with reality.

P178:
Aesthetic norms are therefore wished upon the audience, concrete phenomena are shown unequivocally, and the individual will often set up a resistance to these on the strength of his personal experience.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P193-194:
I felt that it was very important that the film [Stalker] observe the three unities of time, space and action. […] In Stalker, I wanted there be no time lapse between the shots. I wanted time and its passing to be revealed, to have their existence, within each frame; for the articulation between the shots to be the continuation of the action and nothing more, to involve no dislocation of time, not to function as a mechanism for selecting and dramatically organising the material – I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot. […] As a matter of principle I wanted to avoid distracting or surprising the audience with unexpected changes of scene, with the geography of the action, with elaborate plot – I wanted the whole composition to be simple and muted.
[…] I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity. For that is where I see the true poetic essence of cinema.
It occurred to me that excessive formal simplification could run the risk of appearing precious or mannered. In order to avoid that I tried to eliminate all touched of vagueness or innuendo in the shots – those elements that are regarded as the marks of ‘poetic atmosphere’. That sort of atmosphere is always painstakingly built up; I was convinced of the validity of the opposite approach – I must not concern myself with atmosphere at all , for it is something that emerges from the central idea, from the author’s realisation of his conception. And the more precisely the central idea is formulated, the more clearly the meaning of the action is defined for me, the more significant will be the atmosphere that is generated around it; Everything will begin to reverberate in response to the dominant note: things, landscape, actors’ intonation. […] It seems to me that in Stalker, where I tried to concentrate on what was most important, the atmosphere that came to exist as a result was more active and emotionally compelling than of any of the filmsI had made previously.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P200:
In Stalker only the basic situation could strictly be called fantastic. It was convenient because it helped to delineate the central moral conflict of the film more starkly. But in terms of what actually happens to the character, there is no element of fantasy. The film was intended to make the audience feel that it was all happening here and now, that the Zone is there beside us.
People have often asked me what the Zone is, and what it symbolises and have put forward wild conjectures on the subject. I am reduced to a state of fury and despair by such questions. The Zone does not symbolise anything, any more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way across it a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish between what matters and what is merely passing.

Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.

(Chion, 2009)P309:
« The sound of a telephone that rings suddenly in a film(often in Tarkovsky, in the empty house of Stalker […])is the very symbol of the dream that is a film. The characters who pick up the receiver can also be waking up from a dream – like waking up from a film – and sometimes they find themselves in a new reality, but it’s only the film-dream that continues on. »
same image lost highway

Bird, R. (2008) Andrei Tarkovsky: elements of cinema. London: Reaktion.

P153: during Stalker when everyone was interpreting it
‘Tarkovsky stressed more than ever before or ever again the need for film to affect viewers « emotionally and sensuously », without them « trying to analyse what is happening right now on screen », which « only hinders the perception of the picture ».’

Gerstenkorn J. & Strudel, S. (1986) Stalker: La quête et la foi ou le dernier souffle de l’esprit. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.

P84: The Stalker transforms the Zone, an ordinary no man’s land in itself, into an embodiment of the Sacred.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986) P85, 95: The change of colour in Stalker embodies a spiritual and philosophical context: the mundane, daily world outside the Zone is shot in Sepia while the zone itself is shot in colour. Sepia results from the degradation of a colour film and symbolizes the intellectual and spiritual degradation of a world where “spiritual life” (as the Christian authors of the text phrase it, but which I would rather rephrase as “philosophical quest”, all the while keeping the rest of his interpretation) no longer has a place.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P86: Professor is able to go back unharmed despite Stalker’s warnings because he does not share Stalker’s faith in the sacred or magical nature of the Zone. “The rules of Faith do not apply to those who do not have Faith.” Because the Zone is a projection of the character’s inner view, its characteristics and the way it interacts with the character depend on this character’s philosophical viewpoint.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P91: For the Christian authors, the dangerous crossing of the fence around the Zone guarded by soldiers symbolizes “the crossing over the psychic censorship that prevents the evocation of the Sacred in Soviet society.”As before, I would broadly keep their interpretation, only rephrasing it as the characters taking a plunge into themselves, into their own philosophical quest against prevailing intellectual conformity.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P92: The four main obstacles in the quest privilege Writer’s mental state: trying out the shortcut expresses his rebellion, the wet tunnel the trap of illusion, the dry tunnel tests his will by confronting him to doubt, and the Meatgrinder test his suicidal tendency.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P101: The surroundings mirror the character’s philosophical viewpoint: when they stop to rest, Professor sleeps on a rocks (hard and dry), Writer on moss (soft and damp) and Stalker in mud (slippery and wet), the presence of water being a recurring motive in Tarkovsky’s films. Professor is the most rational and materialistic, while Stalker is the irrational believer with Witer, the Artist, somewhere in between, cynical and materialistic yet open to visions and enlightenment through his art.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P102: In the same way, the type of place where a nut falls down mirrors the mental state of the character who threw it.

