Archive for Last year in Marienbad

Woodlawn House short video

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I’ve edited a very short video (1 min 30 sec) from footage shot at Woodlawn House, co. Galway, Ireland. It is an abandoned mansion with striking interior decoration such as grand staircase, mirrors and ornate ceilings, although it has been emptied of everything else for renovation. Its heavily ornamented décor reminded me of the hotel from Last Year in Marienbad, if it had been abandoned, and I tried to replicate the long tracking shots from the film.

I have an old harmonium and wanted to find a musician to improvise on it (I’m a total beginner and just occasionally have fun with it) to get the type of disjointed organ music from the Marienbad soundtrack, but I did not find anyone suitable, so I had to use some ambient music from Edge Effect who makes all my soundtrack instead. I chose a piece with a loose and fluid structure to try and replicate the feeling of ambiguous space with the music coming from no discernible direction characteristic of the Marienbad soundtrack.

I had about 30 min of footage and could only manage to make a 1 min 30 video out of it, the rest was either too similar or not very interesting visually. My ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ videos (5min and 6min 50 respectively) are both composite from footage shot at various places. I would like to find more places similar to Woodlawn, abandoned places with a posh, ornamented decor, but rather clean and empty, where I could shoot more footage to make a longer composite videos, but such places are difficult to find.

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)


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 ‘Last year in Marienbad’

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

Richardson, M. (2006) Surrealism and cinema. Oxford, UK: Berg.

P73, 167: surrealist cinema concerned with direct experience of real life

Kyrou, A.(2005) Le Surréalisme au cinéma. Paris: Ramsay.

P21,22,25, 234: same idea

Deleuze, G. (1985) Cinéma 2: L’image-temps. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.

(Deleuze, 1985) p102:
“Les deux grandes scènes de théâtre sont des images en miroir (et c’est tout l’hôtel de Marienbad qui est un cristal pur, avec sa face transparente, sa face opaque et leur échange”

(Deleuze, 1985) p136: L’année dernière à Marienbad
« Le second niveau serait celui du réel et de l’imaginaire: on a remarqué que, pour Resnais, il y a toujours du réel qui subsiste, et notamment des coordonnées spatio-temporelles qui maintiennent leur réalité, quitte à entrer en conflit avec l’imaginaire. C’est ainsi que Resnais […] établit une topographie et une chronologie d’autant plus rigoureuses que ce qui s’y passe est imaginaire ou mental. Tandis que chez Robbe-Grillet, tout se passe « dans la tête » des personnages, ou, mieux, du spectateur lui-même. »

« La dissolution de l’image-action, et l’indiscernabilité qui s’ensuit, se feraient tantôt au profit d’une « architecture du temps » ([Resnais]), tantôt au profit d’un « présent perpétuel » coupé de sa temporalité, c’est à dire d’une structure privée de temps ([Robbe-Grillet]). »

« C’est que Resnais conçoit « L’année dernière », comme ses autres films, sous la forme de nappes ou régions de passé, tandis que Robbe-Grillet voit le temps sous la forme de pointes de présent. »

« De toute façon, les deux auteurs ne sont plus dans le domaine du réel et de l’imaginaire, mais dans le temps, nous le verrons, dans le domaine encore plus redoutable du vrai et du faux. Certes, le réel et l’imaginaire continuent leur circuit, mais seulement comme la base d’une plus haute figure. Ce n’est plus, ou ce n’est plus seulement le devenir indiscernable d’images distinctes, ce sont des alternatives indécidables entre des cercles de passé, des différences inextricables entre des pointes de présent. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p157:
« Il y a probabilisme statistique chez Resnais, très différent de l’indéterminisme de type « quantique » chez Robbe-Grillet. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p159:
« Resnais conçoit le cinéma non comme un instrument de représentation de la réalité, mais comme le meilleur moyen pour approcher le fonctionnement psychique. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p268: Resnais and memory
« Cette membrane qui rend le dehors et le dedans présents l’un à l’autre s’appelle Mémoire. […] Car la mémoire n’est certes plus la faculté d’avoir des souvenirs: elle est la membrane qui, sur les modes les plus divers (continuité, mais aussi discontinuité, enveloppement, etc.), fait correspondre les nappes de passé et les couches de réalité, les une émanant d’un dedans toujours déjà là, les autres advenant d’un dehors toujours à venir, toutes deux rongeant le présent qui n’est plus que leur rencontre. »

Leutrat, J. (2000) L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad). London: BFI

(Leutrat, 2000) p19:
That architecture can be the image of a psychic state is nothing new in cinema. One could cite numerous examples of architecture or architectural details being « symbolically » called on to represent the mental state of an individual or a group of people.

