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Unknown Bodies

By Steven Eastwoodr


I am watching Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped, in a cinema in Buffalo NY. It is the tortuous sequence in which the central character, a captive French resistance fighter, makes his way along the roof of the prison barracks, completing the sequence of his minutely plotted get-away. He steps steadily, slowly, in thick socks, carrying his shoes so as not to be heard. The sequence unfolds second by pained second, marking time as tension. For a moment I adjust my sitting position in the auditorium, and am alarmed to feel my toes meeting the resistance of shoes. I had thought I was shoeless. In that bodily coupling, or doubling even, what had marked the borders of my body in distinction to the virtual bodies of, and on, the screen? What is the nature of a thought that is at once brain, screen and world?


1895. Along comes the moving image as an eruption for cognition, an anomaly for the brain, offering a gap in sensory-motor perceptual regulation, interrupting habitual thinking, making possible a fissure in thought. "Thought is a matron who has not always existed", said Artaud. Cinema is a matron too. There is nothing rational about its nature, about the way in which it conjures movement from a series of still images. But rationality is quickly forced upon the moving image, in the form of impossible continuities (Eisenstein's term) in space and time. Irregularity and durational actualities are suppressed, and lived experience is compressed into scenarios, into mise-en-scene. Once cameras became light and portable enough, the jib crane and dolly on track brought omnipotent movements and positioning to the image, and the invention of the edit made day become night, far become near, tomorrow become yesterday, perception become recollection, in an instant. Although indebted to the theatre, the cinema's arrangement was most unlike the rising and lowering of stage backdrops, and so film producers quickly looked for a system that would contain and erase aberrations. The solution was story - story as momentum to securely convey the viewer through the edit. The action (or movement)-image became a viewing habit, and the semiology of cinema a set of approximate signs. It is as though viewer and filmmaker formed a mutual agreement: we will regard cinema as having a language if you do. What a phantasmagorical and dangerous machine, this apparatus that makes a person suspend or alter the nature of their thinking. Whether dialectical montage, propagandist images of mass human behaviour, or star system vehicles in the form of three-act dramas, the default dominant cinematic vernacular is to produce a mental form of consumption for the audience.


This is why philosopher Gilles Deleuze, in his two Cinema books (1: The Movement-Image and 2: The Time-Image) ignores the historical, political and semiotic conventions of film theory, and lumps together Hitler and Hollywood, Eisenstein and Griffith: in each, the thinking is already being done by the film text, as narrative. Deleuze suggests that we might instead lever open possible temporal gaps in the moving image, in order to make a space for what he describes as the "not-yet-thought." Deleuze, progenitor (with Felix Guattari) of schizoanalyis and the rhizome, navigator of ideational lines of flight, is a philosopher who looks to situations where the emergence of uncommon thought is possible. He finds it most palpably in the moving image, what he calls the twentieth century's philosophical thinking machine. Deleuze's interest is in fact with one of the problems of our time: time itself; principally our cognitive maintenance of time. He grew up watching Italian neo-realist feature films, and the object of much of his analysis remains the films he remembers from the post war period. In the itinerant form of Rossellini, Antonioni, Ackerman or the crystalline and repetitive rendering of events in Resnais, Brakhage or Marker, Deleuze discovers time-images, populated by irrational intervals and aberrant camera orientation, where sheets of present, past and future co-mingle. Bergson is Deleuze's philosophical forebear, but Pasolini, Deren and Tarkovsky are the practitioners of his thoughts, each of them thinking in cinema, as poetry, rendering reality with reality, deploying a free and indirect discourse of cinematic speech-acts, where it is no longer possible to discern between the subjective experience of the character and the director's expression, and where sequences frequently cut between fictional and actual elements.


It is Deleuze's project that the philosopher makes philosophy, by creating concepts in the way that an artist or filmmaker makes material modifications, what Deleuze calls "blocks of space-time" or "affects". He admires filmmakers for the way that they think in images, and for the way their images appear to us to think. For Deleuze, the moving image has no inherent meaning, no linguistic system, but by the very fact of its virtual situation of time in time, of space in space, it awakens another thinker in our thought. There is an unknown body. It is not the human body that has an interiority of thought, or the material body of screen, which is outside, but a body between them, a body that is both thinking and screen. Deleuze calls this unknown body a spiritual automaton in the brain made possible by cinema - a new thought in thought. This automaton produces, he says, a nooshock that forces thought to think itself by perceiving thought-like events other than those of the brain, outside, on the screen.


A standard advertisment compresses an entire dramatic structure to a matter of seconds. Andy Warhol's Empire (1964), in the other extreme, runs for 8 hrs. The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald was the first live mediated real-time event. Think of the assassination of JFK and your mind sees the Zapruder super 8 footage; a supplanted memory. The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World (Vincent Patouillard. 1970) runs to 48 hours, a plot-less stream of found footage. The Cure for Insomnia (John Henry Timmis IV. 1987), runs for 87 hours. Somebody once telephoned me and in fumbling broken English spoke of a three year long film she wanted to show me. At the total eclipse of the sun my video camera picked up someone commenting that, "It's like the lights going down in the cinema." The rectilinear glass frontage of the coffee shop in Lower Clapton appears as cinemascope, with all manner of yawns, grimaces and pans passing within its wide screen. Kiarostami says his car is his office, the place where he conceives of most of his work, staring out through the frame of the windscreen and finding: the cinema.


The cinema interacts with body and thought, with the social and the virtual. In Cassavette's A Woman Under the Influence a gang of workmen gather for an early morning meal around the character Mabel's table. One of them mistakenly proposes a toast, "To Gena!" Gena is in fact the actress Gena Rowlands, who is playing Mabel. "To Gena" the table chimes in chorus. Deleuze would call this hybrid person an intercessor, one who tries to emerge from the fiction into an actuality. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's video walks spin the participant into the disequilibrium that occurs between pre-recorded video and correspondent lived world. The camera in the hand delivers a slippage via flip-out screen, its pre-recorded image sometimes like, and sometimes most unlike, what the participant's eye can concurrently see. Long haul non-linear editors experience a phenomenon known as 'interfacing', where the cut-and-paste temporality of the editing time-line presents itself to the mind as a concurrent system, and exhausted editors find themselves attempting to slow and reverse traffic on their journey home, or copy and paste lost sections of conversation, in an oneiric configuration produced by a mind that wants to join actuality with video or film.


The moving image is not like the novel, nor the live theatre, nor the picture plane of a landscape painting. It is like the world but not the world. It is like thought but not thought. It is a peculiar prosthesis. Deleuze suggests that the brain invented a type of thought to process the moving image, and still does. Our bodies, too, found extensivity and new virtual planes in this temporal space. Story is a jigsaw puzzle, a pretty assemblage, commonly a means for easy mental persuasion. Pure abstraction is a game of solitaire. In Deleuze's philosophy we find the moving image as a space between, a siren call to engage with film and video as lovers, as fools, as intercessors, with our heads spinning into the unknown, our cine maps endlessly written over, and our films our own, a minor cinema. Cinema, in what some say are its death throes, may begin to regenerate itself as palimpsest, as a thinking and experiencing machine that writes over the actual and then in turn is overwritten by the actual. In Deleuze's cinema, the moving image is a lived situation, and everyone is a filmmaker, even if only in thought.

Steven Eastwood

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