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Saturday
Apr062019

Cinema 2: 1 Beyond the Movement Image

Deleuze opens Cinema 2: The Time-Image disputing André Bazin’s formalist approach to film criticism. A reader of Deleuze’s film project needn’t be familiar with Bazin to make use of this passage, except to know that Bazin’s view of film is an “art-idealist” foil to Deleuze. For Bazin, implicitly at least, art begins with an abstract idea that pre-exists and pervades the experience of the art itself; the measure of film’s success is its ability to manifest an ethos, express a necessary idea, be an emblem of a world view. Donato Totaro overviews Bazin’s approach (“Introduction to André Bazin, Part 1: Theory of Film Style in its Historical Context”, in André Bazin Revisited, Offscreen Volume 7, Issue 7 / July 2003) by contextualizing Bazin as a humanist—centering the practice of art “Possibly…as a means of countering mortality”, and as a project in which a human attempts “to preserve his/her likeness”. Totaro also helpfully summarizes the idealist conception of art by characterizing Bazin’s humanist approach to history:

Since Bazin believes that the origins of an art reveal its nature, cinema’s quest for realism supports his claim for an objective and pure cinema. This “myth” which grew out of cinema’s beginnings stands as the touchstone cinema has progressively evolved toward.

By contrast, Deleuze’s philosophy is (although this is an oversimplification) either … a kind of post-Marxian (post-dialectical) materialism—i.e. a materialism in which, crudely, all that counts is flows and energies and their myriad disruptions, and not some fundamental binary dynamic/dialectic of “base” material conditions out of which ideas emerge) … or a kind of early post-humanism—Deleuze and Guattari argue in the opening of Anti-Oedipus (the first of their Capitalism & Schizophrenia diptych), that there is no fundamental distinction between nature and machinery, and that art too, and the cultures in which it is interpreted, are at once reducible to technology. (If not technologies of physical resources and their physical deployment, then technologies of sign and signifier, technologies involving the way that one concept, one idea, stands-in for another, and then is itself stood-for, ad infinitum. For more thoughts on how this is relevant to musicology, please see my essay “Desiring Machines, Desiring Production”, linked under “Resources” to the left.)

More simply: for Bazin, art technologies emerge and change from era to era out of necessity—as per the popular humanist phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”—and the necessity in this case is the expression of a new idea, a new ethos—Bazin is in that sense also something of a Hegelian idealist.

For Marx and Engels (sometimes called “dialectical materialists”), the situation is precisely the reverse: ideas and ideals are the emergent properties of material regimes^1 (and for Nietzche, too, the history of ethics and morals is not a series of principled responses to an evolving landscape of human possibility, but a series of artful justifications for the madness of society). For Deleuze—and again this is crude, for the sake of contextualizing his view of our regimes of the perception of time—neither humans nor materialist regimes are wellsprings of ideas. Humans are instead merely participants in material practices, manifesting complex mechanical relationships to a kind of ecology (Deleuze and Guattari called it a “socius”) which is neither biological nor cultural, but both. And to comprehend art as one of those material practices, Deleuze draws inspiration from Peirce: the first theorist of the technology (the machinery if you will) of signs.

 

***

Quick resources:

1. On Roberto Rosselini’s Paisá (1946)

Clip: “Her name was Francesca…” (This clip might be the most representative of the critical/philosophical problems of realism that Deleuze summarizes, but see also other clips on the TCM site, like “Everything has gone badly today…” and “Are you Italian Like Us?”) 

Thomas, Allan James. “Paisà” In Senses of Cinema (<http://sensesofcinema.com/>; Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 51. July 2009.)

2. On Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952)

The link above is the entire film; here is the scene involving the young maid, Bazin’s example to which Deleuze refers twice.

3. See also resources for Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger in Donato Totaro’s “Part 1: Cinema 1: The Movement-Image” in Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonian Film Project.

4. An effective and quick overview of Robbe-Grillet’s Theory of Descriptions is in Hellerstein, Marjorie. “One Autobiographer’s Reality: Robbe-Grillet.” In Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research, Vol. XXXII: Phenomenology and Aesthetics, 1990. pp 39-48. (No need to download; the preview is sufficient for Deleuze’s reference to Robbe-Grillet.)

5. On various Yasujiro Ozu films—

Late Spring (1949)

Final scene — (to which Deleuze refers on p 14, in which a father weeps after his daughter’s wedding)

Early Summer (1951)

Late Autumn (1960)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Clip: At a sake bar (sorry no English subtitles but never mind…)

Clip: “In the end we spend our lives alone

A great clip of Claire Denis (whose High Life is getting press now, and currently in Bay Area theaters) speaking on Ozu’s influence — note in particular her story begining around 3’15”.

 

NOTES

^1. Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, ed. Frederick Engels (New York: Modern Library, no date, first published 1906), p. 25.

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