(Leutrat, 2000)P23: lightning cameraman Sacha vierny
While the ‘Scope format usually implies a certain immonility, something extremely static, Resnais had a field day with camera movement, low angle tracking shots. 

(Leutrat, 2000)P24: camera operator Philippe Brun
« Albertazzi in very big close-up beside a mirror in which two actors were reflected […] behind him the wall is out-of-focus, but in the mirror the two actors are sharp.

(Leutrat, 2000)P25: Robbe-Grillet disagrees with Resnais’ choice of music
a music to set one’s teeth on edge. Instead of this beautiful, captivating continuity, I was after a structure of absences and scocks; with percussive elements in the widest sense, not just drums and cymbals. I’d imagined a composition based on the essentially real noises one hears in a hotel, in particular in an old fashioned hotel like that one. Lift doors, for instance, those metal doors on hinged rods that make a very beautiful sound if properly recorded; or then again the ringing of different bells: the porter’s, the chambermaid’s, etc… more or less strident or distant; and the whole thing composed with footsteps, isolated notes, shouts.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27: Francis Seyrig composer
« I realised that he wanted Wagnerian touches for the love-story side of the film, but also a 1925 feel, plus modern bits, all mixed together. »

(Leutrat, 2000)P27
Resnais wanted ‘functional’ but also lyrical music, the sound curve of which would reproduce that of the film. This image of the curve, of its plotting so to speak, is essential: it is something which seemed to obsess Resnais, and which functionsas a connecting thread in the ‘scenario ‘ of L’Année dernière à Marienbad. Music was needed that would blend with the décor.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27: Art director Jacques Saunier
We devised some panels and reworked certain sculpture which were carved in these panels, the motif of which made him think, he said, of the repetition of a musical phrase.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27 resnais:
I reckon there must be forty minutes of speech in Marienbad. It could almost be sung. It’s like an opera libretto with very beautiful and very simple words, which are endlessly repeated.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27 resnais:
I think one can arrive at a cinema without psychologically defined characters, in which the play of emotions would be in motion, as in contemporary painting where the play of forms contrives to be stronger than the anecdote.

(Leutrat, 2000)P29: death imagery:
the immobile servants ‘doubtless long since dead’; the compliment addressed to the woman, ‘You seem lively’; or the statement she makes, ‘You’re like a shadow’; or there again, this fragment of a couple’s conversation, ‘We live like two coffins side by side in the frozen ground of a garden’; and in one of the very last images as, framed in the distance X and A go off together, the curtains around the door under which they pass are like the drapes of a catafalque.

(Leutrat, 2000)P31: script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot
« in his shooting script Resnais spoke of ‘eternity’ shots […] shots that had no precise date, everything that was future time or timeless. »
Bernard Pingaut
« succession of static views, or travelling shots along the corridors, shots of promenades in the garden – dead time, a sort of pure description escaping the rigorous order of the narrative.

(Leutrat, 2000)P32: Jean Louis Bory
« Mouldings, dadoes, friezes, cornices, astragals and festoons… the baroque sensuality of the interior architecture and decoration of the grand hotel-palace contrasts with the exterior Cartesianism of the formal gardens – or rather, there is a play between them. L’année dernière à Marienbad is based on the kind of play which opposes, to the Cartesianism of conscious life, the baroque nature of our memory and our affective life. »

(Leutrat, 2000)P33:
In effect interior and exterior contaminate one another.

(Leutrat, 2000)P33: script supervisor Sylvie Baudrot
« a very long scene in which Delphine Seyrig and Albertazzi walk side by side down a corridor. We shot it in three different corridors. […] we’d put potted plants so that the continuity between the potted plantsmight disguise the passage from one section of corridor to another, but Resnais didn’t want to hide the fact that three different corridors were involved. »

(Leutrat, 2000)p36:
« the bedroom mantelpiece changes from one moment to the next: a mirror here, a snowy landscape there »

(Leutrat, 2000)p36:
resnais has strewn the hotel décor with representations of this garden, which served to decorate the walls. They encourage the idea that there’s no longer an inside or an outside, only spaces imbricated in each other.

