A Question of Categories
What is film, and how does it differ from television and installation work? In an essay ‘Of An Other Cinema’, Raymond Bellour talks about two very different ‘image’ experiences. The first is in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman. “For as their melancholic bodies seem increasingly close to disappearing into the fog, so too does the camera more often seem to enter alone (as is the intention of the cinematic reverse shot) into this white mass, which in turn alters the representation in a slyer, stealthier manner than any attempt ever made by painting to represent clouds.” He contrasts Antonioni’s film with Ann Veronica Janssens’ untitled installation for the Belgian Pavillion at the 48th Venice Biennial in 1999. Here “the visitor is led to wander errantly and endlessly in a real fog. The fog is not, however, any more real than that of the film, since it too becomes material for a work of art; but unlike the fog of the film, it permits no fiction other than the very event of its strange incarnation that every visitor experiences.” (‘Of An Other Cinema’) Antonioni we can say creates a cinema experience; Janssen An Other experience.
We would not say of such an installation like Janssens’ that we lose ourselves in the work or that we identify with characters: we are unlikely to think of installations when David Thomson says in an essay chiefly on Red River in Sight and Sound: “we are still shy talking about what identification means, yet most of us, I think, are drawn to movies because of it and are awkward spelling it out.” There might be many films for which ‘movies’ is an inadequate word and identification a limited notion, but many of the great films by Godard and Antonioni, Bunuel and Bergman, still fit loosely into the idea Thomson talks about. Even if a film like History Lessons by the Straubs or The Ridiculousness of a Blonde Girl by Manoel de Oliveira might to varying degrees stifle the feeling we expect by acting that is deliberately expository, by storytelling that goes straight to the point rather than naturalistically builds towards it, we can still talk of the cinema experience through both its evidential reality (seeing it in a cinema) and its durational demands.
Of course one could say that since many people are not watching the films they see on large screens, but on TVs, monitors, laptops, even telephones, then they are not attending either to its evidential large-scale reality or its durational insistence. Perhaps. But if a person watches a You Tube section of a film they are likely to say not that they have watched Blade Runner, Casablanca or The Godfather but merely a clip from the film, thus acknowledging the partiality of the experience. If they said they watched the whole film, even it happened to be on their laptop or phone, they would probably feel that they have ‘watched’ it. This indicates acknowledging the durational over the mode of the perceptual: that the most important thing is to view the whole experience no matter in what format, over watching a segment of the film even if it happens to be on a massive screen. If we view a few minutes of Andy Warhol’s Empire in an art gallery, no matter how big the wall it happens to be projected upon, can we say we have watched the film or simply admit that we have viewed it? Somebody who has seen all eight hours through on a TV screen on the other hand can say they have watched it. Perhaps this gets us close to the difference between cinema and the art gallery installation, between what we’ll call the durational experience and the perceptual experience. Ideally we would watch our films in the cinema and have these experiences as one. But many a viewer watching the film on a small screen at home will still try to replicate the ideal: turning the lights off, taking the phone off the hook, putting the speakers on. All things they would be unlikely to do if they were going to watch the news.
