Waltz with Bashir

24/03/2018

If documentary is usually seen as the mode of cinema most given to conveying reality, animation is the method by which to generate the most artificiality. When someone mentions cartoon violence they are making clear that the aggression on show has nothing to do with verisimilitude. When someone else insists that the film was so documentary-like, they are stating that we usually believe documentary’s purpose is to capture an aspect of the real. However, what happens when a film is an animated documentary, as we find with Waltz with Bashir?

There are several aspects that we need to unpick then, one is the assumed difference between live action film as a re-presentation of reality, and animation a creation of reality. Another is that animation can itself be a re-presentation, with rotoscoping a device by which an event is filmed and then drawn to turn it into the animated. A third is that in the age of digital technology, what is filmed and what is redigitised becomes a moot point. However, before moving on to these problems, let us first situate the film’s context: let us say a few words about its story. In September 1982, with Israeli soldiers looking on, Christian Lebanese militia groups were allowed into refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila, massacring up to 3,500 people – though the numbers are disputed. The attack was revenge for the death of recently elected Lebanese leader, Bachir Gemayel, whom the Lebanese mistakenly believed had been killed by the Palestinians. Director Ari Folman was one of those Israeli soldiers looking on, but he remembers nothing of the event, and the film explores his attempts to recall these memories.

Now, returning to our initial question, Lev Manovich says “if live-action footage were left intact in traditional filmmaking, now it functions as raw material for further compositing, animating, and morphing. As a result, while retaining the visual realism unique to the photographic process, film obtains a plasticity that was previously only possible in painting or animation.” (‘The Language of New Media’) One reason why we have assumed animation is not true is that the camera never lies and by implication animation does. This rests on the idea that film has a direct relationship with the world as a drawing does not, but Folman thinks otherwise. “Who decides what is more true?” he says. “A digital image that you see on a screen that is made out of pixels and dots and lines, or a drawn one, both of them are speaking in the same voice? Who decides the video picture is more real than an artist who drew the images for four months? (Studiodaily.com) Folman decided against rotoscoping because he reckoned it has big problems in ‘conveying emotions’. Yet, nevertheless, he filmed it first as a documentary using three DVCams and then turned it into an animated feature using Flash software.

Our purpose here isn’t to go into the technological aspect of the work but instead to muse over questions of truthfulness in the context of a film that wants to suggest the plasticity of memory. If film records memory as fact, can animation create it as a flexible friend? Early in the film, Folman speaks to an analyst he has known for years who discusses how much falsity memory can absorb. He talks of a group of people who were shown ten childhood images. “Nine were really from their childhood; the other was fake. Their portrait was pasted into a fairground they’d never visited. 80% recognised themselves. They recognized the fake photograph…” The psychologists did the test again and the second time the remaining 20% recalled the experience too, remembering a “wonderful day at the park with my parents. They remembered, he says, a completely fabricated experience.

Writing on the film Paul Atkinson and Simon Cooper say “ trauma can be analysed solely as a storytelling device in Waltz with Bashir and it is therefore important to distinguish traumatic experience from its re-presentation in the carefully composed documentary narrative. It is safe to assume that the filmmaker was aware of the nature of his “lost” memories before he began production of the documentary, that is, before the recording of the interviews and the staging of the narrative, and certainly before the reworking of the interviews and other documentary material as animated sequences.” “Consequently”, they say, “we do not examine trauma as the basis of the text – its productive centre – because the issue for us is the use of trauma as a formal trope.” (‘Untimely Animations’) That might be a little too aloof a response for us, but certainly what is fascinating about Waltz with Bashir is the plasticity of memory that the film plays up, with the plasticity of the form that animation allows for and that Manovich (whom Atkinson and Cooper quote) today sees as a given of the new ontology of film. Now Andre Bazin and others saw in the celluloid image an objective fact in contrast to the painterly image: “no matter how skilful the painter, his work was always in fee to an inescapable subjectivity. The fact that a human hand intervened cast a shadow of doubt over the image.” However, “photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism.” (‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’) Yet in the example the psychologist gives in Waltz with Bashir, the real photograph can serve very well false memories. The animation is true while the photograph is false. What interest us here in the film is the dangerous conflation between the real and the true (a conflation the film itself might fall into by the conclusion as it moves from the animated image to documentary footage of the massacre that it investigates: the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon.)

The psychological experiment suggests that we believe the camera never lies so that memory adjusts according to a truism. But this has always been a false claim partly because it invokes an antonym that isn’t useful. If the camera never lies that means the camera always tells the truth. But a camera is in no position to tell the truth; it is merely in a position to capture an aspect of reality. When we privilege the camera with a quality it doesn’t possess, it can impose itself on our mind which is in a position to tell the truth. Equally we have the phrase photographic memory, suggesting the infallible. Yet what Folman offers instead is animated memory, accepting the unreliability of our recollections.

There are very good reasons why we forget things, and while most of the time we fret over the loss of memory and the extreme examples of it found in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, usually forgetting is a mode of survival, a means by which to function. As Nietzsche says: “a man who did not possess the power of forgetting at all and who was thus condemned to see everywhere a state of becoming: such a man would no longer believe in his own being […]. Forgetting is essential to action of any kind.” (`On the Uses and Dis-advantages of History for Life’.) The question Waltz with Bashir poses, and tries to find a relative solution to, is what we are entitled to forget and what we need to remember, and offers this question through the form of the director’s investigation into his own traumatic relationship serving as a soldier in the early eighties. At the beginning of the film as he drinks with a friend in a bar, the friend tells him of his nightmares killing twenty six dogs; the friend knows of the accuracy of his dreams: he couldn’t kill people he says, so his job was to kill the dogs that would warn the local people of the oncoming troops. He asks Ari whether he has any memories of the period and Ari says he doesn’t, leading to a journey investigating the moment in time when he was only a few hundred yards away from the terrible massacre by the Christians as the Israeli troops looked on. The film is the steady process of memory access as Ari speaks to various people: including Ronny, a tank crewman, a commander of the infantry unit, and a formerly close friend and fellow soldier now living in the Netherlands, Lazarov. Each person inches him towards not just the recollection of memory as total recall, of the truth, but as an exploration of truth. We differentiate one from the other partly because in the former we have the evidential: here is what happened as a fact; in the latter we have it as a journey. The truth as fact is there in the footage of the massacre but that is the truth not truth. If for example this footage had been hidden away and a filmmaker eventually found it in the archives he or she would have found the truth. It would have been an example of the camera never lying and the truth willing out. Truth, though, is not so much an investigation but, as we have suggested, a journey. Thus the filmmaker putting himself at the centre of the film and using animation as a means by which to access memory is central to the film’s pursuit of truth. As Folman talks to people involved in the war so he searches out his own and other people’s vulnerabilities. Ronny talks of feeling that his fellow soldiers reckoned he had abandoned them after he managed to swim to safety. Lazarov tells him that when he was young he was great at Maths and Chess, he didn’t feel very masculine, and believed during the war that he had to prove himself.