(Leutrat, 2000)P37: the voice over at the beginning describing the setting
« thematically, it emphasises the funereal (lugubrious, black, dark, silent, deserted, empty, sombre, cold, oppressive »
the voices shifts closer and further from the camera, lacking a distinct origin.

(Leutrat, 2000)P54:
Resnais’ substitution in the rape episode of a series of ‘bleached-out’ travelling shots of the young woman »

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

(Chion, 2009) P267: « temporal vectorization » means that a sound gives spatial cues from the way it varies
« We can also find a sound interesting when it offers no temporal vectors, either because it does not vary over time or because it varies in a chaotic and unpredictable way. Such sounds can contribute to a feeling of fixity, stagnation, or destructuration. For example, since Francis Seyrig’s organ music in Last Year at Marienbad has no discernible direction, it acts to create the feelinf that those long tracking shots in the baroque palace aren’t going in any particular direction either and certainly not leading to a predetermined destination. Another type of music – say, a very well-defined melody – could give these same tracking shots a sense of deliberate progression toward a goal. »

p423: « a verbal or musical sound event is synchronised with an abrupt change in lightning. »

P424:  « Resnais synchs the hoarse « No! » spoken by Delphine Seyrig with the lightning of two lamps on either side of a large bed. […]It is impossible to say which of the two events – audio or visual – is the diegetic cause of the other. There is no way we can take Seyrig’s « no » […] as the noise of the light switch […], nor can we understand [it] as the cause of these lights turning on or off. The lightning event does not cause the sound, and the sounds do not cause the lights to change.But synchresis is at work, and it leads to that question of who decides what. »

Resnais, A. (1967) Trying to understand my own film. In: Geduld, H. (1967) Film makers on film making: statement on their art by thirty directors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Resnais, 1967) P157:
‘The film is about degrees of reality. There are moments where it is altogether invented, or interior, as at the moments where the picture corresponds to the dialogue. The interior monologue is never in the sound track; it is almost always in the visuals, which, even when they show events in the past, correspond to the present thoughts in the mind of the character. So what is presented as the present or the past is simply a reality which exists while the character is speaking.’

(Resnais, 1967)P158:
Questioned about Robbe-Grillet’s interpretation of the film as X’s point of view as he attempt to convince A of past occurences, Resnais, following Truffaut’s dictum that “every film should be summarized in one word”, proposes the title ‘L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, or, Persuasion’.

(Resnais, 1967)P158:
Resnais originally consciously introduced some ‘psychoanalytic themes’ such as ‘ostentatiously large rooms, indicating a tendency towards narcissism’ and signifying ‘impotence’ but he cut them out because they did not conform to his idea of the character (he does not precise which one, one could perhaps suppose M, the possibly -husband), or ‘possibly’ because he was ‘too aware of their psychoanalytical significance’.

(Resnais, 1967)P158: A possible reading is that ‘the hotel is really a clinic’ and X is A’s psychoanalyst, helping her to accept events which she has deliberately repressed.
P159: Resnais continues on this interpretation: provide that we assume that A’s denegation in the beginning is genuine and not ‘sheer coquetry or fear’, from the scene where laces her shoe, ‘we can take that she has remembered’

(Resnais, 1967)P159: possible interpretation, X is death
‘Robbe-Grillet finally hit on the phrase “granite flagstone” and he realised that the description of the garden would fit a cemetery’
‘the old Breton legends – the story of Death coming to fetch his victim and allowing him a year’s respite’

(Resnais, 1967)P159:
‘In the first quarter of the film, things seem to have a fairly high degree of reality; we stray further and further from it as the film proceeds; it is quite conceivable that, at the end, suddenly, everything converges, that the conclusion of the film is the most real part of all.’

‘we never really know if the scenes are occurring in the man’s mind or the woman’s. There is a perpetual oscillation between the two. You could even maintain that everything is told from her viewpoint.’

(Resnais, 1967)P160:
‘For me the film represents an attempt, still crude and primitive, to approach the complexity of thought and its mechanism.’

