Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Figures in a Frame


Thoughts on a film: Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977)
 

Nine bodies, dressed ordinarily enough in the unassuming fashions of the time, place this discussion of old words into a deliberately contemporary setting.  These nine bodies of limbs, joints, hearts and minds are credited to Danièle Huillet, Marilù Parolini, Dominique Villain, Andrea Spingler, Helmut Färber, Michel Delahaye, Manfred Blank, Georges Goldfayn and Aksar Khaled, who are each posed, cross-legged in a semi-circle, in the gardens of Père Lachaise.  The setting, as with the conflict between the image and text, suggests the very literal idea of bringing the dead back to life. 

In this instance, it is the Dead of the Commune, 21st to the 28th of May, 1871, as noted in the film's opening subtitle.  However, it's also an attempt to revive the dead forms of Stéphane Mallarmé's 1897 poem, A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance (in French, Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard), which is spoken between the various characters, throughout.
 

Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice [Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1977]:
 

Watching this incredibly faded and badly damaged copy of the film, I was stuck by a strange coincidence.  If the deterioration of the image here suggested something that has, in a sense, been forgotten, then likewise the deterioration of its burnt-in subtitles - soft and difficult to make out against the unnaturally faded images of the film - reinforced the concept of communication and the difficulties of expressing thoughts and ideas, either in the individuals sense, or as part of a collective.  This was an interesting concurrence (albeit, unplanned) since the film is one where the nature of (and the need for) communication is being deconstructed; where the various lines of Mallarmé's work are rationed out between these nine figures in an attempt to effectively underline the ideology of 'the group', political or otherwise, converging in an attempt to forge collective intent. 

The idea of individualism vs. collectivism is a thread that runs throughout the film, introduced primarily through the positioning of these figures within the frame, and the particular way in which they are each subsequently re-framed, compositionally, as they deliver this quoted call and response. The group shot, positioning them in this setting, the famous Parisian cemetery and resting place of everyone from Molière to Jean-François Lyotard, to the heart of Jacques-Louis David - who documented, in exquisite detail, the death of Jean-Paul Marat; one of the most iconic images of the earlier French Revolution - once again suggests an image of the living dead.  Not living in the sense of George A. Romero and his shuffling bodies as commentary on human indifference, but in the sense of channelling the voices of the dead; bringing their ideas (and ideals) back to life. 

Though the style of the film initially seems rather restricted - limited as it is to a few point-and-shoot dialogue exchanges and establishing-shots - the actual cinematic-form (and more importantly, how it is used) is nonetheless essential in illustrating the disparities between the group, as a collective, in comparison to their eventual single-shot interchanges that occur towards the end of the film.  If the group shot expresses the idea of the commune - of nine bodies with a single voice - then the cutting into these moments to highlight the significance of each speaker seems to reinforce the conception that each "collective" is, in essence, a collaboration between individuals attempting to establish a common ground. 

The positioning of these actors - these speakers - both together and apart, is intended to suggest the very specific "symbolist" typeface of Mallarmé's original work, with the actors staggered on-screen like the words of the poem are staggered on the page.  By positioning the actors in such a way, the filmmakers are literally adapting Mallarmé's work into images, suggesting, through the literal personification of these words, that the nature of the collective is like a sentence, when written on the page.  A collection of words, individual, which together, in collaboration, form a single meaning; an argument or message; to express thoughts, feelings and ideas.
 

Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice [Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1977]:
 
 
A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance [Stéphane Mallarmé, 1897]: