Art and Film
The Languages of Reality
"Cinema and the visual arts are closely connected from the start." Thus Steve Jacobs begins Framing Pictures: Film and the Visual Arts, openly acknowledging the interconnection between various aesthetic disciplines. Later in the book, writing on Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jacobs observes that: "contradicting semiotic theories by Christian Metz or Umberto Eco, Pasolini developed a complex theology of the film image based on the notion that the world itself consists of signs and in which everything, from written or spoken language, to objects and appearances, is already semiotic." Our purpose is to follow Pasolini's notion of the image by saying that what matters is not at all how films have been directly influenced by painting or by sculpture, but how other plastic art forms can expand film vocabulary and make us more aware of the world. Over the first hundred years of cinema a film language was built consisting of numerous terms including the close up, medium shot and long shot, montage, parallel montage and jump cuts, low angle and high angle framing, back lighting, fill lighting and key lighting, tracking shots and zooms. With the image moving from analogue to digital should we make the most of this ontological shift and can painting and sculpture help us? When Peter Wollen in Signs and Meanings in Cinema invoked the great pragmatic philosopher Charles C. Peirce to differentiate the index from the icon, he did so partly to separate the 'objective' qualities of a chemical process, from the 'subjective' element of putting paint on a canvas. As Wollen says: "an icon...is a sign which represents its object mainly by its similarity to it...thus for instance a portrait of a man resembles him." In contrast an index "is a sign by virtue of its existential bond between itself and its object." These would include a weathercock, a barometer, a footprint in the sand or snow. It has a direct relationship with its source. Cinema is in this sense both index and icon, but for much of its history what has separated it from painting is its indexical function. It records an aspect of being as chemical process; it doesn't recreate it through the unequivocal subjectivity of the artist, however 'objective' the painting happens to be.
Yet while film still records reality, it doesn't record it in the same way. Wollen wrote his book at the end of the sixties; D. N. Rodowick published The Virtual Life of Flm in 2007 and much had changed. "As digital processes come more and more to displace analogical ones, what is the potential import for a photographic ontology of film? Unlike analogical representations, which have as their basis a transformation of substance isomorphic with an ongoing image, virtual representations derive all their powers from numerical manipulation." Thus this isn't recorded reality but, strictly speaking, a virtual reality.
Should this make us think differently about the film image, and how does all this link up with the question of art and film? If we accept in the fundamental sense that film and art are no longer ontologically separated by index and icon, but that film has lost its indexical dimension and become much closer to the world of painting, to the icon over the index, then it might be useful to think of the film image anew. Now there are many reasons why we might wish to mourn this shift, and fret over cinema becoming an ever more artificially oriented medium with special effects more important than reality effects: of dinosaurs more present than people, or to the disintegration of our assumptions about the real and the artificial. "One of the defining features of digital cinema as experienced on screens today is the blending of capture and synthesis, combining images recorded from physical reality with images generated only on computers in the absence of any recording function or physical referent." (The Virtual Life of Film). Out of such syntheses numerous claims no longer hold, however suspect they might have been originally. "The camera never lies", "truth twenty four times a second", and Bazin's marvellous claim that "only the impassive lens, stripping its object of all those ways of seeing it, those piled up preconceptions, that spiritual dust and grime with which my eyes have covered it, is able to present it in all its virginal purity to my attention and consequently my love." (What is Cinema? Vol. 1)
However, if the image loses that innocent purity, with the camera no longer 'never lying' but creating in the viewer an ongoing sceptical relationship with it, do we need to see the mediation process differently, and can art help us to find a broader approach? One wouldn't want to exaggerate the loss of the real for cinema even in a digital age: it isn't so much that film has lost its respect for reality (most films still record); more that we as viewers have to acknowledge an increasingly sceptical relationship with the reality filmed. The purity Bazin talks about gives way increasingly to the impurity Stephen Prince invokes in an article 'True Lies', quoting Pat Byrne's remark that "the line between real and not-real will become more and more blurred." When we watch a film now and think an actor looks great for their age, do we have the same confidence in that physical presence that we would have had forty years ago over another actor ageing well? We might well admire how the digital technology can morph a beautiful woman into a withered old figure, as we notice with Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust. Yet if Pfeiffer looks suddenly so old why should we assume that she looks so youthful in her late forties: can't that just be another special efffect? Obviously there has always been an aspect of scepticism in the film viewing experience. When Bazin talks about the idea that it would "be inconceivable that the famous seal-hunt scene in Nanook should not show us hunter, hole, and seal all in the same shot" (What is Cinema? Vol. 1), Stanley Cavell talks about the opposite inBringing up Baby. Discussing the leopards in the film - one tame; one wild - he says: "the sub-conclusion is built upon a kind of cinematic, or grammatical, joke. The cutting in this passage back and forth between the leopards emphasizes that we are never shown the leopards within the same frame. It thus acknowledges that while in this narrative fiction there are two leopards, in cinematic fact there is only one." (Pursuits of Happiness) Bazin admires cinema realism; Cavell finds amusing cinema's capacity for illusion. 'True lies' are as old as the cinema itself; yet this doesn't mean that the lying can't become ever more sophisticated. As Prince says "both macro and micro, digital imaging possesses a flexibility that frees it from the indexicality of photography's relationship with its referent." The two leopards that is one in Bringing up Baby create not a crisis for the image itself; however, the computer generated crowd in Forrest Gump is another thing altogether. When Siegfried Kracauer talked of the 'redemption of physical reality' one of his examples happened to be the crowd. "At the time of its emergence the mass, this giant animal, was a new and upsetting experience. As might be expected, the traditional arts proved unable to encompass and render it. Where they failed, photography easily succeeded." (Film Theory and Criticism). Now we might wonder whether it has succeeded too easily, with thousands digitally generated rather than actually amassed. The old idea of a cast of thousands utilised as a boast for films like Ben Hur loses its meaning when digitally generated.
Prince argues that we need to get rid of a notion on cinema that is predicated on reality, saying "the tensions within film theory can be surmounted by avoiding an essentializing conception of the cinema stressing unique fundamental properties." Instead of attaching the espistemological to reality we can perhaps extend it to a notion of truth, taking Heidegger's differentiation of beauty and truth and applying it to film, and thus extending film vocabulary into the aesthetic rather than the documentative. When Heidegger says "the essence of art would then be this: the truth of beings setting itself to work," he adds, "but until now art presumably has had to do with the beautiful and beauty, and not with truth. The arts that produce such works are called the fine arts, in contrast with the applied or industrial arts that manufacture equipment." ('The Origin of the Work of Art') Heidegger continues: "is it our opinion that this painting by Van Gogh depicts a pair of peasant shoes somewhere at hand, and is a work of art because it does so successfully? Is it our opinion that the painting draws a likeness from something actual and transposes it into a product of artistic - production? By no means." Such notions would seem harder to justify in the first instance and harder to dimiss in the second: is the great industrial form that is cinema really about the essence art and the concern with truth? Surely cinema creation very much involves the depiction of actual objects in the world? Yet the more film is perceived as an iconic rather than indexical medium, the more accurate can become Heidegger's claims, or rather a vocabulary can be built that is interested in a Heideggerian notion of truth over a technological one: truth isn't what is necessarily in front of the camera, but closer to what happens to be on the back of the artist's mind.
Obviously film has always been so much more than recorded reality, but if we are sometimes brought up short by a cameraman's invocation of a painterly tradition rather than a technological one, it rests partly perhaps on the idea that cinema is a medium of the real and not of the aesthetic. It is a point cinematographer Jack Cardiff makes when discussing a meeting he had with people at Technicolor. "I told them I was hardly the man they wanted as I knew very little about technical equations...after a shocked silence I was asked what I thought made a good cameraman?" His answer - "always studying the many forms of light in houses, trains, buses, etc. at various times of day, and analysing the lighting used by Old Masters of painting - was hardly what they wanted to hear." (Magic Hour) Yet after asking Cardiff about various artists and how they would influence his use of light (Vermeer, de Hooch, de la Tour), they gave him the job." Cardiff presents it as a surprise; they employed someone more interested in aesthetics than in the technical reproduction of reality. This doesn't mean we wouldn't assume film has been influenced by painting; more that we might believe a cameraman would be more knowledgeable about f-stops and filters than about da Vinci and van Gogh. Our assumed prejudices tell us something about how we see film, and not least because of the technical language that has been built up to explain it.