(Resnais, 1967)P161:
‘one has to know how much of one’s subjective reality one can share with others’

(Resnais, 1967)P161:
‘When I see a film, I am less interested in the characters than in the play of feelings. I think we could arrive at a Cinema without psychologically definite characters, where the pattern of feelings exists freely, just as, in a modern painting, the play of forms is more important than the “story”’

(Resnais, 1967)P162:
‘all the changes of costume correspond to different “layers” of time’

(Resnais, 1967)P163:
‘I would be reluctant to transform a setting, even in small details, to suit the camera. It is up to the camera to present the décor in the right way, it’s not for the setting to conform to the camera.’

Resnais, A. & Robbe-Grillet, A. (1967) Last words on last year. In: Geduld, H. (1967) Film makers on film making: statement on their art by thirty directors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967) P164:
‘an image is always in the present’ (RG)

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:
‘what goes on in our minds is just as real as what goes on in front of our eyes’ (RG)

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:R
‘if you study Marienbad closel, you see that certain images are ambiguous, that their degree of reality is equivocal. But some images are far more clearly false, and there are images of lying whose falsity is, I feel, quite evident.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:RG
‘The use of décor is characteristic. When the room has an extraordinary complicated baroque décor, or the wall are heavily encrusted with wedding-cake ornamentation, we are probably watching a rather unreliable image. Similarly when the heroine takes 300 identical photographs from a drawer, the image is improbable and must be more imaginary than objective. Perhaps, if we were speaking in terms of a strictly objective reality, we might say she only took one picture out; but she wished there were 300.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P167: RG
‘The question is whether the uncertainties aroused by the images are more intense than all the uncertainties of everyday encounters or whether they are of the same order. Personally I believe that things really happen as vaguely as this. The theme is of a passionate love affair and it is precisely these relationships which comprises the highest proportion of inconsistencies, doubts and phantasms. Marienbad is as opaque as the moments we live through in the climaxes of our feeling, in our loves, in our whole emotional life. So to reproach the film for its lack of clarity is really to reproach human feelings for their obscurity.
[…] It is strange how people will quite willingly accept the plethora of irrational or ambiguous factors in everyday life, yet complain bitterly when they come across them in works of art. […] They feel the work of art is made to explain the world to them, to provide them with reassurances. I am quite sure that art is not meant simply to reassure people. If the world is so complex, then we must recreate its complexity. For the sake of realism.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P169: R on the scene where the balustrade crumbles, it looks like from the Fantômas series.
‘It is one of the lying images. […] It is an image of the future, probably imagined, under the stress of her anguish, by the young woman, it is quite naturalthat she should have recourse to popular novels.’
Robbe-Grillet says the extreme ‘theatricality’ of the dialogue reinforces this impression.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P170: RG
‘I think that the artist replenishes himself directly from the reality and that art interests us because we find in it ready-made the things to which we feel impelled by the emotions reality has generated in us. I don’t think we really derive our inspiration from art, not during our creative moments. […] The real schock is produced by the world and art is only a reminiscence of it. An illumination, perhaps. […] When an image strikes me in the cinema, it is always because I recognise my own experience, otherwise communication would be impossible. Every work of art would be purely subjective and absolutely no contact with anyone else would be possible.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P171:
Robbe-Grillet’s script already contained ‘numerous specifications as to editing, composition, and the camera-movement.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P171: RG
‘the only time is the time of the film. […] There is no reality outside the film. Everything is show. Nothing is ever hidden.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P172: The long over-exposed tracking shot which concludes with a repetition of the last part of the movement, and the quick succession of shots where A is alternatively sitting on either side of her bed, were not anticipated in Robbe-Grillet’s script.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P173: RG
‘In Marienbad the important thing is always a sort of hollow in the heart of the reality. In Marienbad it is the “last year” which provides the hollow. What happened then – if anything – produces a constant emptiness in the story. […] In Marienbad at first we think that there is no last year, then we realise that last year dominateseverything: that we are definitely caught up in it. At first we think that Marienbad did not exist, only to realise that we have been there from the beginning. The event which the girl repudiates has, by the end of the film, contaminated everything.So much so that she has never ceased to struggle against it, to believe that she was winning, since she has always rejected everything, and, in the end, she realises it is all too late, she has, after all, accepted everything. As if everything were true – although probably it isn’t. But true or false have been emptied of meaning.

