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UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

CAMÉRA STYLO

CINEMA STUDIES UNDERGRADUATE JOURNAL VOLUME 17

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CAMÉRA STYLO

VOLUME 17

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CAMÉRA STYLO is the undergraduate journal for Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. Its purpose is to promote cinema studies at the undergraduate level and provide the opportunity for undergraduate students to publish their work related to film studies. This project aims to contribute to an atmosphere of critical discussion and debate about cinema.

First and only edition, April 2017. Copyright CINSSU. Individual essays copyright their respective authors. All rights reserved under the Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this journal may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. Published and funed by the Cinema Studies Student Union. Printed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Designed by UDesign. designuoft.tk

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EDITORIAL BOARD Editor-in-Chief Lola Borissenko Academic Advisor Alberto Zambenedetti Editorial/Selection Committee Lola Borissenko Rachel Gao Eli Jenkins Angela Morrison Theresa Wang Copy Editor Eden Church

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TABLE OF CONTENTS THE END IS COMING! OR IS IT ALREADY HERE?

Post-Apocalypticism in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida

ANDREW LEE 12

DESIRE AND REPERCUSSION TO BE YOUR OWN DOUBLE: Self and Other in Being John Malkovich

TONY WU 26

MOUSELIGHT

Early animation through the Avant-Garde

PATRICK BULL 43

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE

Using reenactments to find truth

ERIN RAY 64

GENRE FOR MARTIAL ART PROFESSION Judge Archer

JOLIE ZHOU 974 CAMÉRA STYLO


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Dearest reader, I invite you to the celebration of a scholarly debut as five cinema-related publications speak for creative thought and collaboration. For the past seventeen years CamĂŠra Stylo gave aspiring scholars an opportunity to participate in the formal, theoretical, and historical discussions of cinema. In continuation of this annual tradition this volume features five exceptional undergraduate papers that I hope you will enjoy reading. I would primarily like to thank the authors for their original insights as well as all the editors on the board for their dedication and commitment. Of course as students we value the importance of learning and are always striving towards improvement. Our faculty advisor this year, Professor Alberto Zambenedetti, gave authors valuable feedback and for that I would like to thank him as well. Finally, this publication would not be possible without the creative input of the design team as they made sure that CamĂŠra Stylo attracted readers not only with its content, but with its colourful visuals and appropriate film stills. I hope that Cinema Studies Students in the future will carry on the legacy of this journal generating new approaches to the culture of cinema each year.

LOLA BORISSENKO

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THE END IS COMING! OR IS IT ALREADY HERE? Post-Apocalypticism in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida

ANDREW LEE

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“The holocaust, the absolute event of history – which is a date in history – that utter-burn where all history took fire, where the movement of Meaning was swallowed up” - Maurice Blanchot1 In her book Post-Apocalyptic Culture, Teresa Heffernan outlines how many modern fictions challenge the traditionally Christian notion that the end of time will conjure up a sense of meaning or revelation.2 The ‘post-apocalyptic’ narrative, a somewhat self-contradictory term, imagines a space in which a world-ending catastrophe has struck, however life, in one form or another, somehow continues on. These narratives often draw parallels between the post-apocalyptic landscapes of the fiction and contemporary society, asserting the modernist view that our world has already experienced catastrophe; that we are currently living in the post-apocalypse. Last year’s successful blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent example of this model, with Immortan Joe’s patriarchal society in the post-apocalyptic desert functioning as an allusion to our male dominated contemporary world. However, many modern fictions that are not literally about the end of the world also deal heavily with post-apocalyptic themes. Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2013 drama film Ida, an outstanding post-apocalyptic film, champions the view asserted by thinkers such as Theodore Adorno that the apocalypse has an established date in human history, and it is marked by the holocaust. The winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture, Ida is the story of young nun named Anna who suffers a crisis of identity just before taking her final vows, when she meets her estranged aunt Wanda, her only surviving relative. Wanda informs Anna that her name is actually Ida Lebenstein, and that she is Jewish. The film follows the two characters across Poland as they search for the remains of their family members, all of whom died during the German occupation some twenty years prior. Through their travels Ida and Wanda struggle with finding a sense of purpose, as well as reconciling God in devastated postwar Poland. Ida frames 13


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the holocaust as the apocalyptic event – “the absolute event of human history” – by aesthetically rendering Poland a desolate wasteland devoid of colour, life, and purpose.3 Additionally, Ida challenges the notion that the apocalypse will offer up any sense of revelation, through both its narrative themes of ambiguity as well as formally through its open ending. In this way, Ida questions the revelatory role of ‘endings’ at both the level of theme, through the exploration of the holocaust as apocalypse, as well as the level of form, as the ending of the film itself does not satisfy audience desire for narrative closure. This makes Ida a preeminent example of the type of narrative Heffernan describes in the introduction to her book. A hauntingly beautiful film, Ida asserts that the holocaust has forever destroyed the “Kantian philosophy that man functions as ‘an end unto himself ’”, suggesting that “the Enlightenment dream that through the application of reason, science, and objectivity one could determine universal laws, a process which would lead to the amelioration of Man and the civilizing of society, is shattered in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau”. Narrative and the Apocalypse In his book The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, literary scholar Frank Kermode asserts that “men, like poets, rush ‘into the middest,’ in medias res, when they are born; they also die in mediis rebus, and to make sense of their span they need fictive concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to lives and poems”.5 In other words, as a means of coping with the existential notion that we exist only in a very short and somewhat arbitrary period of human history, humans create a teleological fiction and map history onto it; a fiction with a beginning, middle, and impending ‘end’. This dividing of history into three distinct phases can be traced back to Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202).6 After experiencing “some kind of spiritual illumination” Joachim, a Cistercian abbot, “turned the Christian doctrine of the Trinity into a philosophy 14


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of history in which humanity ascended through three stages”.7 Joachim’s stages were as follows: the Age of the Father, the age of the Son (which Joachim saw as the current age) and the age of the Spirit – “a time of universal brotherhood that would continue until the Last Judgement”.8 This model is rooted in Christian theology, and parallels the Genesis to Revelations narrative that structures the Bible. As such, great emphasis is put on the importance of the third and final age, as this model assumes all of history moves teleologically toward a definitive end point. It is in this ‘third age’ that apocalypse and the end of time will be ushered in; however it is important to note that the Christian understanding of apocalypse is a positive one. In Christian eschatology, the period of Revelation (meaning a great unveiling) is when all will be made clear; the elect will be saved and evil will be purged from the world. Thus Joachim’s model, which is rooted in a biblical understanding of time, not only emphasizes the importance of moving toward ‘the end’, but also anticipates it. Scholar John Gray notes that “the division of human history into three ages had a profound impact on secular thought”, informing many historical movements, ideologies, and even the structure of fictions.9 For instance, “Hegel’s view of the evolution of the human freedom in three dialectical stages, [and] Marx’s theory of the movement from primitive communism through class society to global communism” is both informed by this model, and was even “Joachim’s prophecy of the third age that gave the Nazi state the name of the Third Reich”.10 Even the predominant narrative ‘three act structure’ is informed by a biblical understanding of ‘the end’ as revelation, and is crafted around a beginning, middle, and an end that provides story closure. For instance, the model of the ‘closed text film’, characteristic of classical Hollywood cinema, resolves at a level of narrative discourse as well as story, wrapping up all ‘action codes’ opened previously and providing a sense of ‘completeness’.11 As humanity drifts away from a reliance on religion, God, and the Genesis to Revelations story to provide meaning, we invest in new narratives to satisfy our “desire for continuity, truth, transcendence, and a sense of purpose”.12 These new narratives, summed up by 15


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Heffernan as “History, the Nation, (and) Man” are still informed by Joachim’s ‘division of three’ philosophy, and as such rely on the Christian understanding of “the end and apocalypse as culmination and resolution”.13 In his book The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America, Daniel Wojcik notes that World War II marks a distinct shift in how secular visions of the end are understood and interpreted, saying “since the end of World War II, visions and beliefs about the end of the world appear to have become increasingly pessimistic, stressing cataclysmic disaster as much as previous millenarian visions emphasized the imminent arrival of a redemptive new era”.14 Wojcik relates this shift in tonality within apocalyptic renderings to the suggestion made by many scholars and modernist thinkers that, with the holocaust, “apocalyptic imaginings of the past have become secular apocalyptic realities”. 15 This notion is elaborated by Heffernan who, when referring to a lack of meaning in a post-holocaust world, says: “the holocaust marks the end of History. Cut off from History, Man loses his uniqueness. The drama that unfolds after the end has no purpose”.16 To these writers, meaning is destroyed in the Nazi death camps, and with it so dies humanity. This leads Heffernan to assert that we now live in a world that is ‘post-apocalypse’; in a time “after the faith in a radically new world, of revelation, of unveiling” -- ultimately, a time after purpose.17 Humanity is now suspended in a state of limbo post-apocalypse, searching for meaning in a world where it no longer exists. It is this cynical and nihilistic worldview that is asserted in Ida, where the setting, thematic ambiguity, bleak aesthetic, and structural lack of closure all imply that any hope in ‘the end’ to conjure up meaning is lost. Ida and Post-Apocalyptic Motifs Ida takes place in the early 1960s in Poland, a land still recovering from the devastation of World War II. While terms such as ‘holocaust’ are never actually used, characters consistently allude to the past German occupation, the ‘war’, and the extermination 16


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of Polish Jews. For instance, Wanda tells Ida that their family was being harboured by a gentile Polish family on their farm during the occupation that ended up going missing. Furthermore, when Ida asks about their graves Wanda says “They have no graves. Neither they, nor any other Jews”. It is later revealed that Ida and Wanda’s family were not killed by the Nazis, but rather by the son of the Polish man who was sheltering them, Feliks. He presumably did this out of fear of punishment if it were discovered he had been harbouring ‘enemies of the state’, but his true motives are never revealed. For the purposes of the story, the merciless killing of Ida and Wanda’s family, precisely because they were Jewish, at the hands of this man functions as a micro-cosmic version of the holocaust. When it is revealed that one of the family members killed was actually Wanda’s young son, and that this event has plagued Wanda’s life ever since, it is clear that the impact is no less devastating because they did not die in a concentration camp; their deaths are still a reflection of the destruction of meaning caused by the holocaust. The film reinforces the holocaust as an apocalyptic event in a number of ways. Firstly, the core themes of the movie are very consistent with post-apocalyptic motifs as outlined by Heffernan in her book. For instance, each character is largely informed by a destruction of, or search for, meaning in this post-holocaust land. Given the important religious, mostly Catholic, history of Poland, this ‘loss of meaning’ is emphasized primarily through a questioning of the role of God in a land devastated by such atrocity. From a historical perspective Wanda represents the generation of Poles who experienced the war first hand. Wanda is embittered, depressed, and lost, totally disillusioned by God or any other traditional source of meaning or purpose. At one point in the film when Ida says that she is going to search for their family members’ remains Wanda says to her “What if you go there and discover there is no God?”, evoking a famous quote featured frequently in the book Night written by holocaust survivor Ellie Weisel: “God died in Auschwitz”. To Wanda, God cannot be reconciled in world where humanity is destroyed. 17


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The only thing motivating Wanda to continue on is the search for the remains of her son, so he can be properly buried. She has no true purpose other than this and no value in life. She exists only as a shell of her previous self, determined to fulfill this one duty, and once she does she immediately commits suicide. This post-apocalyptic feeling of having only a ‘shell of an existence’ is reinforced by postmodern thinker Jean Baudrillard, who “is plagued by the very dream Adorno forecasts. [Baudrillard] is haunted by the sense that Man is already dead, existing only as a ghostly remainder. The bomb, according to him, has already been detonated and we survive in an ‘irreversible coma,’ on life support”.18 Only 17 years old, Ida stands in for the generation that grew up in the postwar landscape, shaped by the impact the war had on the country with no conception of what life before it was like. Ida knows only the convent in which she was raised, and as such represents an inexperienced but optimistic ideology juxtaposed against the harsh realities of the post-holocaust world. As the story progresses and Ida and Wanda travel across Poland, her belief in God is challenged; represented visually and narratively as a gradual process. In the beginning of the film she is only ever seen fully covered in her nun attire, complete with headdress. Partway through the film, while shot in close up, she removes the headdress for a moment and lets her hair down. Later she returns to the convent but decides not to take her vows while all of the other novice nuns do, a commitment that she was fully ready make previously. Finally, after Wanda commits suicide, Ida has a brief period of experimentation in which she dresses in secular clothing, drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, and sleeps with a man she barely knows. She then gets up without saying a word to him, dresses in her nun attire and leaves. The last shot of the film is of her walking down the road, her fate unclear. An important point to note here is that while Ida is actually Jewish, she is a Catholic nun in training. Ida’s gradual questioning of the Catholic faith in this post-holocaust world represents a post-apocalyptic questioning of whether or not such a redemptive faith has a place once the end has come and destroyed all meaning. 18