Some would go so far as to say we should get rid of this language, replacing it with one that more accurately captures our perceptual faculties and various technological developments. This is vital to Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy, which wants to escape this technical centrality: "at source much writing is technicist - being grounded (and steered) by the language of filmmaking." "Some film theorists who get a taste of filmmaking revel in that language - talking lenses and technical shots - to show off their knowledge..." Frampton's solution to the problem is what he calls "film-thinking", as he wonders what sort of concepts can be used to explain it. This leads to a series of neologisms like film-minds and frame and image thinking. Yet finally the book's importance rests on what it attacks rather than on what it creates. That it accepts the limitations of technological film language and wants to open up the debate. But perhaps we can think of hasty neologisms rather like a fiat currency: one that isn't linked to a linguistic and historical version of the Gold Standard. When we already have so many useful terms from other art forms, why not utilise some of these first, especially when film is no longer celluloid but a digital form? Sfumato, chiaroscurro, colour field, broken colour, contrapossto and so on. We might generally agree with Frampton when he says "...in analysing typical art-cinema or parametric narratives [David] Bordwell only seems to want to rationalisethem." But when Bordwell adopts a term like planimetric from art theory, to describe a dedramatized and flattening framing he sees in Katzelmacher andPierrot le fou, this seems more specfically useful than terms like film-minds.
But this is where expanded vocabulary can meet the specifics of inter-textuality and the inter-disciplinary that academic criticism so often admires and practises. It is useful to see directly how filmmakers have been influenced by certain paintings and sculptures, but if it adds up to more than a knowing reference on the part of the filmmaker, and caught by the knowing critic, it should surely have a 'grammatical' function: grammatical in the sense of expanding the grammar of film. Yet this doesn't at all mean that by simply utilising particular art works the filmmaker automatically expands film grammar: sometimes a too direct homage does no more than acknowledge art without opening up the possibilities in film.
What we want to explore then are filmmakers who expand or contract the vocabulary of film, and to think again of Heidegger's notion of art as a process by which truth is revealed. If we believe for example that Godard, Tarkovsky, Bertolucci, Pasolini and Antonioni are expansively cinematic, and Greenaway and Jeunet contractive, then this rests partly in how art is utilised and partly how it is used. To utilise art is to insist that it works for film; to use art is to predicate art and artificiality: to say that film as a medium of the real, needs to be tampered with for the purposes of elevation into aesthetic preconception or virtual exaggeration.
Jean Luc-Godard even as a critic searched in art for an appropriate vocabulary for cinema, often naming artists in his reviews and essays on film. In the collection Godard on Godard, he names Van Dongen, Velasquez, Claude Renoir, de Stael, and we can clearly see the influence of de Stael on Pierrot le fou; even more obviously and so openly as homage in utilising the work of Velazquez and others in Passion; the fauvism apparent in Eloge de L'amour. Our purpose, thoug,. isn't to say these influences are evident in the work, but that they are manifest within it. Thus when Godard in an interesting exchange with Cahiers du cinema talks about de Stael, Cahiers wonders if there is a certain fundamental optimism to cinema, saying "one feels that if Nicolas de Stael had been a filmmaker, he might not have killed himself." Godard says: "I agree. The cinema is optimistic because everything is always possible, nothing is ever prohibited: all you need is to be in touch with life." Taking into account this exchange, merely to indicate Godard has borrowed from de Stael would be to make evident the perceptual similarity, but to ignore the ontological significance. There is the suggestion in this exchange that de Stael exhausted the possibility of his form, while cinema is inexhaustible because it is not a form contained, but a mode of being manifest. Cinema from such a perspective doesn't exhaust itself; it is always replenished by life. Here Godard isn't too far away from Pasolini and Bazin. Pasolini says in 'The Written Language of Reality': in reality we make cinema by living, that is, by existing practically, that is, by acting. All of life in the entirety of its actions is a natural, living film." Bazin notes in 'The Ontology of the Photographic Image.' "Photography can even surpass art in creative power. The aesthetic world of the painter is of a different kind from that of the world about him. Its boundaries enclose a substantially and essentially different microcosm. It can surpass it because it can encompass it, even if Bazin ends his essay also acknowledging that "on the other hand, of course, cinema is also a language." The very written language of reality that more than twenty years later Pasolini in print would explore at around the same time Godard made Pierrot le fou.
The question is really how much of this 'reality' we credit to the process of film as a celluloid form, and how much we credit to film as a recording medium. If we assume the former then cinema can no longer so easily be the written language of reality, but if we argue for the latter then we can still accept cinema's ontological nature even if some might insist on seeing it now as themathematical language of reality. However, rather than seeing digital as a transformation of the real, can we see it as the recording of the real but in such a way that film is freed from the tyranny of realism, without surrendering it to the realm of the artificial? When Godard says in the Pierrot le fou interview: "When you drive in Paris at night, what do you see? Red, green, yellow lights. I wanted to show these elements but without necessarily placing them as they are in reality. Rather as they remain in the memory - splashes of red and green, flashes of yellow passing by. I wanted to recreate a sensation through the elements which constitute it." Whether analogue or digital, the purpose is to find in the image the truth of the world, rather as Heidegger describes it in 'The Origin of the Work of Art.' "The word techne denotes rather a mode of knowing. To know means to have seen, in the widest sense of seeing, which is to apprehend what is present as such." Heidegger adds, for Greek thought the sense of knowing is aletheia, that is, the revealing of beings." Instead of seeing film as technological form, but as an example of techne linked to the revelation of being, we shift the focus from technology to ontology, from film as a recording device to a truth telling system that records. Instead of the dictum the camera never lies, it becomes an imperative: the camera ought not to do so.
Film remains both icon and index, but the emphasis on the latter allows more room for the former: it moves from the photographic to the painterly, but holds the two in a state of ongoing tension. Yet this tension can become increasingly productive as film vocabulary justifiably expands as the language upon which it has previously been predicated becomes much more metaphorical. For example, when a CGI oriented film uses sweeping tracking shots or cranes over the action, the tracking shot and the crane are no longer literal objects used in achieving the effect, but the language of perception based on seeing numerous shots like this in films that weren't produced in the computer but filmed on a set. We could insist on getting rid of the terms (which is close to Frampton's ideal), or we could accept that they no longer have an indexical function. Consequently, in keeping them as metaphors for the film experience, we can then utilise numerous non-filmic terms to help us understand our perceptualrelationship with film rather than a production-oriented explanation for it. We can more easily talk of portraits as well as close ups, landscape images rather than establishing shots, sfumatto effects as well as soft-focus, diptyych and triptychs as well as split screen. Of course it isn't as if these terms aren't used at all in film analysis; more that they haven't been absorbed into a ready discourse as close-up, establishing shot and others have been. Can we really talk of Pasolini's faces as close-ups rather than portraits; Herzog's longshots as establishing shots rather than landscapes? The more metaphorical film language becomes, the easier it will be to incorporate terms more suitable to the filmmaker's style rather than to established film vocabulary. It isn't as if some terms haven't been incorporated (tableau vivant and chiaroscurro for example), it is more that with the collapse of the indexical so also we can see disappearing the distinction between 'technicist' film language and the language of the fine arts.
In 'Ekphrasis and Jean-Luc Godard's 'Poetics of the In Between', Agnes Petho says: "A film cannot be called ekphrastic simply whenever it includes an embedded representation of another artwork. A condition for interpreting it as ekphrasis is that this embedded art form should go beyond the function of a diegetic representation (for example: a painting on the wall)." Ekphrastic fikmmaking would include anything from expressionist film, which seeks to emulate in film form elements of expressionism in painting, to Tarkovsky's use of Breughel's Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with a Birdtrap in Solarisand Mirror. These however are quite distinct uses of painting in film: the former absorbs a movement to seek a filmic equivalent; Tarkovsky ostensibly merely homages the work of a great artist. However, this is a false dichotomy in many ways: expressionism has been absorbed in film language so that it can seem that the filmmakers who utilise it have been 'properly' cinematic, where Tarkovsky is borrowing from painting, elevating cinema with the aid of fine art. If a film cannot be ekphrastic if it simply includes a painting within its diegesis, we might insist that it is weakly ekphratic if it doesn't find a cinematic means by which to incorporate painting's very form within it. In a short essay, Solaris's art director Mikhail Romadin says, "...in spite of the fact that Tarkovsky considered painting with great interest and knew it well, he felt its influence only indirectly. He avoided drawing parallels between art forms and attempted to isolate the language of film. He didn't believe that this language was somehow secondary to that of either literature or painting. He never considered that filmmaking was a synthesis of various art forms. He intensely disliked the term "poetic film" which the critics had attached to his early pictures."