Pangon, G. (1986) Stalker: Un film du doute sous le signe de la Trinité. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.

P107: (similar to previous p92) It is Writer not Stalker who wears the Crown of Thorns.

Vida, T. & Petrie G. (1994) The films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a visual fugue. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994) P152: « within the various settings, the spatial cues are often contradictory and misleading » especially in the rest sequence in the swamp, the one Tarkovsky refers to as the « dream sequence ». The « physical positioning of the characters, in relationship to each other, their surroundings, and even within the film frame, changes, apparently arbitrarily, from one shot to the next. »

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P152: « an average shot length of almost one minute (142 shots in 161 minutes, with many 4 minutes or longer) »

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: ‘the slow, inexorable pacing of individual shots’: often the camera is ‘virtually motionless or tracking forward so imperceptibly that it is only toward the end of the shot that we realize how much our spatial perspective has changed’. ‘The fusion of these shots into a whole whose seeming inevitability counteracts the spatial and temporal dicontinuities of the individual segments.’ ‘we live inside it and accept its laws’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: The colour green is omnipresent when they enter the zone, suggesting the characters’s hope that ‘here things are really going to be different’. When they reach the Room, ‘subtle shades of gold and red rising and falling in intensity’ suggest feelings of ‘magic ‘ and ‘wonder’.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P190: colour in the Zone suggests an ‘escape’ from the ‘sordid reality of the everyday world’ represented in Sepia.
The final colour sequence suggests ‘some seepage of the powers of the Zone into the real world’

with ref to previous christian interpretation:
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)p146 ‘Tarkovsky seemed more concerned with attacking the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society in general than with proposing specifically Christian remedies’ (He said in an interview “for me the sky is empty and ‘that he did not have the “organ” that would enable him to experience God’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P201: sounds that create an ‘atmosphere working in counterpoint with the images rather than simply reflecting or intensifying them’ such as telephones, foghorns.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P237: ‘the extensive use of the long take’ ‘traps us within the protagonists’ subjectivity’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P240-241: Petric lists ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of those: ‘ « camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation »; « illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings »; « dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity »,; « ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real » and « sight and sound counterpoint, including color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery ». Tarkovsky uses these techniques not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’

Strugatsky, A. & Strugatsky, B. (1978) Stalker. In: Tarkovsky, A. (1999) Collected screenplays. London: Faber.

P390: When Stalker goes off on his own for a bit, Professor says he is having ‘A meeting with the Zone. After all, he is a Stalker.’ This suggests an intimate relationship between Stalker and the Zone.

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P393: Stalker
‘The Zone demands respect. Otherwise it will punish you.’
‘In the Zone, a straight road is not the shortest. The further you go, the less the risk.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978) P395: Stalker
‘The Zone is a highly complex system… of traps, as it were, and all of them are deadly. I don’t know what happens here when we’ve gone… But people only have to appear for the whole thing to be triggered into motion. Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here. And we are in no condition to comprehend them. Old traps vanish, new ones take their place; the old safe places become impassable, and the route can be either plain and easy, or impossibly confusing. That’s how the Zone is. It may even seem capricious. But in fact, at any moment it is exactly as we devise it, in our consciousness… […] Everything that happens here depends on us, not on the Zone.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P399: Stalker
‘You can’t wait here… Nothing stays the same from one minute to the next.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P408: Stalker to Writer
‘Back there, in the hall, the Zone took pity on you. It became obvious that if anyone were fitted to pass through the mincer, that person was you.’