It is as if the filmmaker needs others to open up emotionally so that he can find the memories within himself: that he can trust the vulnerability within him in the face of the vulnerability of others. This is a talking heads film, certainly, but it might be more accurate to call it a speaking souls documentary; the process requiring not the hard truth of the camera recording reality, but the animated capturing the malleability of feeling. Other films have used animation as a means by which to extract from the work a surplus aspect, a belief that the camera might never lie but that animation is better fixed to bring out the hallucinatory and the philosophically metaphysical, evident in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. Numerous animators over the decades have used animation to capture the anthropomorphic, aware that to render animal characteristics that echo the human the personally illustrated is the best means, from The Aristocats to 1967’s The Jungle Book.

Yet when we look at most of the great films on memory we notice they have been live action, from Hiroshima mon amour to Citizen Kane, from Eloge de L’amour to Shoah. Of course we wouldn’t wish to suggest they would have been even better if they were animated works, but we might wonder that just as some have noted in perhaps cinema’s two greatest philosophers on film (Deleuze and Cavell) a blind spot in ignoring the importance of animation, whether, similarly, serious cinema was seen as antithetical to the animated. Or is it that the problem of film was a problem of the real that was not an issue in painting, and thus many of the questions that animation brought up could be formulated within the context of the humanly reproduced (animation) rather than the cinematically captured (the pro-filmic). In other words, animation lent itself much better to anthropomorphism than live action film. We can see this in the difference between Eisenstein’s Strike (with humans dissolving into monkeys and foxes) and The Jungle Bookwhich creates no confusion when showing animals with human characteristics. When Bazin talks of the painter’s work “always in fee to an inescapable subjectivity” that is exactly what we often wish for from animation. But in live action film this subjectivity can seem like an imposition, an intrusion on cinema’s relationship with reality. In commenting on things drawn by the human hand we did not need to ask very much about the status of the image, it would seem. It possessed a flexibility of inauthenticity that Eisenstein couldn’t quite achieve as he tried to draw out the similarities between a character who looked and acted like a monkey, and the dissolve into showing us the monkey itself.

There was also no grammatical error in painting or animation: no sense that the past and present are conflated in an ambiguous tense. Where the photograph could invoke the past and the present simultaneously in a phrase like this was now as we see a man about to be hanged who is now long since dead, the animated work, like the painting, possesses the human hand that denies the confusion. The photographic image constantly raises the question of whether the image is in the present of its taking or the present of its perception. If the camera never lies, its truth rests on a cognitive confusion well captured by Barthes in Camera Lucida. Here he is talking about a young man photographed in 1865 awaiting execution. “The photograph is handsome, as is the boy…: by giving me an absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death is in the future”. Barthes notices thus “a catastrophe that has already occurred.” The photographic and the cinematic are thus the mediums in which we recognize the occurrence of the catastrophe. A painting of the same man about to face his death might not have the resonance Barthes finds in the photograph as the human hand’s intervention, as Bazin puts it, would insulate us from the cruel grammatical simultaneity. This the poisoned chalice of the indexical, of the image’s direct relationship with reality. The past and the present become conflated and confused.

Let us propose one reason why many filmmakers have eschewed animation within the context of memory rests however subconsciously on this very point: that recapturing memory on film also involves the memory within film, taking into account Barthes’ point. The animated removes this possibility. What is gained in the malleability of memory it loses as a means of ontology: of the memory the image itself contains. Yet earlier we talked of rotoscoping and also quoted Manovich. The rotoscoped film is both Bazin’s fact-image and also the human hand’s involvement: it calls into question the clear divide between the recorded and the hand-touched. Secondly, as Manovich notes: “What happens to cinema’s indexical identity if it is now possible to generate photorealistic scenes entirely in a computer using 3-D computer animation; to modify individual frames or whole scenes with the help of a digital paint program; to cut, bend, stretch and stitch digitized film images into something which has perfect photographic credibility, although it was never filmed?” The grammatical error that was invented by photography, the cognitive confusion generated by the indexical, can now be seen as no more than a brief moment in the history of the image. In 1985, during the century when cinema was a live action medium recording reality, it would have seemed very unusual indeed for Shoah to have considered an animated form, but perhaps into the 21st century the dissolution of the photographic means that no subject is beyond animated reconfiguration. If one of the haunting refrains accompanying Lanzmann’s was the unrepresentability of the Holocaust, now the vertiginous nature of image construction means that representation itself is called into question.

Waltz with Bashir exists then not only because the technology is available to make an animated documentary, but more especially that the technology has created a new ethical space suggesting since the image can no longer be trusted as a pro-filmic given, then a filmmaker can free him or herself up to capturing an event as they see fit. When Jonathan Freedland says that Waltz with Bashir “will surely take its place alongside The Battle Of Algiers and Apocalypse Now as among the very best films about conflict. For it wrestles with two of the great themes – memory and war – and dwells on the collision of the two” (Guardian), it would have seemed odd indeed if either of these classics had been made as animated works, even if the latter’s hallucinatory quality might not seem antithetical to such an approach. Indeed there are scenes in Waltz with Bashir that play like variations of those in Coppola’s film. Lazarov recalls how they were transported to fight on a Love Boat as we hear OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’ playing on the soundtrack. It isn’t too far removed from the scene where the characters water ski to The Rolling Stones in Apocalypse Now. The scene that gives Folman’s film its title shows one character firing off bullets as he twirls round to the sounds of Chopin in a moment that might bring to mind Wagner in Coppola’s film. One might today believe Apocalypse Now could have been animated.

This suggests that while arguments concerning the status of the image (animation is an obvious human intervention; the camera never lies), will increasingly be secondary to the status of the truth, as if film for so long could hide from the question of truth partly because of the assumption over the camera never lying. Barthes’ response to the man about to die is based on his belief that the camera is not lying to him. If for example he had been shown a painting of the young man about to die, he might have assumed the painting was done weeks afterwards, from memory. It wouldn’t have had the instantaneous presence of the moment the image was captured with the reflection on the young man’s absence from the world as Barthes looks at the photograph. But what happens if the photographic image seems less real than the digitised version? Writing in 1997, Jonathan Romney notes of digital filmmaking that “it’s easy to see why imagery of such enormity and ambition has caught on with film-makers despite the still considerable cost of the technology. It’s not just that such images raise the stakes of what can be represented, but that they are, to use the cliché, more real than the real.” (‘Million Dollar Graffiti’) Animation is a means by which to say that the images are not real and therefore potentially more truthful. They do not hide their digitisation in the invisible, in the more real than the real, but make clear the unrealness of their reality.