It is here the filmmaker must achieve strong ekphrasis; the director needs to discover in the fine arts a purpose that is singularly cinematic rather than aesthetically indebted if they are to expand the vocabulary of film. Tarkovsky does so partly through slowness: he insists that cinema is not an arena of action but of perception. It is not the mode of movement that interests him, but the possibilities in stillness. In Sculpting in Time, Tarkosvky insists "I have never understood, for instance, attempts to construct mise en scene from a painting. All you will be doing is bringing the painting back to life..." But if the filmmaker has an aesthetic principle that coincides with the painterly, then the director discovers his alibi in finding a means by which to change our perception of film by incorporating the fine art. This is exactly what Eisenstein and other montage filmmakers did not do. They did not search out the contemplative possibility of the painterly, but the kinetic force of the mechanical. Eisenstein understood better than most a certain ontology of the image that was the reverse of Bazin's. If Bazin believed in the transparency of the image as indexically caught reality; Eisenstein saw cinema as an optical illusion, as something not chiefly out there in the world, but taking place in the mind of the spectator. As Dudley Andrew says in The Major Film Theories: "Without the audience's active participation there would be no artwork. The mechanistic theory of art must always focus on the structure and habits of the human mind more than on the subject of the artwork." Eisenstein himself says: "a shot. A single piece of celluloid. A tiny rectangular frame in which there is, organized, in some way, a piece of an event." (Film Form) It is our mind that gives the impression that the twenty four frames a second is movement, and so film's ontological purpose is to exacerbate this phenomenological freneticism: to make us ever more aware of how our mind works, as if the long take adds to our deception rather than dilutes it.
Of course with the shift from celluloid to digital the foundations of both Bazin and Eisenstein's arguments collapse, but that doesn't mean the debate isn't worth continuing less fundamentally. Even if a feature film can run without a cut for more than ninety minutes (as we see in Russian Ark, Time Code, Nightfall), that hardly means this becomes the digital gospel. Equally film can be ever more montage-driven, with the filmmaker now capable of taking advantage of editing software like Avid and Final Cut Pro which makes editing a much more immediate process. Martin Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker discusses this issue in I Am Rogue. Scorsese "missed the fact that on the flat bed editing system I would run back and forth over the footage looking for something and he would get to review it in his mind and think about other options for edits. Now on the timeline I just jump down and he gets to see that image right away and it bothers him. He misses the other way. I do find that I experiment a lot more now that I'm working digitally because I can just make a copy of my edit in a second and then present him with three or four different versions of a scene when he comes in. As opposed to in the days when we were on film and I used to have to take apart the edit, hang it in the bin and remember how I did it, do another version and then if that didn't work put it back the way it was originally."
There is the danger here of too many options too easily available. But then at the other extreme we have the technology placing immense pressure on the filmmaker as they decide to move in the opposite direction of the multiply edited, to the absence of editing at all. Talking of making Russian Ark using only one shot, Alexander Sokurov said: "Editors and producers accumulate, then edit using time according to their own whims. And I wanted to try and fit myself into the very flowing of time, without remaking it according to my wishes. I wanted to try and have a natural collaboration with time, to live that one and a half hours as if it were merely breathing in. .. and out. That was the ultimate, the sole artistic task. .."
Here we have two modern masters (Scorsese and Sokurov) taking advantage of the developments in technology for completely different ends. The fundamental question of film as a medium of chemical recording (as Bazin saw the process of capturing reality on celluloid), or a mental illusion (as Eisenstein could claim since the film was giving the impression of motion even though the film was actually made up of still images) are unsustainable with the developments of newer technologies. Yet the argument over whether the emphasis should lie in longer shots or in shorter ones remains, and perhaps becomes even more pertinent, as the remarks from Schoonmaker and Sokurov indicate.
The question then would be how to incorporate the fine arts into filmmaking if we assume there is no fundamental basis upon which they could be included or excluded. Tarkovsky might have been so clearly influenced by painters who indicate stillness, but there have been artists influenced by cinema, like Francis Bacon, who have then themselves impacted on film form. Just as Bacon drew on Eisenstein so other directors have been affected by Bacon. Speaking ofBattleship Potemkin, Bacon said: "it was a film I saw almost before I started to paint and it deeply impressed me." (Interviews with David Sylvester) In an interview with the Tate, Christopher Nolan discusses how Bacon impacted uponThe Dark Knight, while a number of critics have noticed his importance in Philippe Grandrieux's work.
The filmmaker who is influenced by the arts and seeks movement will find it in Bacon, Kandinsky, Pollock, Munch, Turner and Van Gogh. Filmmakers interested in stillness might search out Piero della Francesca, Vermeer, Chirico and Edward Hopper. There would be no strict rule here: some might see Bruegel as quite an active painter who has nevertheless influenced Tarkovsky, while Hopper's impact isn't only enormously evident in Wim Wenders' films (The American Friend, End of Violence, Don't Come Knocking) but also not irrelevant to David Lynch's much more frenetic Mulholland Dr. But the point wouldn't rest chiefly in the aesthetic homage, but in the ontological influence: in the artist containing a quality that the director wants to find in their own filmmaking practise. Tarkovsky was always a filmmaker drawn to the problem of colour, with most of his films working with complex and suggestives notion of colour and monochrome, and often switching from one to the other, whether this happened to be in Andrei Rublev, where much of the film was in black and white but the icons in colour, or Stalker, with the monochrome giving way to colour as the characters reach the area around the Zone. Is there something in January: Hunters in the Snow that captures this ambivalence towards colour? As David Piper says in The Illustrated History of Art: If Breugel's "August is heat itself, then January, in its whites, greys and blacks, is the very rigour of iron winter." We might wonder how much of Tarkovsky's work carries this iron of winter in all its literal and metaphoric possibilities. The presence of a painting might not be an instance of homage; more underlying preoccupation. The director sees in certain paintings a problematic that they see as their own.
Pasolini was both wary of and interested in the similarities between cinema and painting, saying: "the composition of the world in terms of presences and absences etc. in front of the camera, has some analogy with painting only in the sense that both film and painting "reproduce" reality with means proper to each." "There are certain elements - let us call them compositional - that are in the matrix of both cinema and painting...." (Heretical Empricism) Thus what matters isn't the influence of painting but much more its pervasive presence as a compositional art. With cinema only a hundred and twenty years old, it makes sense that it should absorb many of the compositional aspects of painting. To rely too much on the language of film as a technicized form is to give way to the technicization of modern life. Discussing Chaplin's Modern Times, Pasolini says: "when an entire language is "assimilated and modified" by the language of technology, presumably the phenomenon that today is only verified inside a factory will be recreated in all aspects of social life..." Pasolini's search for a cinema aesthetics that wouldn't be narrowly contained by the discipline of film of course led to numerous pieces on the semiotics of cinema, but there is in his filmmaking practise an ongoing interest in finding an approach to making films that needn't be beholden to the technical/formal ways in which they are expected to be made.
We can think here of the sequence in The Gospel According to St Matthewwhere John the Baptist lies languishing in prison and Salome dances for her father. The first few shots don't so much set the scene as establish an aesthetic. In film terms we start with an establishing shot of John from behind, then we cut to a close up, and then move to an exterior shot, with the king standing looking out of a high perched arch. The film then zooms in on a boy playing a woodwind instrument, cuts away and then cuts back to him in closeup as we watch him playing. There are numerous oddities in the scene if we think simply in terns of conventional film language. Why shoot John from behind rather than frontally? Why does it look as if the shot of John looking up and out of the window seem to suggest he is looking at Herod, when we can see that this wouldn't be possible? Why zoom in on the boy, cut away, and then move back in on him? We might be using established film terms to describe what Pasolini is doing, but we cannot limit ourselves to them if we want to understand what he is achieving. If we notice that the first shot isn't an establishing shot but an interior composition, then the second shot isn't a close up but a portrait. It is as though Pasolini finds the most appropriate place in each instance for the camera's placement ascompositional meaning over narrative momentum. Each shot is a law unto itself over a law of narrative development. Now of course a sequence is being built here, as we move from John in jail, to Salome's dance and the removal of the Baptist's head. But what the film doesn't do is sacrifice the compositional to the narrational. The shots are more precise aesthetically than in most films, but less achieved as cinematic continuity. To shoot the establishing shot frontally would have made more sense for filmic logic, but less sense if we see Pasolini's priority not to establish the shot but to compose it. Pasolini isn't working within the confines of film language, but asking for the broadest encompassment available. It is cinema as the written language of reality contained not just by cinema but by painting too.