It is as though the durational experience of film demands that we also attend to the perceptual experience even if we can’t quite match the cinematic immersion. Though galleries will often have video art segmented off in its own room, most people come and go after a few minutes, some standing, some sitting, but almost all simply there to view the film rather than watch it. It is viewed as a moving painting: it may possess temporality but how many attend to its durational demands as we would with a film seen in the cinema? With a work like Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho its durational aspect all but counters its capacity to be watched; it can only be viewed. The gallery will have opening and closing hours usually rather shorter than Gordon’s film. Even when a gallery respects the temporal dimensions of the work, how many people will sit through it all? Christian Marclay’s The Clock is usually shown in gallery real time as it offers twenty four hours of movie montage with each minute of the day and night covered. If you go at middday, you will see various clips from films showing clocks, watches etc, illustrating noon, films including American Gigolo, Le Boucher, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Go at two twenty and you’ll get Twin Peaks and The Sting. Most galleries only played the film during general opening times, occasionally staying open till late into the night. The Pompidou, however played it right through on four occasions. Here the gallery is providing the viewer with the opportunity to see the entirety of the work, but how many viewers can stand the full viewing experience? Even Marclay admitted that he cheated a bit with the footage, aware that anyone watching the film right through would probably be exhausted by three to five in the morning, “There was a point where it was, like, ‘How are we going to deal with 3 A.M. and 5 A.M.?’ ” Marclay said. “Those were tough. The hardest was five.” At that hour, [assistant Paul Anton] Smith and his crew couldn’t find time-stamped clips for fifteen of the minutes. Marclay hit on a solution.The later that viewers stayed up watching The Clock, he surmised, the more “strung out” they would become. “You have to imagine that, if you’ve been up watching and it’s 5 A.M., you’re in a weird state of mind,” he said. “I decided to play with that.” (New Yorker) He completed the late-late show with “more than a dozen dream sequences, including the classic Dali nightmare from “Spellbound.” It worked, because so many of the clips in between showed people agitatedly tossing in bed.” To watch all of Satantango or Shoah, for example, is of course a demanding but expected experience, a cinema experience, but to watch The Clock is to engage with a work we might choose to watch round the clock but aren’t really expected to do so. When Peter Bradshaw says “I arrived just after 11 in the morning and left before 1pm, so I went through the midday climax of emotions” (Guardian), could we imagine him saying the same thing about Satantango or Shoah?
Durational cinema demands to be watched rather than viewed, and this is part of its very challenge when pushed into temporal excess. Bela Tarr’s Satantango, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, Lav Diaz’s Melancholia, Warhol’s Empire and Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film From Germany insist that we endure their duration. When the excellent writer Dai Vaughan says “Andy Warhol’s twenty-four hour look at the Empire State Building has the purely philosophic value of defining a limit” (For Documentary) he was slightly erroneous in assumption partly because he was wrong in fact. At merely eight hours it is possible someone would have watched the film in its entirety. Stephen Dwoskin reckons Empire is cinema in its most exact form, saying “it is the purest of films, for it is time which is film’s quality; it is being photographically actual, which is film’s property.” (Film Is) This combination of time that distinguishes it from photography, and the real, which like photography can capture more closely than any other art form what is in front of our eyes, makes, in Dwoskin’s eyes, for pure cinema.
Indeed the sort of viewer who sees films like Satantango, Empire and Melancholia appears to be announcing their cinephilia more completely than the viewer who claims they have seen Taxi Driver, Breathless, Accatone and 8 ½. It isn’t that Satantango and co. are better films than the latter; more that they have a durational demand that announces a certain extreme fidelity to one of the two fundamentals of film (taking into account Dwoskin’s remark.) They hover over cinema as its durational conscience, as works that demand to be watched in their entirety and not just viewed casually. When we put aside a day to watch Satantango or Hitler: A Film from Germany we engage in a paradoxical pilgrimage: we move through the spaces created by the image as we sit still. But the end result might be similar; a certain low-key spiritual engagement. We have communed with cinema rather as someone might with nature.
At one stage in ‘Of An Other Cinema’ Bellour refers to an eminent French film critic who “somewhat skeptical of these comings and goings between installations and cinema (a cinema that has once again become very inventive this last decade) pointed out to me that one would not find in the art collections of museums a work equivalent to that of Kiraostami.” Bellour adds, “The comparison, or its impossibility, makes us speculate. Would one also say this about La Dentelliere in relation to The Princess of Cleves or to Berenice? Or in contrasting Vermeer with Racine? Obviously not.” But of course, as Bellour acknowledges, the slippage between cinema and video art and installation work is much more evident than it usually happens to be between a painting, a book and a play. Yet if we accept that viewing is not watching, we can begin to understand what a cinema experience happens to be even if we do not watch the film in the cinema, and it also allows ourselves to escape from the durational dimension merely being an issue of narrative. Empire, after all, is just watching a building; in James Bening’s much shorter Nightfall we watch as night falls over ninety eight minutes. These are couched as cinematic experiences not because they have stories to tell, but because they possess duration to which we are expected to comply. We can perhaps view them in the gallery if we do not have the patience to see them in the cinema, but their point resides in their entirety. By contrast, Douglas Gordon’s work often situates itself as material to be viewed. In Through a Looking Glass he settles for the famous moment where Robert De Niro stands in front of the mirror in Taxi Driver and says “Are You Talking to Me?”. Two projections are shown on opposite walls with the sound unsynchronized as Gordon captures and expands on an uncanny moment in the film. It’s a variation on Twenty Four Psycho, a means by which to fetishize the film image: in Twenty Four Hour Psycho by slowing the film down so that the smallest of gestures become pronounced; in Through a Looking Glass by focusing on just one scene.