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Understanding the holocaust as the ‘absolute event of history’ calls in to question the Christian notion of ‘the end’ as a positive culmination and resolution. To quote Heffernan, “(the holocaust), occurring in the heart of European civilization, cannot be accommodated within the redemptive Western story of progress, the apocalyptic model of disaster to renewal”.19 The holocaust undermines a faith in a revelatory apocalypse, as ‘the end’ has come and gone and meaning, humanity, and purpose are all destroyed – the great unveiling never occurring. Ida’s struggle with her religious identity, the only thing she has ever known, culminates in the end of the film, and while it is left ambiguous whether or not she returns to the convent, the significance of having a soon-to-be Catholic nun question the role of God is very telling in and of itself. Aesthetics of Apocalypse Pawlikowski emphasizes these post-apocalyptic themes through Ida’s aesthetic rendering of Poland as a veritable wasteland devoid of life, movement, and color. Shot in 1.33 frame (also known as 4:3 aspect ratio) and black and white, Ida is somewhat unique stylistically when compared to other contemporary films. Cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal said they made these choices (black and white image and 4:3 aspect ratio) “because it was evocative of Polish films of that era, the early 1960s”.20 This is certainly true; Ida bears a striking resemblance visually to many classic Polish films, such as Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’ Mother Joan of the Angels (1961). However, these visual aesthetics play a larger role than that of homage. Most obviously, the choice to shoot in black and white robs the film of any color, something often associated with ‘life’ or vitality. The drab desaturation, particularly of the outdoor scenes, creates a feeling of bleakness that is impossible to ignore. Additionally, the 4:3 aspect ratio restricts the frame, and the intentionally exaggerated adherence to the ‘rule of thirds’ (a tactic of visual composition that calls for key objects to be placed at the sides of the frame rather than 19


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directly in the center) employed by Zal and Lenczewski leads most scenes to frame characters or important objects on the very margins of the frame. A perfect example of this framing comes when Feliks confronts Ida about pestering his family atop the stairs at their hotel. Both Ida and Feliks occupy minimal space at the very bottom of the frame, only their upper bodies showing. The rest of the frame is given to negative space – the surrounding walls, and the ceiling. This unorthodox framing makes viewing slightly challenging, as the viewer cannot anticipate what information the camera is going to privilege at any given time. Likewise, it breaks conventions that the viewer may be used to, and as such leads to a more removed viewing experience. The aesthetic reinforcement of apocalyptic motifs does not end with the camerawork, however. Pawlikowski portrays Poland itself as exhausted, desolate, and without character. Filmed in the springtime, before the budding of trees or the melting of snow, Ida features many vast landscape shots of the Polish countryside, almost all of which are extraordinarily empty. The skeletons of leafless trees punctuate the barren fields, and roads seem to stretch for miles with nothing in between. Even when Ida or Wanda are spending time in a village or town, landmarks or distinguishing features are withheld to give the impression that they could be anywhere. This, coupled with the tight black and white camera work gives Poland a distinct lack of character that evokes a sense of lost identity – after the holocaust Poland, like humanity, is merely a shadow of its former self. Ambiguity and the Open Story Ending The ‘open-story film’, a term taken from Richard Neupert, is characterized by a narrative discourse that is completed, but a story that is left unfinished.21 This occurs when some or all of the primary action codes established previously in the film are left incomplete at the end – for instance, “if there is a central character on a quest, the goal is never quite reached”.22 The open-story film denies typical narrative satisfaction and undermines the importance of ‘the end’ of its respective fiction, because unlike a conventional ‘closed text film’ 20


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that resolves all major action codes, the open-story film does not provide closure.23 Endings traditionally order narratives and reveal the meaning of the piece at the point of closure or ‘revelation’.24 Open story endings challenge this notion, denying closure and reassurance – an idea that is distinctly post-apocalyptic. While there are many minor action codes opened and closed in Ida, the two primary ones that are created early on concern Wanda and Ida finding and burying their family, and Ida coming to terms with her faith, which is being brought into question. Wanda and Ida do find their family and give them a proper burial in a Jewish graveyard, and thus by the end of the film this action code is completed. However, the question of Ida’s faith, a code opened when Wanda asked her “what if you go there and discover there is no God?” is never fully resolved. While Ida does don her nun robes and headdress and leave her one-night lover without a word, her destination is unknown. One may infer that she is headed back to the convent; however this is never actually narratively confirmed or denied. Furthermore, the question of whether or not her faith in God has survived remains unanswered regardless of whether or not she does return to the convent. The events of the film by all means seem to have changed her drastically, as indicated by her sinful binge. It is this ambiguity that leaves Ida’s story open. The question of whether or not she has lost her faith is never answered, and this lack of resolution undermines the ending as the point where all is meant to be made clear. That being said, Ida does bracket itself as a text quite cleanly; in many ways it is a perfect example of a closed narrative discourse. The film begins with a title card that reads simply ‘Ida’, a queue, given the name of the film, that this is the beginning of a story. When the film ends it promptly cuts to an identical title card, completing the ‘bracket’ that was opened with the first, and signaling to the viewer that they have arrived at the end. This bracketing occurs at a natural ‘termination point’ in the story that is created primarily through the use of non-diegetic music. As Ida walks down the deserted country road, her destination unknown, Johann Sebastian Bach’s church cantata Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesus 21


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Christ (translated to ‘I call to You, Lord Jesus Christ’) begins playing non-diegetically. This is significant for two primary reasons. The first is the reincorporation of the theme of religion, which may signal to the viewer that the film is coming to a close. Those who are informed on classical music may recognize the piece as one associated with religion and then interpret it as either an ironic juxtaposition against a nun who has become disillusioned with God, or as a sign that she has actually rediscovered him. The second reason this moment is significant is that this is the first and only moment in the film to feature music that is not diegetic. All other instances of music in Ida occur in the story world, either from a car radio, the jazz band at the hotel, or from one of Wanda’s many records. The lack of non-diegetic music is very noticeable too, as much of the film occurs over long, drawn out sequences of silence. This means most viewers, consciously or otherwise, will recognize this use of non-diegetic music as being noticeably different than the way music had previously been utilized in the film. This moment of difference signals a change in the narrative, creating a natural ‘termination point’, so the viewer becomes aware the film is going to end despite the story not being wholly resolved. Conclusions Faith in ‘the end’ to provide meaning has come into question in many twentieth century narratives, as outlined by Teresa Heffernan in Post-Apocalyptic Culture. In these narratives “the present world is portrayed as exhausted, but there is no better world that replaces it”. This shift in narratives of ‘the end’ coincides with a larger understanding of the present moment as already being postapocalyptic. Many modernist and postmodernist thinkers believe that humanity was lost to the holocaust, a moment in which “‘Man’ as a specimen” died, and with him so too did any sense of meaning or purpose.26 Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is one such narrative that exemplifies this view; framing post-holocaust Poland as a postapocalyptic landscape in which meaning and humanity are gone. Ida emphasizes this post-apocalyptic nihilism at the levels of theme, 22


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through a narrative concerned with a search for meaning and identity that cannot be found, at the level of aesthetic style, through imagery evocative of post-apocalyptic landscapes devoid of life and character, and the level of form, through an ambiguous conclusion that undermines the power of ‘the end’ to conjure up revelation. A perfect example of the type of narrative Heffernan describes, Ida asserts that we are already living in a time after the end, after catastrophe, after apocalypse. The end has come, and with it, brought nothing. ______________________________________________________ Bibliography Ida. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Performed by Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza. 2013. Solopan. DVD. Doperalski, Daniel. “Variety’s 10 Cinematographers to Watch.” Variety. Variety, 13 Feb. 2014. 01 Dec. 2016. Web.<variety.com/ gallery/varietys-10-cinematographers-to-watch/> Gray, John. Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print. Heffernan, Teresa. Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth Century Novel. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2008. Print. Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1966. Print. Levine, Sydney. “Interview: Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski on His Oscar Shortlisted Film ‘Ida’.” IndieWire. 08 Jan. 2015. 29 Nov. 2016. Web. <http://www.indiewire.com/2015/01/ interview-dir-pawel-pawlikowski-on-his-oscar-shortlisted film-ida-171689/> Neupert, Richard. The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1995. Print.

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Weisel, Ellie. Night. New York: Bantam, 1982. Print. Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America. New York: New York UP, 1997. Print. ______________________________________________________ Endnotes 1 Teresa Heffernan, Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth Century Novel (Toronto: U of Toronto, 2008), 8. 2

Heffernan, Post-Apocalyptic Culture, 7.

3

Ibid., 8.

4

Ibid.

5 Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (New York: Oxford UP, 1966), 7. 6 John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 9. 7

Ibid.

8

Ibid.

9

Ibid.

10

Ibid.

11 Richard Neupert, The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995), 33. 12 24

Heffernan, Post-Apocalyptic Culture, 4-5.


13

Ibid., 5.

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14 Daniel Wojcik, The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 98. 15

Ibid.

16.

Heffernan, Post-Apocalyptic Culture, 18.

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DESIRE AND REPERCUSSION TO BE YOUR OWN DOUBLE Self and Other in Being John Malkovich

TONY WU

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In the 1999 film Being John Malkovich,1 bizarre and supernatural elements—such as a portal that could let you be John Malkovich for fifteen minutes—come forth and entangle, instigating a genuine impact on the world that we perceive as real. Among an army of peculiarities, a recurring motif of the film is cognitive doubling, of being and the desire to be someone else (being Malkovich through the portal), of projecting oneself onto another (in)animate object (say, taking control of Malkovich’s body through puppetry), and of the subject discovering her intrinsic relation to the other and the Other, which is: a major theme of psychoanalytic theory, particularly Lacanian psychoanalysis. However, by virtue of its thematization of the politics of the gaze on the part of the character and of the spectator, the film transcends the motif of doppelgänger to the extra-textual level: the experience of looking through the eyes of an other essentially mirrors that of the film spectator who during the course of viewing engages in a twofold identification process1. Conventional film viewing—–and by regression the act of looking through the eyes of an other in Malkovich—–is predicated upon a separation from and identification with the other on the part of the viewing subject2. Since the exploration of the politics of cinematic spectatorship also fixates on the relation between the ego and the other and the Other informed by psychoanalysis, I find Levinasian phenomenology appropriate here as a supplementary perspective vis-à-vis the more widely examined and scrutinized Lacanian interpretation. In this article, I employ psychoanalysis and Levinasian phenomenology, to demonstrate that the film Being John Malkovich dramatizes and then complicates the institutional mode of spectatorship, which has been addressed by apparatus theory, in addition to the self/other relation that that is both intimately akin to the motif of doppelgänger and at the core of the film. Both intratextual exemplifications, like puppetry and bodily possession of an other, and extra-textual references, such as the conflation of the gaze and narcissism in the form of celebrity mania, relegate to the uncanny surrogate known as the doppelgänger. 27


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Seeing Through John Malkovich First, I will examine the implication of doubling on the part of the spectator, drawing upon psychoanalysis-related apparatus theory. Christian Metz argues that the cinematic signifier is imaginary, a presence-absence, for the object proper is absent while its replica is present3. As a result, cinema is a mirror that does not reflect the spectator’s own body4. The absence of the spectator’s reflection necessitates the spectator to already understand herself as a subject, distinct from and relative to her others/objects; the absence also prevents her self-identification5. Nonetheless, the spectator must identify, and the absence implies that she is “entirely on the side of the perceiving,” as “all-perceiving”, identifying others with “[herself ] as a pure act of perception”6. The prerequisite of this mode of identification, which Metz has termed primary identification, is “the subject’s knowledge” of being the one who is perceiving, whose sensory organs respond to the film7 (original emphasis). On the other hand, in terms of secondary identification, the spectator can identify with the diegetic characters, and by extension the actors or actresses who play the characters8. Primary and secondary identification, however, do not exhaust the practice of cinematic spectatorship. The spectator is also a voyeur, whose pleasure, by virtue of her voyeuristic act of looking, is derived from looking at objects that are kept away from her9. Her gaze is voyeuristic, for the cinematic signifier is imaginary and the perceived is entirely absent when the spectator is present10. Similarly, Laura Mulvey argues that cinema affords at least two forms of pleasures to its spectator: scopophilic, which is predicated upon a separation of the spectator and her objects; and narcissistic, in identifying with her ideal ego11. Conflation Of Identification And Cinematic Voyeurism In Malkovich, the portal that is somehow linked to Malkovich allows the user to turn the body of Malkovich into a surrogate for cinema. Namely, the person in the portal is like a film spectator and Malkovich’s eyes become the camera, the screen, and the projector; what she sees and hears is the cinematic text. What Malkovich

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perceives, therefore, is imaginary for the one in the portal, since the person in the portal is indeed physically inside the portal and is spatially separated from Malkovich and what he perceives. Since the cinema is a mirror that does not reflect the body of the spectator, and Malkovich, when he perceives, represents the entirety of the cinematic institution, the person in the portal does not see her/his reflection but instead that of Malkovich when Malkovich looks in a mirror. In addition, as the person in the portal (who is like the film spectator) perceives through the body of Malkovich (cinema), her primary and secondary identification are conflated into one, for the ““cinema”” called John Malkovich only exists through Malkovich’s sensory organs. Therefore, Malkovich is simultaneously the pure act of looking and the character/actor for the one inside the portal to identify with. The spectator’s absence, as suggested earlier, means she is confined to the realm of the perceiving, unable to influence the domain of the perceived. This remains true in Malkovich at first, until Craig, upon his second entry into Malkovich, manipulates Malkovich and speaks through Malkovich. It is hinted earlier in the film that Malkovich’s decision to meet with the strange woman (Maxine) is in part owing to Lotte’s consistent repeating of the phrase “Meet her” while she was inside the Malkovich portal. Gender is at issue here. In conventional narrative cinema, the man is the bearer of the gaze, and the woman is the object—–the spectacle—–that the man looks at; the spectator—–a he–—identifies with his onscreen double, the man, and possesses the woman indirectly from the man’s gaze, which through identification now also belongs to him12. The film is in line with Mulvey’s argument: Malkovich is the man, he who looks at the woman, Maxine, and the person in the portal possesses Maxine through Malkovich. Yet the film also parodies Mulvey’s argument, for as a she, Lotte is able to direct Malkovich (minimally) and she enchants Maxine, literally, through her gaze while she is inside the portal. Still, Lotte is unable to gain full control over Malkovich and by extension to possess Maxine vis-à-vis Craig and Lester; as a female spectator, Lotte is impeded by her gender and confined to her seat. 29