Liandrat-Guigues, S. & Leutrat, J. (2006) Alain Resnais, liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006) P40: Marienbad is a black and white film, where most images tend to on the lighter side, very legible with bright lightning that does not leave ambiguously obscured corners. Resnais tends to alternate between visually light and visually dark films, the “clear line” movies (to reuse Floc’h’s expression, quoted in Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006, my translation) taking place in the upper-class and the dark ones in the lower middle-class.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P49: In the hotel garden, the luminosity is such that the trees and statues have no shadows. Yet the characters have shadows that have been painted. Jacques Saulnier comments that Resnais had this concept in mind from the very beginning. If, as Leutrat (2000, p50) puts it, the characters are ‘turned into stones (by their immobility, poses, rigid gestures, etc.)’ and also by those fixed painted shadows, there is a statue in the garden which appears ‘animated by the shots of it taken from different angles’, and its ‘change of location’ throughout the film. The characters postures also uncannily mirror this statue: ‘the hands of the female figure in the statuary group is extended, while her other hand rests on the man’s shoulder’ whereas in the scene where X pleads with A, his hand is ‘extended toward’ her while she ‘places her hand on his shoulder’.

P64: ‘Ces journées, pires que la mort, que nous vivons ici côte à côte, vous et moi comme deux cercueils placés côte à côte sous la terre d’un jardin figé lui même.”

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P90:
According to Jacques Saulnier, Resnais had planned from the beginning that A’s bedroom would transform according to her acceptance of what is told to her: at first, the room is incomplete, bare of any detail because she rejects the very notion of XX. Then, progressively, the bedroom gets more and more precise until it reaches the appearance it had in reality. But immediately, A starts feverishly elaborating in her mind an hypothetic future, and the design of the bedroom becomes totally delirious.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P91: Francis Seyrig explains that the music contains several “themes” corresponding to various settings such as “garden” or “hall” and changes as the character move in the hotel. The music “mimicks the editing”.

P130: Resnais on Surrealism
“Dire que je suis fidèle à la ligne surréaliste serait prétentieux.Mais disons que je rôde autour.”
“Je n’applique mes idées que d’une manière inconsciente – instinctive, surréaliste, proche de l’écriture automatique -, faisant en sorte qu’elles fonctionnent naturellement.”

P151: they don’t say who said this!!!
“Marienbad, ce sont deux ou trois thèmes qui reviennent, qui se developpent, qui sont repris. Si on regarde l’image, c’est entièrement musical.”

P162: further death references
A shot showing A in a flowing black dress is accompanied by the noise of a tomb being closed.

Brown, R. (2009) Last year at Marienbad. Cineaste. vol 34, Issue 4, Fall 2009.

(Brown, 2009) ‘a verbal tracking shot’ (about the introductory voice over)

(Brown, 2009)Sometimes the visuals follow the narration, at other times ‘the visuals actually contradict an event that X’ narrates. For example, a shot of A’s bedroom shows an open door while X narrates “the door was closed now” and ‘X angrily repeats “No! No! The door was closed!”’

(Brown, 2009)A scene of A and X standing at the hotel bar is interrupted by ‘a quick series of startling, soundless flash shots showing A in a white gown standing in a white bedroom.’ ‘In the midst of these shots, we see and hear X telling A, “One night, I went up to your room”. Then, A drops a cocktail glass that breaks and her terrified reaction is out of proportion to this mundane event. From then on, the possibility that a rape has taken place is introduced and ‘images of violence’ increasingly perturb the narrative (the crumbling balustrade, M shooting A). It all culminates in the possible rape scene with ‘X approaching A as she recoils in fear on her bed’. We see a ‘track backwards out of the room over which X’s voice-over insists that the act was not “by force”, followed by a fast return tracking shot through the hotel’s corridors.’ The sequence ends in an ‘overexposed white on white shot of A in her room, followed by nine varied repetitions of the end of the track-in shot in ten seconds. Brown (2009) highlight the ambiguity, that the ‘thrusting camera movement’ and the ‘loud and dissonant music’ ‘suggest rape’, while ‘A’s smile and outstretched arms suggest the contrary.’

I would suggest that the overexposure suggests A’s illumination when she remembers and is confronted to her memory, and the nine alternative end shots her confused attempt at deciding on what to believe amongst several possibilities with various degrees of truthfulness, repression and wishful thinking.

Robbe-Grillet, A. (1962) Last Year at Marienbad. London: John Calder. That’s the screenplay.