There is a feeling that the gallery experience doesn’t quite dictate terms to us as cinema does. It refuses to pull a uniform over our eyes as Kafka believed cinema insisted upon. This uniform is both cinema’s strength and its weakness. It allows for a meditative experience that demands concentration, and insists on a manipulation from which our only escape is through the exit doors. Most installation work neither quite frees our thoughts nor holds our bodies hostage, but perhaps we want an aspect of hostage taking in the cinema experience; we want to feel hijacked for a given period of time. It returns us to David Thomson’s comment on Red River, and links up to another Thomson remark from Over Exposure: “I have sat next to a child so distressed by one moment in Jaws that he cried out, as if he had dreamed the death of his father. He sobbed, his body writhed away from the dreadful picture, and he seemed about to give up the ghost. Looking at him, I believed that some violent spasm had possessed his inner being.” We might not like Jaws, and might not like what it can do to a susceptible person watching the film, but we should acknowledge this is what cinema is capable of achieving. It is perhaps the impure version of Dwoskin’s idea: that duration and our complicity with the real can produce this intense viscerality, just as Warhol’s film can induce the exact opposite: a feeling of absolute, entrapped ennui. In both instances we are in the cinema experience, no matter if the affect achieved is distinctly antithetical.
If we accept that the temporal is more important than the spatial, if we accept that the size of the screen matters less than the designated length of time that the film insists upon and that we give it, then another useful way of thinking of the cinema experience is to see film as both an art work and an aesthetic object. The terms are Mikkel Dufrenne’s as he differentiates between the artwork made and the aesthetic object perceived. As Dan Yacavone says, “Dufrenne draws a primary distinction between the work of art and the “aesthetic object.” Whereas the artwork is a physical entity, an ’empirical reality in the cultural world”, the aesthetic object is the work as and when it is concretely experienced, wherein its full ‘sensuous’ potential is actualized.” (Film Worlds) It is as if the art work in the gallery is made, but can seem almost indifferent to its place as an aesthetic object. In other words one feels that its demands upon us are weak next to the ones placed upon us in the cinematic context.
Of course this doesn’t mean we expect a Jaws like experience in the cinema; even the absence of such a strong response can be part of the cinematic affect. We’ve already invoked how different Empire can be watched in a cinema and viewed in a gallery, and Kiarostami is surely an example of a filmmaker working closer to the ‘indifference’ of Warhol over the assertiveness of Spielberg. When Godfrey Cheshire wonders if Kiarostami is lax concerning the spectator he answers by insisting that there is a deeper engagement present. “The films seem unusually careless – free – on the question of audience. But perhaps that apparent lack of concern conceals a deeper sense of anxiety and responsibility on the same issue” We might wonder if Cheshire could make the same claim if Kiarostami’s work was chiefly made for the gallery over the cinema. Kiarostami’s great films (the period between Close-Up and The Wind Will Carry Us) manage to combine a smidgeon of narrative curiosity with a high degree of dead time accompanying it. But if we were to miss the first ten minutes of Close-Up, The Wind Will Carry Us and A Taste of Cherry, for example, we would be missing the narration that gives suspense to the duration. In each film, Kiarostami looks to engage the spectator in a mystery. In Close-Up a reporter goes to a family’s house after hearing about someone impersonating a well-known filmmaker; in The Wind Will Carry Us a television crew are going to a remote village to report an some unspecified event. In A Taste of Cherry a man drives around the outskirts of Tehran for some as yet unknown reason. These are very much the beginning of the films, and anyone watching them on a loop would have a good chance of missing the very enquiry Kiarostami sets in motion. A director indifferent to the viewer, a filmmaker uninterested in the narrative, would be unlikely to generate such epistemologically strong beginnings. Other Kiarostami films like Five and Shirin seem in this sense closer to installation works: the former offers five long shots including one where some birds cross the frame. In Shirin the film consists of numerous faces watching a movie that remains out of sight as we concentrate on those watching it. Though the film is structured according to the length of the film we do not see, and though we can guess aspects of the story through the sound from the film we hear and the expressions of those watching it, the film seems ‘installational’: we sense we can wander in and out. The epistemological through line is weak; the conceptual prominent. In these latter films there is the greater degree of the indifference Cheshire invokes, and if we are inclined to regard them as of less interest than Kiraostami’s important cinematic works, it might reside in us believing that they aren’t quite cinematic in the first place.