Order of the journey

P392: seeing from afar the ‘grey-white building’ where the room is

P396: ‘a subterranean tunnel’

P398: ‘the underground tunnel’ that stalkers jokingly call ‘the dry tunnel’ because it is flooded

P399: they have a rest at the exit of the dry tunnel

P402: ‘the hall’: ‘a spacious but gloomy room, covered with flagstones; the walls are concrete, and there are dilapidated concrete pillars’

P405: the Meatgrinder, called ‘the mincer’ (P407): a ‘corridor’, ‘blackened with smoke, and underfoot are black, charred ashes’

P406: ‘a room with a telephone’: ‘a room full of dust, cluttered with old lumber and furniture. A dusty telephone hangs on a wall near the entrance’

P410: ‘The Room’: ‘And now they are standing in front of the doorway, which is broad as a barn door, in the threshold of the room: a completely empty expanse. There are black puddles on the cement floor: the evening sky shines through the perforated ceiling.’

They are inexplicably back to the bar, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely eventless.

Full synopsis

In Stalker, the title character meets two clients in a bar, Writer and Professor, whom he will guide through a no man’s land called “the Zone” where a room is supposed the make the visitor’s innermost wish come true. In a stolen railway trolley, the trio forces the military barrage that prevents the general population from entering the Zone, then continue on foot once inside the Zone. Stalker warns his clients that travelling through the Zone requires to obey specific rules. They face several mysterious obstacles on their journey. Several times, Writer and Professor disobey Stalker’s directives but always come out unharmed, though scared. Finally they arrive in front of the room’s threshold. Professor reveals he intended the blow up the room all along, out of fear that it is used maliciously by power hungry people. Stalker attacks him, accusing him of destroying hope. Writer separates the fighters, but then turns on Stalker, berating him for his naivety and hypocrisy. Professor is nonetheless convinced not to blow up the room, and Writer renounces entering the room, because he realises he is not fully aware of his own “innermost wish” and fears unforeseen consequences. None of the three men enter the room: they sit peacefully in front of its entrance for a while, deep in thought. Next, they are inexplicably back to the bar where they met at the beginning, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely uneventful.

‘a collection of debris lying in shallow water’ including ‘a syringe’, ‘a mirror’, ‘coins’, ‘a rusting pistol'(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p145)
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p208)suggest that water means spirituality in tarkovsky, therefore debris in the water suggest that water purifies human civilisation.

Similarities between the ‘telephone room’ (the antechamber to the room) and Stalker’s flat have been noted, among them the floorboards, the defective lightning and the presence of sleeping pills.(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p151) is this all only an inner journey?

Tarkovsky was fond of ruins, ‘especially the colour and texture of old walls’. He found the tiled wall to which the trio inexplicably return (where Porcupine have hung a nut as a warning) himself. (Vida & Petrie, 1994, p230)

Place – Tacita Dean & Jeremy Millar

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Photography, Psychogeography, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

The books surveys different interpretation of the theme “Place” in contemporary art. I found a few relevant critical quotes and artists whose practice is similar to mine.

The Stalker talking about the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film:
“Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here. And we are in no condition to comprehend them. Old traps vanish, new ones take their place; the old safe places become impassable, and the route can either be plain and easy, or impossibly confusing. That’s how the Zone is. It may even seem capricious. But in fact, at any moment it is exactly as we devise it, in our consciousness… everything that happens here depends on us, not on the Zone.

P23:
“a romantic notion that the critic John Ruskin called the ‘pathetic fallacy’, the belief that the landscape might be made to mirror the emotional state of the person found within it.”

P38: Baudelaire on the flâneur
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of the birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world – such are a few of the slightest pleasures of the independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

P40: Stan Douglas, Canadian artist made a 6 minute film “Le Détroit” that shows a black woman searching for an unknown object in an abandoned house. The film alludes to the economic problems that turned some parts of Detroit into ghost estates and dilapidated neighbourhoods. “The film is projected onto semi-transparent material, while its negative is projected – with a small time interval – upon the screen’s reverse, thereby emphasising the haunting nature of the narrative.”

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/le-detroit/

P68: Sartre on the Fantastic
“The law of the fantastic condemns it to encounter instruments only. These instruments are not … meant to serve men, but rather to manifest unremittingly an evasive, preposterous finality. This accounts for the labyrinth of corridors, doors and staircases that lead to nothing, the innumerable signs that line the road and that mean nothing. In the “topsy-turvy” world, the means are isolated and posed for their own sake.”