Godard's relationship with painting has been manifold, with a number of the sixties films drawing on pop art, Passion from the early eighties working with paintings by Goya, Watteau and Rembrandt, and Eloge de L'amour in the early 2002's using digital video to invoke the Fauvists. Numerous articles have acknowledged Godard's interest in pop art, from D. Morton in Senses of Cinemato Angela Dalle Vache in her book: Cinema and Painting: How Art is Used in Film. In Godard's Made in USA, the story is contained as if by a colour scheme that cannot quite take the story seriously. If film often utilises colour to create a visual underpinning to the dramatic, Godard refuses this contract. In Hitchcock'sVertigo for example, when Scottie sits in the restaurant by the bar and sees Madeleine, all the elements of mise en scene go into showing a man instantly fascinated. The wallpaper is a rich red, Madeleine's dress a ripe green. The camera moves towards her table in an extension of a point of view, and the music swells. Hitchcock uses mirrors to show how closely Scottie wants to observe her. The colour and the other elements exaggerate feeling. In Godard's sixties films, like Pierrot le Fou, Made in USA and Weekend, colour questions feeling. In Made in USA we cannot quite take the events seriously because the colour scheme looks like it is dislocated from the action. There is a shot fromMade in USA where Anna Karina's character gets out of a taxi, and the canted camera angle and the colour of the cab and the house can't help but make us think of pop art and comic strips in conjunction with the story being told: about Karina's search for info on her ex. The cherry red car and the matching window frames, the dark powder blue walls, make us feel we are in a painting as much as we are in a film: that we are in a work of art rather than engaged in the visualisation of the narrative. Yet this is Godard's genius: the capacity to work disjunctively with different elements. We know we are watching a pro-filmic event: that is clearly a house and obviously a car. We know a story is being told: Karina discussses trying to find out more about her ex. And we know the film is trying to escape from either simple pro-filmic recreation or narrative confirmation. It is looking to dislocate one element from the other; most films of course do the opposite. If in Pasolini we often find the film grammar absorbed as painterly composition, in Godard's work it is often about discovering a way to question the various art forms he works from.
In Passion Godard isn't so interested in recreating the paintings he utilises; more finding spaces between them. He manages to see cinema both as gesumkuntswerk (the total art work) and the scientifically verifiable, fascinatingly observed by Godard's cameraman Raoul Coutard. "You really have to analyse the painting carefully to notice that Rembrandt cheated." In the film itself, Coutard is the cameraman commenting on the making of the film. "It's not a Nightwatch but a Daywatch lit by a sun already low on the horizon." Cinema doesn't always tell the truth either, and actually has a term for the sort of cheating Rembrandt practises: day for night. A film is shot during the day but filter effects are used to give the impression it was filmed at night time. Yet Godard doesn't want to add to the 'cheating', but expose it: a variation of Godard's truth twenty four times a second. Indeed we might see much of Godard's work as a variation of the gesumkunstwerk meeting the Liar Paradox: the idea that to say your are always lying inidcates that at least once you must be telling the truth. Godard's use of cinema as gesumkuntswerk, to use film as a means by which to incorporate all the other art forms, is an act of radical ekphrasis. What Godard insists on doing isn't bringing together the various arts, but separating them, to allow them to coexist within the film but not to homogenise wiithin it. His is a heterogeneous ekphrasis that refuses the sum of the parts to become the whole. This is partly where the Liar Paradox comes in. Godard wants to acknowledge the truth through telling lies; wants to acknowledge the lie by telling the truth. If Godard has always been a fiction filmmaker rather than a documentarian, it resides in creating hypothetical worlds that can then be countered by the presence of facts. Instead of incorporating Rembrandt into Passion, he keeps Rembrandt at one remove so he can show painting and cinema's limitations rather than their authority. Godard doesn't use film to confirm cinema's majesty, but to question it: to literally ask questions of it. As he says: "I don't much care for shooting. What I really enjoy is searching." (Enthusiasm 05)
In the same interview he insists that sometimes when looking at faces he thinks he needs a camera to register it. He might not like shooting, but he knows the camera can capture a certain truth reality cannot quite countenance: Godard's variation of Muybridge's horse lies in the visage. "The real reverse shot hasn't been found. The Americans...soon beat the shot/reverse shot to death, making it into a trivial ping-pong game devoid of all meaning. The director no longer tries to have two people look at each other, listen to each other, think of each other, which is already six possibilities multiplied by six..." It is as if science meets the fine arts. Just as Muybridge knew only cinema could show whether a horse's four legs happened to be off the ground simultaneously, so Godard wonders if he needs a camera to show certain aspect to the human face, and then wonders how many options there are available within this, as if seeking various modes of portraiture. The technological meets the aesthetic. But perhaps it isn't as dichotomous as one might think. When Muybridge pursued his studies, artists generally drew horses with at least one leg on the ground at any given time, as if most painters worked with the convention rather than the possible, the assumption that surely a horse's legs couldn't be off the ground entirely. But great art is often great because it transforms our expectations, suggests a way of looking at things that seems more real to perception than to aesthetic convention. Duscussing Velasquez's Hilandera, E. H. Gombrich quotes the painter Philips Angel attacking painters for showing the spokes of the wheel when the carriage is in motion. "Though I have seen many cart wheels represented I have never yet seen as it should appear because every spoke is always drawn as if the carriage did not appear to move." (Art and Illusion) Gombrich notes however it wasn't Angel who found a remedy. "It needed the imagination and skill of a Velasquez to invent a means of suggesting that 'uncertain glimpse' in the spinning of the Hilanderas, which appears to catch the so-called stroboscopic effect', the streaking after-image which trails its path across the field of vision when an object is whizzing past." Velasquez cracks a problem concerning the capturing of the real, just as Muybridge did likewise. When Godard attacks the use of the shot/counter-shot it resides in a stale form getting in the way of reality, not exposing it, not making life more vivid.
This is consistent with Godard's remarks above where he talks about being in touch with life. The gesumtkunswerk is the total art work but still within the realm of art; Godard absorbs the notion of the other arts into a reality broader than aesthetics. When Godard discusses the shot-counter shot he is talking about a convention that hems in life, just as artists before Velasquez would show the spokes of a spinning wheel instead of the stroboscopic effect. If we are resistant to any argument that suggests cinema gains much of its significance from being indebted to art, it rests partly in the notion that art is first of all indebted to living reality, and that if it adopts schemas (in Gombrich's term) it does so to create a framework in which to see the real more clearly. When the schema becomes a convention it hides reality the way language based on clich masks the real. An original coinage allows us to see things more clearly, but after a while it becomes stale and people can hide behind stock phrasing, just as filmmakers, for example, can hide behind stock shots. When Godard talks about the shot counter-shot it is as though he is asking us to reject the cinematic convention and find in art and existence the possibility that will take us beyond this facility of the image. In Eloge de L'amour this experimentation is manifold. There are numerous shots where central character Bruno Putzulu is filmed in minimal light so we can't easily make out his features. The main female character, played by Colleen Camp is almost never clearly in view. If we think of most filmmakers and the shooting of the face, two things are paramount: the clarity of the visage or the narrative purpose behind its deviation. If someone is talking we expect to see the face in clear view; if they are stalking someone we can assume that the face will often be shown in half light, in the shadows. Deviation comes from a narrative demand that allows the violation of convention. Godard's work is a constant process of deviation without accepting that narrative demand dictates it.
If we look at his work from Breathless to Vivre sa vie, from Made in USA toWeekend, from Slow Motion to Eloge de L'amour, we see the many possibilities available in filming the face. This approach comes out of feeling under no obligation to reject narrative, while also possessing an unwillingness to tellstories. If Godard has always been viewed as a filmmaker with numerous hobby horses, this lies in his resistance to work horses or race horses - the pedestrian plod of predictable plotting; the fast-pace of thiller narratives. He wants less to tell stories with images, than find images that tell stories. If we think of the close-ups of Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie, of Mireille Darc in Weekend, of Nathalie Baye in Slow Motion, and of Myriam Rousel in Hail Mary, we see the numerous ways in which to film the visage. If usually the face is a technical notion (the close up), in Godard it is an aesthetic idea. In other words, in many films the close up serves a purpose within the diegesis; it pushes the story along with a sense of immediacy; it doesn't still the story into a moment of portraiture. If Steven Spielberg is such a master of convention it resides partly in his use of the close up in all its functional possibilities. Whether it is the reaction shot to space-ships, dinosaurs or sharks to generate awe or fear, or to dying or dead soldiers, camp victims or slaves to generate pity, or whether it is the close up to indicate a dramatic moment of revelation in Jaws, E.T. or Schindler's List, Spielberg knows how to tell a story that stays well within the parameters of cinema. Not only would he never consider the heterogeneous aspect of Godard, he would be wary of including anything that doesn't fit easily within a vocabulary of film.