If Cavell and Deleuze saw little need to pay much attention to the animated image it was because, as Manovich notes in referencing semiotician Christian Metz, Metz, like many others, “did not bother to mention another characteristic of this genre because at that time it was too obvious: fiction films are live action films. i.e. they largely consist of unmodified photographic recordings of real events which took place in real physical space.” (‘What is Digital Cinema?’) But with film finding itself increasingly using blue screen and various digital effects, the idea that film is bits of recorded reality put together no longer has the significance Bazin once insisted was so central to cinema. And yet we might think of Waltz with Bashir‘s conclusion as it moves from the animated to the archival, from the digital to the analogue. Here at the moment when Folman confronts the past, the past confronts him as the film moves into live archival footage of the 1982 massacre. We might be reminded of Schindler’s List. While Spielberg’s film threw us into the horrors of the Holocaust in black and white, before releasing us into colour as the survivors in the present put stones on Schindler’s grave, Folman releases us from the claustrophobic intimate animated memories into the archival ‘real’: into the past that shows us exactly what Folman has been busily repressing for twenty years.

Is this the return of the repressed in both psychoanalytic and ontological form as Folman allows the images of enquiry to be animated, but the images of revelation to demand photographic evidence? Whatever Folman’s intentions this certainly seems to be the result; yet it needn’t be that he is privileging one over the other, more that he is saying in a democratic rather than a hierarchical relationship with images the privileging of recording over drawing is no longer so strong. As we’ve noted Manovich saying “film obtains a plasticity that was previously only possible in painting or animation” What happens is that animation can usefully convey the malleability of memory, while archive footage can suggest the memory found: caught in the real out of which it came. Now this is where the twin use of the term index can show its own malleability. An index is used to suggest a direct existential relationship with the real, as we find in the photograph, the thermometer or the footprint, but it can also be used as a sign of something: the stomping army boots are an index of state power. In a technological environment where the camera always lies (taking into account Manovich’s remark above), archival footage in analogue form becomes not the truth as indexical reality, but the truth as indexical signification: it represents the truth now that it no longer records it.

This would seem to fit with the film’s exploration. Those archival images have been around of course for a very long time, and the film’s interest isn’t at all in uncovering the footage. If the film were an animated work about the government hiding filmed footage that Folman investigated and found, leading to the conclusion and the archive material, then we could see this as privileging the latter over the former: that the truth will out and that the truth is archival. But Folman instead wants a twofold discovery, with most of the film relying on the animated to find not the footage but the memory, buried in the folds of vulnerability and denial that speaking souls help find. Just as Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist managed to offer memories within the animated as he and his team explored in much detail Edinburgh of the fifties, so that streets were precisely replicated, Folman wonders if animation is the means by which the past can be activated without feeling that we are in the past. Though it could be argued that film is always in the present and hence how easy it is for filmmakers to give the impression even when a film is in a different temporal zone to appear in the same one (as in 21 Grams or The Burning Plain), or how flashbacks are usually signalled to avoid confusing the viewer, nevertheless we sense that the historical drama always has a sense of the past clinging to it that makes it about a past that it cannot access. When we watch a period drama like A Room with a View or Gangs of New York we are more inclined to see production values rather than the past recreated. More recently we wouldn’t even be inclined to see the values of production but those of technology: can we spot the difference between a computer generated 19th century London and a recreated one? Speaking of a show that imagines the Nazis taking over London, the programme’s producer said: “we filmed on the Mall but used CGI to remove the Victoria Memorial, which we imagined the Nazis would have dismantled. In our imaginary world we imagined that the Nazis wouldn’t have wanted a symbol of the British Empire there and were planning to replace it with something else.” (Radio Times) This is precisely the sort of thing Manovich is talking about, with the image malleable in the hands of ones and zeroes. Wouldn’t animation be a more honest and paradoxically authentic means by which to capture the past, historically altered or otherwise? If Bazin was right that film’s magic lay in its celluloid indexicality, then has the ontology of the image changed so that animation would appear to be its new ontological base?

This is Manovich’s claim, not ours, but it is an important claim nevertheless. Waltz with Bashir is fascinating not least because it is a film that wants to work with both the animated and the archival to ask questions about both memory and the image. We might even go so far as to say that Waltz with Bashir is closer to Shoah than most trauma docs that would rely on archival footage to capture the mind’s recollections. Like Shoah, it eschews the archive (until Waltz with Bashir’s conclusion) perhaps partly because the recalled is a singular thing – to cut from Lazarov or Ronny Dayag’s memories to generalised images of war would be to deny the singularity animation can offer. The past might be ‘unreal’, it might lack archival justification, the empiricism of the 20th century, but are we moving towards a new epistemology in the 21st? When Ronny talks of how he escaped from an attack on Israeli tanks we see him running along the sandy beach with numerous others before hiding behind a rock. A documentary that would be unlikely to have access to the specific footage would settle for general images that would be ‘real’ but not at all singular. If Lanzmann relied on interviews for Shoah because “the people who arrived at Treblinka, Belzec or Sobibor were killed within two or three hours and their corpses burned. The proof is not the corpses; the proof is the absence of corpses. There were special details who gathered the dust and threw it into the wind or into the rivers. Nothing of them remained” (Guardian), Folman might offer a similar argument but with very different formal consequences. Were he to use archive material it would have been the same few images that are shown over and over again as so little of the various events he shows were recorded. Lanzmann too would have fallen into the general and the cliched if he had relied on the archive. Instead, by focusing on the faces of Filip Muller, Simon Srebnik, Jan Karski and others, he found memory in the mind’s interior. Waltz with Bashir finds the interior not in the documentary close up but in the animation of trauma, sketching the scars back into life. This is again very much the inverse of Shoah while at the same time holding its own set of fixed ideas. While Lanzmann made sure you could see the sweat on the brow as an index of memory, Folman rejects the index in both its manifestations in such moments and relies on the animated flashback: the recreation in vivid form of an event that has been locked inside somebody’s head.

