1. Dis-visual perceptions
According to Jean Louis Baudry, when we go to the cinema each one of us enters a psychophysical state very similar to that of a child in front of the primordial mirror, because, exactly as happens in the case of the puer, also those at the cinema experience a condition of basic impotence of movement. They are sitting on their seats and the range of movements they can make without violating the unwritten rules of the ritual of film projection is extremely narrow, and almost all their power of receptivity is channelled through visual perception.
The spectator is called upon to adapt to its rituals, to its praxis. He is required, ultimately, to play out his role correctly with all the constraints and those slight limitations that this may imply, including the inhibition of movement. “The film takes place outside of me, with no intervention on my part” (1). Following the same pattern of reasoning, even over-stimulation of the visual system does not depend, in the case of the film spectator, on any particular efficiency of the visual function, but is the result of a series of measures put in place by the cinema as institution: it is the effect of the very conditions of the projection, because the darkness and the place-cinema-hall help the viewer to focus on vision, allowing him to focus his attention on the screen, allowing him to listen, as Abel Gance says, “with the eyes” (2). Darkness is an essential component of the ritual of cinema, the place dictates its sacredness, which is an essential element in emotional involvement: Roland Barthes in 1975 (3) said “When I talk about films, I can never fail to think of the cinema hall, rather than the films”.
The scope of this process lies in the fact that there is nothing random in what he believes to be his natural condition of spectator at the cinema, and every aspect of the complex ritual of projection has a precise function, and answers the need to foster as osmotic and all-encompassing a relationship as possible between the screen and the solitude of the individual spectators. They adapt to cinema behaviour without consciously addressing the problem of the artificiality of the film projection ritual, freely playing along with the cinema as institution. The onlooker, as C. Metz says, identifies with his own act of watching and “experiences himself as the focal point of the spectacle, as the privileged, central and transcendental subject of vision.” (4) And the “cinematic experience”, as Francesco Casetti put it, “aims to acquire awareness and expertise which make it possible to take on reality and give it meaning” (5). Cinematic awareness on the one hand refers to the moment when a spectator, enjoying a movie, takes stock of the power of the images and sounds, and on the other hand refers to the moment when the same viewer activates his awareness. This is an act of cognition which is both reflexive (the act being performed), and projective (the relationship with oneself and the world). An activation of the senses - especially sight - due to something that appears on a screen, a reworking of what has been perceived that invests or re-invests both what can be seen and the act of seeing it. So, there is a film, with the world it represents, which engages the attention and almost imposes itself, and there takes shape a knowing-how-to-see and a knowing-that-you’re-seeing vis-à-vis the film itself and the reality it refers to.
2. Seeing where seeing is impossible
The same approach, identical rituals and postures, but many psychological and hermeneutical conditions are shared by, and differentiate, the many viewers of the Independent Film Show. The first thing to strike the spectator is that the text of the film necessarily involves a departure from the normal situation in which it is perceived. A feature of the films at the festival is that they have a reality which is almost impossible to grasp. Their transience has always made these films difficult to tie down. Moreover, their fascination rests on these assumptions, together with minor incidents such as the projector jamming or the film running backwards. Here it is possible to see where we can’t see, we can see or hide the world with its psychophysical correspondences. We work on a personal way of looking, associated to the need for a point of view, on a complex gaze, where reality and imagination mix. On a sharp eye, which uses a machine to enhance its performance, on a bright gaze, free, impassive, rich in perceptive stimuli, on an immersive eye, through which one seems to be in an all-encompassing world. Even if only through nebulous fragments. Among fragments which might well be irreparable. We are faced with a vision whose structure changes depending on the realities experienced, either actual or mental, capable of distinguishing, modelled on the human eye and not only on a machine, a visual angle that tries to mess up the strong stimuli produced by a tumultuous world, without abandoning itself to them. The films selected by Raffaella Morra, organiser and curator of the three sections presented at this Independent Film Show 11th edition, require a certain distance from their object, as if to recall the presence of a threshold between observer and observed, a gap that allows a gaze able to soften the radical nature of the choices that do not conceal tensions. The result of this openness is a scrutiny, going beyond the four edges, which spills over beyond the limits, which knocks us off the rails. What happens to artists when they get behind the camera? “They redeem themselves”, says Siegfried Kracauer, “from the state of sleep in the world, of virtual non-existence, striving to experience it through the camera.”(6)
Contamination, bartering. They swing between seduction and transgression, between infatuation and betrayal. This is what the Surrealists do, through the similarities they find between the cinematographic and the dream-like, between free association in certain psychological situations and techniques of film editing. That falling in love which Tristan Tzara speaks of when he writes of the cinema that “there is great destructive negative work to be done.” Or that of the Futurists, “some of whom,” wrote Vincenzo Trione, “become fascinated with the idea of making films”, all of them, however, are won over by what they consider “the language of modernity par excellence: succinct yet total, it can return reality in its diversity and, together, can give substance to the most daring fantasies. It is able to analyse in detail the prose of the world and it is miraculous in the way it provides withering portraits. It is able to imprint velocity on the eye and, together, cage it within a grid”(7). Multimedia personalities like Warhol are seduced by it. The pop artists, in fact, shifting between opposing tensions, are reluctant to abandon their vocation to the avant-garde. One recalls Warhol’s cinema exercises in line with the experiments of the situationists.