There are numerous instances where Robbe-Grillet (1962, for example p88) explicitly says that the décor must be ornamentated, suggesting a lying image.

A’s changing bedroom is described in detail by Robbe-Grillet (1962, p84-85, 91,92, 104, 121,122,127,132,138,139,146) including indications about the mirror moving from the chimney to the chest and the painting on the chimney, and the single bed turning into a double bed. The probable truth image is indicated ‘it is apparent that everything is now in its right place’ (p122)A’s anxiety then produces ‘a proliferation of ornaments’ (p135) then they disappear (p139).

The voice over (Robbe-Grillet, 1962) p17
‘this enormous, lyxirious, baroque – lugubrious hotel, where endless corridors succeed silent – deserted corridors overlooked with a dim, cold ornamentation […] transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls…’
‘flase door, false columns, painted perspective’
‘and there’s no way of escaping’ (bit of dialogue)
p146 ‘among this trompe l’oeil architecture, among these mirrors and these columns, among these doors always ajar, these staircases that are too long…’

‘choosing my way as though by accident among the labyrinth of similar itineraries’
Leutrat (2000) even suggests the whole hotel looks funereal.
p49: scenic indications
‘in all these images of the hotel, there are never any windows; or in any case, the landscape outside is never shown, or even the window panes’
p123: after she sumits to X, A sees the garden from a window for the first time.

(Robbe-Grillet, 1962)p56 disrepancies between verbal description by X and shown image

Robbe-Grillet (1962) repeatedly gives elaborate indications regarding non-continuity: he specifies consecutive shots where, for example, either the characters keep the same clothes, posture and position in the frame but the décor has changed, or the décor is the same but characters have inexplicably moved. He also indicates to reuse elements of décor or secondary characters previously seen in different circumstances.


Last year in Marienbad (1960) takes place in a luxurious spa hotel. A man, X (played by Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman, A (played by Delphine Seyrig) that they met the year before in Marienbad and planned to meet again this year to run off together. A denies that they have ever met. A is accompanied by an older man M (played by Sacha Pitoëff) who may be her husband, although this is never confirmed. X keeps trying to convince A of his version of the events, and different hypothetical versions of past, present and future events are played out as the various characters mentally consider them.

How to pitch my project ? – Space and consciousness – the unpremeditated – Surrealim is dead anyway

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Methodology, Project Proposal with tags , , , , , , , on September 27, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

This post won’t be a well thought-out well organised dissertation on some subject but rather a list of issues/uncertainties I have about how to pitch my research project according to the structure given to us last week. In particular, how to phrase the research question and how to pitch it within the contextual categories: history, contemporary, critical theory, parallel theory, projective or generative theory.

The main problem I have is I know what types of artwork I want to make but am unsure about how to pitch it within a coherent research project. It’s like there are a couple of different threads I want to explore, and they are all somehow related to the big soup of things I may call “interests, obsessions and inspiration” which share lots of similar themes but I’m not fully sure how I may knot these threads into a bullet-proof research question.

Bluntly, this is how I came up with my initial research proposal: I have been doing the ghost houses for 3 years because I like exploring them, I find them fascinating. I had been doing (and went on doing) other things I personally found equally interesting before doing the ghost houses (photographs of woods where light was very fairy tale-like, random wood sculptures, dream paintings, found objects assemblage) but those were constantly rejected from exhibitions. Then out of nowhere, the ghost houses started being accepted to about a third of the exhibitions I offered them to, with on top of that quite a few of “sincere” (i.e. personalised rejection letter with comments, not standard letter) sorry-we-think-they’re-great-but-don’t-quite-fit-the-subject refusals. To me it was an amazing success rate. It seemed when I started the ghost houses, I had unknowingly started making fashionable artworks !!! Indeed, when you look in AN, there are quite a lot of events going on about space, urban, the built environment and such. These is obviously a fashion going on about that. I was completely unaware of it when I started the ghost houses, I did them because I found them fascinating. But, hey, I’m not suicidal either, if one of the things I do is fashionable by sheer luck, it has to be in my research project !

