0. "What is it that is now 'appearance' to me! Verily, not the antithesis of any kind of essence - what knowledge can I assert of any kind of essence whatsoever, except merely the predicates of its appearance! Verily not a dead mask which one could put upon an unknown X, and which to be sure one could also remove! Appearance is for me the operating and living thing itself, which goes so far in its self-mockery as to make me feel that here there is appearance, a Will o' the Wisp, a spirit dance, and nothing more." (Nietzsche)
1. There is a great deal lacking in the continuing claim to regard the cinema as being related to reality, to the world, or to life as it is lived. First and foremost, let us take the relation to the visual. The visual is neither the double nor the outrageous, false or inaccurate misrepresentation of something else; the visual is something else, something which is not neutral, which has its own laws, effects and exigencies. The cinema which dreamt of a "direct engagement with the world" was, at a deeper level, postulating that from the "real" to the visual and from the visual to its filmed reproduction the same truth was reflected infinitely, with neither distortion nor loss. And it may be supposed that in a world where one readily says "see"" for "understand," such a dream did not come about by chance, for the dominant ideology, which sets up the "real=visible" equation, has every interest in encouraging it.
2. Ideology and cinema. The problem has in recent times been displaced; suspicion has been shifted on to the simple act of filming, on to the camera and its construction, etc. Granted. But why not retrace the issue further back still, and challenge that which is both served by the camera and precedes it: the quite blind trust in the visible, the gradually acquired hegemony of the eye over the other senses, a society's taste and need for seeing itself reflected, etc.? In so doing, it becomes difficult to avoid a shaming iconoclasm in which all relations to the image are experienced as mortal sings (Godard and the false images of PRAVDA); difficult also to avoid losing sight of the specific history of the specular, a moment itself endowed with a history, whose end point we may possibly foresee.
3. Photology. The cinema is therefore connected to the Western metaphysical tradition, a tradition of seeing and sight for which it fulfills the photological vocation. What is photology and what indeed might the discourse of light be? A teleological discourse, undoubtedly, if it is true that teleology "consists of neutralizing duration and force in favor of the illusion of simultaneity and from." (Derrida.)
4. Duration and force: in other words, work. "Light effaces its traces; invisible itself, it renders visible," always giving us a finished, perfected world in which work (to begin with, its own) is properly speaking unimaginable, a world which we recognize only because we have never known it and which we risk never knowing at all, taken as in we are by its "apparentness." Let us designate as "photological" that obstinate will to confuse vision and cognition, making the latter the compensation of the former and the former the guarantee of the latter, seeing in directness of vision the model of cognition.
5. There is one oeuvre which, with an acuteness not shared by others (which is why it seems so exceptional), has constantly tried to pin down that equation of vision and cognition: Rohmer's. Significantly, it has only achieved this aim within the framework of an educational film, LES CABINETS DE PHYSIQUE AU XVIIIE SIECLE. Once the conditions of the experiment are set up and the results allowed for, what happens "between" - i.e, the film, the actual time of the experiment - is simultaneously the unfolding of a spectacle and the birth of an idea. "We have relapsed into the mirror myth of knowledge as the vision of a given object or the reading of an established text, neither of which is ever anything but transparency itself, the sin of blindness as much as the virtue of clear-sightedness belonging by right to vision, to the eye of man." (Althusser.)
6. Not long ago, the "world view" and the "exercise of observation," privileged themes of criticism, were equivalent at all levels simultaneously: the characters scanned the sets, the filmmaker looked at the world and the spectator looked at the film. Any awakening of consciousness was in the first instance a training of the look, and if by chance the film happened to be political, all class struggle was reabsorbed into a sunrise. A heliopolitics of which a film like ANDREI RUBLEV is only a belated example. (If we are considering recent films, we prefer Sollima's admirable DERNIER FACE A FACE, where such a mechanism - "I see, therefore I am aware" - is perverted and made ridiculous by constant repetition.
7. Let us venture to say that "the logic of sight and oversight" has a conclusion, which we are beginning to discern. A cinema giving us the evidence and the splendor of truth has long existed: the advertising film, where all truth is immediately verifiable, where one clearly sees the eruption of the white tornado, the softness of Krema caramel, or the most obstinate stain yielding ro K2R. Most films distributed, to the extent that they are a "development" of preexisting material, increasingly refer to this aesthetic and create for themselves the themes and preoccupations it allows (the "rise to consciousness" in the twin forms of advertising and propaganda.) The undeniable beauty of the "Salador" advertising (Pirés and Grimblat), the leap forward they constitute for advertising in the extreme care and precision of their work, should here and now stir big business into seeing that such a talent is not dissipated on pseudo-films. So, instead of pretending to shoot a dramatic scene with Montand in the Congo (VIVRE POUR VIVRE), Lelouch should be singing the praises of a brand of jeans, Melville of a style in raincoats.