If we suggest an adjectival alternative to the cinematic in the installational, it allows not so much for a judgment; more a differentiation. Those more interested in the gallery space than the cinematic auditorium, those who believe even great cinema (Hitchcock, Kiarostami, Scorsese, Godard) is too manipulative, might choose to use the word cinematic pejoratively. Others, irritated by the perceived flaccidity of video art, gallery films etc., might use the installational as a term of abuse. The privileged term depends on one’s own demands.
What is important here however is to try to understand what the cinematic might be when the cinematic experience is less and less dictated by the cinema as a space. This would apply also to the installational: it wouldn’t be a film that is necessarily shown in a gallery; more that it possesses the elements that would seem to us more given to the art show than the cinema auditorium. That we’ve invoked a couple of Kiarostami films that might more suitably play in the gallery suggests that there are surely gallery films that would perform just as well in cinema spaces. Some of Bill Viola’s work crosses the divide, and Juan Grimonprez’s ‘dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’, focusing on skyjacking and plane terrorism, could be seen easily in a cinema environment. It is as though we have to accept that the art work as a cinematic experience is not enough; that the aesthetic object demands from us not only our affective response, but even our capacity for making ‘category’ decisions. While a category error would be to say an installation work doesn’t have a story, a category decision lies in deciding whether in a gallery space we see what we are watching as a film or not. If we decide it is, then perhaps we should wait until the film starts again, sit down and concentrate on the experience for its duration. If we see it as a conceptual work, we might hang around long enough to grasp the concept and then decide to leave.
As we’ve noted, some installations give us no choice. We have to accept the conceptual: evident in Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, and even more so in his work on The Searchers. “«5 year drive-by» refers to the duration of the storyline of «The Searchers,» the Western by John Ford. With a guaranteed happy ending, John Wayne needs five years—therefore the installation’s title—to find a kidnapped child. The actual film lasts 113 minutes and the installation just under seven weeks.” “The rest is a matter of calculating: comparing the duration of the film’s storyline to the duration of the film, and having five years, seen in relationship to seven weeks as 113 minutes, yield roughly three minutes. Gordon stretches these three minutes to fill the entire 47 days of the exhibition. The projection moves single frame by single frame, so that a second of film time lasts approximately six hours.” (Media Art Net) In such instances the installational is a dimension of the art work, no matter how we wish to receive it as an aesthetic object. In Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y the gallery expectations can be greeted by our cinematic demands as we turn it into a ‘film’ ? into a durational act of watching. In many instances this doesn’t happen, and as we’ve noted isn’t always possible. This suggests a vital dimension to the gallery experience is the inattentive, and the projective, with the gallery space pointing up the freedom to pass by the work or to dwell upon its specifics. The point and purpose behind 24 Hour Psycho is to create the fetishisations that Hitchcock could incorporate into the work but whose pace denied ready access to these moments. It might be the way Janet Leigh turns her head, a particular detail in the mise en scene, a gesture by the cop. At home we could slow these moments down after momentarily seeing them and finding them fascinating, but Gordon does it it to the whole film. This creates the space for indifference (the film is moving so slowly we have no chance to follow the story and will be kicked out of the gallery long before it finishes anyway), or to dwell upon a few moments and be surprised that in a film we know so well we are constantly noticing aspects we missed.