So exploring derelict places became part of the research project. It could not, however, be the complete research project for several reasons:
1) I don’t live near the ghost houses and can only explore them in summer (derelict places in England are heavily guarded old public institutions that require a lot of jackass skills to get in). Even if I lived near them, I’m not sure I would like to spend all my week ends in places where there might me asbestos, pigeon droppings and such. A couple of times per year wearing a good dust mask won’t kill me, but I would not like to spend my life in there.
2) You cannot predict the productivity of a ghost house. It may be locked up, wrecked, empty, too dark or without anything interesting in it. It is not only in the Art world that space/the built environment has become fashionable over the last 2 years, urban exploration as a hobby has become hype, with dedicated websites flourishing. Some urban explorers seek fame and glory from it, advertising their explorations with exact location name as trophies. The consequence being that the place owner just has to google the name of their property to learn about the unwanted visitor, and heavily lock up the place, making it inaccessible to others (I have even been wondering whether this consequence was not intentional. After all, the rarer the trophy, the more valuable). The best places I had planned to visit this summer were heavily locked up after some high visibility reports were put online about them … Thankfully, this type of behaviour is not too common and most urban explorers are relatively discreet and helpfully share tips about access to places. While I’m at it, I just would like to state than the urban exploration moto is “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”, so it is a peaceful, non destructive activity.
3) I might get bored of the ghost houses, in which case I’ll stop, however fashionable they might be.

So the research project had to have other things in it. I had been making paintings of dreams, and love cinema exploring consciousness, so the obvious was to make videos inspired by dreams and inner worlds.

Then came the issue of how to knot those 2 apparently unrelated threads. This is the main issue I am researching in books at the moment. Instinctively, I know space and consciousness are related, but I do not have a couple of smart quotations to prove it (tough luck). Why do I know it instinctively ? One of my favourite paintings is Birthday by Dorothea Tanning. The corridor seems to go on indefinitely, there is a mirror on the left but the real space does not seem any more real than the reflection. It seems this beautiful strange house is not the outer world but the (infinite) inner world of the artist.

Dorothea Tanning - Birthday

I’ve always seen my house as a shelter: I can make it look the way I like (since a teenager, I have skimmed bric a brac shops and garage sales, lovingly doing up old fashioned objects in the colors and patterns I like), and in it I can do whatever (harmless thing) I like without the fear of being marked as odd. To me a house is a private place where people are free to be themselves away from the judgemental looks of others. See also Virginia Woolf’s essay “A room of one’s own”: people need a private space to be able to think independently. When I am invited in other people’s houses, I look at the colours they chose, the objects they like and I feel I know the host more intimately thanks to those. I see their house as the closest approximation to a physical projection of somebody’s inner world. Many Raw artists actually takes this statement literally, and turn their whole house into a huge artwork, creating their own self contained universe with a unique mythology.

A recurrent theme in films and books set in the former Soviet Union (Dr Zhivago, The Master and Margarita) are the dreadful communal housing, and the nosiness, gossips, mutual spying that came with them. What was probably started as an emergency war-time measure to give decent housing to everyone was soon turned into a control instrument to make people conform by encouraging neighbours to spy on and denounce each other. The recurrence of the theme shows how traumatising it must have been for people to be suddenly deprived of their private space like this. One of the selling point of Capitalism was that, within Capitalism, contrary to the Eastern Bloc, people were granted the right to individuality and privacy. Yet, today, many young adults with decent, steady jobs cannot afford a private space and are forced to live with perfect strangers met through the small ads well into their late 30s. Flatshare are contemporary Communal housing. It is not greed but flatshare-phobia that made me take a boring but reasonably lucrative engineer job in the first place. Open space offices are another contemporary example of the use of space as an instrument of mind control. In contemporary UK, people do not talk of “houses” anymore but of “property”. What used to be an intimate space where people were free to be themselves is now a commodity passed from hand to hand every 3 years in order to reap the profit from speculation on it.

In many movies, madness manifests itself as a distortion of space and time. In David Lynch’s films, there a recurring image of a corridor with drapes whenever a character goes insane, looses grip on reality or feels a menace. In many of his films, the inside architecture of the houses where the character live do not make sense (at least not within Euclidian geometry …): the inside seems far too big compared to the outside, there seem to be doors and corridors leading from everywhere to everywhere, characters walk around the house and they seem to go through the whole of it as though the house was built as an endless circle. In many interviews, Lynch confesses an obsession with houses: he sees them as self contained worlds were dreadful things happen, unknowingly of the outside world. So his vision of houses is tainted with menace and claustrophobia. Strange architecture is also present in German expressionist movies. In Last Year in Marienbad, the characters seem trapped in the immense hotel, going round in endless spatio-temporal circles, unable to leave the space until their mind makes sense of what is happening. In Polanski’s Repulsion, Catherine Deneuve, alone with her hallucinations, traps herself in her flat, a refuge turned menacing prison. Generally, in movies, people often drive themselves mad in close spaces (Kubrick’s Shining). In popular culture, the haunted houses and poltergeist phenomenon suggest a strong link between people’s minds and the places they used to inhabit.

