Lots of people ask me why I take cinema so seriously, why I can't "let myself be entertained" and chill out. Zizek says something in part 3 of "A Pervert's Guide to Cinema" that is so perfect.
"Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It's, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough. You think it's just a game? It's reality. It's more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a screen persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I'm a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person, and so on and so on. So this would be the naïve reading. But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constraints and so on, I'm not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it's only a game, it's only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthfully. I can enact there an identity which is much closer to my true self."
Images are very very important. Watching a movie is like re-experiencing the mirror stage over and over: the formation of primary identifications, the literal and metaphorical articulation of the symbolic and imaginary registers in opposition to one another, the projection of Self onto a screen and the introjection of the imago. The images that seem harmless are actually the ones we should pay most attention to; the 'easy' entertainment that doesn't require any sort of conscious deciphering is potentially dangerous. Not because the content of these images is any more or less revealing or complicated, but due to the way we approach them. So, yeah, I refuse to believe that anything should be easy. That images can be easy and opaque. I want to condition myself to see as clearly as possible.
So the quote brings up a lot of problematic issues for me. The cause and effect relationship between the producer and product. In the case of the cinematic apparatus, which is which? This dichotomy exemplifies the illusion of the Subject-Other relation in general: neither one is entirely stable or grounded in either position. Thus, the instability of the mirror image - we form an identity based on the stability of an image reflected on a screen before us, but that image is really only the distorted and idealized vision of our own 'reality' - the 'reality' is formed from a fiction and the fiction is simultaneously a reflection of that inevitably fractured and inconsistent Self.
Where do these cinematic tropes develop? The fact that we take certain motifs and character types for granted tells us about ourselves and our vision of 'who we are.' Why is a lame stock comedy even entertaining unless we can form identifications with the characters on some level? Do we all want to identify with these characters? Is this, as Zizek says, a form of enacting or experiencing an identity much closer to the 'truth' because we can't submit to the excesses of cariacture in reality as a result of social constraints? And what does that say about us, taking into consideration the stock characters we choose to identify with and indirectly produce and reproduce in popular films?
Cinema is important because it is like a threshold between the imaginary and the symbolic registers, or, in any case, the closest we can get to a threshold. Zizek: "Illusion persists. There is something real in the illusion, more real than in the reality behind it." Oi. Watch "A Pervert's Guide to Cinema" if you have not, I think my brain short-circuited due to the sheer amount of amazing going on.
I'm probably in love with him. Zizek, that is.
I watched Pasolini's 120 Days of Sodom (Salo) last week. The full effect of the film didn't really hit me until last night, while watching The Last House on the Left. If you've watched both, you'll understand, I think.
LHotL - torture porn, very short shots, 'documentary' style, unstable cinematography, washed out sepia colour tone, the illusion of a narrative that functions to justify the viewer's investment, the drawn-out high-intensity emotion that reeks of melodrama and only evokes indifference, inane and trite dialogue that exposes 1) the importance of dialogue 2) the complete insufficiency of dialogue in film, stock characters, typical score. The scary part for me in watching movies like this is that I feel nothing while watching a girl brutally raped and her friend sexually assaulted and murdered. I don't like watching rape scenes in film because I don't want to be confronted with the brutual reality of my own indifference to that image. I don't like the games that the director plays on the viewer: we're all aware that we're watching this for entertainment, that we obviously enjoy on some fucked-up level watching people die simulated brutal deaths. And the directors add some stupid shit like an upper-class family with a dead kid and marital problems to ease our minds and soothe us into thinking we watch because its a story that we are invested in with characters and real people who somehow overcome their suffering. We may as well cut out all of that shit and just be honest with ourselves. We just want to watch people suffer. We want to see girls victimized and see the rich white people overcome their complacency and seek revenge. It's a sadomasochistic viewing experience; we punish ourselves for the desire to see these acts played out for us by following through with it and feeling nothing, not horror or enjoyment or anything but a numb void. And what the characters say means little to nothing. The dialogue doesn't really change our experience of the film at all. The voice is on mute, words are nothing, just glossed over decoration necessary but not vital in terms of the viewing experience. We're here for the images and movies like this expose the degree to which dialogue is superfluous in most popular films. I think most people could watch Transformers 2 with no dialogue and still enjoy the movie.
Salo - long, painfully drawn out shots, very stable cinematography, mainly wide and mid shots, high attention to framing and composition, an absurd score that contrasted the content of the screen images, a degree of surreality, severe emotional disconnect, almost like an aloof indifference of the camera in relation to the action, deliberate dialogue consisting mainly of pornographic stories and demands or rules given to the victims, a lack of a typical narrative structure in that there is no introduction that cushions our perspective of the violence - it starts immediately. The characters are blank slates with no identity except as archetypes - but no one is pretending otherwise. This includes the director, the actors, and thus, as a viewer, we can't form these connections because they are not provided and manufactured for us. We remain suspended at the entrance to the image, struggling for something 'human' within the narrative, wanting a flimsy security blanket to maintain some degree of illusory moral security. This film forced me to feel uncomfortable with my position as 'audience.' The film involves you while remaining disengaged, it pushes you into the events; you are victimized by your own curiosity, while the camera maintains a particular distance from the characters and the horrific acts going on. So basically, this film does the opposite of what typical, contemporary 'horror' films do. I could write about this film forever, it is so fascinating and has had such an intense impact on me.
I've been writing a lot recently but I don't feel comfortable on the interwebs at the moment. I feel like writing for a blog conditions my creative process in a negative way. Like I assume I am writing for an audience immediately, which is usually a bad way for me to start.
I am so so happy with my life. The last few weeks have been insane with new experiences people images and ideas. And a new year begins.