A variation of this approach can be found in photographer Eric Rondepierre’s work. Here the artist often starts from a particular film, poring over it frame by frame for weeks to find frames where the image is damaged and then using the still image as a photograph. The speed with which films fly by with their durational obligations means we miss the sort of things a photographer like Rondepierre discovers by slowing the image down to non-movement. Of the photographic series, Moire, he says “This series of thirty pieces continues the procedure of the Précis de décomposition. Again, these are images that have become corroded over time. The frames come from colorized films in the Montreal archives. The choice centres on the body and intimacy, and the “justified” titles relate directly to the image”. Rondepierre defamiliarizes the images by turning them into photography, and as we see the images for the chemical properties they possess in all their degradation.
Yet like Marclay’s The Clock and Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, this isn’t cinema; it is a raid on cinema for the purposes of other art forms. It is a perfectly valid notion, but seems to be part of a different image structure than the cinematic. The installational and the photographic appear adequate enough terms to cover what is being done. Just as we now define early work in film as pre-cinema, like the inventions of Zoetrope and the Kinetiscope, so we can regard works that borrow from film as meta-cinema. Nobody can doubt that in very different ways Marclay, Gordon and Rondepierre are drawing upon film to create their images, but they are drawing upon rather than working within cinema.
Yet if many will accept that installation is not cinema; what about television? The important French critic Andre Bazin proposed that “TV is not an art”, talking of the image’s small size and the imperfect visual quality, insisting that they “do not allow us to consider TV as a plastic art.” “Humility must be the main virtue of the TV director. He should not of course lack imagination, but all of the inventions of mise en scene must tend toward sobriety and efficacy.” (Andre Bazin;s New Media) Is this an answer to many people today who see television as not only a valid art form but superior to cinema? David Lynch claimed “television is way more interesting than cinema now” (Guardian 15/1/1914) In the same article Billy Bob Thornton says, “If you want to be an actor, get on a really good series in television because there’s where it’s at.” Televisions are much bigger than they used to be, and many people have their own projectors that can take televisual material and give it cinematic scope, so Bazin’s claims might no longer be as valid as they once were from a technological point of view. Yet Bazin wasn’t only arguing technologically: he was also talking ontologically. What he saw television often doing best was live recordings, taking the image and transferring it directly to us. This was partly because the televisual image was at its most useful offering immediacy and acknowledging that it wasn’t an art form, but a mode of reception: like radio. When we listen to Beethoven over the airwaves we don’t call the art form radio, we call it music. Radio is simply the means by which we get to hear it.
If reception is chiefly what TV does, then better the live broadcast of the world cup, a boxing match or an interview with a great actor than Downton Abbey and Coronation Street. Indeed Bazin was very scathing of serials: “The psychological problem, then, is not so much to attract spectators by automizing their daily habits, but rather to liberate them from their fixations so as to turn them into receptive and lucid viewers, people who choose the programmes they watch at convenient times…” It’s true that many TV series are now watched as box-sets, but habit is replaced by compulsion, with the series often bulemically swallowed over an indulgent weekend. People frequently talk of being addicted to Lost, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad etc. in a way surely dissimilar to someone who for example watches a Michael Mann or Andrei Tarkovsky box-set over a couple of days. We offer two very different directors (one semi-populist; the other undeniably high-brow) to say this is isn’t an issue of elitism, but of modes of perception. The person watching Mann or Tarkovsky intensely over two days would be more inclined to say they are fascinated by rather than addicted to the filmmaker. The patterns of perception in watching a series of films by a filmmaker are much more one’s own; the intentionality of the work resides in the thematic rather than the narrative. There is not usually any intentional narrative patterning at play in a director’s oeuvre; in a box set it is this patterning that pulls people forward from one episode to the next. It creates a narrative thirst often utilising the cliffhanger, with the episode of a series or serial held over to the next occasion. Dallas was a long time ago, and Bazin writing long-before it, but what would the writer have made of the suspense generated out of J. R.’s shooting? As Wikipedia says, “”Who shot J.R.?” is an advertising catchphrase that American network CBS created in 1980 to promote the television series. It referred to the mystery over J. R. Ewing’s attempted murder…The killing took place in the third-season finale, but wasn’t resolved until a fourth-season episode aired eight months later.” It remains probably the ultimate rollover suspense device in television, and perhaps the ultimate denial of what Bazin saw TV’s purpose as being. “The only real superiority of TV over cinema, and a fortieri over every other means of expression, resides in the live transmission of the image.” (Bazin’s New Media) In contrast the serial is like a debased form of narration. “Do the dreadful Westerns that are sliced up at the hands of French TV deserve to be compared to narcotics of the mind.” (Bazin’s New Media) There might be a number of TV shows many admire, from The Wire to The Sopranos, but in numerous instances does Bazin’s comment still hold? Yet what about programmes like The Singing Detective and Pennies in Heaven, Dennis Potter’s much admired TV series? And where should we stand on Rossellini’s TV work including Blaise Pascal and Descartes, or Alan Clark’s Elephant and Made in Britain?
It is a dangerous thing to be too dismissive of television, but distinctions are always useful to make. We have after all referred to Potter’s The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven; Blaise Pascal and Descartes, Elephant and Made in Britain by the director. We feel Potter’s work was made for television; Clarke and Rossellini’s work shown on television. Generally, TV seems to be a writer and subject oriented medium; film a director and actor led one. We talk for example of the TV personality; not the cinema personality, and numerous writers have made their name on television, including Potter, Alan Bennett and Alan Bleasdale. A recent Sight and Sound article by Henry K. Miller on ‘Home Cinema’ exploring television contained numerous works that we would be inclined to say are films shown on rather than made for the small screen. The funding might have been from TV, the purpose behind the work to be shown on TV rather than in the cinemas, but the work was a cinematically inclined piece over a televisually focused one. This isn’t to damn something made for television, which would include anything from the Potter works we have just mentioned, to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New and Michael Apted’s Seven up series. The first two we have credited to the writers; the last to the director – but Apted is a chronicler here who peers in on people’s lives every seven years as we see a director (who has often worked in Hollywood) very deliberately sacrificing his own personality to documentative contingency. He can have no idea what will happen in the lives of his subjects during his absence; some in fact refuse again to be interviewed and drop out of the series altogether. Others come and go.
In different ways, however, all three offer the televisual. They play out in a television context that doesn’t so much dwarf their aesthetic but enhance their communicative possibilities. John Berger, talking many years later in the Guardian, said: “The BBC showed [Ways of Seeing] very late at night [in 1972], because they didn’t trust us. They accepted the shows but weren’t enthusiastic. Then we got hold of the turn-off rate, which, compared to other art shows, was minimal. We approached the higher-ups and said, “Look at that.” Then they broadcast it at a more accessible hour.” Central to the programme was accessibility not only in terms of how the programme would be presented, but in how it would be scheduled too. Though of course people will still be watching Ways of Seeing today in other circumstances. The four episodes together on YouTube have well over 33,000 hits. Yet watching Blaise Pascal in the cinema, with its fluidity of camera movements, the intensity of its enquiry, feels at one with rather than a deviation from other Rossellini films Germany Year Zero and Voyage to Italy. There is a world of a difference between Michael Apted’s Seven Up and his Bond film The World is not Enough.
In this we return to a variation of our earlier remarks on installation work and the category decision: should we watch the programme as a durational entity, or break it up into short pieces? We could of course watch Ways of Seeing straight through, but breaking it down into the separate episodes would not take anything away from the work. To watch Blaise Pascal similarly might be to do so. Part of the category decision in this instance would be turn the lights off, take the phone off the hook, and immerse ourselves in its 131 minutes. We watch it as cinema. Yet in an interview at the end of the fifties with Rossellini and Renoir by Bazin, Rossellini says: “very few people were looking for man, and a great many were doing everything necessary for him to be forgotten. Inevitably, the public was instructed to forget man. But today the problem of man is profoundly, dramatically at stake in the modern world. So we should benefit from the freedom television gives.” (Bazin’s New Media)
Yet it was cinema rather than television that concentrated on man in fictional form. The kitchen sink films like A Kind of Loving and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning were opportunities to explore character, not just to create stories closer to gossip that could keep a show going from one episode to the next. To look at a TV show like Coronation Street next to some of these films makes clear where man has a place. Admittedly in TV documentaries like 7 Up in 1964 man (and woman) is deliberately invoked: the programme worked from the famous quote: Give me a child at seven and I will give you the man.” But cinema verite was interested in the man too, with Chronicle of a Summer for example fulfilling many of the expectations Rossellini had for television.