So a house, a shelter, place and freedom and projection of one’s inner world may very quickly turns into a prison, a projection of one’s anxieties and obsessions. Where/when is the turning point or the trigger, or are both aspects constantly present ? Are they the same thing ? This question is definitely one of my obsessions.

Yet, I don’t think I want to call my research project “space and consciousness” or something like that, because this is not all I see in the ghost houses. Another important aspect of them is the unpremeditated compositions and putting my own meaning on something that already exists by itself. I feel it is an important part of my art process as I was already exploring something similar when I made the random wood sculpture. So I don’t want to leave this aspect out of the research project.

When I said “madness manifests itself as a distortion of space and time”, there is also the time factor that I could not explore in photography and paintings, but that I will use in moving image.

So in the end, the only common thing I could find in my obsessions and interests is subjectivity. The subjectivity of one individual’s vision. The problem is, this does not make a research question ! So I decided that the best solution was to call the project Digital Surrealism, since the surrealists were themselves interested in many of the things I am want to explore (dreams, consciousness, randomness). That will do the trick, I thought happily …

But then I’m reading “Surrealism and Cinema” by Michael Richardson, where he says that David Lynch’s work has nothing to do with Surrealism because Lynch has no desire to change the world, and his interviews show he has a bad understanding of what Surrealism was. Indeed Lynch is no revolutionary (though I have no clue what his political leanings are, and I don’t care). The interviews in question, I don’t remember them if I read them so I cannot comment on the level of expertise in Lynch’s understanding of Surrealism within Art History until I read them again. However, my humble opinion is that, even if David Lynch was a trotskyist and held a Phd in Art History about Surrealism, he could not be a Surrealist anyway because Surrealism as an Art movement died in the 60s at latest. In passing, Richardson does not comment about Lynch’s use of images he does not know the meaning of (the blue box in Mulholland Drive) and his use of altered states of consciousness (namely transcendental meditation) in order to find ideas for artworks without being censored by his “Conscious”: he dismisses Lynch as a neo/post-surrealist purely on the ground of intent, ignoring method or process.

Anyway, even when Surrealism was alive, there was no clear definition of who was or was not a Surrealist. Breton and the hardcore wrote theoretical texts about the principles of Surrealism. Some of these texts are better forgotten for Surrealism’s sake, especially homophobic rants and ludicrous dogma about women’s say in the practical organisation of sexual intercourse. But many artists gravitated around Surrealism without being formally part of the movement, which did not prevent them from being invited to take part in surrealist exhibitions. They were attracted mostly by its aura of freedom. This included many women artists without formal training, who were not bothered by Breton’s outdated views on female sexuality, or simply granted them the amount of attention they deserved … Some of these artists did not want to join to preserve their independence, because the authoritarian personality of Breton annoyed them (Leonor Fini), or simply because they could not be bothered (especially Belgian painters who were away from Paris). Later on, Breton became more dogmatic and starting “excluding” lots of artists for all kinds of dubious reasons. This did not prevent those excluded dissidents from going on making their work, with or without Breton’s approval.

Even if the theoretical writings about Surrealism were completely free of rubbish, no contemporary artists could be expected to follow them literally nowadays. They were written in the 20s and 30s and the social conditions in which the artwork are produced have drastically changed.

All this to say that what at first seemed a convenient title now seems like a needlessly dangerous magnet for criticism by hair splitters who think they have the authority to decide who is or is not influenced by Surrealism in 2009. There was a hint in the chat that in the “contemporary context” part of our project proposal, we could give names of current academic research. So this seems to imply that the way we pitch our research proposal could influence academic opportunities we have at the end of the MA. With that in view, it seems suicidal to choose a title that is like a criticism magnet, however convenient it might have sounded at first.

So it’s now 00.01, I have written 2352 words and I still don’t know how to call my research project …