P90: a blue-filter produces the day-for night effect from Hollywood films (‘la nuit américaine’)

P98: Rodney Graham took photographs of Aberdeen, hometown of Kurt Cobain, to show the dereliction of the city, and tacky objects of consumerism.

Aberdeen - rodney graham

P138: Chantal Akerman, Belgian film-maker makes documentary bordering on fiction.

“D’est” (From the East, 1993) shows a journey across Eastern Europe, ordinary people and places are filmed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QYByp84_6I

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogdA5s81uBc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDJ3JiSwGYg&feature=related

“From the other Side” explore a small mexican town just outside the USA border where would-be-migrants wait before tempting the crossing, and the opinions of the inhabitants of Douglas, Arizona (on the other side) about the border policy.

P152: Janet Cardiff makes “audio-walks”: she writes a script inspired by mystery/film noir, then go for a walk in a chosen location where she records the script on tape.

P172: J.G. Ballard
“I noted the features of this silent world: the memory earasing white architecture; the enforced leisure that fossilized the nervous system; … the apparent absence of an[y?] social structure; the timelessness of a world beyond boredom, with no past, no future and a diminishing present. Perhaps this was what a leisure-dominated future would resemble? Nothing could ever happen in this affectless realm, where entropic drift calmed the surfaces of a thousand swimming pools.”

The Concept of Chronotope (and its relevance to cinema)

Posted in Cinema, Critical theory, Reading notes with tags , , , on September 28, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

The concept of Chronotope has been invented by Russian literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin (who actually borrowed it from Einstein’s theory of relativity) and literally means “time-space”.

“almost as a metaphor (almost, but not entirely). What counts for us is the fact that it expresses the inseparability of space and time (time as the fourth dimension of space).” p 84
‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 84).
‘Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space
becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history’ (p. 84).
Bakhtin, M (1981): The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, Austin, University of
Texas Press.

Memory and Exile: Time and Place in Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Dr. Peter King

“Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the chronotope: the singular linkage of time and place – how place is always a place in time – and how this creates the significance of memories of a particular place.”

“As Natasha Synessios (2001) has suggested, this concept was influential on Tarkovsky’s thinking for this particular film [Mirror]. Speaking generally, we might suggest that film is particularly suitable for this fusing of space and time, with its attempt, as Tarkovsky himself saw it, to stop time (Tarkovsky, 1986). Film is an artistic medium specifically intended to hold up time and to create impressions using time and space.”

The symbolism of the mirror in Tarkovsky’s films:
“According to Green (1993), it is used as ‘the metaphorical looking-glass that provides man with a reflection of himself. In its surface, time is refracted; and it is a transitional device through which one may pass to other worlds, other states of consciousness’ (p. 80).”

Green (1993):
“the view Tarkovsky seeks is that of the child, with which we glimpse Utopia or paradise. The point in man’s history where he takes the wrong path is where the child loses its innocence and begins to comprehend the world in documentary form. (p. 85)”
“marks an attempt to recover the vision of childhood as well, not just the memories, but the unexplained mysteries, with all their discontinuities and distortions of time; a child’seye view of the world and history, which accounts in part for the elusive fascination and haunting quality of the film. (p. 85)”
Green, P (1993): Andrei Tarkovsky: the Winding Quest, Basingstoke, Macmillan

“We do not remember our lives in a linear manner, viewing one incident following another, but rather as a mix of the actual and the hoped-for, of promise and regret.”

Bakhtin’s Chronotope on the Road: Space, Time, and Place in Road Movies Since the 1970s, Alexandra Ganser, Julia Pühringer, Markus Rheindorf, 2006

“the relation between images of time and space in the text, out of which any representation of history must be constructed. The chronotope of a particular text thus functions as an ideological index, but can also be used to discuss a whole genre. In some chronotopes, mainly those of travel and uprooted modern life, time takes precedence over space; in the more idyllic, pastoral chronotopes, space dominates
time.”

“of special importance is the close link between the motif of meeting and the chronotope of the road (‘the open road’), and of various types of meeting on the road. In the chronotope of the road, the unity of time and space markers is exhibited with exceptional precision and clarity. (Bakhtin p98)”

“While Bakhtin was primarily concerned with chronotopes of the novel, critics such as Robert Stam have recently suggested that the chronotope seems in some ways even more appropriate to film as a medium in which “spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out concrete” (Bakhtin 11)”
Stam, Robert. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism and Film. Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1989.

“the suspension of movement and its corresponding space-time relation entails the hopelessness and dreariness of film noir”

Canterbury University Symposium: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”

Posted in Critical theory, Methodology, Moving image techniques, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

In June 2010, I attended a Symposium at Canterbury University: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”. Below are reading notes from this symposium. I was interested in it because it focused on lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature, something I came to identify as a key concern in my practice.

Jon Dovey ‘The Limits of Vernacular Video’

Gaza Sderot: interactive video
The Himan Pet: Fake hostage video asking viewers to save the filmed subject
Derrida – Kate Modern on youtube ? the camera crew is no longer invisible

“Creative manipulation of reality” (author?)

Sarah Turner ’On documentary and Perestroika’

In Perestroïka, Sarah Turner repeats a journey to Siberia done 20 years ago (1987-88). Two friends present in the original trip are now dead at the moment of refilm in dec 2007- jan 2008

external events internalised
“Why and when does a documentary work display the truth of fiction ?”
memory, loss, photography, truth/fact, evidence
ourselves vs others and how it makes us
uncanny/real
refuses the duality between facts and the fiction of memory
psychogeography/dream

questions from audience:
Does the web esthetic of autobiographical filmmaking infect normal filmmaking?
I thought of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. Someone names Eli Harrison
“Who holds our story if the other is not here to do it?”
There is a more democratic access to cinema than to Art (just buy a ticket and be anonymous in the dark, compared to gallery environment)
Stiegler – Montage

Elizabeth Cowie  ‘The Contingency of the encounter in  documentary video art’

Rien que les heures – Cavalcanti – 1926 shows the city of paris and images of poverty
Badiou
Deleuze – intervals ????
Walter Benjamin “dialectical image” = image charged with history

Lauren Wright ‘The time between reality and fiction’

Curator at Turner Contemporary, Margate

picture by Turner of an imaginary landscape: he had read the description of it but never seen it
temporality shaped by artwork shaped by artwork and exhibition space
Bergson “creative evolution”

Matthew Buckingham: situation leading to a story
The visitors hears the sound but they have to walk around some walls to see the images (the sound continues in 2nd space with image)
the images are found footage: 4 rolls of 1920s home movies. The soundtrack is the artist’s comments/reflexions about what these films are about, who are the people in it, why the films have been thrown away, suppositions about unknown family drama and the possible cause of it.
Time as a collection of different temporal frames ? it does not let us collapse the different temporal frames

Robert Smithson, spiral jetty

Irit Rogoff ‘Bared Life – On the Documentary Turn in Visual Culture’

I missed most of this because I was watching the screenings.

Foucault: territorial ->population

Adam Chodzko ‘Latitudes’

ghost, echo, journey

Salam Cinema, 1995, Teheran

1998: Meunien ? he tried to find the 16 young victims from Pasolini’s Salo. Only one responded, he found doubles to replace the other original actors
The actor that responded was the one whose character did not do the final execution scene !!!
originally, Pasolini wanted footage from the cast party at the end of the film. But he finally decided against it, decided it was more disturbing not to explicitly tell the audience it was “only fiction”
-> makes me think of the ending of Greenaway’s The Baby of Mâcon

fabricated images from Milosevic trial ?check?

1967: David ?Holsman? Diary. Story of a director who obssessively records everything. Against the claims of “direct cinema”

Strawberry pickers
archive show “migrant workers” from East London come to pick hop in Kent in the 20’s and 30’s
the archives were edited by contemporary Romanian strawberry pickers. They said that the workers in the archive looked happier than themselves. By the end of the archive watching session, their attention start to drift and they start talking about themselves and their dreams

Chris Marker, Sans soleil: People sleeping in the tube, intercut with scary images of their dreams

An actor comes to an audition for a movie and pretends to be blind. When asked why by the director, he says he did it for the love of cinema.

A man burns himself with a cigarette, saying it is the only way to show the effect of Napalm (which causes a 3000°C burn compared to 400°C for a cigarette.
-> Does trauma/hurt guarantee authenticity ?
-> My own work on Magdalene/asylums ? Is it a cheap trick ?

Agnostic anxiety: not to know whether what you see or think is real or not, correct or not.

As a spectator, do you expect transformation from an artwork ?