8. Besides, it would be curious to see how far what since the war we have called "modern" cinema has consisted of merely conferring a new dignity on these despised but already existing marginal forms, through a sort of regressive hypostasis of which painting has already provided an example. Not just advertising, but also "coming attractions," film titles, amateur films, etc.
9. If cinema involves photology, then every film, if it cannot control it, is controlled by it. And if it cannot manage to control photology, let film (prisoner of the light) designate it at least, let it be aware of the extent to which the world is "deeper than the day imagines." This involves two discoveries which, despite their extreme simplicity, are nevertheless shocking because they clearly reveal what there has been a wish to hide: that there is no innocence in the "real," or in technique, that cinema is not simply a relation to the visual but, at a deeper level, a fundamental complicity and constantly reasserted play between two modes of visibility.
10.First mode. Everything that can and is to be filmed (the profilmic material) thereby has an LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) - its visibility. What happens, for example, in FREAKS? The problem Browning seems to pose is resolved from the outset. From the moment the monsters can share a shot with men, they are no longer truly monsters; what unites them with men is stronger than what separates them (so much so that Browning has to reintroduce monstrosity at the same time as - and through - the fiction.) Cinema is a dangerous machine to tame; it provides differences, but only within a more fundamental resemblance.
11. On the subject of that resemblance, it was the discovery of the great filmmakers of the classical age (those who recognized it and took it over; Hawks, Browning, Lubitsch, undoubtedly; certain Ford and Renoir.) In wanting to confront the most varied men and worlds within the same space, indeed the same shot, in wanting to have the play/pleasure of this exacerbated diversity (and their whole art consists in rendering the firmness of distinctions), they inevitably achieved the reverse effect - a solidarity apparently automatically there to the eye of the camera, rather like the complicity of a theater company which, when the curtain falls on the illusory spectacle of its disunity, experiences a deeper sense of unity.
12.For spectacle is clearly what it is about for those lovers of "small worlds,Ó"reproduced from film to film, diversity offered in the form of spectacle, thus (slyly) denied. But it is a spectacle as yet imperfect, owing too much to the theater, and which it should have been possible to liberate. Perhaps now we can interpret the break that Rossellini's work appeared to make directly after the war. He did not so much oppose the classical cinema as destroy it by assuming its ultimate consequences - by making the spectacle the deepest level, by generalizing it. Suddenly everything, from the obscene to the insignificant, was set at the same level (bringing up the concomitant problems of morality - the point about tracking shots - and commercial failure.) Cinema is by nature a leveler.
13. Second Mode. Everything that has been filmed (every shot) possesses as a result an LCD (another mode of visibility, not now visibility in general but the specific visibility of the cinema.) The question here is the insertion of what has been filmed at some moment on the strip of film, its limitation by framing and duration, both equally irrevocable. While the first mode allowed "something" to be inscribed on the screen, the second makes possible the transitivity and facilitation of meaning, via an attribute common, beyond all divergences, to all shots, and one of which recently has been constantly and frenziedly referred to. The issue is no longer just the twofold spatial and temporal limitation of any shot (a limitation played on by all those wanting to write with images from the standpoint of meaning.) It is also, now above all, the fact of being inscribed on that material base, of being just one instance of the only rule of cinema - the vertical unrolling of the strip of celluloid, with or without images.
14. Observation. It is not saying much to say that such proofs (that the "presence" of something on the screen and the possibility of meaning happen in a sense automatically, thus shockingly) have been obscured because they were too obvious to be really thought about; the history of cinema has perhaps been the continual refusal to want to know anything about it. A denial which is only possible through reduplication: filmmakers had willingly to repeat effects they strongly suspected they could just as well do without. To the inadequate presence (inadequate because obtained without work or worth) they have continuously opposed a strategy which privileged and emphasized the actor and the decor, a four-square presence of which MacMahonism was only a belated theorization. To the imperfect meaning (diffuse, multiple meaning: Untersinn) they opposed an intended meaning, taken over by an écriture in which the reason for any passage from A to B had itself to be represented, even if under the mask of a lack.
15. In what way has the cinema been suspect until now? On what has the suspicion rested? Always or almost always on the technique of the "take," in the sense of capture or rape, in which some "adamic" reality, which asked only to speak of itself, was to be manipulated. So an increasingly invisible and candid camera has to covers its tracks, because filming is never anything but seeing, and seeing plainly. The only question not asked was: what is being manipulated? And does something which is looked at innocently become innocent for that reason? Or rather, does not the look become so much more threatening because the objects looked at are chosen from among the most cultural, those heavy with meaning and saturated with ideology? In this sense cinema-vérité (as Reichenbach envisaged it) joins the star system; or better, is its survival.
