Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lumière and Company #2

Film by Film [Hypothesis Cont'd]

Lumière and Company [John Boorman, 1995]:

Soldiers on parade.  An image from the past - the actuality as documentary - as if some unknown cameraman had just happened to be on-hand to record footage of the Easter Rising of 1916.  Suddenly a man in contemporary clothing walks through the perimeter of the frame.  He carries film equipment; lights and cables.  The illusion of the past is suddenly shattered.  This is not the reality, but a re-enactment.  Not a moment of actual historical interest, but a gesture, to the past from the present.  Just as these modern-day actors and extras are playing the part of historical figures, Boorman, the contemporary filmmaker, is playing the part of the pioneer.  His film, in its very construction, is likewise a gesture to the past from the present.  Like the film by Vicente Aranda, Boorman's short is an observation of a working film-set; in this instance, Neil Jordan's production of Michael Collins (1996).  Again, one thinks of the spirit of revolution (or insurrection) as a shorthand for the artistic and cultural revolution of the cinema itself.

Like the films by Allouache, Angelopoulos, Costa-Gavras, etc, Boorman has his actors (or specifically Jordan's actors) break the fourth wall - acknowledging the presence of the camera (and with it the perspective of the audience) - because it is the device itself, the film camera as an artefact, or antique, that holds such fascination and makes it possible for the audience to enter these olds worlds, to traverse time and space, or to explore this terrain, both geographical and psychological in nature.

Lumière and Company [Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1995]:

There is a quote that states, "The image, alone capable of denying nothingness, is also the gaze of nothingness on us."  Ulysses' gaze - the title of another film by Angelopoulos, depicted, literally, herein - is the gaze of our own restless curiosity; our fascination with this device that makes possible the manipulation of time and our own ability to document "the self"; the memory of our own recorded myths and legends, forever real, because we've seen it, on-screen.  The question is, does the film depict the "history" (our history, or that of Angelopoulos) acknowledging the perspective of cinema, or is history becoming cinema as the cinema becomes past?  I don't know!  But the stare of the actor is intense.  More intense than any actor in a film by Stanley Kubrick; the camera more focused, more intent, than in the films of Robert Bresson.  The combination of the two forces burn a hole through the screen; transforming and transfixing, terrifying and provoking, making this particular viewer shift, uncomfortably, as the gaze of the character becomes more like an accusation than a questioning glance.

Again, like in the previous segments by Boorman and Allouache (and several other segments to be discussed at a later date), the notion of the subject itself turning the attention away from its own natural spectacle to the action off-screen is, in some small way, an acknowledgment that it is the camera (or those of us on the other side of the lens) that remains the real point of interest.  While the name 'Ulysses' brings to mind Odysseus and Homer's epic tales, I was reminded more of the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and that image of Ulysses as an old man, having seen his greatest exploits now behind him, becoming weary with the modern world.  This Ulysses, like the figure on screen, is restless to once again look beyond the horizon, to explore, to uncover new mysteries and adventures.  Therefore the face of this man becomes the personification of the art itself; once an infant (as below), now stunned or destroyed by the hundred-years of horror, wonder and amazement that its gaze has been a witness to.

Lumière and Company [Juan José Bigas Luna, 1995]:

A simple, static observation.  A woman sits in a field, nursing her baby.  Immediately, it conjures the image of the Madonna and child.  This kind of earthy sexuality is often at the centre of Bigas Luna's work, but there is nothing leering or perverse about this display.  It's provocative - without question - but never erotic, nor sensationalist.  If we can infer anything from this film at all it is the natural act - the nurturing of the child by the mother against this backdrop of a freshly ploughed earth - and the idea that this subject - impressionist in nature - is worthy of historical documentation.  It's taking the medium, by now more accustomed to large-scale spectacle, action and adventure, and bringing it back to the most quiet and intimate of everyday scenes.  If we look at Bigas Luna's film on a more symbolic level, then there might even be a more significant meaning to what is being depicted.

Is the director acknowledging that the cinema of the Lumière's - as re-created here - was a moment of birth, now nurtured, a hundred years later - as if to suggest that the history of film is still in its infancy - or perhaps that the cinema itself has given birth to something new; the prospect of the digital cinema, soon to be fully realised with the liberations of Festen (1998) and The Idiots (also 1998).  This baby (now eighteen-years old at the time of writing), as once a representation of the new cinema of the burgeoning twenty-first century, is still growing; still unsure of what it wants to be.