We are undeniably setting the bar high comparing Waltz with Bashir with such an absolutely vital, properly monumental work as Shoah, but our purpose is to indicate that antithetical approaches might have the same impetus. However, by this reckoning, is the inclusion of archival footage of the massacre at the end of Folman’s film an error not of ethical judgement but aesthetic purpose? If we insist that partly what justifies the animated form towards a traumatic event is that it can arrive at the singularity of experience digitally sketched, then why by the film’s conclusion incorporate within that singularity the generalised footage of the atrocity? Has it failed its own internal aesthetic reasoning? This must remain a debatable point: the footage is after all indeed of the very massacre that Folman has spent many years obliviously forgetting and that the film is determined to remember. It is singular. Yet it can also seem to offer a validity that superimposes itself on the animated: that privileges the documentative over the drawn. Whatever Manovich’s insistent and often very useful claims about the nature of recent cinema and its shift from analogue to digital, from the pro-filmic to the painterly, it is difficult not to privilege an aspect of the profilmic over the digitally reformulated. When Manovich says “cinema can no longer be clearly distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting” (‘What is Digital Cinema?’) do we, however, watch the archival images at the film’s conclusion in the same way that we engage with the animated footage?

Just as we talk about six degrees of separation between humans, can we talk of some equivalent imagistically: the three degrees of separation in the nature of an event? Here we can think of Pierce and the difference between the symbol, the index and the icon as degrees of the real. If the symbol is based on habit or rule, the icon on likeness and the index on an existential relationship with the thing itself, we can see the first in literature, the second in painting and the third in film, and in the process sees in these three degrees of separation an affective response that also indicates degrees of distance or immediacy. In this sense much of Waltz with Bashir works with a second degree of affective immediacy and then throws us into the first degree at the film’s conclusion. Now increasingly as digital technology evolves, and our notion of reality in the image dissolves, we might lose this distinction between the first and second degrees of separation, but this isn’t what Folman’s film allows us to do as he doesn’t so much privilege the archival over the animated but accepts that we are unlikely to respond in one and the same way. Imagine if the early scene where the dog is shot was archival: it would possess a different status not only ontologically but affectively and ethically too. While it proves illustrative as Folman’s friends tell him about his dreams and the moment when he would shoot the dogs because he couldn’t face shooting people, it possesses the distance that a ‘real’ dog profilmically shot would not have, even if we assumed that no animal was harmed in the process of filming. In itself a fact we now usually take for granted as we could not forty years ago, with numerous animals going to their deaths: from Carlos Saura’s The Hunt to Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright, from Cockfighter to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev.

The 2009 re-release of Wake in Fright in Cannes was accompanied by a dozen walkouts according to Senses of Cinema, while the producers insisted that “photography of the hunting scenes in this film took place during an actual kangaroo hunt conducted by licensed professional hunters. No kangaroos were expressly killed for this motion picture.” This is a very fundamental aspect of film as indexicality. As Stanley Cavell says, “a painting is a world; a photograph is of the world.” D. N. Rodowick quotes the passage in The Virtual Life of Film when he says “In this difference inheres their ontological distinctiveness. We may attribute qualities of image or representation to both paintings and photographs, but a deeper examination shows that they present very different modes of existence to our acts of viewing.” Does animation lack what Cavell calls the “ontological restlessness” of the photographic, and is this what Folman introduces when he brings in the archival footage?” Even if Manovich is right that all images in film now are in a very basic sense animated through the digital codes they utilise, we might still be reading them as ‘real’ if we believe in the aspect of their indexicality within the realm of ontological restlessness. The animated dogs at the beginning of the film do not possess this aspect; the conclusion does. Manovich does not fret over this potential loss of restless being in the face of the indexical, saying “the mutability of digital data impairs the value of cinema as document of reality” as he sees that we will look back on the 20th century as an anomaly of the image: that we should accept that cinema has become “a particular branch of painting – painting in time. No longer a kino-eye, but a kino-brush.” (‘What is Digital Cinema?’)

Folman allows ambivalence towards this question to manifest itself in the contrary form adopted: the animated and the archival within the context of what would appear like a paradox – the animated documentary. As he would say when asked by an interviewer if he wanted to jerk the viewer out of the ‘pretend’ animation and into the real world: “it is in one way, but more than anything else, it was an ideological decision, not an artistic decision, telling you, you know, it’s not just a cool animated anti-war film, with drawings, in reality, thousands of people died….the ending, there was no way to do it animated, it didn’t exist in my brain.” (NPR) Here Folman in his own way appears to be acknowledging his position is closer to Cavell’s than to Manovich’s, as we might wonder if Manovich’s predictions come to pass, and if we affectively accept that all images are animated in one form or another, will we lose that shock of the real as affective force? This doesn’t mean that we ‘know’ whether the image is recorded or recoded, but will nevertheless make an affective call at the given moment of image reception. Nobody is likely to walk out of Waltz with Bashir because of the dogs the friend will shoot, but we are not surprised to hear of walkouts during Wake in Fright: that is nothing if not ontological restlessness in motion.

This is not finally to defend a position of realism in film (even Bazin didn’t do that), nor is to take an antediluvian stance concerning changing technology. No, it is more to say that we need to understand less simply the production value of an image (how it is made), and comprehend instead the varied affects that certain assumptions about the image generate: how our affective responses vary according to what we think the image is, what it is doing. This asks still for an ethics in the face of an experience, which seems really to be the question Waltz with Bashir asks. What is it to have an experience? And how do we acknowledge or protect ourselves from them? When Ronny says that driving the streets he felt safe: “a tank is a massive, enclosed vehicle – inside the tank we felt protected”, he offers this remark as we see first a long shot of the tank riding through the streets crushing empty parked cars that are in its way, before the film cuts to a side elevation medium close up with the tank continuing its destructive journey. Moments later as the soldiers pass from the streets to the beach, with their heads and shoulders out of the tank surveying the scene, a sniper fires a bullet and they are no longer so protected. It is a piercing reality intruding on an apparently safe omnipotence. It resembles another moment in the film when Folman visits an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder and she talks of a photographer who “looked through everything as if through an imaginary camera”, but one day the camera broke and he fell to pieces. A friend of Folman’s says he kept the worst of the violence away by seeing it as a movie. The film acknowledges constantly the problematic status of affective distance and the means by which people in the war tried to find ways in which to defend themselves from feeling. Is this what Folman was in danger of doing if the images had remained animated throughout? Let us not be too presumptuous, but as Anthony Lane proposed while reviewing the film in the New Yorker, “when reality bites, is that the time for the artist to lay down his brush?” Is this where one still feels the need not for the kino-brush but the kino eye? We might look back on Waltz with Bashir in a few years’ time and muse over its own ambivalence towards the images that it makes and the images it finds, and realise that we no longer work with such a distinction. The film diegetically explores the catastrophe that has occurred which become reassembled in the tranquil recollection of cosy apartments, offices and wintry walks. But we might also think about defending ourselves from a catastrophe of the image, one that no longer acknowledges Barthes’s tension in the tense, or Cavell’s ontological restlessness.

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Waltz with Bashir

If documentary is usually seen as the mode of cinema most given to conveying reality, animation is the method by which to generate the most artificiality. When someone mentions cartoon violence they are making clear that the aggression on show has nothing to do with verisimilitude. When someone else insists that the film was so documentary-like, they are stating that we usually believe documentary's purpose is to capture an aspect of the real. However, what happens when a film is an animated documentary, as we find with Waltz with Bashir?

There are several aspects that we need to unpick then, one is the assumed difference between live action film as a re-presentation of reality, and animation a creation of reality. Another is that animation can itself be a re-presentation, with rotoscoping a device by which an event is filmed and then drawn to turn it into the animated. A third is that in the age of digital technology, what is filmed and what is redigitised becomes a moot point. However, before moving on to these problems, let us first situate the film's context: let us say a few words about its story. In September 1982, with Israeli soldiers looking on, Christian Lebanese militia groups were allowed into refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila, massacring up to 3,500 people - though the numbers are disputed. The attack was revenge for the death of recently elected Lebanese leader, Bachir Gemayel, whom the Lebanese mistakenly believed had been killed by the Palestinians. Director Ari Folman was one of those Israeli soldiers looking on, but he remembers nothing of the event, and the film explores his attempts to recall these memories.

Now, returning to our initial question, Lev Manovich says "if live-action footage were left intact in traditional filmmaking, now it functions as raw material for further compositing, animating, and morphing. As a result, while retaining the visual realism unique to the photographic process, film obtains a plasticity that was previously only possible in painting or animation." ('The Language of New Media') One reason why we have assumed animation is not true is that the camera never lies and by implication animation does. This rests on the idea that film has a direct relationship with the world as a drawing does not, but Folman thinks otherwise. "Who decides what is more true?" he says. "A digital image that you see on a screen that is made out of pixels and dots and lines, or a drawn one, both of them are speaking in the same voice? Who decides the video picture is more real than an artist who drew the images for four months? (Studiodaily.com) Folman decided against rotoscoping because he reckoned it has big problems in 'conveying emotions'. Yet, nevertheless, he filmed it first as a documentary using three DVCams and then turned it into an animated feature using Flash software.

Our purpose here isn't to go into the technological aspect of the work but instead to muse over questions of truthfulness in the context of a film that wants to suggest the plasticity of memory. If film records memory as fact, can animation create it as a flexible friend? Early in the film, Folman speaks to an analyst he has known for years who discusses how much falsity memory can absorb. He talks of a group of people who were shown ten childhood images. "Nine were really from their childhood; the other was fake. Their portrait was pasted into a fairground they'd never visited. 80% recognised themselves. They recognized the fake photograph..." The psychologists did the test again and the second time the remaining 20% recalled the experience too, remembering a "wonderful day at the park with my parents. They remembered, he says, a completely fabricated experience.

Writing on the film Paul Atkinson and Simon Cooper say " trauma can be analysed solely as a storytelling device in Waltz with Bashir and it is therefore important to distinguish traumatic experience from its re-presentation in the carefully composed documentary narrative. It is safe to assume that the filmmaker was aware of the nature of his "lost" memories before he began production of the documentary, that is, before the recording of the interviews and the staging of the narrative, and certainly before the reworking of the interviews and other documentary material as animated sequences." "Consequently", they say, "we do not examine trauma as the basis of the text - its productive centre - because the issue for us is the use of trauma as a formal trope." ('Untimely Animations') That might be a little too aloof a response for us, but certainly what is fascinating about Waltz with Bashir is the plasticity of memory that the film plays up, with the plasticity of the form that animation allows for and that Manovich (whom Atkinson and Cooper quote) today sees as a given of the new ontology of film. Now Andre Bazin and others saw in the celluloid image an objective fact in contrast to the painterly image: "no matter how skilful the painter, his work was always in fee to an inescapable subjectivity. The fact that a human hand intervened cast a shadow of doubt over the image." However, "photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism." ('The Ontology of the Photographic Image') Yet in the example the psychologist gives in Waltz with Bashir, the real photograph can serve very well false memories. The animation is true while the photograph is false. What interest us here in the film is the dangerous conflation between the real and the true (a conflation the film itself might fall into by the conclusion as it moves from the animated image to documentary footage of the massacre that it investigates: the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon.)

The psychological experiment suggests that we believe the camera never lies so that memory adjusts according to a truism. But this has always been a false claim partly because it invokes an antonym that isn't useful. If the camera never lies that means the camera always tells the truth. But a camera is in no position to tell the truth; it is merely in a position to capture an aspect of reality. When we privilege the camera with a quality it doesn't possess, it can impose itself on our mind which is in a position to tell the truth. Equally we have the phrase photographic memory, suggesting the infallible. Yet what Folman offers instead is animated memory, accepting the unreliability of our recollections.

There are very good reasons why we forget things, and while most of the time we fret over the loss of memory and the extreme examples of it found in Alzheimer's and Dementia, usually forgetting is a mode of survival, a means by which to function. As Nietzsche says: "a man who did not possess the power of forgetting at all and who was thus condemned to see everywhere a state of becoming: such a man would no longer believe in his own being [...]. Forgetting is essential to action of any kind." (`On the Uses and Dis-advantages of History for Life'.) The question Waltz with Bashir poses, and tries to find a relative solution to, is what we are entitled to forget and what we need to remember, and offers this question through the form of the director's investigation into his own traumatic relationship serving as a soldier in the early eighties. At the beginning of the film as he drinks with a friend in a bar, the friend tells him of his nightmares killing twenty six dogs; the friend knows of the accuracy of his dreams: he couldn't kill people he says, so his job was to kill the dogs that would warn the local people of the oncoming troops. He asks Ari whether he has any memories of the period and Ari says he doesn't, leading to a journey investigating the moment in time when he was only a few hundred yards away from the terrible massacre by the Christians as the Israeli troops looked on. The film is the steady process of memory access as Ari speaks to various people: including Ronny, a tank crewman, a commander of the infantry unit, and a formerly close friend and fellow soldier now living in the Netherlands, Lazarov. Each person inches him towards not just the recollection of memory as total recall, of the truth, but as an exploration of truth. We differentiate one from the other partly because in the former we have the evidential: here is what happened as a fact; in the latter we have it as a journey. The truth as fact is there in the footage of the massacre but that is the truth not truth. If for example this footage had been hidden away and a filmmaker eventually found it in the archives he or she would have found the truth. It would have been an example of the camera never lying and the truth willing out. Truth, though, is not so much an investigation but, as we have suggested, a journey. Thus the filmmaker putting himself at the centre of the film and using animation as a means by which to access memory is central to the film's pursuit of truth. As Folman talks to people involved in the war so he searches out his own and other people's vulnerabilities. Ronny talks of feeling that his fellow soldiers reckoned he had abandoned them after he managed to swim to safety. Lazarov tells him that when he was young he was great at Maths and Chess, he didn't feel very masculine, and believed during the war that he had to prove himself.

It is as if the filmmaker needs others to open up emotionally so that he can find the memories within himself: that he can trust the vulnerability within him in the face of the vulnerability of others. This is a talking heads film, certainly, but it might be more accurate to call it a speaking souls documentary; the process requiring not the hard truth of the camera recording reality, but the animated capturing the malleability of feeling. Other films have used animation as a means by which to extract from the work a surplus aspect, a belief that the camera might never lie but that animation is better fixed to bring out the hallucinatory and the philosophically metaphysical, evident in Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. Numerous animators over the decades have used animation to capture the anthropomorphic, aware that to render animal characteristics that echo the human the personally illustrated is the best means, from The Aristocats to 1967's The Jungle Book.

Yet when we look at most of the great films on memory we notice they have been live action, from Hiroshima mon amour to Citizen Kane, from Eloge de L'amour to Shoah. Of course we wouldn't wish to suggest they would have been even better if they were animated works, but we might wonder that just as some have noted in perhaps cinema's two greatest philosophers on film (Deleuze and Cavell) a blind spot in ignoring the importance of animation, whether, similarly, serious cinema was seen as antithetical to the animated. Or is it that the problem of film was a problem of the real that was not an issue in painting, and thus many of the questions that animation brought up could be formulated within the context of the humanly reproduced (animation) rather than the cinematically captured (the pro-filmic). In other words, animation lent itself much better to anthropomorphism than live action film. We can see this in the difference between Eisenstein's Strike (with humans dissolving into monkeys and foxes) and The Jungle Bookwhich creates no confusion when showing animals with human characteristics. When Bazin talks of the painter's work "always in fee to an inescapable subjectivity" that is exactly what we often wish for from animation. But in live action film this subjectivity can seem like an imposition, an intrusion on cinema's relationship with reality. In commenting on things drawn by the human hand we did not need to ask very much about the status of the image, it would seem. It possessed a flexibility of inauthenticity that Eisenstein couldn't quite achieve as he tried to draw out the similarities between a character who looked and acted like a monkey, and the dissolve into showing us the monkey itself.

There was also no grammatical error in painting or animation: no sense that the past and present are conflated in an ambiguous tense. Where the photograph could invoke the past and the present simultaneously in a phrase like this was now as we see a man about to be hanged who is now long since dead, the animated work, like the painting, possesses the human hand that denies the confusion. The photographic image constantly raises the question of whether the image is in the present of its taking or the present of its perception. If the camera never lies, its truth rests on a cognitive confusion well captured by Barthes in Camera Lucida. Here he is talking about a young man photographed in 1865 awaiting execution. "The photograph is handsome, as is the boy...: by giving me an absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death is in the future". Barthes notices thus "a catastrophe that has already occurred." The photographic and the cinematic are thus the mediums in which we recognize the occurrence of the catastrophe. A painting of the same man about to face his death might not have the resonance Barthes finds in the photograph as the human hand's intervention, as Bazin puts it, would insulate us from the cruel grammatical simultaneity. This the poisoned chalice of the indexical, of the image's direct relationship with reality. The past and the present become conflated and confused.

Let us propose one reason why many filmmakers have eschewed animation within the context of memory rests however subconsciously on this very point: that recapturing memory on film also involves the memory within film, taking into account Barthes' point. The animated removes this possibility. What is gained in the malleability of memory it loses as a means of ontology: of the memory the image itself contains. Yet earlier we talked of rotoscoping and also quoted Manovich. The rotoscoped film is both Bazin's fact-image and also the human hand's involvement: it calls into question the clear divide between the recorded and the hand-touched. Secondly, as Manovich notes: "What happens to cinema's indexical identity if it is now possible to generate photorealistic scenes entirely in a computer using 3-D computer animation; to modify individual frames or whole scenes with the help of a digital paint program; to cut, bend, stretch and stitch digitized film images into something which has perfect photographic credibility, although it was never filmed?" The grammatical error that was invented by photography, the cognitive confusion generated by the indexical, can now be seen as no more than a brief moment in the history of the image. In 1985, during the century when cinema was a live action medium recording reality, it would have seemed very unusual indeed for Shoah to have considered an animated form, but perhaps into the 21st century the dissolution of the photographic means that no subject is beyond animated reconfiguration. If one of the haunting refrains accompanying Lanzmann's was the unrepresentability of the Holocaust, now the vertiginous nature of image construction means that representation itself is called into question.

Waltz with Bashir exists then not only because the technology is available to make an animated documentary, but more especially that the technology has created a new ethical space suggesting since the image can no longer be trusted as a pro-filmic given, then a filmmaker can free him or herself up to capturing an event as they see fit. When Jonathan Freedland says that Waltz with Bashir "will surely take its place alongside The Battle Of Algiers and Apocalypse Now as among the very best films about conflict. For it wrestles with two of the great themes - memory and war - and dwells on the collision of the two" (Guardian), it would have seemed odd indeed if either of these classics had been made as animated works, even if the latter's hallucinatory quality might not seem antithetical to such an approach. Indeed there are scenes in Waltz with Bashir that play like variations of those in Coppola's film. Lazarov recalls how they were transported to fight on a Love Boat as we hear OMD's 'Enola Gay' playing on the soundtrack. It isn't too far removed from the scene where the characters water ski to The Rolling Stones in Apocalypse Now. The scene that gives Folman's film its title shows one character firing off bullets as he twirls round to the sounds of Chopin in a moment that might bring to mind Wagner in Coppola's film. One might today believe Apocalypse Now could have been animated.

This suggests that while arguments concerning the status of the image (animation is an obvious human intervention; the camera never lies), will increasingly be secondary to the status of the truth, as if film for so long could hide from the question of truth partly because of the assumption over the camera never lying. Barthes' response to the man about to die is based on his belief that the camera is not lying to him. If for example he had been shown a painting of the young man about to die, he might have assumed the painting was done weeks afterwards, from memory. It wouldn't have had the instantaneous presence of the moment the image was captured with the reflection on the young man's absence from the world as Barthes looks at the photograph. But what happens if the photographic image seems less real than the digitised version? Writing in 1997, Jonathan Romney notes of digital filmmaking that "it's easy to see why imagery of such enormity and ambition has caught on with film-makers despite the still considerable cost of the technology. It's not just that such images raise the stakes of what can be represented, but that they are, to use the clich, more real than the real." ('Million Dollar Graffiti') Animation is a means by which to say that the images are not real and therefore potentially more truthful. They do not hide their digitisation in the invisible, in the more real than the real, but make clear the unrealness of their reality.

If Cavell and Deleuze saw little need to pay much attention to the animated image it was because, as Manovich notes in referencing semiotician Christian Metz, Metz, like many others, "did not bother to mention another characteristic of this genre because at that time it was too obvious: fiction films are live action films. i.e. they largely consist of unmodified photographic recordings of real events which took place in real physical space." ('What is Digital Cinema?') But with film finding itself increasingly using blue screen and various digital effects, the idea that film is bits of recorded reality put together no longer has the significance Bazin once insisted was so central to cinema. And yet we might think of Waltz with Bashir's conclusion as it moves from the animated to the archival, from the digital to the analogue. Here at the moment when Folman confronts the past, the past confronts him as the film moves into live archival footage of the 1982 massacre. We might be reminded of Schindler's List. While Spielberg's film threw us into the horrors of the Holocaust in black and white, before releasing us into colour as the survivors in the present put stones on Schindler's grave, Folman releases us from the claustrophobic intimate animated memories into the archival 'real': into the past that shows us exactly what Folman has been busily repressing for twenty years.

Is this the return of the repressed in both psychoanalytic and ontological form as Folman allows the images of enquiry to be animated, but the images of revelation to demand photographic evidence? Whatever Folman's intentions this certainly seems to be the result; yet it needn't be that he is privileging one over the other, more that he is saying in a democratic rather than a hierarchical relationship with images the privileging of recording over drawing is no longer so strong. As we've noted Manovich saying "film obtains a plasticity that was previously only possible in painting or animation" What happens is that animation can usefully convey the malleability of memory, while archive footage can suggest the memory found: caught in the real out of which it came. Now this is where the twin use of the term index can show its own malleability. An index is used to suggest a direct existential relationship with the real, as we find in the photograph, the thermometer or the footprint, but it can also be used as a sign of something: the stomping army boots are an index of state power. In a technological environment where the camera always lies (taking into account Manovich's remark above), archival footage in analogue form becomes not the truth as indexical reality, but the truth as indexical signification: it represents the truth now that it no longer records it.

This would seem to fit with the film's exploration. Those archival images have been around of course for a very long time, and the film's interest isn't at all in uncovering the footage. If the film were an animated work about the government hiding filmed footage that Folman investigated and found, leading to the conclusion and the archive material, then we could see this as privileging the latter over the former: that the truth will out and that the truth is archival. But Folman instead wants a twofold discovery, with most of the film relying on the animated to find not the footage but the memory, buried in the folds of vulnerability and denial that speaking souls help find. Just as Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist managed to offer memories within the animated as he and his team explored in much detail Edinburgh of the fifties, so that streets were precisely replicated, Folman wonders if animation is the means by which the past can be activated without feeling that we are in the past. Though it could be argued that film is always in the present and hence how easy it is for filmmakers to give the impression even when a film is in a different temporal zone to appear in the same one (as in 21 Grams or The Burning Plain), or how flashbacks are usually signalled to avoid confusing the viewer, nevertheless we sense that the historical drama always has a sense of the past clinging to it that makes it about a past that it cannot access. When we watch a period drama like A Room with a View or Gangs of New York we are more inclined to see production values rather than the past recreated. More recently we wouldn't even be inclined to see the values of production but those of technology: can we spot the difference between a computer generated 19th century London and a recreated one? Speaking of a show that imagines the Nazis taking over London, the programme's producer said: "we filmed on the Mall but used CGI to remove the Victoria Memorial, which we imagined the Nazis would have dismantled. In our imaginary world we imagined that the Nazis wouldn't have wanted a symbol of the British Empire there and were planning to replace it with something else." (Radio Times) This is precisely the sort of thing Manovich is talking about, with the image malleable in the hands of ones and zeroes. Wouldn't animation be a more honest and paradoxically authentic means by which to capture the past, historically altered or otherwise? If Bazin was right that film's magic lay in its celluloid indexicality, then has the ontology of the image changed so that animation would appear to be its new ontological base?

This is Manovich's claim, not ours, but it is an important claim nevertheless. Waltz with Bashir is fascinating not least because it is a film that wants to work with both the animated and the archival to ask questions about both memory and the image. We might even go so far as to say that Waltz with Bashir is closer to Shoah than most trauma docs that would rely on archival footage to capture the mind's recollections. Like Shoah, it eschews the archive (until Waltz with Bashir's conclusion) perhaps partly because the recalled is a singular thing - to cut from Lazarov or Ronny Dayag's memories to generalised images of war would be to deny the singularity animation can offer. The past might be 'unreal', it might lack archival justification, the empiricism of the 20th century, but are we moving towards a new epistemology in the 21st? When Ronny talks of how he escaped from an attack on Israeli tanks we see him running along the sandy beach with numerous others before hiding behind a rock. A documentary that would be unlikely to have access to the specific footage would settle for general images that would be 'real' but not at all singular. If Lanzmann relied on interviews for Shoah because "the people who arrived at Treblinka, Belzec or Sobibor were killed within two or three hours and their corpses burned. The proof is not the corpses; the proof is the absence of corpses. There were special details who gathered the dust and threw it into the wind or into the rivers. Nothing of them remained" (Guardian), Folman might offer a similar argument but with very different formal consequences. Were he to use archive material it would have been the same few images that are shown over and over again as so little of the various events he shows were recorded. Lanzmann too would have fallen into the general and the cliched if he had relied on the archive. Instead, by focusing on the faces of Filip Muller, Simon Srebnik, Jan Karski and others, he found memory in the mind's interior. Waltz with Bashir finds the interior not in the documentary close up but in the animation of trauma, sketching the scars back into life. This is again very much the inverse of Shoah while at the same time holding its own set of fixed ideas. While Lanzmann made sure you could see the sweat on the brow as an index of memory, Folman rejects the index in both its manifestations in such moments and relies on the animated flashback: the recreation in vivid form of an event that has been locked inside somebody's head.