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Narcissism, the Cult of Celebrity, and Longing for Immortality The narcissistic pleasure the John Malkovich “cinema” affords to its spectator–—the person in the portal–—and by extension to the spectator of the film Being John Malkovich is rested upon an implication and caricature of the everlasting contemporary obsession with celebrity, which can be traced back to our perpetual desire to transcend mortality through a double13. After discovering the portal, Craig and Maxine open a business to exploit the portal. Even at a rate of 200 dollars for a fifteen-minute stay inside Malkovich, they have customers lining up all night just to have a taste of what it feels like to be inside another skin–—and not just any another skin, but that of John Malkovich. However, the mania over celebrity in contemporary culture is also mocked in Malkovich. Although Malkovich is recognized in several occasions, no one seems to really remember exactly what roles in what films he has played. The choice of casting Malkovich to play himself in the film is also telling, for the actor John Malkovich in real life does not regard himself as the John Malkovich received in popular culture, who is appealing, according to Craig, simply because he is a celebrity; hence the actor Malkovich’s performance in the film “embodies a sense of self-parody”14. Interestingly enough, the reason New Line Cinema withdrew from the project is that its chairman Bob Shay was dismayed at the choice of casting Malkovich and asked “‘Being John Malkovich? Why the fuck can’t it be Being Tom Cruise?15’” (original emphasis). The absurd and paradoxical nature of the cult of celebrity is prevalent throughout the film. Maxine describes Malkovich’s countenance as one decorated by “the stubble and the too-prominent brow and the male-pattern baldness,” a comment far from flattery. Later when Craig is gaining the upper hand over the control of Malkovich’s body and Malkovich desperately resists of losing his control, Craig calls Malkovich to “shut up, you overrated sack of shit.” The principal point is that the basic logic of the cult of celebrity is not about the person but the status, the oeuvre of being a celebrity; the thin line between celebrities and ordinary folks–—in accordance 30


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with this cultural logic–—is only the ungraspable abstraction termed “fame.” Fame is no longer the by-product but the end16. There is no radical difference for Craig in terms of puppetry skill before and after he takes control of Malkovich’s body; yet, while in his old skin he cannot support his family solely as a puppeteer, in his new skin as Malkovich his astonishing mastery is hailed. In other words, the celebration of Craig and his puppetry owes not to his talent, but to Malkovich’s prestige as an actor. Celebrity, in this way, is an other to which the subject projects her desire and fantasy, to which she appropriates herself, to become a double of her ideal ego. None of this is possible without the essential purpose of the portal–—to take control of an other, to literally become that other, to conquer the curse of mortality. The obsession with immortality led the ancient Egyptians to preserve the bodies of the dead in the form of mummies; concerned with potential destruction of these mummies, the Egyptians laid terra cotta statuettes near the sarcophagus to ensure the immortality of the dead17. These statuettes virtually constitute a double for the original as a safeguard for eternal survival. Malkovich therefore reifies a double to which Dr. Lester (who is in fact Captain Mertin) and his friends can cheat death and realize immortality, albeit in a different body. The Other/Other, And The Symbolic: Lacan Later in this section I will elaborate on the inexplicit connection between the motif of doppelgänger and the other/Other. But first I must address the distinction between the other with a lowercase o and the Other with a capital O. It is Lacan who has made the division explicit and substantial. For Lacan, “the Other [is] to which his speech must be addressed, and the second other … is the individual that he sees before him18”. In other words, the other is the flesh-and-blood person, the other person who physically occupies some space, whom one encounters in the real world; the Other, however, resides in the symbolic19. Key to Lacan’s theorization of the other and the Other is first the Other’s place in the symbolic order, and second ——the role of language. Mastery of language marks a 31


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child’s entry into the symbolic, and this mastery is necessary for the child to command his order in the future20.2 For Lacan, language is imperative for one to assume order and responsibility, for “the law of man has been the law of language21”. The loss of coherence in speech, therefore, relegates one into chaos, rupturing temporality22. Lacan refers to this loss as schizophrenia, in which the signifying chain of language for the subject is fractured; it is therefore the difference between the signifiers (sound-image) rather than the one-to-one pairing between a signifier and a signified from which meaning stems23. There is another reason why Lacan regards language so highly: the father–—an other–—is in fact accompanied by a pure signifier to which Lacan has termed “Name-of-the-Father” that has occupied the place of the Other24. This pure signifier is what the subject addresses with his speech and what he is supposed to identify with: the heterosexual patriarchal father figure. The portal that connects to Malkovich does not only allow one to experience the John Malkovich cinema as a spectator, it also literally transforms the person into the Other, who is addressed by the subjects that Malkovich–—the other—–confronts. Lotte’s third journey into Malkovich is prearranged with Maxine, and during their intimacy through Malkovich as an intermediate vehicle, Maxine addresses Malkovich as “Lotte,” to which Malkovich naturally finds bizarre. Clearly, Maxine is not addressing Malkovich but Lotte, who is in the portal, and this address is precisely in line with Lacan’s theory: Maxine, as a subject, while encountering Malkovich—–the other—–speaks not to Malkovich but to Lotte—–the Other—– who resides in the order of the symbolic (by being physically inside the portal). Similarly, after Craig has fully controlled Malkovich’s body, he becomes, to everyone else except him and Malkovich, the Other. The subject’s speech is addressed not to Malkovich but Craig, regardless of the subject’s knowledge of the Other. Viewed from this perspective, the portal is hence the embodiment of the symbolic order. But is it really? To determine the nature of the portal, we must return to where the portal is located, or rather, where one can access the portal— 32


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LesterCorp, or rather, the 7½ floor of the Mertin Flemmer Building. The most distinguishable feature of the 7½ floor is certainly its low ceilings, designated, as Craig is told during orientation, by the founder of the building—–Captain James Mertin—–to accommodate folks who suffer from dwarfism. However, there are more peculiarities Craig has experienced in this floor: Floris, the “executive liaison” of Dr. Lester, mishears, despite having received “her doctorate in speech impedimentology from Case Western,” a degree which, as expected, has no real-life referent. Dr. Lester insists he has a speech impediment and there is no way Craig could understand him, which is untrue since both Craig and Lotte can hear him perfectly. Craig helplessly falls in love with Maxine even though he is married, and, oddly enough, he is, without knowing how himself, able to correctly guess Maxine’s name which is by no means a commonly used name in recent decades. What these oddities suggest is that the 7½ floor is a place where the irrational—–physical and psychical—–manifests, where the signifying chains of language breakdown; however, it is also a site of possibility for the order to be resumed. Hence Craig, discouraged by the disoriented speech at his workplace, can somehow accurately guess Maxine’s name. The 7½ floor “seems too fantastic to represent Lacan’s symbolic order25”, and indeed it is not the symbolic; rather, the portal, only accessible from LesterCorp on the 7½ floor, is a surrogate—–or, if you wish, a double—–of language through which the subject can address the Other, and become the Other. “What happens when a man goes through his own portal?” Craig wonders as he watches Malkovich crawling through the mud in his own portal. And what Malkovich experiences is indeed perhaps the most bizarre oddity imaginable, “a world that no man should see,” as Malkovich puts it himself. In this world of his, every face is Malkovich’s face, and only one word ever exists and is ever spoken: “Malkovich.” It is a world plagued by Lacanian schizophrenia, where every signifier is the same as the Slavic last name “Malkovich,” where Malkovich experiences plentitude. The world is therefore the imaginary order from which one enters the symbolic, where a persona person’s conception of the self is still constituted by primary 33


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narcissism . In seeing his and only his face, the repressed narcissism returns, yet instead of deriving pleasure and satisfaction from the familiar, he is faced with the uncanny. I will return to the topic of faces later once I have introduced Levinasian phenomenology, which has a different take on the other and its relation to the self. It is now time to formulate the relation between the motif of doppelgänger and the other/Other. In the imaginary order, the child’s recognition with his mirror image is simultaneously a form of misrecognition, the Ideal-I, for the mirror image is “more constituent” with better motor coordination27. In other words, the constitution of I depends on a recognizable yet incongruous other. Leaving the imaginary and entering the symbolic does not eradicate one’s desire to be an other (the better, more potent, and idealized version of the self ). That probably explains why the cult of celebrity is rather ironic in nature, why Craig is obsessed with puppetry, and why the portal is there in the first place: it is a wish-fulfilling apparatus for the self to realize the inexecutable, to misrecognize and to become the other. Yet, by becoming the other, by occupying the space that used to belong to that other, the self—–even just temporarily—–sacrifices its own identity, its own “spot” within the symbolic, for subjectivity is determined by the subject’s position in the symbolic28. It becomes its own doppelgänger. 26

Levinasian Phenomenology: Relationality As The Structure Of ‘ Being’ As Young has noted, while references to psychoanalysis repeatedly appear in Malkovich and a psychoanalytic approach to the film proves to be productive, the film also lends itself to a Levinasian interpretation29. I will begin with Craig and his misjudgment of his cognition. Near the beginning of the film, Craig, staying at home, speaks to Lotte’s chimpanzee Elijah: “You don’t know how lucky you are, being a monkey, because consciousness is a terrible curse. I think. I feel. I suffer. And all I ask in return is the opportunity to do my work. And they won’t allow it because I raise issues.” For Craig, subjectivity is constituted by one’s own cognition and emotion; he is therefore a 34


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(self-claimed) Cartesian cogito30. “Self-claimed,” for at the same time he blames the world for his hardship; his complaint of everything external suggests that his subjectivity is indeed not a product of his own but constructed by various other and Other31. Therefore, despite believing he is his own master, Craig acknowledges his dependency on the other. As a (self-denied) Lacanian subject, his subjectivity is determined by his position within the symbolic order32. His yearning for recognition explains why he chooses to be a puppeteer: for him, puppetry allows him to perceive what it feels like to be inside another skin, to manipulate, to be not just a master of himself but of others as well. His failure to enchant Maxine in the real world is compensated later in his puppet theatre with puppets: he appropriates one of his puppets to resemble Maxine in order for him—–in the form of puppet Craig—–to possess her. The same mechanism is echoed throughout the film, for Lotte, Craig, Dr. Lester, and every customer of Maxine and Craig’s wants to experience another skin in order to fulfill a desire otherwise unattainable by virtue of their own bodies that confine themselves. Emmanuel Levinas, concerned with ethics, understands the other in ways different than Lacan. For Levinas, it is relationality, rather than ontology—–such as consciousness—–that serves as “a structure of ‘being’”33. For Levinas, I “exist for the other”, I am accountable for the other, for my action always in one way or another has an impact on the other34. Levinas and Lacan go hand in hand in critiquing the prevailing Western metaphysical tradition, epitomized by the Cartesian cogito. However, Levinas’ dismissal of consciousness and favor of relationality implies that Lacanian psychoanalysis and Levinasian phenomenology interpret the other dissimilarly. For Levinas, one’s body is not just the apparatus through which one grasps herher consciousness, but also a sign for the other; therefore, I am able to conceive the existence of alter-egos through their bodies, and this knowledge that I possess necessitates that “their bodies are not just for them, but also for an other. Reverse the analogy, my body is not just mine, but mine for another as well35”. In this way, Malkovich’s body is not just his body, but also the body of Craig’s, 35


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Lotte’s, etc.; hence the portal is the gateway for Malkovich to carry out his responsibility for the other, an inherent responsibility rooted in his very existence, a responsibility that can be executed through language36. In this manner, Malkovich speaks what Craig speaks during Craig’s second experience as Malkovich because Malkovich is literally answerable to Craig the other. This body of Malkovich’s, by virtue of its signifying function, is possible to be possessed by the other, engendering the other to become a double of its own, and of Malkovich. However, the film also defies Levinas’ account of language as a medium to carry out responsibility through Elijah the chimpanzee. It is Elijah who, locked inside the cage with Lotte, frees Lotte. And the entire rescue scene, depending on the framework employed, grants different interpretation. From the perspective of psychoanalysis, the relationship between Elijah, Craig, and Lotte, is a modified or even satiric version of the Oedipal complex. Elijah, as a young male chimpanzee with a human name, suffers acid reflux because of his childhood trauma; Lotte takes care of him and it is obvious that Craig is not fond of attending to the animals. They are, in other words, Lotte’s animals; in this way, Elijah is Lotte’s symbolic “son.”3 In the aforementioned scene, Craig speaks to Elijah about consciousness, asserting that Elijah, by virtue of his animality, has no consciousness; Elijah therefore does not constitute a threat to Craig. But Elijah does possess consciousness: witnessing Lotte’s struggle to untie herself from the knot reminds him of the childhood trauma that prompted his capture, and this memory is depicted visually from Elijah’s point of view. By putting a piece of tape on Lotte’s mouth, Craig silences her, affirms his law of the language; by freeing Lotte, Elijah resolves his childhood trauma, and challenges the rule of the father. From a Levinasian perspective, Elijah’s rescue of Lotte exemplifies Levinas’idea of relationality: that I (Elijah) am accountable for the other, I (Elijah) therefore must take my responsibility, despite in a non-linguistic manner37. Explicating Elijah’s rescue and his relation to Lotte and Craig with Lacanian psychoanalysis and 36


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Levinasian phenomenology in fact exposes the anthropomorphic tendency in both theories of Lacan’s and Levinas’. For Levinas, responsibility is primarily—–if not exclusively—–a man’s burden, due to the role of language in one’s carrying out responsibility38. On the other hand, Lacan even speaks of chimpanzees in contrast to human infants to illustrate infants’ ability (and hence the inability of the chimpanzee and by large all animal species other than humans) to recognize its mirror image39. The issue I intend to raise here is that Levinas and Lacan both treat animality as somewhat inferior and dim than humanity. Yet perhaps it is more appropriate to conceive animality and humanity as interdependent and co-structuring, one as the double of the other. In theorizing the relation between the self and the other, Levinas especially notes the significance of the face40. The face is a person’s most distinguishable physical feature, or in other words, it is the perfect signifier to signify a distinct individual. What happens when that signifying chain is ruptured? Identical twins, for instance, possess extremely similar but slightly different faces, and this breakdown of the signifying chain often generates trouble to the twins and people around them, if not arousing an uncanny effect. By entering his own portal, Malkovich finds himself in a world where every other has his face, and speaks only the word “Malkovich.” As I have mentioned, the breakdown of the signifying chain of language induces schizophrenia. The breakdown of the signifying chain of face, however, blurs the boundary between the self and the other, conflating the two. This signifying chain is, therefore, a chain of difference, or in Levinasian vocabulary, a chain of relationality. Breakdown of this signifying chain suggests that the other has essentially become the double of the self; simultaneously, the self has also become the double of the other. Therefore, the Lacanian conception of the other is “I have become my own double”, whereas the Levinasian interpretation of the other is “the other has become my double, and I have become its double”. They are both logical conclusions based on corresponding theoretical framework. My analysis of Being John Malkovich with the two frameworks suggests 37


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that they are both capable of returning constructive interpretation. Yet, perhaps more importantly, is that Lacan and Levinas, despite general reception, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Being John Malkovich is full of riddles and my investigation is certainly not exhaustive. Nonetheless, one can sense—the recurring motif of doppelgänger on the textual and institutional levels. The institutional mode of spectatorship practice is essentially recreated as the John Malkovich “cinema”, doubling the diegetic character as well as the film spectator. The film refers rather blatantly to the cult of celebrity, relating Malkovich the actor in the film Malkovich and Malkovich the actor in the real world, and parodies the collective cultural insanity towards celebrity culture. Being John Malkovich engages heavily and deeply with the concept of the other/Other, to which both Lacanian psychoanalysis and Levinasian phenomenology offer invaluable insights. ______________________________________________________ Notes 1. Being John Malkovich will be abbreviated as Malkovich hereafter. 2. It is no mystery that the writings of Lacan as well as Freud often bear an acute trace of sexism. Here, Lacan is only referring to male child, for reasons that will be discussed shortly. 3. The adjective “symbolic” here has no connection to the Lacanian symbolic order. ______________________________________________________ Bibliography Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? Edited and Translated by Hugh Gray, vol. 2. Berkley: University of California Press, 2005. Being John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze. Performed by John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, .Catherine Keener, John Malkovich USA Films, 1999. DVD. Dragunoiu, Dana. “Psychoanalysis, Film Theory, and the Case of Being John Malkovich.” Film Criticism, Vol. 26, No. 2 (2001): 1-18. 38


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Gabbard, Glen O. “Fifteen Minutes of Fame Revisited: Being John Malkovich.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 82 No. 1 (2001): 177-9. Jameson, Fredric. “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” New Left Review,.Vol. 146 No. I (1984): 53- 92. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan. London: Taylor & Francis, 2012. <http://www.myilibrary. com?ID-16805> Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Translated by Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. – – –. “The Imaginary Signifier.” Translated by Ben Brewster. Screen,Vol. 16 No. 2 (1975): 14-74. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, Vol. 16 No. 3 (1975): 6-18. Ruti, Mari. Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Stukin, Stacie. “Being Sandy Stern.” The Advocate 9 Nov (1999): 68-9. Weinstein, Lissa, and Banu Seckin. “The Perverse Cosmos of Being John Malkovich: Forms and Transformations of Narcissism in a Celebrity Culture.” Projections, Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008): 27-44. Young, William. “Otherwise Than Being John Malkovich: Incarnating the Name of the God.” Literature and Theology, Vol. 18 No. 1 (2004): 95-108.

39


______________________________________________________ Endnotes 1 Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis

and the Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, et al

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), 49-51.

2

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,”

Screen 16.3 (1975), 10. 3

Metz, “The Imaginary Signifier,” Screen 16.2, (1975), 48.

4

Ibid., 48.

5

Ibid., 49.

6

Ibid., 51.

7

Ibid., 51.

8

Ibid., 49-50.

9

Ibid., 61.

10

Ibid., 62-3.

11

Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” 9-10.

12

Ibid., 12.

13 Lissa Weinstein and Banu Seckin, “The Perverse Cosmos of Being John Malkovich: Forms and Transformations of Narcissism in a Celebrity Culture.” (Projections 2.1, 2008), 29. 14 40

Glen O. Gabbard, “Fifteen Minutes of Fame Revisited: Being John Malkovich.” (International Journal of Psychoanalysis 82.1, 2001), 178.


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15

Stacie Stukin, “Being Sandy Stern,” The Advocate, November

16

9, 1999, 68. Weinstein and Seckin, “The Perverse Cosmos of Being John

Malkovich,” 37. 17 André Bazin, What Is Cinema? Vol.1, ed. and trans. Huge 18

Gray (Berkley: University of California Press, 2005), 9. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan

19

(London: Taylor & Francis, 2012), 154. Mari Ruti, Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics

20

(New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), vi. Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 116.

21

Ibid., 67.

22

Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic

23

of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review I/146 (1984), 72. Ibid., 71-2.

24

Ibid., 220, 240-1.

25

Dana Dragunoiu, “Psychoanalysis, Film Theory, and the Case of Being John Malkovich,” Film Criticism 26.2, (2001), 4.

26

Ibid., 4; Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 6.

27

Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 2-4.

28

Dragunoiu, “Psychoanalysis, Film Theory, and the Case of Being John Malkovich,” 7.

29

William Young, “Otherwise Than Being John Malkovich: Incarnating the Name of the God,” Literature and Theology 18.1 (2004), 95-6. 41


30

Dragunoiu, “Psychoanalysis, Film Theory, and the Case of Being John Malkovich,” 5.

31

Ibid.

32

Ibid., 7.

33

Ruti, Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics, 5.

34

Ibid., 2, 5-6.

35

Young, “Otherwise Than Being John Malkovich: Incarnating the Name of the God,” 99.

36

Ibid., 100.

37

Ibid., 103.

38

Ibid., 104.

39

Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 1.

40

Ruti, Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics, 3

42


MOUSELIGHT

Early animation through the Avant-garde

PATRICK BULL

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In 1928, Siegfried Kracauer praised what is now called the graphic tradition for producing “optical processes that cannot be translated into any other language”.1 Hans Richters’ Rhythmus 21 (1921), Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal-Symphonie (1924), and later, Oskar Fischinger’s An Optical Poem (1938) animate constructivist art and Kandinsky paintings,2 placing viewers in impossible spaces where non-representational lines and geometric shapes move across, toward, and away from the spectator. Motion and time, the envy of modernist painters (Cubism contained each in a still image3), could animate art on a scale not possible with thaumatropes, zoetropes, or other such toys; the graphic cinema’s achievements were unique to the medium. What Kracauer did not acknowledge, and what history seldom records, is that Richter, Eggeling, Fischinger, and even Kandinsky were inspired by mysticism.4 Each, to varying degrees, produced visual translations of pseudo-religious texts that have, unlike their art, gone out of vogue. That these films are enjoyable without believing they will connect us to the cosmos—that they have entered an avant-garde lexicon separate from their artists’ school of thought—is a testament to the merits of divorcing interpretation from intent.5 This divorce is necessary when discussing commercial animation and the avant-garde; though they collide in the graphic tradition, each has largely been considered historically and formally distinct. Commercial animation developed mainly through sevenminute narrative comedies, designed to generate money and laughter. The “avant-garde” was named when young American filmmakers with limited access to a hierarchical studio system began, in the 1940s, to create films radically “other” (sometimes oppositional) to commercial feature and documentary films.6 Unlike animation, concocted from vaudeville, minstrel shows, and comic strips—“low art”—the American avant-garde’s inspirations were poets and abstract expressionist painters—“high art.”7 Among the “high art” were films in the graphic tradition, and work by Fernand Léger, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, etc.—pre-World War II artists who translated broader art movements into what were then called “film 44


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poems” or “experimental films.”8 Yet despite their disparate influences and retrospective categorizations, there are interpretive ways to find common ground. André Breton and Georges Bataille loved popular cinema made outside the Surrealist tradition, and “claimed” many films based on their surreal moments.9 With similarly appropriative means, Tom Gunning would later draw parallels between the “cinema of attractions” and Structural films.10 The films and moments I claim here are not for Surrealism or Structural film alone, but for avantgarde films in general. My intentions are not to reclaim commercial animators as starving artists (even if they were overworked11). Like Gunning, I acknowledge that many visual and thematic similarities between these two traditions exist on a surface level, “traced over an abyss.”12 But other similarities are contemporaneous with, or preemptive of, the formal, expressive, and oppositional methods and concerns of avant-garde filmmakers. Early animation—intentionally and not—naturally and self-reflexively foregrounds its own materiality, lyrically integrates its artists autobiographically into itself, and antagonistically engages with the film medium as well as the world represented therein. Its technological developments, toward collective assemblage and Hollywood realism, impose conservative aesthetic and political constraints that will unsuccessfully repress these qualities. The Abyss Stares Back From the very start, animation was as much about its materials and its artists as it was about the art onscreen. Animation is a magic trick sustained beyond any reasonable length; from minutes one through seven, then through ninety, and then through to the twenty-first century, the trick is impossible without its magician. Beyond Méliès (later co-opted by the surrealists13) and early experiments like Edwin S. Porter’s Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend (1906) that incorporated the trick into live action scenarios,14 the cartoon— the extended special effect—was a stubborn and laborious means to re-create (or represent) motion. With re-creation comes the ability, 45


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as per Kracauer, “to mock photographable reality. Minnie Mouse uses her bloomers as a parachute; a skeleton uses a thighbone to play a ribcage as a xylophone.15 Nature and its laws come under attack. This attack is led by the possibilities of the means of production”16— that is, the artists’ complete control over the physical laws of the animated world. Plastic bodies, anthropomorphic characters, and impossible morphs “question and challenge the received knowledges which govern the physical laws” and by extension “socio-cultural orthodoxies of the ‘real world,’” putting forth “difference and otherness” in their place.17 It is comedy wrought from balletic violence, each step of an outstretched limb (or pratfall) exaggerated by personality or repetition,18 connoting artifice as well as humor. Before the late 1930s, at which point animation moved toward imitation/representation, this reorganization of reality via the means of production was the subject of the animated film.19 Before slash and tear, before cels, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (Blackton, 1906) borrowed lightning hand20 (itself indicative of the artists’ presence) and direct address from the nineteenth century stage: the drawing looks directly at us. In live action cinema, the camera mediates this contact; “the audience does not greet the eyes of a flesh and blood spectator, but that of his image on the screen.”21 In animation, the apparatus does more than enable chalk people, Felix the Cat, or Ko-Ko the Clown to look at us: the apparatus stares back. We make eye contact with a character, but also with the pure material of animation. Norman Klein notes that in early animated films, morphs reveal literal traces between forms; between dog and clown or rabbit and roller skate, 22 leftover erased lines reveal the animator and animated process. For the astute viewer these become “an alternative plot point,”23 and in Humorous Phases this is most explicitly true: a chalkboard is a more obvious canvas than paper or cels, and we see characters wiped away in real time. The imperfect erasure between one sketch and the next—the “phantom presence” of the artist’s process24—is the subject of the film. In effect about (its own) machinery, Humorous Phases, like Ballet Mécanique (Léger, Murphy, 1924), celebrates the intersection of life and technology.25 46


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What Stuart Blackton’s trick film frames as comic attraction, Léger bookends with the eyes of the apparatus: a cubist Charlie Chaplin, in debt to slapstick comedy. Ballet acknowledges the language established before it, while Humorous Phases gestures forwards: its bare self-reflexivity—its morphs, its self-referentiality, its materiality— continue off the chalkboard and onto the page. That the avant-garde often spotlights process and materials almost goes without saying, but the Fordist industrialization of animation in the 1910s26 demands, with each following decade, more nuanced analyses in order to see that cartoons do the same. John Randolph Bray’s innovations toward efficiency (uniform materials and uniform style from one animator and cartoon to the next) repress or complicate individual artistic expression,27 but the self-reflexivity essential to the medium still allows the artists’ struggle to emerge from these collective productions. Stan Brakhage’s lyrical films are a useful reference point for locating this emergence. Like a lot of postWWII art, they are characterized by “a will to explore and record the spontaneous creative act.”28 Eye Myth (1967), The Dante Quartet (1987), and many others translate action painting onto film, which is painted or scratched directly (like Jackson Pollock, “destroying the image”29), allowing us insight into the precise steps taken by the artist.30 Window Water Baby Moving, Cat’s Cradle, and Sirius Remembered (all released in 1959) reveal Brakhage’s living and working quarters, as well as his family (bearing the fruits of his creation, or buried in the backyard). For animators, the autobiographical always centers on animation; the home movie emerges out of the lightning sketch. Winsor McCay, his whole body framed while he talks about the labour of animation, makes quick whiteboard drawings in real time in Little Nemo (1911) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). The Brayproduced “Bobby Bumps Puts a Beanery on the Bum” (Hurd, 1918) once again limits the lightning sketch to the hand, nameless and divorced from the artist; however, the trick has changed, and now the hand is itself animated (from a still image of a real hand). We are reminded of the means of production but the artist is concealed, made a part of the materials. The Out of the Inkwell series pushes 47


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this further toward both illusion and autobiography: in Vaudeville (1924) the lightning hand sketches both Ko-Ko the Clown and Max Fleischer, sketching Ko-Ko the Clown. If Fleischer’s lavish studies romanticize the animation studio, they nonetheless place the artist front and centre. Walt Disney would reserve his cameos for promotional materials increasingly integral to his brand,31 an even bolder signature than the one placed before his cartoons. He distrusted any technique that reminded audiences they were looking at a drawing, including metamorphosis and sustained abstraction.32 But even without these, and without onscreen artists, there are other ways to hypnagogically33 read Walt Disney’s cartoons. Plane Crazy is about the work of animation—not metaphorically, allegorically, or directly, but accidentally. Mickey, behaving rather badly before his Boy Scout years,34 forces himself on Minnie while they fly high above the earth. She jumps off, and he follows suit. Here, their physical properties change. Minnie, floating downward, suddenly has more angular features. Mickey, after landing on the ground, looks disheveled for the duration of the final shot. This is not signified by the usual tropes: he is not covered in dirt or encircled by stars. Instead, he appears more quickly drawn than before: his pupils are less rounded, his eyeballs are oblong, and his right ear is too stout. He almost resembles a template for inkblot heroes, rather than Mickey Mouse. Ub Iwerks, known for his speed as an animator, drew Plane Crazy by himself in just two weeks;35 out of fatigue, laziness, or excitement, he completed it slightly hastily. As a result, Mickey and Minnie become drawings rather than characters, the distinction being they are part of the materials of animation rather than personalities crafted from these materials. The degradation of their forms is a conduit for the artist’s arduous process; through it we glimpse the “spontaneous creative act,” Iwerks’ working conditions, and more generally, the strain of making cartoons. Plane Crazy, unable to break out of the frustrating boundaries of Disney’s cartoon world and exhausted by its demanding work week,36 slumps in its final moments as if to send us off with “That’s all, folks! Thank god!” 48


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Mickey at the beginning, middle, and end of Plane Crazy. The second shot is included to show that the distortion in the third is not a result of his smaller scale. If Mickey’s sexual assault of Minnie constitutes one of the last, problematic hurrahs for anarchy in Disney cartoons (in a narrative and aesthetic sense), it does not do the same for the cartoon world at large. Between rebellion, nihilism, and crudeness, there is a sustained tradition of counter-cultural themes in both animation and the avant-garde.37 Betty Boop, antithetical to Disney’s protestant heroes, would not make her debut for another two years (in 1930’s Dizzy Dishes). Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1926) is riddled with raunchy puns.38 Perhaps between the grin at the end of Bimbo’s Initiation (1931)—as if “tickled from the inside out, lasciviously”39— and the titular conclusion of Le Retour à la Raison (Ray, 1923), there is not a great deal of difference.40 Both animation and the avantgarde have sustained, incendiary traditions. The avant-garde does not simply exist to be analyzed. Often, it seeks reaction—in order to read the puns on Duchamp’s spiral, we physically move.41 If this essay occasionally recalls the stage—vaudeville comics, magicians, lightning sketch, direct address, winks and asides—it is not just because they influenced animation;42 they also permeate the avantgarde. When Buñuel learned that Un Chien Andalou (1929) was hailed as poetic, “he was appalled; rather, he saw it as a ‘desperate appeal to murder,’”43 a joke that was itself part of a public persona. The avant-garde’s private exhibitions, its manifestos, and its figureheads are performative.44 Dada in particular, complicates the high and low art division, showing that context—as much as subject matter and style— determines reception and import. It laughs in the face of social 49


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conventions, including those of “value, artistic and monetary.”45 It eschews and discourages seriousness and bourgeois concerns in favour of irreverence, irrelevance, “low art,” and performance.46 Ghosts Before Breakfast (Richter, 1928) and Entr’acte (Clair, Picabia, 1924), even more than Ballet Mécanique, wear their slapstick influences on their sleeve. The same slapstick comedies that influenced Mickey and pals47 are represented in part by animated gags: objects like bowler hats and neckties, symbolic of the upper class, flee from their owners. Entr’acte, argues Thomas Elsaesser, would be considered part of the parody genre “were it not for the event for which it was conceived”.48 The film premiered between the acts of a ballet and was meant to anger the audience.49 Their “mumbling, scraping, protesting, guffawing and general noise” would be the soundtrack—their outrage, more than the film itself, would be the Dada performance. Instead, the audience was quiet and appreciative.50 It failed as a Dada artwork but is still considered as such; thus, it is a useful fulcrum on which to rest the thematic and narrative similarities between gag comedy and the anarchic strain of the avant-garde. Recessing slightly in animation history, we find many of its jokes, concerns, and scenarios in the equally loose narrative of Ko-Ko Trains ‘Em. Ko-Ko’s crowds cram into a circus modeled on Coney Island,51 Entr’acte’s into a funeral procession modeled on a circus ring; both groups will run after or toward death in a slapstick chase sequence. Both feature objects disobeying their owners and natural law, an egg and a hearse in one, a whip (and Ko-Ko himself, disobeying Max) in the other. Both directly address the audience; Ko-Ko looks into the camera, and Entr’acte fires a cannon at it. Both were exhibited between better established, more “serious” artistic modes—for one the ballet, for the other a program that likely included a live action feature—but Entr’acte now enjoys the critical stature these modes offer, while KoKo Trains ‘Em does not. In sum, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is merely a limittext about the production of the cartoon; it marks the start of a continuously and inherently self-aware tradition. Animation does not need to look or wink or even morph to be about itself; it does 50


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not need Winsor McCay to brag about his thousands of frames to be about its materials and its labour. It is self-reflexive even when it is not self-referential, and in this way, it is avant-garde, or avant-garde adjacent, or preemptively avant-garde—thematically, narratively, or aesthetically—in a multitude of ways that full animation and the realist trend will nearly eliminate. The Return of the Repressed Animation developed toward realism as much as it developed away from the avant-garde—that is, it did not do either entirely consciously. Cel animation “cleans up” erasures and the hand’s hesitations by tracing the original drawing, sans mistakes, on to a transparent sheet.52 This, in conjunction with Bray’s assembly line innovations, makes it harder to perceive the artists’ materials and presence—casualties of efficiency.53 Full animation intentionally omitted morphs, abstractions, and other techniques through which avant-garde moments could be gleaned; it was employed in conjunction with a Hollywood-like realism that discouraged artifice, and thus stopped winking altogether.54 But full animation did not improve efficiency; it was time-consuming and often wasteful.55 The motives behind its implementation (and thus its repression of self-reflexivity) were more complex. It was driven by a heightened— sometimes misguided—social consciousness stirred up by the 1934 Hays Code, the Depression, and FDR’s “Hundred Days” campaign, and influenced by increasingly controlling production companies (like RKO), and audience demand.56 Animation studios’ compliance with new censorship laws—and at Disney, right-wing politics57— rendered Hollywood “reality” deeply conservative. Between Snow White (1933) and Baby Be Good (1935), Betty Boop covered up.58 Disney’s associations with homegrown values ran ahead of the studio, and the public demanded that Mickey behave59—a reinforcing spiral of conservative values. In feature films, inkblot characters lost their leading roles to less “protoplasmic” forms, modeled on dancers and movie stars; they were defined by constrictive visions of heroic masculinity (Gulliver,60 and any prince) and delicate femininity 51


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(Snow White, or any princess).61 Disney’s seven dwarfs dig up diamonds without dollar signs in their eyes; despite their squalid living conditions, they labor away in song and dance.62 In Dumbo (Sharpsteen, 1941), dissent is directly criticized; animators on strike at Disney—many of whom Walt later fingered as Communists63— are portrayed as clowns: “We’re gonna hit up the boss for a raise!”64 Kracauer suggests that Dumbo propagates conformism to capitalism’s most oppressive forces: “instead of flying home with his mother to an unknown paradise, Dumbo ends up as a highly paid star for the same circus director who beat his mother.”65 Where in this physically and politically restrictive world can we locate the avant-garde? It is still possible through surrealist repossession, which finds the marvelous in mundane reality, returning the repressed to the forefront of our disenchanted perception.66 Full animation was a failed representation of realism, Hollywood or otherwise; “it was collage redrawn to look like a single image,” its disparate parts teeming with contradictions.67 The seams between its carefully crafted elements tear open, revealing the conditions of its creation. In a literal sense, those conditions are more or less standardized by 1940: a story map, rough sketches, storyboards, musical timing sheets, background drawings, background painting, key frames and in-betweens, clean-up, tracing onto cels, inking and painting, a final quality check, and then the frame-by-frame photographing of the finished cels in coordination with the backgrounds.68 Full animation turns the medium, more than ever, into a polyphony of voices,69 and in it “the possibilities for anarchy are multiplied, not reduced.”70 Many of these anarchic moments are, like in Plane Crazy, akin to mistakes. The queen, watching the prince sing to Snow White, is immobile for just a moment too long—revealed as a still. Timothy crawls onto Dumbo’s trunk, drawn for the closeup by the background department; the style is starkly different from that of the cel animators’, and our hero momentarily reverts to pure material. Mrs. Jumbo indignantly closes a hatch door on her gossipy neighbors, and as it swings shut they become nothing more than coloured squares—even more abstract than the pink elephants to 52


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come. In the pink elephants scene we can locate the avant-garde most specifically, not because it is built on a dream conceit, but because it is here that oppression and uniformity breed a discernibly rebellious moment. Unlike Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio (Sharpsteen, Luske, 1940), and Fantasia (1940) before it, Dumbo was not one of Disney’s passion projects. Even Bambi (Hand, 1942), made concurrently, was awarded more of his attention.71 Dumbo features cartoon caricatures, as opposed to Bambi’s naturalist collage (by way of full animation), so he looked down on the project. It “flew through the studio,” perhaps only to prove that a Disney feature could be made quickly and cheaply after Pinocchio failed to meet box office expectations.72 At the same time, employees who wished to unionize went on strike over working conditions, accreditation, and wages.73 Disney, furious, was sent on “vacation” so that the company could diplomatically negotiate a deal.74 Dumbo was created largely unsupervised in this uneasy environment; it is a beacon to capitalist submission, yet drawn by animators on each side of the warring political spectrum. Hicks Lokey, who crossed the picket lines, and Howard Swift, a pro-union artist who left the studio during the strike, collaborated on the pink-elephants sequence.75 The elephants ripple with techniques which Disney wanted full animation to leave behind: morphing, abstraction, and direct address.76 At one point a snake morphs into a belly dancer—its dance highly protoplasmic— and then into a circle. For a moment, the circle signifies nothing; it is pure geometry, divorced of context, belonging entirely to the abstract. Then it rotates: the circle is an eye, and it looks directly at us—one of the only eyes in the film to do so. The sequence as a whole, with these few seconds in particular, recall the previous three decades of animation practice—before the restrictions of realism rose, in tandem with an overt right-wing agenda, to prominence in the Disney studio. It is incendiary, crude, and rebellious, collecting Disney’s pet peeves while out of his reach. It is self-reflexive, looking at us to make sure we remember that it is artificial. With historical context, the sequence narrativizes its own artistic process; the 53


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animators are front and centre, divorced from the collective concerns of the studio. Closely following the clowns that mock unionizers, the pink-elephants scene is a picket sign for individual expression. In these ways it is avant-garde, but unlike many examples before it, to say so does not necessarily require a leap between interpretation and intent. Animation has no need for the avant-garde, and is worthy of merit without it. But they nonetheless intersect, and in more ways than this article can explore. Jan Švankmajer, and Czech art in general, will confuse their boundaries in response to a tumultuous political climate.77 Structural films like Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper (Rimmer, 1972) will revive fixed frames and looping— abandoned by multi-plane cameras and personality animation for their artificiality—in order to foreground artifice.78 Structural film’s appeal, notes Tom Gunning, is “perhaps not that distant” from the “primal experience” of seeing cinematic tricks during the early years of the medium.79 In this way and so many others—its re-creation of the physical world, its emphasis on its own physicality and artificiality, its representation of the creator and creator’s process, and its anarchic narrative and aesthetic possibilities—animation is naturally experimental, lyrical, surreal, or: avant-garde. ______________________________________________________ Bibliography Barrier, J. Michael. Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford UP, 1999. Print. Beck, Jerry. “Sam Katzman’s Animated Superman.” Cartoon Research. N.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web. <http://cartoonresearch. com/index.php/sam-katzmans-animated-superman/>. Belgrad, Daniel. The Culture of Spontaneity: Improvisation and the Arts in Postwar America. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1998. Print. Brakhage, Stan. Essential Brakhage: Selected Writings on Filmmaking. Kingston, NY: Documentext, 2001. Print. 54


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Castello-Branco, Patricia. “Pure Sensations? From Abstract Film to Digital Images.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5.1 (2010): 25-40. Scholars Portal. Web. Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898--1928. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1993. Print. Deneroff, Harvey. “The 1984 Golden Awards Banquet Video, Part 3.” Cartoon Research. N.p., 8 Aug. 2016. Web. <http:// cartoonresearch.com/index.php/the-1984-golden-awardsbanquet-video-part-3/>. Elsaesser, Thomas. “Dada/Cinema?” Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf E. Kuenzli. New York: Willis, Locker & Owens, 1987. 13-27. Print. Gadassik, Alla. “Assembling Movement: Scientific Motion Analysis And Studio Animation Practice.” Discourse 37.3 (2015): 269-302. Print. Gunning, Tom. “An Unseen Energy Swallows Space: The Space in Early Film and Its Relation to American Avant-Garde Film.” Film Before Griffith. Ed. John L. Fell. Berkeley: U of California, 1983. 355-66. Print. Hames, Peter. Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Švankmajer. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. Print. Judovitz, Dalia. “Anemic Vision in Duchamp: Cinema as Readymade.” Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf E. Kuenzli. New York: Willis, Locker & Owens, 1987. 46-57. Print. Kaufman, J. B. “The Heir Apparent.” Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood. Ed. Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil. Berkeley: U of California, 2011. 51-65. Print. 55


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Klein, Norman. “Animation as Baroque: Fleischer Morphs Harlem; Tangos to Crocodiles.” 2004. The Sharpest Point. Toronto: YYZ, 2005. 27-47. Print. ---.Seven Minutes: The Life and Death of the American Animated Cartoon. London: Verso, 1993. Print. Langer, Mark. “Animation’s Early Years.” UCLA Preserved Animation Website. UCLA Film and Television Archive. Web. Léger, Fernand. “Contemporary Achievements in Painting.” 1914. Art in Theory: 1900 to 1990. Ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993. 157-59. Print. Leslie, Esther. Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde. London: Verso, 2002. Print. Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York: New American Library, 1980. Print. Michaelson, Annette. “Toward Snow.” Ed. P. Adams. Sitney. The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Film Theory and Criticism. New York: New York UP, 1978. 172-83. Print. Moen, Kristian. “Imagination and Natural Movement: The Bray Studios and the ‘Invention’ of Animated Film.” Film History 27.4 (2015): 130-50. Print. Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 19432000. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print. Sito, Tom. Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 2006. Print. Sklar, Robert. “The Making of Cultural Myths--Walt Disney.” The American Animated Cartoon: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Danny 56


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Peary and Gerald Peary. New York: Dutton, 1980. 58-65. Print. Stone, Rob. “The Untamed Eye and the Dark Side of Surrealism: Hitchcock, Lynch, and Cronenberg.” Ed. Graeme Harper. The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film. London: Wallflower, 2007. 115-33. Print. Testa, Bart. “A Movement through Landscape.” Ed. Kathryn Elder. The Films of Joyce Wieland. Toronto: Toronto International Film Festival Group, 1999. 73-79. Print. Wells, Paul. Animation and America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2002. Print. ______________________________________________________ Filmography Anemic Cinema. Dir. Marcel Duchamp. 1926. Ballet Mécanique. Dir. Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy. 1924. Bambi. Dir. David Hand. 1942. Bimbo’s Initiation. Dir. Fleischers. 1931. Bobby Bumps Puts a Beanery on the Bum. Dir. Earl Hurd. 1918. Cat’s Cradle. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1959. Un Chien Andalou. Dir. Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali. 1929. The Dante Quartet. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1987. Diagonal-Symphonie. Dir. Viking Eggeling. 1924. Dizzy Dishes. Dir. Fleischers. 1930. Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. Dir. Edwin S. Porter. 1906. Dumbo. Dir. Ben Sharpsteen. 1941. 57


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Entr’acte. Dir. René Clair, Francis Picabia. 1924. Eye Myth. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1967. Fantasia. Prod. Walt Disney. 1940. Gertie the Dinosaur. Dir. Winsor McCay. 1914. Ghosts Before Breakfast. Dir. Hans Richter. 1928. Gulliver’s Travels. Dir. Fleischers. 1939. Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. Dir. James Stuart Blackton. 1906. Ko-Ko Trains ‘Em. Dir. Fleischers. 1925. Little Nemo. Dir. Winsor McCay. 1911. Mothlight. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1963. Now! Dir. Santiago Álvarez. 1965. The Old Man of the Mountain. Dir. Fleischers. 1933. An Optical Poem. Dir. Oskar Fischinger. 1938. Pinocchio. Dir. Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske. 1940. Plane Crazy. Dir. Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks. 1928. Retour à la Raison. Dir. Man Ray. 1923. Rhythmus 21. Dir. Hans Richter. 1921. Shadows. Dir. John Cassavetes. 1959. Sirius Remembered. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1959. The Skeleton Dance. Dir. Walt Disney. 1929. Snow White. Dir. Fleischers. 1933. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Prod. Walt Disney. 1937. 58


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Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper. Dir. David Rimmer. 1972. Vaudeville. Dir. Fleischers. 1924. Window Water Baby Moving. Dir. Stan Brakhage. 1959. ______________________________________________________ Endnotes 1 Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 205. 2

Castello-Branco, “Pure Sensations?,” 33.

3

Léger, “Contemporary Achievements,” 157.

4

Castello-Branco, “Pure Sensations?,” 33.

5 This cold open is partly inspired by ideas presented in lecture by Professor Bart Testa. 6 Sitney, Visionary Film, xii. 7

Langer, “Animation’s Early Years”; Sitney, Visionary Film, xii.

8

Ibid., xii, 231.

9

Stone, “The Untamed Eye,” 117-120.

10

Gunning, “An Unseen Energy Swallows Space,” 355.

11

Sito, Drawing the Line, 30.

12

Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 355.

13

Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 357.

14

Crafton, Before Mickey, 13.

15 In Plane Crazy (Disney, Iwerks, 1928) and The Skeleton Dance (Disney, 1929). 16 Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 202. 59


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17 Wells, Animation and America, 5, 1; see Norman Klein’s discussion of immigrant depictions in the films of the Fleischer brothers (“Animation” 37). 18 Gadassik, “Assembling Movement,” 285. 19 Klein, Seven Minutes, 154; Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 28. 20 21

Quick sketches made on stage (Klein, “Animation” 29). Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 360.

22 In the Fleischers’ Ko-Ko Trains ‘Em (1925) and The Old Man of the Mountain (1933). 23 Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 30. 24

Ibid., 31-32.

25

Léger, “Contemporary Achievements,” 157-159.

26

Moen, “Imagination and Natural Movement,” 134.

27

Sito, Drawing the Line, 12.

28

Belgrad, The Culture of Spontaneity, 1.

29

Sitney, Visionary Film, 206.

30 Ibid.; Brakhage, Essential Brakhage, 179-181; Mothlight (1963) does the same with less conventional materials. 31 Klein, Seven Minutes, 144. 32 Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 33; Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons, 277. 33 This phrase is used by Brakhage to describe vision in a half-waking state, when the division between fantasy and reality is blurred. Many of his films literally convey this visual experience (Michaelson 60


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176), but I am appropriating it here to mean the blurred distinction between the animated, fantasy world and the actual, artist’s world. 34 Sklar, “The Making of Cultural Myths,” 61. 35

Maltin, Of Mive and Magic, 185-86.

36

Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 208.

37 Not discussed here, but relevant, are the New American Cinema and Underground movements that emerge in the 1960s, more socially conscious than before (Sitney xii). Outside of America, films like Now! (Santiago Álvarez, 1965) do the same. 38 Klein, Seven Minutes, 61; Judovitz, “Anemic Vision in Duchamp,” 47. 39

Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 38.

40 See also: the phallic symbols erupting and deflating at the end of Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1958) and Cosmic Ray (1961), respectively. 41 Judovitz, “Anemic Vision in Duchamp,” 51. 42

Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 360.

43

Stone, “The Untamed Eye,” 118.

44 Jonas Mekas decides, in the 1960s, what is and is not avant-garde. Shadows (Cassavetes, 1959) for example, is not (Sitney 326-327). 45 Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 34. 46

Ibid.

47

Kaufman, “The Heir Apparent,” 52.

48

Elsaesser, “Dada/Cinema?,” 20. 61


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49

Sitney, Visionary Film, 50.

50

Elsaesser, “Dada/Cinema?,” 20.

51

Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 34.

52

Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 32.

53

Moen, “Imagination,” 134.

54 Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 360; the idea that this is specifically a “Hollywood” realism is Professor Nicholas Sammond’s, as discussed in lecture. 55 Klein, Seven Minutes, 139. 56 Sklar, “The Making of Cultural Myths,” 64; Klein, Seven Minutes, 154. 57

Sito, Drawing the Line, 145.

58 The strikes and the studio closure would bring angry conservatism to the Fleischers at a later date (Sito 94); at this point, Betty is compliant. 59 Sklar, “The Making of Cultural Myths,” 61. 60

In the Fleischers’ Gulliver’s Travels (1939).

61 Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 222; Gadassik, “Assembling Movement,” 291. 62

Thompson***

63

Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 210.

64

Sito, Drawing the Line, 129.

65

Kracauer, “Dumbo,” 140, quoted in Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 200.

66

Stone 115-116

62


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67

Klein, Seven Minutes, 151.

68

Ibid., 156-161.

69

Langer, “Animation’s Early Years.”

70

Klein, Seven Minutes, 142.

71 Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons, 271. 72

Ibid., 272-273.

73

Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, 208.

74

Sito, Drawing the Line, 139.

75 Deneroff, “The 1984 Golden Awards”; Beck, “Sam Katzman.” 76 Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons, 277; Klein, “Animation as Baroque,” 33. 77

Hames, Dark Alchemy, 39-41.

78 Testa, “A Movement through Landscape,” 77; Gadassik, “Assembling Movement,” 285. 79

Gunning, “An Unseen Energy,” 365.

63


NEW MARTIAL ARTS SUBGENRE OF MARTIAL ARTS PROFESSIONALISM Judge Archer

JOLIE ZHOU

64


While Haofeng Xu has worked as a martial arts choreographer in the Chinese film industry and as a film professor at Beijing Film Academy since the 1990s, it was only in 2011 when he made his directorial debut. As an expert in the cultural and practical aspects of martial arts, Xu’s experience and knowledge of this combat tradition render his fighting scenes visually and thematically authentic. With three films so far, Xu focuses predominantly on the representation of the martial arts profession in Mainland China. Judge Archer (Mainland China, 2012) was released between The Sword Identity (2011) and Final Master (2015). Judge Archer thoroughly explores the relationship between the personal growth of the protagonist and the philosophy of martial arts. The production reveals Xu’s personal preference for complex narrative structures as well as his general artistic goals; in fact, Judge Archer does not follow the logic of cause-effect as the classical wuxia pian1 do but rather, shows the effects first and then unfolds the cause step by step. Xu prefers genuine martial arts rather than “magical” or carefully staged martial arts scenes; in contrast to the heavily edited Hong Kong Kung Fu scenes Archer’s authenticity is exemplified through real Kung Fu combat scenes set in real time2. Judge Archer is not a traditional wuxia pian, but rather a successful attempt to introduce an authentic martial arts subgenre into Chinese cinema. Before discussing Xu’s specific works, it is important to trace back to the epic period of wuxia pian in Hong Kong cinema and its decline. Such examination will explain why Xu Haofeng is so unique in recent Chinese cinemas. Beginning with Shaw’s 1970 Chinese Boxer the new Kung Fu film reached its peak in the early 1970s – in Mandarin, with a strong emphasis on unarmed fighting.3 The films by King Hu and Chang Cheh introduced novel sophistication to Hong Kong martial arts films during the late 1960s and mid-1970s. However, the heyday of ancient martial arts films did not last for long. During the mid1970s, producers concerned with cost-efficiently, started hiring martial arts choreographers to direct entire films. The biggest shortcoming of this decision derives from the fact that, in addition to giving up on complex storylines, these directors incorporated more fight scenes with 65


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countless zoom shots and slow motion. Eventually, audiences grew tired of these repetitive scenarios thus resulting in the mixing of Kung Fu with other genres, such as comedy and crime films throughout the 1980s. Tsui Hark revived new wuxia in Hong Kong cinema during the late 1980s to early 1990s through his idiosyncratic dancing Kung Fu scenes and coherent utilization of editing. Unfortunately, wuxia pian lost its audience again by the mid-1990s as contemporary crime and action films absorbed martial arts choreography. Xu himself notes that “the eclipse of wuxia novels also caused an eclipse in wuxia pian by the 1980s”.4 Because the Hong Kong martial arts design was conventional for action films throughout the world, Xu commenced searching for innovative techniques specifically for Chinese ancient martial arts films. Despite Xu’s efforts, however, very few films are comparable with King Hu’s stylistically elegant and poetic martial arts films. His most well-known film, A Touch of Zen, depicts martial arts through dance movements in a subliminal landscape. In a rampart scene, a male rival chases the female protagonist in a rather gentle and slow movement across the frame. The scene demonstrates the poetry, rather than the ferocity, in Hu’s choreography rendering it visually and stylistically captivating. Inspired by Hu’s cinematography, Xu decided to make films that represent the traditions of martial arts schools and the spirit of movements in martial arts. One may argue that Judge Archer exemplifies Xu’s attempts at transforming and innovating the wuxia pian tradition. Since the plot’s linearity in Judge Archer is not Xu’s chief concern, he adheres to a looser narrative structure. In fact, the director states that “I do not mean to use a linear structure to tell the story, but an ambiguous one”.5 Drawing inspiration from classic melodrama, Xu nevertheless decides to eliminate the cause-effect logic of the plot that would otherwise be salient. The story of Judge Archer may be roughly divided into two plots. The first one features the story of its eponymous protagonist, future Judge Archer, Liu Baiyuan, or previously Shuangxi (played by Yang Song); the second one is the story of Erdong (played by Yenny Martin) and Guo Decheng’s (played by Zheng Zhao) vengeance against Kuang Yimin (played by Cheng-Hui Yu) and Commander 66


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Yang. The director intertwines these two plots in a complicated way, by which the story of judge archer gradually transforms into the revenge plot. For example, after Liu becomes Judge Archer, the first scene is an exercise led by Guo with a group of disciples using a long rod. The following scene suddenly shifts to Guo and Erdong talking about Judge Archer, and then cuts to an encounter between Guo and Liu in a restaurant. The final scene in this sequence is Erdong asking Liu to assassinate Commander Yang. The relationship between these scenes remains ambiguous until the film’s culmination. Xu does not provide much important information about the main plot until the end of this film, which is the central distinction between Judge Archer and other notable films from this genre. Xu features three important women in the film in order to weave the plots together. For Xu, women can represent a culture, society, community, and place. Shuangxi’s older sister, raped by a landlord in their village at the beginning of the film, represents traditional Chinese culture. The landlord forces Shuangxi to watch the tragedy happen; from that day on, Shuangxi is afraid of women. Thus, the host of a temple names a paper monk as Shuangxi, which will stay in the temple to repent for Shuangxi’s sins. He needs to start a new life with a new name, and the new name will be the first word he hears after leaving the temple. Afterwards, he becomes Liu Baiyuan, and takes the name of a profession, Judge Archer, as he strives to maintain justice between various martial arts schools. The population acknowledge a person as Judge Archer solely through his precision of using arrows; in other words, the arrow is the tool that indicates the Judge’s strength in martial arts and one that showcases his ability to judge. The appearance of a second woman, Erdong, gives Liu Baiyuan a goal to continue the central plot. Erdong, a woman of mixed heritage, functions as an ostensible symbol for Western culture in this film. She asks Liu to avenge for the sake of her father because she considers Judge Archer as a man capable of solving injustices. Nevertheless, Liu claims that he would not intervene in any event outside the martial arts schools, though Liu does offer her some help. Erdong, however, does occasionally fight with Liu because of his resistance against her 67


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emotional input as well as his refusal to help. The third woman, Yue Yahong (played by Chengyuan Li), is the most crucial female hero for Liu’s story. She is one with whom Liu falls in love, and she symbolizes the liberation of Liu’s desire. Yet, Yue Yahong, the nominal wife of Kuang Yimin, traps Liu by the request of Kuang Yimin. Additionally, Kuang Yimin maintains a double identity: the martial arts teacher of Guo Decheng and the guard of Commander Yang. Finally, Erdong and Guo Decheng successfully murder Commander Yang. Although the fight between Liu and Kuang Yimin demonstrates the ethics of the martial arts profession, functioning as an elegiac tribute to the ancient archery tradition, the story itself is not over. The peculiar narrative structure illuminates a new mode of storytelling, with several ellipses between the two central plots. If this film followed a classic mode of storytelling conventional for Hollywood cinema, it would have likely explained that Erdong asks Guo to assassinate Commander Yang first; then, Guo would explain that Yang has a powerful guard, Kuang Yimin, who is his martial arts teacher. So, Guo tells Erdong to ask Judge Archer to become an assassin. The encounter between Guo and Liu is significant for the story as it allows Guo to test Liu’s proficiency in martial arts techniques required for an assassin. Once he proves himself, Erdong goes to please Liu and asks him a favor. However, Xu leaves all these key plots invisible to the audiences. For Xu, a film should not be manipulative but should be enlightening and self-reflexive.6 Judge Archer invites audiences to examine its choreographic design and the ethics of martial arts, rather than to focus exclusively on its plot. The plot of Judge Archer is not as easily comprehensible as in many other Chinese or Hollywood action films. A short review in Variety illustrates that the artistic attempts of Xu elude the appeal to audiences, whatever local or foreign audiences.7 As a scholar-director, Xu seems to prefer an obscure approach towards storytelling. As mentioned previously, the central plot is not the priority for Judge Archer; rather, Xu draws audiences’ attention to fighting rituals in martial arts schools, which are filmed in a real time setting. Xu creates several scenes in order to present the martial arts culture that 68


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China has left behind. For instance, the first scene features the cruelest competition in the world of martial arts profession, the ultimate duel, which requires a close and linear fistfight between two people who are sitting on chairs. Since the ultimate duel was too brutal, it was abandoned after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Hence, the ultimate duel occurring in Judge Archer is Xu’s attempt to revive martial arts traditions, at least on screen. Yet, this scene also demonstrates the strength of Kuang Yimin and implies a relationship between Kuang Yimin and Yue Yahong. When viewers watch this film for the second time, it shows that Yue Yahong will work undercover for Kuang from the very beginning. Xu tries to unveil the causes at the last minute, rather than presenting them at the beginning; at the same time, he gives viewers hints that foreshadow the cause in the wake of specific events. Although Xu leaves the main plot largely ambiguous, he focuses extensively on the psychological development of the protagonist. The sidestep plots of this film focus primarily on Liu’s emotional entanglement towards his sister. Although this story should technically deviate from Liu’s struggle, focusing on a revenge plot instead, Xu parallels Liu’s personal development with the vengeance. Instead of presenting the training first, like many other wuxia pian did, Xu employs flashbacks of Liu’s archery training in order to explain the philosophy behind his behaviors. He parallels the flashback to the present, while his present behaviors can be traced back to his past. Xu suggests that although Liu is an immature man, he has a very powerful philosophy to support his actions, one intrinsically linked to archery. The flashback of Liu learning archery presents his pure conceptual world.8 There are some instances which indicate that Liu refers to this philosophy throughout his daily life. Primarily, because one of the archers’ rules states that the left foot must point in the direction of the target Liu adheres to this rule at the fruit shop, as his foot keeps pointing in the direction of the fruits he wants to take. Secondly, the drawing, which is an outline of a head with two ears and a line across the face and the line on the level with the eyes, is an archer’s self-examination. This philosophy, however, does not solve 69


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everything for Liu. When he finds out that Yue Yahong betrayed him, he neither controls his emotions nor applies a deep self-examination. Only when his mind slackens, he is caught by Guo. Nevertheless, he grows throughout all these events but not simply from his philosophy of archery. Near the end of the film, Liu goes back to his hometown seeking to avenge his sister but does not kill the landlord. His mercy reflects his psychological development, in which he thinks that he does not deserve to take one’s life. While he does try to find his sister, he ends up never seeing her again. Liu releases four arrows to the river and saying, “She was only an illusion that let me understand my heart; She is a revelation from Buddha.” The water in this scene functions as a representation of the inner world as reflected in traditional Chinese philosophy. Liu’s arrows represent his final disentanglement from his own guilt, thus highlighting the warrior’s personal growth. Xu’s films often depict the action in a real-time setting without elliptical editing. For years, many directors of wuxia pian used hidden wirework or heavy editing for supernatural scenes. Xu mentions that these magical martial arts films do not reflect real martial arts or the spirit of the martial arts profession9. Commenting on the martial arts genre in 1970s Hong Kong Scholar Yip notes that “the actors and actresses with genuine martial arts skills came to be increasingly desired and sought after in the early 1970s”.10 Notable actor and stunt performer Bruce Lee himself was one of the key figures for the “increasingly centrality of unarmed combat”.11 For example, Fist of Fury highlights the masculinity and charisma of Bruce Lee through his almost magical but genuine martial art combat with his enemies. However, the authentic Kung Fu that the 1970s Hong Kong martial arts films refer to is different from the one that Xu pursues. First, martial art films in the early 1970s, such as Fist of Fury, employ montage in order to supplement for the real combat. Secondly, Xu pursues not only the actors and actresses with genuine martial arts skills but also the aesthetics of real time as a way of presenting the most authentic martial art experience. Nevertheless, a Western film critic Jay Weissberg states that these less kinetic matches are fascinating, but this film will draw devotees of the artsier form of the genre but elude 70


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broader appeal. This broader appeal is largely explained through the visual appeal that fast montage and unrealistic fight scenes grant their viewers. In Judge Archer, many fight scenes once again represent Xu’s privileging of the real time. For example, he shows the ultimate duel between Liu and Guo’s disciple in the restaurant in a single continuous shot. Xu utilizes deep focus cinematography in order to enhance the breathless atmosphere of the ultimate duel, with the two combatants in the left foreground of the frame and Guo in the middle-ground and the crowd in the background. There is no fast pace cutting, no montage, and no gimmick for any of the fight scenes in Judge Archer. Xu states that one must respect the form of a movement in martial arts, in which the movement reveals one’s spirit.13 Another emphasis in this scene, as well as the other fight scenes in Judge Archer, exemplify the conventions for Chinese martial arts professionals. The shot after the ultimate duel shows an out-of-focus image of Guo’s hand on his thigh in the foreground with a sharp focus image of the two combatants in the background. This shot epitomizes martial arts ethics, in which no fight should be followed the competition between two rivals. In conclusion, Xu contributes to the innovation of a new Kung Fu subgenre with a specific emphasis on martial arts professionalism and philosophy. The theme of Liu Baiyuan’s self-reflection, wrapped in a peculiar narrative structure and a rich exploration of Judge Archer’s dexterity, marks a new height for martial arts films. As Xu mentioned himself, although his thoughts may be as old as Kuang Yimin in Judge Archer, he wants to forever ingrain this tradition in the minds of his audiences.12 _____________________________________________________ 12

Notes 1. Wuxia pian: “The wuxia film features sword fighting within supernatural plots against ancient and historical settings.” (A note from The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas, 2013: 282) 2. Kung fu films: “The kung fu film exhibits empty-hand combat set within more realistic plots.” (A note from The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas, 2013: 282)

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______________________________________________________

Bibliography Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. 2nd. ed. Madison, Wisconsin: Irvington Way Institute Press, 2011. Print Li, Bin. “挟刀揉手,以形破力: An Interview with Xu Haofeng.” Film Art, No. 1 (2016): 41-46. Web. 23 June 2016. Rojas, Carlos, and Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. Sai, Ren. “《箭士柳白猿》:类型之武侠电影的不射止射. “Judge Archer: The Deviance of Genre for Wuxia Pian”. Film Art, No. 3 (2013): 26-28. Web. 23 June 2016. Wu, Guanping. “武之美学,器之精神: An Interview with Xu Haofeng.” Film Art, No. 2 (2013): 44-50. Web. 23 June 2016. Weissberg, Jay. “Judge Archer.” Variety, Vol. 3 Dec. (2012): 44. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 June 2016. Xu, Haofeng. “武侠电影之前世今生 (The History and The Present of Wuxia Pian).” Film Art, No. 3 (2014): 5-14. Web. 23 June 2016. Yip, M. “In the Realm of the Senses: Sensory Realism, Speed, and Hong Kong Martial Arts Cinema.” Cinema Journal, vol. 53 No. 4 (2014): 76-97. Web. 16 Mar. 2017

______________________________________________________ Filmography

The Sword Identity. Dir. Haofeng Xu. Grindstone Entertainment Group. 2011. DVD.

Judge Archer. Dir. Haofeng Xu. Grindstone Entertainment Group. 2012. DVD. Final Master. Dir. Haofeng Xu. United Entertainment Partners North America. 2015. DVD. Chinese Boxer. Dir. Yu Wang. Shaw Brothers Studio, 1970. Intercontinental 72


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Video, 2005. DVD.

______________________________________________________ Endnotes 1 David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (Madison, Wisconsin: Irvington Way Institute Press, 2011), 131. 2

David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong, 10.

3 Bin Li, “挟刀揉手,以形破力: An Interview with Xu Haofeng” Film Art 1 (2016): 41. 4

Guanping Wu, “武之美学,器之精神: An Interview with Xu Haofeng” Film Art 2 (2013): 44.

5

Jay Weissberg, “Judge Archer” Variety 3 (2012): 44. 

6

Guanping Wu, 46.

7

Ibid., 46

8 M. Yip, “In the Realm of the Senses: Sensory Realism, Speed, and Hong Kong Martial Arts Cinema” Cinema Journal 53.4 (2014): 87. 9

M. Yip, “In the Realm of the Senses,” 87.

10

Jay Weissberg, “Judge Archer,” 44.

11 Haofeng Xu, “武侠电影之前世今生(The History and The Present of Wuxia Pian)” Film Art 3 (2014): 12. 12

Guanping Wu, 46.

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STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE Using reenactments to find truth

ERIN RAY

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As a filmic device used in the context of non-fiction documentaries, reenactments act out past events. These staged constructions complicate the way in which information is understood by manipulating imagery to convey a certain point of view. Documentaries offer their own representation of the world we live in. Simply by constructing the film, through their nonfiction texts, the director conveys a vision, which he/she creates vis-a-vis the formal qualities of the documentary. In this light, documentaries are able to feature representations of our past histories.1 In Standard Operating Procedure (2008), documentary filmmaker Errol Morris stitches together the truth behind Abu Ghraib, and the treatment of detainees in an American prison based in Iraq. Morris relies on photographs and testimonials in order to recreate events in his narrative that trigger multiple responses. Standard Operating Procedure’s central premise lies within the taking, and sequentially, the release of photos that were shot by military officers of guards mistreating or humiliating prisoners. Interwoven are interviews with the guards, higher officials, and the military prosecutor, as well as reenactments of different events. Morris’ use of reenactments in his documentaries, provides his audience access to levels of information they would not otherwise have. Yet, reenactments in Standard Operating Procedure (S.O.P.)2 also draw attention to themselves by appearing dreamlike in their construction. Coupled with additional manipulated information, such as interviews with the Interrotron, S.O.P. pushes the audience to question the authenticity and possible reenactment of the facts to seek a deeper truth of what really happened at Abu Ghraib. S.O.P. allows viewers to engage with the reenactment of a “having-been-thereness” mentality noted by Nichols in his book “Introduction to Documentary Film,” prevents them from returning to the moment in history again.3 Before examining how the reconstruction of events conveys a documentary’s telling of a point of view, it is crucial to understand what S.O.P. presents. At the onset of the film, Morris graphically

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forms an index of photos, relaying to the viewer how this film is a construction on a basic level. Further, S.O.P. illustrates how documenting something, or someone, is classified as “stupid” within the army. In doing so, S.O.P. aligns itself with Morris’s other films as it continuously emphasizes the theme of ambiguity and the questionable motivations surrounding human interaction.4 Moreover, Morris aims to present a deeper understanding regarding representation in S.O.P.; one might be horrified with the actions of these guards, but the people who ordered them have yet to be prosecuted. Morris’ implementation of the Interrotron further complicates the understanding of representation. The Interrotron is a modified teleprompter that projects Morris’ face on a glass plate.5 It is placed next to the camera allowing the interviewee to appear as though they are looking directly into the lens.6 Moreover, by implementing reenactments, the voice within S.O.P. allows the viewer to see the world in a different light; presenting them with information that was buried or not visible until now.7 S.O.P. confronts the viewer with a logical progression in the process of revealing facts in a coherent way: by stripping the partition between truth and fiction, Morris tries to reveal a more complex perception of this historical moment. Reenactments in documentaries provide viewers with an alternative strategy for understanding information.8 Morris employs reenactments in order to further the perception behind what the photographs represent. Reenactments serve to benefit the filmmaker’s narrative since they create a distinct illustration of the moment beyond the photographic frame. By drawing from the vast amount of Abu Ghraib’s photos (12 CDs), Morris accurately depicts what the detainees were wearing, the look of the cells, and the tone of the shot within the photo. This is not the first time Morris implements the reenactment technique in order to achieve a more in-depth and visual account of the complicated history at Abu Grahib. Morris’s film, The Thin Blue Line is also known as “highly manipulated construct” working to reveal a version of the “truth.”9 Morris once said, “I wanted to make a

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movie about how truth is difficult to know, not how it is impossible to know,” something that distinctly radiates throughout S.O.P. 10 Evidently, reenactments do just that; they tell the viewer that the truth is multifaceted and often difficult to grasp, yet recreating an event gives one insight into a world we might not know. Carl Platinga notes that Morris frames his films knowing that audiences are not able to “understand themselves”, let alone the world they live in.11 As a result reenactments become useful for Morris when illustrating an argument because the people watching the film are so unfamiliar of their surroundings.12 Specifically, because of this unawareness, the spectators rely on the reenactments to tell a version of the truth however distorted the depictions might be.13 In fact, Morris’s attention to what Rosenheim calls “tabloid interest”, the awareness how society finds pleasure in social humiliations, assists Morris’s success at employing the reenactment convention and attaining some type of verisimilitude.14 More significantly, Morris engages with reenactments to depict flaws in our memory, rather than showing “what really happened”.15 In doing so, Morris works in tandem with the archival footage to reach a truth about the historical world represented.16 Morris however, does acknowledge that documentaries require points of contact to firm facts to remain “plausible” and S.O.P. abides by this notion throughout the film.17 As Morris said, “we must proceed as though in principle we can find things out – even if we can’t”.18 S.O.P. presents itself in this way through recreating the events and troubling the audience to look behind the façade of the scapegoats, and realize the complexity of America’s responsibilities and the war in Iraq. One of the implications of reenactments involves the viewers’ ability to understand that they are watching a reenactment of reality.19 Moreover, as Platinga suggests, reenactments are both 1) illuminating and 2) misleading in terms of the depiction of the truth.20 First and foremost, the reenactments allow the viewer to reach a deeper, understanding of the truth. Since the reenactments are fictional representations of factual evidence, they become

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seductively deceptive as Morris lures the viewer into believing the misleading moving images. Morris demonstrates this when Anthony Diaz, Jeffery Frost and Sabrina Harman describe the death of the detainee as a result of a military intelligence interrogation. Conversely, this scene’s presentation of how the body was lifted, wrapped up, and put into a body bag filled with ice, pushes for an emotional response from the context and illuminates the history on a different level than photographs. The viewer might be confused when Morris shows water seeping out from under the door illustrating the melting of the ice, when the body is in the shower room where there are drains. This sequence negates the narrative within the event, asking the viewer to question the material shown on the screen. Applying Nichols’ taxonomy of reenactment variations outlined in his article “Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject,” S.O.P. falls under the “Stylization” category.22 Morris’s recreations are explicitly constructed in their nature, but more importantly they are artistic and reveal particular beauty. Specifically, the scene in which Javal Davis discusses M.I. officers putting a burlap sack over a detainee’s head and drenching him with water as a method of gaining information, is salient. This instance is important because of the construction and artistic qualities pertaining to the stylized convention of reenactment documentaries. In a low shot, the camera looks up at the shower as water starts to stream out of the showerhead in slow motion. As the reenactment continues, the viewer sees only a stylized depiction of the prisoner getting his head soaked with water and afterwards being pushed into a bucket of icy water. What is significant in this scene is how Morris does not use a “Realist Dramatization,” by explicitly showing the brutality of this incident.23 Instead, his slow motion, chiaroscuro camera work presents a dreamlike sequence that appears less harsh to the viewer. Since these reenactments are highly stylized, Bill Nichols became uncomfortable when watching them. Though Nichols argues in a letter to Morris that he “offer[s] no moral lesson to counter balance the pain of occupying the point

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of view of the perpetrators of torture,” it is clear that there is a moral disruption in that Morris is holding a mirror up to his audience.24 Morris is asking viewers to return from their dreamlike state and face the reality of the American government’s corruption and secrets. Nichols seems to contradicts himself, since in his book “Introduction to Documentary Film, Second Edition” he argues that the strength of the documentary relies on the “coupling of evidence and emotion”.25 Nichols continues stating that one of the ways to judge a filmic reenactment is by the “nature of the pleasure it offers, the value of the insight it provides, and the quality of the perspective it instills”.26 In fact, S.O.P. reflects Nichols’ point on producing a truthful representation of facts through its artistically appealing reenactments. The information provided is through reliable facts, and the perspective, though some will argue against this notion, is appropriate for the subject matter discussed. Critical fear of aesthetically artistic and less realistic reenactments, derives from the fact that they increase the audience’s response to the presented material by making it more compellingly.27 However, contrary to what Nichols expects, this is a film, and film is art. The intentions of the granular rack focus shots realistically depict the control that the government has over people in times of war, and therefore, the fogginess of not only the military’s minds, but society’s as well. Morris’s integration of the Interrotron closes a gap between the viewer and the camera, thus enhancing the viewer’s investment into the images on the screen.28 However, with up to twenty active cameras functioning when recording his interviews and placing his face on each monitor instigating questions digitally, Morris reconstructs himself ‘filmically’.29 Additionally, the camera and Morris’s face show is the simplicity for one to lose their bearings when placed in front of a machine. The Interrotron is able to punish the interviewees, producing a vicarious pleasure for the viewer. Since the interviewee is in a high-pressure environment, the use of the Interrotron allows for a possibility that the intelligence attained under interrogation might not be reliable.

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Moreover, Morris’s poignant statement, “Truth isn’t guaranteed by style or expression. Truth isn’t guaranteed by anything”30 rings true not only in the case of reenactments, but also in terms of conducting interviews. When discussing the recreation of truth with regards to the Interrotron, one can refer to how Linda Williams elaborates on Lynndie England’s testimony. England’s avoidance of the camera displays a reenacted guilt as she struggles to find the words to describe what she saw and participated in at Abu Ghraib.31 Moreover, Williams discusses how the microphysiognomy of her facial reactions and responses stimulates the viewer to question England’s account of the truth.32 England’s face therefore “reenacts” for the viewer, the ability to acknowledge her actions as “standard operating procedure”. The Interrotron becomes vital in illustrating how human reactions can become entranced by machines.34 Thus, the Interrotron represents Dziga Vertov’s kinoglaz, “a cinema that insists on the necessity of mediation and manipulation”.35 Furthermore, in agreement with Rosenheim, it appears that when placed in a discursive space, the Interrotron has the capability of illustrating how it has “seductive and manipulative power”.36 Exercising the Interrotron therefore not only creates a less personal relation to the interviewee through its materiality, but it also allows the machine to create a peculiar relationship to the subject matter as well. Morris notes that “every look takes on a completely different significance. The inclination of the head suddenly takes on enormous dramatic power”.37 Morris’s decision to edit and reframe the interviewee’s faces increases the dramatic power, allowing the viewer to be aware of any changes in her appearance.38 Morris’s editing of the interviews and the use of the Interrotron provides the audience with a portal into the mind and soul of the . interviewee.39 Standard Operating Procedure asks the viewer to question the truth of the film vis-a-vis the use of reenactments. Though it might be a long period of time until the argument of whether

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Morris was illustrating the guards as victims is resolved, S.O.P. tactfully employs reenactments to show the viewer a study of the crimes inflicted at Abu Ghraib. Morris opens the doors to questioning the representation of history by blending narrative binaries of fiction and non-fiction.40 He continuously proves his auteur status by looking the viewer in the eye and asking them to question what they know as truth. This film posits several inquiries regarding its own construction and of reenactments in general. When determining if a representation of a documentary is valid, one must always ask: how do these manipulations of fact, through reenactments, lie and tell a deeper truth? ----------------------______________________________________________________ Notes 1. This paper will use S.O.P. as an abbreviation of the film’s name, Standard Operating Procedure. ______________________________________________________ Bibliography Nichols, Bill. “Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2008): 72-89. Nichols, Bill. “Feelings of Revulsion and the limits of academic discourse.” Jump Cut. No. 52 (2010): n.p. Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary Film. 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010). Platinga, Carl. “The Philosophy of Errol Morris: Ten Lessons.” In Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, and Jead Roach. Edited by William Rothman, 43-60. Albany: Suny University Press, 2009. Rosenheim, Shawn. “Interroning History: Errol Morris and the Documentary of the Future.” In The Persistence of History: Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event. Edited by Vivian Sobchack, 219-234. New York: Routledge, 1996. 81


Standard Operating Procedure. Directed by Errol Morris. 2008. Sony Pictures Classics, 2008. DVD. Williams, Linda. “Cluster fuck: the forcible frame in Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure.” Camera Obscura 25 (2010): 29-67. ______________________________________________________ Endnotes 1 Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary Film. 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 13.2 CastelloBranco, “Pure Sensations?,” 33. 2 This paper will use S.O.P. as an abbreviation of the film’s name, Standard Operating Procedure. 3 Bill Nichols, “Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject.,” 80. 4

Nichols, 108.

5 Shawn Rosenheim, “Interroning History: Errol Morris and the Documentary of the Future.” In The Persistence of History: Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event. ed. Vivian Sobchack (New York: Routledge, 1996), 211. 6 Carl Platinga, “The Philosophy of Errol Morris: Ten Lessons.” In Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, and Jead Roach. ed. William Rothman, (Albany: Suny University Press, 2009), 52.7 Langer, “Animation’s Early Years”; Sitney, Visionary Film, xii. 7

Nichols, 78.

8

Ibid., 88.

9

Linda Williams, “Cluster fuck: the forcible frame in Errol

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Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure” Camera Obscura 25 (2010): 35. 10

Carl Platinga, 45.

11

Platinga, 47.

12

Ibid., 47.

13

Ibid., 54.

14

Shawn Rosenheim, 226.

15

Rosenheim, 228.

16

Bill Nichols, 87, 88.

17

Ibid., 13.

18

Platinga, 48.

19

Nichols, 73, 74.

20

Platinga, 47.

21

Platinga, 347.

22

Bill Nichols, 86.

23

Ibid., 84.

24 Bill Nichols to Errol Morris “Feelings of revulsion and the limits of academic discourse.”, 2010. In Jump Cut. https://www. ejumpcut.org/archive/jc52.2010/sopNichols/index.html 25

Nichols, 88.

26

Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary Film, 13. 83


ERIN RAY

27 Bill Nichols, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject, 88. 28

Rosenheim, 222.

29

Platinga, 53.

30

Rosenheim, 219.

31

Linda WIlliams, 40.

32

Ibid.

33

Ibid.

34

Rosenheim, 222.

35

Ibid., 223

36

Ibid., 232

37

Ibid., 221

38

Williams, 48.

39

Platinga, 46.

40

Ibid., 46

84


CAMÃ&#x2030;RA STYLO

85


86


87


88


89


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Caméra Stylo - Volume 17  

Cinema Studies Student Union's Undergraduate Journal.

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