16.It is (yet another) banality to say that everything which comes into the camera's field does not for that reason stop belonging to other fields. What is going to be filmed has always IalreadyI been filmed. As for the images with which we continue to fill our heads, we have to admit that their referent is now hardly a "reality" which we have experienced, but rather an imaginary experience we have already had from seeing these images in other films, the habit formed by their spectacle. Every tracking shot of a man walking down a street doesn't make me attach it to my own experience of walking, however rich it is, but rather a series of memories from SUNRISE to LA PUNITION, which should no doubt be called the "concrete imaginary." For the film-freak generation which has buried itself in the ciémathéquesI, can death be anything but the effect of falling bodies on the screen?
17. There is hardly any problem more serious for new filmmakers. And it is no accident that the most talented of them are, indeed, former critics and film buffs, no longer unaware that cinema has become - besides a (specific) culture and tradition in the history of the specular - an increasingly lively eye and an increasingly failing memory. Reducing the world to a generalized spectacle is the business of television. Cinema's survival is now the extent to which it can introduce "play" into a general sense of image saturation. That play consists of delaying as long as possible (a few seconds is enough) the takeover the seen by the already-seen, and so of showing something never-seen - at least on the screen. Among these last rounds are exoticism, pornography, possibly science fiction. The only essential is to reinvest all the problems posed by the film's total meaning (the sequence of shots) into the unique and crucial problem of thereading of the shot, its decoding (what is it?). The future of cinema? To take seriously, in every sense, its figurative nature. At least one film (2001), where the camera starts at the level of primates and ends alongside Norman McLaren, made its acknowledged subject the future of representation.
18.Unless, that is, a cinema which seeks to be self-critical, not content with this flight forward and this need for the never-seen which can only exhaust itself unsatisfied, already clearly sees a signified (which will need to be forced into the open, indicated) in each profilmic signifier. Its relation to photology would be its particular way of accusing or not accusing the false innocence of the "real," a reality which for it is always the already-filmed. We see here the two modes of visibility at work: the specific means of the second (framing and duration) as an interrogation and deconstruction of the material furnished by the first (shooting). A text no longer concealing its pretext, a pretext suspected in turn. Furthermore, a film's relation to photology can appear in (at least) three forms, according to whether it presupposes the profilmic material to be - neutral - neutralized - neither
The first form is represented by all films (the great majority) which, under the guise of objectivity, remain within the ideology (which they reassert without necessarily recognizing) and soon lapse into advertising. "Salador" is to date an unsurpassed expression of this kind of cinema.
19. The second form warrants further explanation. Suspected of equivocating the technique of shooting had logically to be thought capable of "transfiguring," "transmuting" the profilmic material (and in so doing, of neutralizing its effects). This is a quasi-magical operation, ecstatically evoked, an alchemy in which the profilmic lead is changed into filmed gold, autonomous grains and fragments owing nothing thereafter to their pretext, their ordering and sequence permitting the facilitation of meaning. All "cinematography" needed such a postulate (and, as we know, it was Bresson who theorized the need: "For film, the theme is, in my view, a pretext for creating cinematic content.") What was it he needed? To believe in the exchange value of shots, so that nothing in shot A is lost or damaged when a transition to shot B is secured. And transition is certainly the issue here - neume and absolute transitivity, moving on by conserving, capitalizing.
20. Who are those who wanted to write with images? It is time we realized that such a wish, so often formulated, was only formulated by those (from Eisenstein to Bresson) who scorned ideas that were not idées fixes, of the order of obsessions (sexual, no doubt) and fantasies, such that only a unique and terrorist discourse could take them on. These were the great obsessives who demanded the most from cinema: that a film should say only one thing, achieve just one effect, but decisively. These pioneers saw to what extent the thing could not work as soon as they were convinced that in the cinema - as elsewhere - every effect is achieved once only. Was Hawks (or Lubitsch) preoccupied with anything else? The important thing for Hawks, the only effect he wished to produce (pleasure in/for itself), is also the easiest to achieve (even in the deceptive and metaphorical form of Adventure), as it is the quickest to be erased. Hawks is the filmmaker of an always total pleasure (no matter how dull and lackluster) with no option other than to repeat it endlessly (the importance of repetition in Hawks is well known) because it is never achieved.
21. Every effect is achieved only once - but it must not be achieved too soon or it will be attenuated and forgotten, only a repetition can reactivate it, without, however, enriching it . From this we can see the deceptive side of the Hawksian (or Lubitschian) world, because achieving the same effect a second time requires an ever-increasing expenditure of energy, a world destined for exhaustion and entropy, with no other aim than its own prolongation. Filmmakers with an aim (a desire) also know that there is only IoneI moment appropriate for the decisive effect (cf. the Bertheau episode in LA VIE EST A NOUS.) These are therefore the filmmakers of the snare, since their problem is to capitalize on secondary effects, ceaselessly investing signifieds in new signifiers and making themselves masters of a chain where nothing allows the end to be envisaged, masters of a frenetic transitivity which condemns them to say nothing real, never to come to a stop, were they not flagged down by the actual, material end of the film, and obliged to finish it before it is finished (a new duplication of an inevitable and automatic effect). It is surely in Lang's films that we can best see this reluctance to conclude and the very edgy humor which presides over what are always simulated endings (SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR.) In the cinema also, to write means not to finish.
22. This incompatibility between a film which cannot exceed a certain duration and a meaning which can be reasserted by a trifle gave rise to compromise solutions which all took the form of coups de force, the only thing which could end the chain, capitalize on its links and reactivate them in the direction of a prediction of the past. In this one can recognize the major concern of several celebrated films which seemed modern to their defenders in CAHIERS around 1955; miracle films or, as Jacques Rivette rightly observed, films of the final reversal, which managed to represent simultaneously the most advanced state of reflection on the cinema and an often religious way of accounting for that reflection. Why? Because such a power (the intrusive power of writing) could only be sustained by introducing a guarantee, a transcendental signified, which cinema had gradually learned to do without, leaving it to advertising films for which it has always been the truth. ("Salador.")
23. One man bewitched by these powers very soon recognized that he could hardly avoid simulating their Icoups de forceI, and that, by insisting on provoking them, he was all the more clearly showing them to be arbitrary and a trick, no longer even capable of valorizing after the event a sequence of shots in which there was already revealed a radical inability to capitalize; reflection was to make of that inability a rejection, and out of that rejection has come a hesitant theory...We are saying that Jean-Luc Godard , when he was filming VIVRE SA VIE, was thinking of Karina as, he imagined, before him Renoir thought of C. Hessling (NANA), Rossellini of I. Bergman (EUROPA 51), if not Fellini of G. Massina (CABIRIA). But let Nana smile, dance, sell her body or die, the evidence is that a woman is always a woman and that it is an illusion to think that a film can say anything else, an illusion whose results are equally obvious in film theory (every shot is a transition, a difference of effect which is the only more decisive for being final) and in the themes treated (whores are saints, the guilty innocent, etc.) All of which Godard was very aware of when he took a turn (with LE MEPRIS) from which the cinema has scarcely begun to come back.
24. LE MEPRIS (CONTEMPT.) In 1964, everyone wanted to know whether Godard, the enfant terrible of the new cinema, faced with the demands of big budget production and the whims of famous actors, would come away from the venture without losing anything, making all that profilmic machinery in the final analysis unrecognizable. At the time everyone was raving about the magic of cinema and the genius of the auteur, the man who imprints the indelible mark of his vision on everything and everyone. While all that may have constituted a fantasy for Godard (filming at the big MGM studios), it all turns out as if he had finally decided on the impossibility, or more accurately the uninterest, of such an enterprise, which is in fact the real subject of the film. Since it is therefore the story of a failure (and itself a commercial failure), LE MEPRIS becomes a question of knowing whether failure is not perhaps more profound than any success. That is, is it no the demiurges who fail?
25. What happens in LE MEPRIS? Still the same story -I getting there too lateI, the game already played, where the score is settled and the cards have a fixed value and way of playing them. What is the point of playing the best possible hand, smuggling in meaning between the lines, when the game is already over? Homer wrote the ODYSSEY and Moravia wrote CONTEMPT. Prokosch wanted to put it into images and Ponti wanted to put it on the screen. They summoned famous "artists" (Lang, Godard) whose (commercial) thirst for being scorned they were able to slake. ("One has to suffer," says Lang, and everyone knows that Godard had to shoot things he had not foreseen.) Every new player of the great Culture and Capital game has to respect (and not reflect upon) the traces in his work of what came before him, and which he should not improve upon. Choosing the place (Capri), the story (THE ODYSSEY), and the characters (Lang, Bardot) closest to myth, Godard discovered what he was later to elucidate constantly: that you can't both use and be used by that profilmic material. You deny it, believing you are going beyond it, but you ignore it without going beyond it. It is time, more modestly, to indicate its overdetermination for what it is. Every film is a palimpset.
Originally published in CAHIERS DU CINEMA #222, July 1970.