We offer Spielberg as a contrasting example because in Eloge de L'amourGodard explicitly invokes Spielberg's name as the elderly couple in the film think of selling their resistance story past to Spielberg Associates. The woman criticising the producers is their granddaughter, whose face we almost never see in close up, and who acts not just as resistant character within the scene, but is presented resistantly in the form. She never becomes a dramatic close up, never makes her point with the sort of narrative assertiveness we would expect when in Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks' character tells Matt Damon to earn his life as Hanks passes away, or as Ralph Fiennes aims his sniper rifle at various camp inmates in Schindler's List. Spielberg at his most accomplished is a master manipulator, but he doesn't create much space for the viewer to think for themselves or the art form to develop for itself. Image and feeling are closely linked in a manner that need never disturb our mental faculties, even when Spielberg accesses our moral outrage. Few watching the Fiennes scene will view it without dismay, but that doesn't mean we are any the less assured of our position as we are when watching Hanks say "earn it".
By refusing the pull of meaning and morality, drama and feeling, Godard can reconstitute the image: he can see it not only as a problem of telling a story (more or less all fiction filmmakers have this problem) but how to retain constantly the issue of the problem of telling the story, and all the assumptions therein contained. When film theorist Jacques Aumont says, "in Hegelian terms, beauty can better, or differently, accommodate the contradiction between the eternal and the perishable", we might think of how Godard insists on finding the beauty in the image, and not only in the character playing the role. Now of course in film there is both the character and the actor, but though what we see is Michelle Pfeiffer's beauty or Marilyn Monroe's, the film will remain diegetically driven rather than aesthetically focused. It will of course acknowledge the beauty of these women, but will not create a space between the actress and the role. When Pfeiffer moves slinkily in scarlet on top of a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys, or Monroe sings wearing blush pink and looking fruity in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the films seek a synthesis between the actress and the part she is playing.
When Godard shows us Bardot at the beginning of Le mepris nude on the bed, or Karina's Nana dancing around the pool room in Vivre sa vie, it is as though he is acknowledging the eternal and the perishable: the eternal nature of the filmed image (the actresses haven't aged a day), and the perishable realisation that they will of course age and die. This is the image as sculptural: a figure frozen in celluloid time as much as a character with a role to play. When Nana goes to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, the film shows footage from Dreyer's work. We see Falconetti and Artaud, both figures long since dead when Godard's film was made, and we cut from their faces on screen to Karina's in the audience. But we are of course in the audience watching Karina up there on screen as well, and Godard's close up of Karina echoes some of the most famous close ups in cinema. Yet somehow to call them close ups doesn't get at the singularity of their usage. These are surely moments of portraiture, painterly images in cinematic form; sculptural figures whose movements through narrative time seems secondary to their being caught by celluloid time. This is beauty containing the perishable and eternal, and is reflected in a remark Godard makes in Godard on Godard. "In so far as I believe in attitudes, I believe in visuals, in the intrinsic worth of the image...imagine a butterfly flying in a field. If you want to be sure of capturing it, you can always cover the field with a vast wire-netting. It may take years, but you will succeed in the end. What interests me is to go after the butterfly without even a net, just with my hands." This image captures something of the difference between Godard and the mainstream filmmaker, with the much more narratively driven director determined to enmesh beauty within a narrative net, while Godard is often seeking a form of portraiture. It gives to his work not the building blocks of narrative, but demands from narrative enough of a through-line within which he can find the means to explore the beautiful in various manifestations.
He thus makes films, if you like with his hands, like a painter or a sculptor. This isn't about creating painterly images, especially; it is about working as an artist evident in comments by or about Godard. Talking of First Name Carmen, Godard said: "I had asked [cameraman Raoul Coutard] to go and see Rodin's sculptures...I thought it was good for the film, for the body." Nathalie Baye onDetective thought that the actors were Godard's "tubes of paint." Richard Brody in Everything is Cinema says of Slow Motion: "Godard used Zeiss "super speed" (ultra-wide aperture) lenses, which eliminated much of the need for added lighting, and allowed him to capture in the film the painterly, quasi impressionistic textures of ambient and natural light." Godard is interested in finding in film the equivalent freedoms to be found in painting and sculpture. He doesn't want to imitate the masters; more find a means by which he can do with film what they could do with the fine arts.
Talking of working with Pasolini on his first film Accatone, Bertolucci said: "as for style, it was very moving, because every time Pasolini did a tracking shot it was like assisting the first tracking shot that had ever been made in the world. Even the closup. It was like the first closeup that had ever been made. It was like the birth of language." (The Film Director as Superstar) In the same interview Bertolucci insists he knows very little about technique. "I don't know how to use the camera", he says, but he did want to understand questions of the real and of aesthetics. Working often with cameraman Vittorio Storaro, they would look for what respected the former and searched out the latter. Storaro says on Last Tango in Paris: "I realised I was using light in connection with the conscious side of the mise-en-scene and dark for the unconscious. By instinct and by feeling I was drawing a conflict between light and shadow", adding, "Bacon's paintings gave me the confirmation of an idea that Bertolucci and I had about the conflict between the warm artificial light in a northern city like Paris during wintertime and the natural winter light. We already had the idea, but then we saw the Bacon exhibition in Paris and it confirmed it. We change our metabolism in front of a painting or watching a film." In the same Guardian piece he talks of the influence of Magritte on The Spider's Stratagem, and The Fourth Estate by Pelizza da Volpedo on 1900. "Bertolucci has always showed me paintings", Storaro says. For Bertolucci the important thing isn't film technique but the shuttling between the world and the image, trying to find in the film the necessary images that will, in Storaro's words, capture the complexity of being human. "He is always playing with an inner conflict - to be a normal human being, or a privileged man. With The Last Emperor it's a relationship between one single man and an entire empire. In that story I was trying to portray visually the connection between light and life." These quotes were taken from Storaro's book, Writing with Light, and in numerous articles and interviews Storaro talks symbolically of how he would use light and colour, saying of The Last Emperor"we would know violet only when he's free from the ideological prison."
Yet what interests us isn't the symbolism of the work, but the mediated possibilities in drawing from the reality around the filmmaker, and the aesthetic history of which the culture happens to be a part. Of course symbolism is also part of this culture, but there is the danger in the symbolic that it becomes anassertive position, a means by which to draw too much from the cultural and not enough from the living reality out of which cinema defines itself as an art form. It isn't only a medium that records the real; but the real is a vital dimension of its existence. When Storaro talks about the artificial warm light in northern cities, and the natural winter light, Bacon's work isn't a symbolic account of it, but there is an aspect of Bacon's work that chimes with it, and gives Storaro and Bertolucci the means by which to make sense of light as an aesthetic problem.
This is even more so with the bodies, and especially Marlon Brando's. Bacon's paintings are synaesthetic as they invoke senses that are not accessible in this mono-sensorial art form. In his Study after Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, what he adds is 'sound', hence the nickname 'screaming' pope attached to the painting. Cinema is bi-sensorial, and thus can easily invoke the audio missing from painted image. At the beginning of Last Tango in Paris, the film gives us two Bacon paintings during the credit sequence, and then cuts to Brando walking along the street and letting out a bellow as if taking advantage of the audio possibilities in film denied to the art works. Throughout the film, Brando is a figure caught between the actions of film and the postures of art. If painting is inevitably an art form of stillness, then cinema is ontologically an aesethetic of movement. Despite the odd exception like La Jettee and Ano Una, film is based on pace. While many a film will play up stillness within this movement (and hence earn the often admonishing term slow), stillness is an option not a condition. Brando more than most actors captures a motion in stillness and stillness in motion, a restless inner tension over its manifestation in goal-orientated action, and Bacon's rawness and Brando's restlessness share an understanding of the animal in man. When Brando lets out a scream at the beginning of the film, or later prefers noises to words when physically close to Maria Schneider's character, this is a being stripped to the essentials. If some might claim Last Tango in Paris is a film in which nothing happens (much of the film is about a couple holed up in an apartment), then this is all the better to show man in a gilded cage, but with cage the operative word. John Molyneux talks of the way Bacon "uses cage structures to suggest his subjects are prisoners or creatures on display; the way, often, they are placed on plinths, or beds, with a sense of space around them, so that they appear served up like meat or specimens on a dish; or the way he used cubist forms, in his portraits, to knead the flesh round the bones of the skull." Here is an artist who understands that man, from a certain perspective, leads a futile existence. If Brando was never much of an actor for pushing the plot, it lay partly in his interest in what goes on inside a mind and body, not what it is generically capable of.