Questions:

My question: in “A letter to Uncle Boonmee”, “soldiers occupied the place, killed villagers, forced them to flee to the jungle”. Yet the deserted houses are very clean (and houses in ireland show how very quickly they deteriorate). So this image hints at recent trauma/violence. This is reinforced by the presence of fictionnal soldiers played by local teens. Are they real houses or stage design ?
-> previous speaker: trauma/hurt guarantee of authenticity
-> I point out to a urbex forum discussion of the moral implications for the artist/urbexer of picturing recent trauma. Are the moral implications different between taking pictures of Tchernobyl and post Katrina NOLA?

Michael Newall

Pyramid – Adam Chodzko: Folkestone residents reaction to the appearance and disappearance of an otherworldly object, the pyramid.

International God Look-alike competition – Adam Chodzko

Philosophy of Art
Cognitivism: the value of Art is to offer knowledge/deepen understanding
Bourriaud – relational aesthetics: art that facilitates communities
-> critic of it: it designs only social situations where there are no conflicted interests. Different from real life.
-> he argues that activist art can change social situations, as opposed to relational
-> my objection: Activist art gives an answer to the audience (thesis, propaganda) whereas relational art make audience make their own meaning
-> later I actually get the opportunity to ask this and here is the answer: he refered not to propaganda/thesis art but to activist art in situ that have uncontrollable consequences where the happening takes place. And also other things like Antisocial Networking which used Google advertising revenues in order to buy google shares.

Brian Dillon

André Breton and Dogma 95 have in common a confusion between fact and fiction, and put serious and comedy together.

Artists are increasingly encouraged to be academics (“practice led research”). The relationship between Art and Academia is ambiguous. He says that the artist does not like the label of intuition and wants the image of rigour (my unvoiced objection: Certainly not all artists !!!)

The museum values what is not Art in Art: what looks like Art is called kitsch! That’s how the Avant guarde gets into the museum, because it looks different. The Avant guarde blurs the line with everyday life. In order to be successful, the artist produces something that does not look like Art. My unvoiced objection: this is a recent “postmodern” phenomenon. Dada and surrealists certainly did not make it to museum when they first started making strange objects, rather they were insulted n the press by respectable art critics.

What is now valued in Art is the research/knowledge underneath the work. References to other disciplines, “the world as such”. My unvoiced objection: “the world as such” is not the same as “the world as observed by academics”. What did art refer to before ? Didn’t it refer directly to “life” as opposed to an academic representation of life?

Jeremy Millar

Human Forms in Art (2008)
-> taken from the name of a display case in the Pit Rivers Museum (Oxford) that was emptied for building works
-> When interviewing someone for a documentary, people first say what they want to say. You have to keep looking at them without saying anything or stopping the camera and after a while they end up saying what they did not want to say, which often turns out more interesting.
Withdrawal of responsibility by pretending to be just passing on some found material: this is an old tradition in literature.
-> he found something about Duchamp by making a film, a fact that no academic knew of, but someone commented to him that a Phd would be more valued than the movie: the Big Duchamp stained glass “The Bride stripped bare by her bachelors” was apparently inspired by sash windows he saw for the first time in a little town in Kent.
-> My idea: there may be a pun behind this. Sash window = fenêtre à guillotine. A nickname for the guillotine was “La Veuve” (= “The Widow”) which sounds a lot like window. This coincidence may have amused Duchamp -> sacrificing a bride to make a widow?

Jeremy Millar filmed “Ajapeegel” (“Time-Mirror” in Estonian), a video set in the abandoned plant where Andrei Tarkovsky filmed “Stalker”.

Ajapeegel (2008)
Digital Video / PAL 16:9 Anamorphic / Stereo
Narrated by Simon Paisley-Day

The work has been developed from an earlier, abandoned video of the same name, that was to explore the relationship (or lack thereof) between groups of English men on stag-weekends in Tallinn, Estonia, and the three men in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ (1979), which was also shot in and around the city. In ‘Stalker’, the eponymous guide, a scientist and a writer all travel to a room in the ‘Zone’ where, it is said, their inner-most wishes will come true; similarly those men on stag-weekends also make a transitional journey, where, they hope, their desires will be made real also. However, after having filmed a great deal of footage on the original locations in 2005, I found it impossible to realise this planned film, and this new work is, in many ways, a documentary of this failure; an ‘unmaking of’ rather than a ‘making of’ film.