We needn’t be dismissive of TV, but we might wonder if it has ever been able to live up to people’s expectations of it, and when we look at the Sight and Sound ‘Home Cinema’ issue that namechecks numerous filmmakers who have worked in televsion, we find that most of the work if it is major rests on its showing on TV as opposed to being made for it. A film like Beau travail is a marvellous work that happened to be funded by Arte; but Sam Peckinpah’s involvement writing or directing episodes of various TV westerns in the late/fifties early sixties seem to be for completists only. Anyone interested in Denis’ work who hasn’t seen Beau travail would be missing something fundamental; could the same be said for Peckinpah’s TV involvement? Denis took advantage of a commission and made it her own; many directors working on TV serials fit into a given format. That we talk of a TV format indicates the pressures placed upon those working in it. We don’t talk of a cinema format, even if there are numerous obligations placed upon the work. As Henry K. Miller details the nature of the TV ‘format’ in the Sight and Sound piece, he says: “all series demand continuity, most obviously in characterisation, and cable dramas, which eke out their stories over seasons rather than episodes, demand an even larger measure of it.” He notes, “the ‘visual syntax’ of the ill-fated horse-racing series Luck (2011-12), it was reported in the New York Time, was codified by showrunner Michael Mann “in a three-ring binder in which everything from shooting angles to lighting was dictated.” Not much wriggle room there for aesthetic singularity beyond Mann’s. A filmmaker such as Lodge Kerrigan might be making a comfortable living directing episodes of Homeland and The Killing, but most cinephiles would prefer him to return to features like Clean Shaven and Keane. Kerrigan has only made four cinema films.
In both the art gallery and on television we have seen the notion of cinema called into question by arenas ostensibly outside it encroaching on its terrain. What this article has tried to do is suggest that despite no clear line dividing cinema from installation work; film from television, this doesn’t mean there is no line at all. One of the advantages of thinking about Dufrenne’s distinction between the art work and the aesthetic object is that it saves us from the philosophical bedevilment of necessary and sufficient conditions. It is not necessary that films should be made on celluloid to be called films; it isn’t sufficient that a work is shown in a cinema to be called a film. Most films are now shot on digital; occasionally a work made for TV gets a cinema release years later. An Alan Clarke retrospective in Edinburgh in 1998 included numerous works made for the small screen, including Elephant. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s TV epic Berlin Alexanderplatz was released at the Lincoln Centre in New York and the New York Times reporter stated: The New York theatrical premiere of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ”Berlin Alexanderplatz,” the late German director’s masterly, 15 1/2-hour television adaptation of Alfred Doblin’s epic 1929 novel of postwar Berlin, stands to become one of the year’s most important cinema events.” How can it be TV and cinema at the same time? The answer is of course it can be: the former is turned into the latter in the reporter’s view by its shift from being screened on TV to being screened in a theatre. We can’t simply accuse the writer of making a mistake as we could if someone says “Martin Scorsese’s best book is Taxi Driver.” We would correct them and say it is a film. But if someone were to say that Scorsese’s best film is No Direction Home, we would be more inclined to argue about its weak aesthetic merit compared to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull rather than ‘correcting’ the person by saying it is TV and can’t be regarded as film at all. The issue over Taxi Driver being a book by Martin Scorsese demands a correction; the one concerning No Direction Home an argument.
Yet by acknowledging the difference between the art work and the aesthetic object we can concern ourselves with argument rather than correction. Even our own distinction between made for and shown on television is merely an opportunity for discussion more than a chance to define. It would seem much more the case that Alan Clarke’s Elephant and Scum were films shown on television (or not as the case may be, Clarke’s TV version of Scum was initially banned) rather than an episode of Z Cars by Ken Loach that is much more clearly made for television. But by keeping in mind Dufrenne’s differentiation the individual is also allowed to accept that while no clear line divides one form from the other (installation, cinema and TV), our instincts are constantly doing exactly that.