In an interview with Lawrence Grobel, Brando quotes Shakespeare. "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face." Brando adds that this "very plainly means that being able to discover the subtle qualities of the human mind by the expression of the face is an art." It is this art Brando, Bertolucci and Storaro sought to find in Last Tango in Paris. Often the drawing of light against shadow in the film is used to emphasise what is going on in Paul's (Brando) mind. We can think of the scene where Paul lies on his side and talks to Jeanne (Schneider) as the film allows the light and shadow to play off his face. Here the northern light and warm artificial light combine to reveal the workings of a mind as Bertolucci and Storaro try and find the cinematic means, with the aid of Bacon, of showing the workings of the mind in the visage. If Bertolucci could talk of Pasolini's close ups being like the first ever made, Bertolucci in Last Tango in Paris searches for a new language too.
Few filmmakers of the sixties were more adventurous in searching out a new language than Antonioni, and numerous artists have been invoked to explore his aesthetic. In Michelangelo Red Antonioni Blue, Murray Pomerance name checks Cezanne, De Chirico, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Pisarro, Monet, Matisse and other artists. Angela Dalle Vache in an essay on The Red Desert mentions De Chirico, one of Antonioni's favourites. Mark Cousins discusses the Abstract Expressionists in a short essay in Widescreen. Yet of course any influence one sees should be secondary to the principle behind its use. When Gilles Deleuze discusses the rarefied image (the empty shot) in Antonioni's work, or Pascal Bonitzer believes Antonioni's purpose since the beginning of the sixties had been "the de-peopled shot", these are cinematic observations. There are many paintings which are devoid of people, but not many narrative films where the people are missing. Indeed it is this notion of people missing that is central to Antonioni's aesthetic purpose; his shot choices and his narrative retreat. People go missing in a number of Antonioni films: Anna in L'avventura, the couple who fail to show up at the end of The Eclipse, the body in Blow-Up, the central character in The Passenger, the lover in Investigation of a Woman. Equally, the shot is always capable of emptiness. The empty streets in Red Desert, the empty park in Blow Up, the desert locations in Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. In film we expect the frame if not to be full, then at least to be anthropocentrically focused. When we see a shot of a building we are usually expected to think not especially of the building as such, but of it focusing our attention on where the film is set. We anticipate the medium shot of the office and the people who are occupying it. The difference with Antonioni is that he would want us to forestall this anticipatory urge and concentrate much more on the building itself. We might think of the opening shots in La notte, a series of images of the car park, or the series of shots on the house in the desert when the central character played by Daria Halpern visits.
While we can talk about the influence of art on Antonioni's work, it would be to offer a misplaced sense of certitude to accept the reference as a means of explanation and justification. While the history of art has often settled for the empty shot so frequently evident in the landscape or the still life where there is no human presence, film remains, as we have proposed, much more a medium of people. This is partly why the establishing shot functions as it does. It might not have anybody within the frame, but the absence isn't perceived as absence but as anticipation: it is a transitional shot awaiting the presence of humans. We wouldn't usually call a close up of a face a transitional shot; it is central to the action. Antonioni forestalls such assumptions, so that Bonitzer's notion, quoted in Deleuze's Cinema 1: the Movement Image, that "the object of Antonioni's cinema is to reach the non-figurative through an adventure whose end is the eclipse of the face", is to allow a proper presence to the establishing shot. If we have quoted Godard's fascination with the face as he would try to explore the possibilities in cinematic portraiture, then we can think of Antonioni as the great director of the urban landscape, as someone who wants to challenge the assumptions behind the establishing shot and give it fundamental cinematic properties, to take it far beyond its convention as a transitional image. As Cousins says: "Antonioni 'got' urbanism, he was entranced by space as a thing initself." (Widescreen)
While it is useful to acknowledge the influence of painting on Antonioni's work, we could miss out on its originality by over-emphasising homage. In a fine, brief visual essay John Beasley discusses Antonioni's Red Desert and quotes the director saying that Mark Rothko's work is "painted anxiety". Beasley then uses colour charts to show Antonioni's very precise use of colour in the film, a precision not far removed from Rothko's and perhaps for a similar purpose. But this is where homage must give way to coincidence of sensibility. Rothko paints anxiety; Antonioni films it. Yet cinematic anxiety is not quite the same thing as the anxious in painting. Rothko's work had no access to the narrational or formal properties we have touched upon: the importance of missing people in Antonioni's work, or the tension he can achieve by holding much longer on what is usually called an establishing shot.
In Blow Up he sometimes establishes the shot with a figure in it but places the character so small within the frame that we find the character within the shot; we don't readily assume it. When central character Thomas (David Hemmings) goes into the park we see him take up a tiny proportion of the frame. The shot is actually a counter-shot; the previous image has shown him snapping away outside the park, but the distance Antonioni films him from suggests to us much more an establishing shot. Antonioni constantly refuses the assumptions of film vocabulary to find a new mode of perception. If we were to do little more than acknowledge the fine art influences upon Antonioni's style, we would be underestimating his filmic originality by predicating his artistic credentials. There is no doubt that Antonioni's 'colour field' is as impressive as any filmmaker working in cinema; few directors have managed as successfully as Antonioni to incorporate the colourist ambitions of Abstract Expressionists like Rothko and Barnett Newman into film mise en scene. Whether it is the moment in Blow Upwhere Vanessa Redgrave stands half-naked against white and violet canvas sheets, the models lined up in a recessive diagonals, or the scene where Thomas is looming over the model Verushka as he takes pictures wearing an Iris coloured shirt against a grey-purple background, Antonioni finds cinematic correlatives for abstract expressionist achievements. But this also gives to the mise en scene a chilly remove, creating a very different sense of anxiety from Rothko's. If Antonioni is often called the great director of alienation, then it lies in creating a color field (even paradoxically in black and white) that could give a sense of the space between things. Antonioni's shots are often rarefied not only because they are emptied out, but also because the colours are separated, distinct. This is why we would be more inclined to think of Newman or Rothko over Pollock or Motherwell, and why one might sense anxiety in Antonioni's work. Both people and colours are separate from each other, giving Antonioni's world an aloofness that even when the characters within the film might be trying to make contact (the affair between Richard Harris and Monica Vitti in Red Desert, the bond between Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in The Passenger) the mise en scene cannot quit reflect it.
There is also 'anxiety' in Antonioni's film vocabulary; he doesn't allow us to settle into a conventional image structure; he instead creates his own language that refuses seeing establishing shots, close ups and counter shots as cinematic givens as we have thus explored. As Antonioni says: "A line spoken by an actor at three quarters is different from the same line spoken at full face or in profile; it takes on a different value, a different meaning." (The Architecture of Vision) Imagine a line like "I don't love you any more" offered at full face; it can seem like a statement of intent; the line of someone who has had enough and wants out of the marriage. Offered in a frac34; shot it can more easily suggest doubt, confusion, and yes, anxiety. It Is as if Antonioni is always looking for an angle on the event that can generate unease over certitude, a view that dedramatises the situation, and creates a new perspective. In the scene where Monica Vitti arrives at the stock exchange looking for her mother in The Eclipse, Antonioni views events from the position of the uncomprehending Vitti. But while another filmmaker might accept that Vitti will be our focal point into a world we, like Vitti, don't understand, Antonioni keeps us at a further remove by only partly following Vitti in the environment. Often in the sequence we're attending to the other characters as they buy and sell, adding to rather than exacerbating the confusion. We can't quite follow the buying and selling, and we aren't quite following Vitti in her confusion. After a minute of watching Vitti in the stock exchange, the film switches to covering Alain Delon's stockbroker as he overhears someone saying that Finsider is going up and that he wants to buy 50,000, leading to Delon purchasing 20,000 and creating a frenzy in the stock market. The film at the end of the sequence picks up with Vitti again, and ends with Vitti meeting Delon through her mother.
The sequence could have engaged us so much more if Vitti had gone to make money off shares herself, but Antonioni wants us to remain aloof to events: to see the environment for what it is, without exactly understanding what it is. This isn't a devastating criticism of capital, more an alienated look at the how money functions in an advanced western society. Antonioni claimed that in The Eclipse"money is seen from the viewpoint of those who do not have any...If I had to filmThe Eclipse today, I would make it even harsher."(The Architecture of Vision) But this might indicate a neo-realist approach to poverty that Antonioni had moved beyond. When he says "I made a proposal to the producers to do two versions precisely to explore the question of money", this suggests if not even-handedness than an interest in viewing events from more than one position. Yet this is what Antonioni manages to do anyway, as if finding a Cubist aspect to the situation: points of view are held within the one sequence, without relying on point of view of view or crosscutting to emphasise the differing angles. Instead Antonioni achieves it by removing the ready coordinates of coherence and instead leaving Vitti behind while the film concentrates on Delon. A film that wanted to point up the relationship that will develop between the pair of them would emphasise Delon alone earlier in the film and crosscut between Delon and Vitti to create a montage of foreshadowing. Yet this is the first time we see him. Sure, Vitti has recently broken up with her long-term lover, and Delon is certainly a physically attractive man, but there isn't the suggestion in this sequence that Delon and Vitti are a couple in waiting.
The romantic film of course wouldn't even think of the possibility that two films could be made out of the man and the woman in the film: the point would reside in their coming together. Antonioni suggests however that there is always a gulf between them, and makes a film about the pair all the better to emphasise this gulf. The film concludes on a famous sequence of empty shots, as neither Vitti nor Delon turn up for an arranged meeting. It is the romantic film inverted, as if they are in separate films, unable to unite to conclude in this one. Those closing shots are impressive compositional images in themselves; as if Antonioni had absorbed the influence of Di Chirico, Magritte and other artists of the empty frame. But merely to indicate a possible influence is to ignore much that makes the image integral to a problem in life captured on film. This is a problem of alienation without a doubt, of reification as rarefaction: of people who cannot connect in a world where urban anomie is central to our existence. Antonioni doesn't only conclude on a scene showing their absence, he also emphasises the presence of urban spaces. Could the sequence have possessed the same impact in a rural environment? Antonioni is 'saying' something about life and saying it using cinema. To acknowledge possible painterly influences wouldn't be irrelevant, but it would beg plenty of questions: the very questions Antonioni's quizzical style appears to demand.
If we regard Greenaway as a far less significant filmmaker than Antonioni, it rests centrally on this question of creating a space for cinematic enquiry as opposed to a game with the painterly image in film form. "I don't want to be a film-maker. I think painting is far more exciting and profound. It's always at the back of my mind - let's give up this silly business of film-making and concentrate on something more satisfying and worthwhile." (Guardian) In the same interview Greenaway interestingly talks about taking his own life at eighty: "At 80," the interviewer Xan Brooks says, "he plans to kill himself." We might be reminded of our earlier quote from Godard, now into his mid-eighties and still making films, where he discusses the idea that by working in cinema you can never get bored because you are drawing on life. There Greenaway is insisting he wants to die at eighty, a filmmaker whose aspiration has been to be the artist Godard has always been relieved not to be, however much he might envy the freedom the artist ostensibly possesses.
It is the respect for cinema as the real that Greenaway has always lacked. "Whether you're Godard or Almodovar or Scorsese, it's text, text, text. Everything begins with the text and this is a source of great anguish to me. So please let cinema get on with doing what it does best, which is expressing ideas in visual terms." (Guardian) "I would say there has been no cinema yet. Nobody has yet made a film. I think the best we can manage is a version of illustrated literature or recorded theatre. Alain Resnais [the French filmmaker, creator of Hiroshima, mon amour and L'annee derniere a Marienbad], for me, has probably come the closest of any filmmaker to make a film which cannot be manifested in any other art form." "I also think that the dominant commercial cinema is extremely conventional, very orthodox, very non-investigative; Scorsese, basically, is still making the same movies as Griffith." (Paris Transatlantic). In the same interview he says: "although many people consider me a visualist - someone capable of putting together a picture - I would like to think also that the dialogue and the soundtracks in my films are of eminent importance."
We could pick away at Greenaway's contradictions here easily enough. On the one hand he dismisses Godard and co for being text, text, text (though Godard usually didn't work from a script), while talking about the importance of the dialogue in his own work. The two films that he talks of by Resnais were taken from scripts written by two of France's most important novelists of the fifties, Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet. But working on a filmmaker's contradictory remarks is less useful than trying to explore why the work is 'less' cinematic than many of the films he dismisses.
It would seem for Greenaway that film is a visual art, though he would of course accept it is an audio-visual medium too. What it isn't first and foremost is a pro-filmic event: reality caught in light and sound. This can give to his work of course a certain ingenuity evident in the scene where Helen Mirren in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and her Lover goes through various rooms and her dress changes with the colour of each: red, green and white. It can give to his images a perceptual dimension missing from the thriller, where instead of solving a case with the detective intellectually, the viewer is expected to engage in the perceptions of the artist visually. This is why James Mackenzie can say of The Draughtsman's Contract: "The film, by Hollywood standards, is unsatisfying: the murderers are never revealed; conflicts aren't resolved." (Senses of Cinema) InDrowning by Numbers the film ends when the film reaches a hundred; each number offered as an escape from narrative convention and into numerical obsession. Again perception is the key: we might find for example the number revealed on a dead cow, as if Greenaway gives us a cinematic equivalent of Spot the Ball. Roger Ebert writing on the film admitted Greenaway's movies were like those by no other filmmaker, but we might add there may be a reason why director's don't make films like Greenaway. As John Orr says: "If he cannot take his narratives seriously, then why should anyone else? We can put the same question more cynically. If Persona has had such a powerful influence on filmmakers, why has Greenaway had so little?" (Contemporary Cinema)
This might reside in Greenaway's failure to understand cinema as film, while acknowledging he comprehends it as an audio-visual medium. Yet there is something in the term audio visual medium that helps us recognise the limitations of Greenaway's vision: it appears so much more restrictive than Pasolini's written language of reality. Now this doesn't mean that Greenaway has no interest in the real world - we might think of the location shooting in Rome for Belly of an Architect - but the emphasis resides in studio control over exploration of locale. If Pasolini believed that cinema found its art through searching out the real, Greenaway believes one doesn't discover it; one makes it. This is partly why painting is so important to his work, and why we are claiming his films are finally no so important to cinema. When he recreates paintings from Rembrandt for Nightwatching, when he replicates still lifes from Dutch 17th paintings of fruit, or when he utilises Van Aelst's Hunting Still Life inDrowning by Numbers, we sense a filmmaker who doesn't want from cinema its capacity for capturing the real as an ongoing grapple with reality, but wants to utilise cinema for its capacity to put life under plate glass. Taxonomy and taxidermy are aspects of Greenaway's work, and he functions a little like an inverse anthropologist. He isn't someone who wants, like Antonioni, to examine the world in the present; and yet he isn't like Pasolini someone who wants to find in the past a deep structure that tells us what we are as a species. No, Peter Greenaway's work is a ludic exploration of cryptic image-making. As he says: ""The whole purpose of my cinematic effort is to explore metaphor and symbol." (Peter Greenaway Interviews) If for Godard cinema is truth 24 frames a second, for Greenaway it is a game 24 times a second. "Without exception," Faena Aleph says "his works conjure an artistic exhibition in movement.". But is this what film can be at its best? Greenaway might dismiss most cinema as pure narration, but is the most useful way of escaping this by turning it into an abstract system? When Greenaway insists that his films are concerned with metaphors and symbols, it sounds like he doesn't understand cinema at all. Cinema is more index and metonymy we might be inclined to claim, taking into account our earlier exploration of the indexical through Peirce, and thinking of metonomy versus metaphor in Roman Jakobson's work. Metaphor suggests an abstract relationship that cinema has always struggled with and only occasionally overcome, where metonomy has been very easily absorbed into filmic convention. When Eisenstein tried to use metaphor to suggest the similarity between one thing and the other, the literal nature of film made this a difficult task. Eisenstein wanted to show that Kerensky in Strike strutted around like a peacock, and cut from Kerensky walking, to an image of the vain bird. But while this comparison is easy to achieve in literature where a metaphor or a simile can be smoothly contained within the one sentence, when utilised in film the literal nature of the film medium can lead us to see such connections as both clumsy and obscure. The comparison would make sense if Eisenstein filmed Kerensky in a zoo looking at the peacock, but the cut between the two is cinematically arbitrary because the director seeks a metaphoric purpose. To put them into the same scene would imply metaphoric possibilities but not state them. Eisenstein wanted to make the comparative aspect categorical, but proved that cinema struggled to work, in this instance, like a language.
Metonymy, however, could easily be absorbed into film; much editing is based on its presence. Metonymy is the part that signifies the whole, and film frequently shows for example the face, yet we don't assume that the rest of the body is missing as a consequence. It can show the wheel of a car turning, and again we assume the rest of the vehicle is simply out of shot, not absent altogether. This doesn't mean cinema should give up on radical experimentation in film language just because of difficulties in incorporation, but taking Eisenstein's example into account, not all experiments are successful. Art in certain ways can be like science: it resists a thesis when faced with empirical evidence. Clearly there are many who see Greenaway's films as of interest, but just as Eisenstein's rhythmic and atemporal editing in The Battleship Potemkinhas been an influence on Kurosawa, Penn, Peckinpah, De Palma and others, the metaphorical dimension was absorbed into realist presentation: into what cinema was 'good at'. When Peckinpah cross cuts between the chicken being shot at the beginning of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and the eponymous Pat getting blown away many years later, this is an audacious acknowledgement of Eisenstein's experiment, but absorbed into what film does well. Both scenes very much have a dramatic purpose in their own right. Billy the Kid and his gang are shooting chickens, and Pat is getting killed. The cross cut between the two events taking place in separate zones nevertheless allow us to see Garrett being killed like a helpless chicken, but it works because the cut acknowledges two events. In Strike there is only one dramatic event - Kerensky's walk - and a cut to the metaphor. If we had seen Pat getting blown away (drama) and cut to chickens getting blow away (metaphor), the film would have 'failed'.
Now as we have suggested, Greenaway is not without his admirers, yet Orr is surely correct in assuming, for all the director's apparent innovation, Greenaway has had very little cinematic influence. Why is this? Our explanation rests on this idea of what works for film. Faena Aleph offers the remark about Greenaway's films being moving exhibitions as a compliment; we are more inclined to see it as a criticism: that Greenaway's work creates images that resemble paintings, but doesn't quite achieve the full capacity of moving images. A painting is really only one frame: a still and a painting share the basic ontological given of stillness. What cinema requires is finding movement out of this stillness, and whatever the tension between Eisenstein and Tarkovsky's position on film, they were both in agreement that rhythm was vital to filmmaking. But Greenaway's films often feel electrically resuscitated; dead frogs whose limbs start moving when you give them a shot of electricity. Admirers could claim film creates rhythm easily enough by telling stories: once you have a narrative in place a rhythmic intensity can easily enough come out of it. A bomb will go off within twelve hours - the one disposal expert up to the task is out climbing a mountain; a wife has cancer and there is only one surgeon who can save her, and he is on the other side of the world; an important painting is stolen from the Louvre; can the art-loving detective capture the criminals before they sell the paintings on? However, story and rhythm needn't be one and the same: Mirror, Contempt andLa notte don't have strong stories, but they have rhythmic images that accept the temporal nature of film. Tarkovsky, Godard and Antonioni understand that cinema is never inferior to painting; that it can absorb into film the other arts, as Godard noted, and others have theorised in relation to the index and the icon, due to its relationship with reality. Greenaway seems to feel that the further away one gets from reality the more art is present in the work: the more a film can resemble a pre-established genre (Jacobean tragedy in Drowning by Numbers and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover), a painterly influence (Nightwatching after Rembrandt) or numerical preoccupation (A Zed and Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers), the more 'serious' the work becomes. This though is not so much strong ekphrasis, as the intrusively ekphratic, with the filmmaker somehow suspicious of the nature of film as an art, and looking to to justify its existence through the other arts.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet would not posses like Greenaway this need to justify film through the 'higher' arts. He draws equally on August Renoir and Raymond Peynet for Amelie: he is a perceptual democratic next to Greenaway's elegant elitist. But if we believe he shares with Greenaway a lifeless relationship with the image it rests on imposing an artificiality on the reality he films: as if the real isn't quite good enough. Dudley Andrew is especially harsh in his attack on the film, saying in Film Quarterly: "spectators may feel Amelie works its magic on them, but there was nothing magical about its production. Controlling every element of sound and image, Jeunet engineered his fantasy with the precision of a watchmaker, each shot milled to move into position so as to engage the subsequent shot without friction." The influence of Auguste Renoir he sees as "a travesty of Renoir pere" with Andrew feeling Jeunet has learnt nothing from the artist, seeing Renoir as a shallow bon vivant.
Though we have argued here for cinema as a medium that needn't be beholden to the real, nor find itself caught in technicist language when film has shifted from the celluloid to the digital, this doesn't mean we readily accept that film should let go of certain principles of realism that we have tried to contain within, in Heidegger's formulation, the notion of truth. Both Greenaway and Jeunet, if in quite different ways, have settled for the beautiful over the truthful. Andrews' attack on Amelie is that of the disappointed Bazinian (he has written frequently and admiringly on the great French critic) but he also wants to show that the film isn't only unrealistic but also untruthful. "In Amelie, the entire world order...has been organized for our convenience." It offers us beauty but withholds from us a truth. As Andrews and others have noted, there was a large debate around the film concerning amongst other things its ethnic whitewashing; the absence of the housing projects just behind Montmartre. There is a dangerous argument here concerning representation and realism as truth we would wish to avoid: to assume that a film is truthful in some Heideggarian sense because it has shown verisimilitude in its location and a broad range of ethnic types that reflects Paris in the new Millennium would be to miss the point of what truth is. The point of an aesthetic truth is that there is no recipe for its presence, but this doesn't mean one cannot utilise the analytic means with which to find it. As Andrew talks about the film being organized for our convenience, he adds, "as delectable as it may be, full of art-history citations, and imaginative cinematic figures, Amelie is there to flatter us."
When a film organizes itself for our convenience and flatters us with its need to please, we might wonder where the truth lies, or whether it is lying about the truth. This has nothing to do with optimism - Greenaway's film are often as pessimistic as Amelie is affirmative - it rests on a feeling that there is no internal tension in the work, no disjunctive energy between the world viewed and its view of the world. Both Greenaway's films and Jeunet's are all of a piece, as if the directors' feel in complete control of their universe. When Andrew comparesAmelie to Jules et Jim he talks of a term Christian Keathley adopts, 'panoramic perception': the sort of filmmaking that can accept happenstance in the making, and leaves the viewer to search out details which might even go unnoticed by the director. Andrew reckons that a filmmaker like Jeunet (and we might add Greenaway) won't easily allow for these possibilities. If in art this move from beauty to truth rests partly in accepting the obsessive search for the specific thinginess of the thing (the treeness of the olive trees in Van Gogh, the appleness of the apple in Cezanne) or the risk involved in the contingent (Bacon, Pollack), in cinema should it manifest itself in panoramic perception; in the acceptance that the film is of the world and not an escape from it? Film perhaps more than any of the arts has a greater ontological obligation to do this, even if we remain insistent that this needn't at all equate with issues of representation or realism. But a film's escape from representation or realism can seem like a form of pro-filmic denial, a film retreating from truths for the pleasantries of too easy fiction in Amelie's case; too assertive symbolism in Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. Reviewing the latter work, Jonathan Rosenbaum stated that the film's presskit made the act of criticism all but superfluous. "The film features six rooms, each decorated and lit in a different color which symbolizes the kinds of actions which occur in that room." For example, "the parking lot, where the lovers flee, is a cold, ultramarine blue connoting the netherworld" and "the lovers' hideaway is gold to represent the golden age of learning and implying an Eden for the re-born innocents". (JR) This is the opposite of panoramic perception, with Greenaway leaving no room for chance even on a connotative level let alone the denotative one.
Both Greenaway and Jeunet utilise art, but they do so less to open up the film world than to close it down. They arrive at weak ekphrasis. Godard, Tarkovsky and others arrive at strong ekphrasis by using art to open up the world, and also to open up film's formal possibilities. That it comes out of recorded reality nevertheless no longer leaves it beholden to the technological from whence it came. But this doesn't mean it becomes an art form of artificiality just because it has moved in a strict sense from index to icon. What we have been looking to propose here is that film can remain respectful to certain truths accessed, but needn't be hidebound by a strictly technicist language. It absorbs artworks not to try and be equal to them, but to acknowledge a world beyond its own, and by doing so extending the cinematic vocabulary available to it. If at one extreme we have Greenaway's insistence that film is silly, and art vastly superior, on the other we have Godard's belief that film is the world; it is always full of manifold possibilities. Godard offers a basic ontological optimism both in being and in cinema, while Greenaway insists on a fundamental ontological pessimism where being is obliterated and the preconceived artwork paramount. Greenaway might insist that "All really worthwhile artists, creators, use the technology of their time and anybody who doesn't becomes immediately a fossil." But for all his innovation, Greenaway fossilises cinema because he sees it as an inferior medium. Godard, seeing it as a superior one (in the sense of those manifold possibilities), refuses this fossilisation not necessarily by keeping up with technological developments (though he does), but by seeing that film can constantly find new ways of seeing the world, evident in his comment about the many ways in which one can use the shot/countershot. By thinking of film as an ever expanding vocabulary not only of close ups, long shots, reaction shots, establishing shots and so on, but also portraits, landscapes and still lifes, can film not simultaneously constantly change whilst remaining the same?
© Tony McKibbin