Time-Mirror (2007)
Duration 00:19:20:10
Digital Audio File

This project has been developed from another work, ‘Ajapeegel’, (2008) inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, ‘Stalker’, much of which was shot just outside Tallinn, in Estonia. ‘Time-Mirror’ — the English translation of the Estonian ‘Ajapeegel’ — was made by mixing recordings made at the site of a disused hydroelectric power station outside Tallinn, where parts of ‘Stalker’ where shot, with recordings made at Grain Power Station during an artist’s placement there. The similarities between the ‘Zone’ and Grain — the power stations, the desolate landscape, even the military installations — mean that they act as ‘Time-Mirrors’ to one another, or perhaps, more appropriately in this context, as echoes; these are places that reverberate.

Ajapeegel (2005)
Colour Photographs

These are photographs taken in and around Tallinn, Estonia, on locations used for the filming of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, ‘Stalker’; these locations were also used for my own film, Ajapeegel (2008).
The title of these works was taken from that of a book by Tatjana Elmanovits, the first monograph on the Russian director, which was found in a second-hand bookshop in the centre of Tallinn; it means, in Estonian, ‘Time-Mirror’.

Untitled Drawings (2002-onwards)
50 x 70cm
Colour Photograph

Part of a series of photographs that take as their motif the throwing of a metal nut and bandage which is found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979). In the film, the Stalker ties bandages to the nuts and uses them to navigate around the mysterious Zone; if the nut travels true through the air and lands safely, then the Stalker and his two companions may travel that way also. While the actions were carried out in similarly uncertain spaces, between nature and industry, and suggest an uncertain presence also, they might also be considered as a rather elaborate means of merely making a line on a piece of paper. The first photograph was made in 2002 in Blean woods, between Whitstable and Canterbury; the remaining photographs were made in Hungary in 2003, during a brief artist’s residency.

One of the speakers?: the inventor of anthropology invented fieldwork techniques because he was forced to stay extensively in Australia in order to avoid being drafted in 1st world war.

A filmmaker’s guide to freaking out your audience – Part 1: sound design

Posted in Cinema, Moving image techniques, sound design with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

During research, I randomly found out theories concerned with creating a sense of disquiet in the viewer of moving image.

At Cambridge Film Festival, I saw the film Cuckoo about a young woman, Polly, suffering from auditory hallucinations (or not ?) in her flat, a film which reminded me a lot of Polanski’s Repulsion. The director commented on how the sound design was made to cause the viewer to physically experience the same hallucinations as Polly, and share the ensuing distress. The key to that was to disconnect the sound from the visual, so as to cause sensory and space confusion in the viewer. In traditional film sound design, foley effects are made to match what is being shown on the images. The two sources of information (visual and auditory) are coherent and support each other, so that the viewer can feel confident about understanding the information. One could almost say that the information is “surdetermined” since the same concept is presented in several ways (i.e. the image of somebody putting a glass on a table and the sound the glass makes when it touches the surface). If you drop the surdetermination, the viewer starts to be confused, feels unable to trust their senses and starts experimenting anxiety. The Cuckoo team did that in different ways. Polly hears sounds that are coming from out of the image field and not easily identifiable, for example because they are muffled or intermittent. Although they come from outside her flat, these sounds are quite loud so as to suggest an invisible presence in her flat. Comparatively, the sounds from her flat seem low, which cause a feeling of space distortion: one does not know anymore what is far or near, foreign or familiar. These sounds have no obvious directionality, so Polly feels lost. Some of the sounds from her flat are also too loud, for example a dripping tap. The director explained that the idea came from a real life experience of his wife, who started hearing specific sounds much louder when she was pregnant. Some of these sounds were imperceptible to other people.

I thought of it and it reminded me of a family dinner scene in “Las Meninas” (Ihor Podolchak, 2008) where the sound of a fork on a plate gets more and more intrusive as the family atmosphere gets more and more oppressing. In Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky also extensively used the disconnection between sound and images in order to blur the line between reality and illusion. The sound could be either completely disconnected to the images (one hears things without ever seeing the visual equivalent, like in Polly’s hallucinations) or, more perversely, the sound could be related to the images but wrongly synchronised in time (a very slow visual transition accompanied by a harsh sound transition). This last technique gives the illusion of time-space distortion, which may or may not be due to the mysterious events that created the Zone.