We are undeniably setting the bar high comparing Waltz with Bashir with such an absolutely vital, properly monumental work as Shoah, but our purpose is to indicate that antithetical approaches might have the same impetus. However, by this reckoning, is the inclusion of archival footage of the massacre at the end of Folman's film an error not of ethical judgement but aesthetic purpose? If we insist that partly what justifies the animated form towards a traumatic event is that it can arrive at the singularity of experience digitally sketched, then why by the film's conclusion incorporate within that singularity the generalised footage of the atrocity? Has it failed its own internal aesthetic reasoning? This must remain a debatable point: the footage is after all indeed of the very massacre that Folman has spent many years obliviously forgetting and that the film is determined to remember. It is singular. Yet it can also seem to offer a validity that superimposes itself on the animated: that privileges the documentative over the drawn. Whatever Manovich's insistent and often very useful claims about the nature of recent cinema and its shift from analogue to digital, from the pro-filmic to the painterly, it is difficult not to privilege an aspect of the profilmic over the digitally reformulated. When Manovich says "cinema can no longer be clearly distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting" ('What is Digital Cinema?') do we, however, watch the archival images at the film's conclusion in the same way that we engage with the animated footage?

Just as we talk about six degrees of separation between humans, can we talk of some equivalent imagistically: the three degrees of separation in the nature of an event? Here we can think of Pierce and the difference between the symbol, the index and the icon as degrees of the real. If the symbol is based on habit or rule, the icon on likeness and the index on an existential relationship with the thing itself, we can see the first in literature, the second in painting and the third in film, and in the process sees in these three degrees of separation an affective response that also indicates degrees of distance or immediacy. In this sense much of Waltz with Bashir works with a second degree of affective immediacy and then throws us into the first degree at the film's conclusion. Now increasingly as digital technology evolves, and our notion of reality in the image dissolves, we might lose this distinction between the first and second degrees of separation, but this isn't what Folman's film allows us to do as he doesn't so much privilege the archival over the animated but accepts that we are unlikely to respond in one and the same way. Imagine if the early scene where the dog is shot was archival: it would possess a different status not only ontologically but affectively and ethically too. While it proves illustrative as Folman's friends tell him about his dreams and the moment when he would shoot the dogs because he couldn't face shooting people, it possesses the distance that a 'real' dog profilmically shot would not have, even if we assumed that no animal was harmed in the process of filming. In itself a fact we now usually take for granted as we could not forty years ago, with numerous animals going to their deaths: from Carlos Saura's The Hunt to Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright, from Cockfighter to Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev.

The 2009 re-release of Wake in Fright in Cannes was accompanied by a dozen walkouts according to Senses of Cinema, while the producers insisted that "photography of the hunting scenes in this film took place during an actual kangaroo hunt conducted by licensed professional hunters. No kangaroos were expressly killed for this motion picture." This is a very fundamental aspect of film as indexicality. As Stanley Cavell says, "a painting is a world; a photograph is of the world." D. N. Rodowick quotes the passage in The Virtual Life of Film when he says "In this difference inheres their ontological distinctiveness. We may attribute qualities of image or representation to both paintings and photographs, but a deeper examination shows that they present very different modes of existence to our acts of viewing." Does animation lack what Cavell calls the "ontological restlessness" of the photographic, and is this what Folman introduces when he brings in the archival footage?" Even if Manovich is right that all images in film now are in a very basic sense animated through the digital codes they utilise, we might still be reading them as 'real' if we believe in the aspect of their indexicality within the realm of ontological restlessness. The animated dogs at the beginning of the film do not possess this aspect; the conclusion does. Manovich does not fret over this potential loss of restless being in the face of the indexical, saying "the mutability of digital data impairs the value of cinema as document of reality" as he sees that we will look back on the 20th century as an anomaly of the image: that we should accept that cinema has become "a particular branch of painting - painting in time. No longer a kino-eye, but a kino-brush." ('What is Digital Cinema?')

Folman allows ambivalence towards this question to manifest itself in the contrary form adopted: the animated and the archival within the context of what would appear like a paradox - the animated documentary. As he would say when asked by an interviewer if he wanted to jerk the viewer out of the 'pretend' animation and into the real world: "it is in one way, but more than anything else, it was an ideological decision, not an artistic decision, telling you, you know, it's not just a cool animated anti-war film, with drawings, in reality, thousands of people died....the ending, there was no way to do it animated, it didn't exist in my brain." (NPR) Here Folman in his own way appears to be acknowledging his position is closer to Cavell's than to Manovich's, as we might wonder if Manovich's predictions come to pass, and if we affectively accept that all images are animated in one form or another, will we lose that shock of the real as affective force? This doesn't mean that we 'know' whether the image is recorded or recoded, but will nevertheless make an affective call at the given moment of image reception. Nobody is likely to walk out of Waltz with Bashir because of the dogs the friend will shoot, but we are not surprised to hear of walkouts during Wake in Fright: that is nothing if not ontological restlessness in motion.

This is not finally to defend a position of realism in film (even Bazin didn't do that), nor is to take an antediluvian stance concerning changing technology. No, it is more to say that we need to understand less simply the production value of an image (how it is made), and comprehend instead the varied affects that certain assumptions about the image generate: how our affective responses vary according to what we think the image is, what it is doing. This asks still for an ethics in the face of an experience, which seems really to be the question Waltz with Bashir asks. What is it to have an experience? And how do we acknowledge or protect ourselves from them? When Ronny says that driving the streets he felt safe: "a tank is a massive, enclosed vehicle - inside the tank we felt protected", he offers this remark as we see first a long shot of the tank riding through the streets crushing empty parked cars that are in its way, before the film cuts to a side elevation medium close up with the tank continuing its destructive journey. Moments later as the soldiers pass from the streets to the beach, with their heads and shoulders out of the tank surveying the scene, a sniper fires a bullet and they are no longer so protected. It is a piercing reality intruding on an apparently safe omnipotence. It resembles another moment in the film when Folman visits an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder and she talks of a photographer who "looked through everything as if through an imaginary camera", but one day the camera broke and he fell to pieces. A friend of Folman's says he kept the worst of the violence away by seeing it as a movie. The film acknowledges constantly the problematic status of affective distance and the means by which people in the war tried to find ways in which to defend themselves from feeling. Is this what Folman was in danger of doing if the images had remained animated throughout? Let us not be too presumptuous, but as Anthony Lane proposed while reviewing the film in the New Yorker, "when reality bites, is that the time for the artist to lay down his brush?" Is this where one still feels the need not for the kino-brush but the kino eye? We might look back on Waltz with Bashir in a few years' time and muse over its own ambivalence towards the images that it makes and the images it finds, and realise that we no longer work with such a distinction. The film diegetically explores the catastrophe that has occurred which become reassembled in the tranquil recollection of cosy apartments, offices and wintry walks. But we might also think about defending ourselves from a catastrophe of the image, one that no longer acknowledges Barthes's tension in the tense, or Cavell's ontological restlessness.


© Tony McKibbin