Saturday, October 16
Maxine Cooper (as Velda in Kiss Me Deadly) escapes a dangerous place. Laura Dern (as Nikki Grace in Inland Empire), meanwhile, enters a dangerous place. There is a woman named Elizabeth Hand. She is a writer. In her novel Generation Loss she wrote this:
"But then you tilt a daguerreotype just right, and the shadows and light fall into place, and what you're looking at becomes a 3-D image. It's an effect impossible to reproduce in a book or print, or even with computer imaging technology: the purest example of generation loss I can think of. A daguerreotype portrait always seemed like the closest you could come to actually seeing someone who had died a century and a half ago."
There is so much death in Kiss Me Deadly and Inland Empire. It practically spills out of the frames. And it doesn't matter whether these women--these women in trouble--are escaping or entering dangerous places. There is a freedom to both movies because we understand that escaping is not the point.
In 1926, the Swiss writer Robert Walser, from a hospital room, jotted down some words about radio: "Yesterday I used a radio receiver for the first time. This was an agreeable way, I found, to be convinced that entertainment is available. You hear something that is far away, and the people producing these audible sounds are speaking, as it were, to everyone." [from Microscripts, trans. Susan Bernofsky]
And so, you send out sounds, signals, words, images in hopes that they catch someone unawares. Fragments, yes. But more than that, at the end. Something larger. A story. Pieced together, ragged, full of gaps, but a story nonetheless. But the catch is, you first have to tell the story to see if it's a story. You won't know until the end. This, for instance, these images. From Aldrich and Lynch, joined together in hopes that a story will come of it. At the beginning, right now, all you've got to go on is instinct. You put your trust in chance.
Tuesday, October 19
In his 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless" Vaclav Havel, at the time a Czechoslovakian dissident and playwright, wrote this about the totalitarian regime that worked to dominate and monitor the everyday lives of Czech citizens: "The whole power structure . . . could not exist at all if there were not a certain 'metaphysical' order binding all its components together, interconnecting them and subordinating them to a uniform method of accountability, supplying the combined operation of all these components with rules of the game, that is, with certain regulations, limitations, and legalities."
Our own contemporary words for this might be The Social Network, whose invention we witness on the screen as an act of heroism. Where the Czech apparatus repressed desire, ours encourages it: our own social networks are all about desire, sex. What is needed are Special TechnoCultural Investigators, mapping out in real time the Social Network's permutation into a "way of life." That life must be interrogated.
Components of the TechnoCultural Investigators:
1. Theorists to map out the Network's historical roots
2. Literary Technicians to translate and explain the architecture of the Network
3. Teachers/Professors to inculcate resistance into students and make it "attractive"
4. Disruptors to temporarily disable components of the Network to expose its blind spots
5. Artists and Writers to create alternative narratives to compete with the Network narrative
6. A strong cadre of leaders to enforce, with rigor, the disruptive idea behind the project
Utopian visions of the openness and ubiquity of the Web often neglect one important thing: solitude. Not the solitude of the lonester sitting alone in her room in front of her screen, but the deep-structure solitude of living beneath the Signal. "The Internet," writes Lawrence Lessig in Free Culture, "has unleashed an extraordinary possibility for many to participate in the process of building and cultivating a culture that reaches far beyond local boundaries." But is the Internet a culture? And if it is, why should one want to belong to it? Because, of course, it's useful and fun to belong there.
And yet, its permanent noise is tyrannical. We know that customizing our privacy levels is just a myth (they are not customizable) and yet we need something to make us feel in control. The writer Jonathan Franzen has said that he composes his fiction on a laptop disabled from the Internet. He is a hero or a dummy. Tuning out (the hippies tried this) and unplugging are reactionary gestures. There are no news cycles any more, just multi-linear traffic, noise in all directions.
The frames above were captured for display. Awoken for some obscure use here. They are not permitted to sleep or to be forgotten. It is not amnesia that we have to fear, but permanent memory.
Fredric Jameson and others have critiqued postmodernism's ahistorical turn. The surface-y flatness of our era, a ladder with no rungs to climb down into history. But, in fact, we suffer from the opposite. Not too little history, but too much. It is everywhere, inescapable, the one iron fact of our time. We are not cursed with amnesia (what a relief that would be!) but hypermnesia, an abnormally strong memory of the past. A film like Christopher Nolan's Memento is a fantasy film, a utopian document. Leonard Shelby cannot make new memories. If only we could be like him, and forget, shedding our old selves hour by hour. His madness is not in forgetting, but in struggling to create history through his notes and tattoos. But we are not so lucky. We have no choice. Even here, now, these words appear beneath film images from the past. The cruel technologies of our time have not erased the past, but made it impossible to escape.
Symbolically, nonlinear editing corresponds to traditional film editing that took place on uprights and flatbeds: in both cases, images are managed and rearranged in order to tell a story. But the random access and virtually instant recall of the database fundamentally alters the way we perceive the relationship between the shots in a film.
In David Peace's novel Nineteen Seventy-Four, Eddie Dunford, reporter/reluctant detective, says that "I pulled the Viva into the car park behind the Redbeck Cafe and Motel. I parked between two lorries and sat listening to Tom Jones sing I Can't Break the News to Myself on Radio 2." In 1974, Sanyo released the V-Cord videocassette. It was short lived, a predecessor to Betamax. Although there are many technical reasons for its failure, the V-Cord disappeared for a more obvious reason: it was designed to be loaded into its VCR sideways, rather than from the front.
Laura Dern (Nikki Grace) looks away, towards where she has come from, not where she goes. In the top frame, Mike Hammer and Velda escape an apocalyptic light. But none of these characters is free. The camera either awaits them or follows them. There is always the camera, and the industry it represents.
In Inland Empire, there is this exchange, regarding the film (within the film of Inland Empire) On High in Blue Tomorrows:
Devon: Kingsley, get to the point.
Kingsley: On High in Blue Tomorrows is in fact a remake
Devon: It's a remake?
Devon: I wouldn't do a remake.
Kingsley: No, no, no, no. I know. Of course... but you didn't know. The original was under a different name. It was started, but never finished. Now, Freddy's found out that our producers know the history of this film and they have taken it upon themselves not to pass that information along to us. Purposefully. Of course, not me. I assume not to the two of you. True?
Nikki: No... absolutely. Nobody told me anything.
Devon: No, me neither. I thought this was an original script.
Kingsley: Yeah... well... anyway, the film was never finished.
Nikki: I don't understand. Why wasn't it finished?
Kingsley: Well, after the characters have been filming for some time, they discovered something... something inside the story.
"Something . . . something inside the story."
Isn't this what we're all searching for? And isn't the reason that we're searching because we know it will never be found? And if we ever actually happened to find the object of our quest? What disappointment! What sadness that would be!