3. In the beginning is the cinema. In the end, playing with films
First of all, there is the film. A space where thoughts are sculpted. A land where impressions are deposited and put in order. A place where doctrines and knowledge are gathered together. Sometimes, we even have the sensation that the world according to the filmmakers of the Independent Film Show has been designed especially to end up inside that magic device. A prodigious object that has fascinated many twentieth-century artists who have created a number of adventures bordering on the scandalous. But which have changed our perception of many hidebound interpretations. Then there is a space for reflexion, performativity and inclusiveness. It is through these abilities that a place not necessarily intended for the eyes on the screen is transformed and becomes a space for vision - better yet, it becomes the space for a cinematic viewing experience - Effectively speaking, the cinema-hall becomes a dedicated area and at the same time a living area, where people can play and put themselves on the line. It becomes in some sense a tableau des languages.
Often the strategy the film-makers rely on is reminiscent of Duchamp, but in many cases, the artists tend to treat films as events to be appropriated. They reinvent them. They sublimate them and, at the same time, they transgress their aura. They aim to relocate them towards uncharted territory. Sometimes they pick out a single frame. Other times, they use already processed film. Or they completely remake whole sections. Despite their individual language, the artists are united in their need to move well away from mass production. They tend to produce unique, unrepeatable, collectible work, often in single exemplars, which can be considered authentic works. For them, interacting with a movie is like stepping into an archipelago of freedom. These are works for the cinema aiming to show that there is no difference between writing - specifically tied to communication - and film, firmly anchored in its expressive intent. Pleasure and fascination gratify the desires of the audience, desires which are neither superficial nor momentary.
4. Archives of instability
Signs, formulas, very different processes. Often borrowed from other fields of expression, that interweave or merge to form a highly complex flow, a concentration of different solutions. In the films of the Independent Film Show, there is neither compactness nor any systematic rules which could allow recurrent and shared rules to emerge: rather than a language it seems to be a perpetually open laboratory. Film is too rich, but also too vague to be likened to natural language, symbolic systems, or signalling devices. These are documents that drag us into a precarious archive of handwriting, letters, images, hieroglyphs, algebraic numbers. They are created through desire, the imaginary, the symbolic: they rely on identifying complex mechanisms that regulate the functioning of our psyche. With their constantly interrupted sequences that shake the rules of language, in collisions governed by eccentric associative processes, films become “idealistic phenomena” (8), where the idea is foremost. We are presented with iconography which is at times absurd, the work of a bricoleur of movement. Their imagination identifies the idea of film with a different representation of reality by looking at the perfect illusion of the outside world. We meet signs whose meaning goes beyond themselves. They explode the linearity of the film and the horizontality of signification. They destroy all the semantic units. Purity is tainted by a taste for experimentation. Discursive logic is broken down. An instantaneous space-time is staged, where all sense of centrality is lost. A flow of revelations is filmed, where the word is not only called upon to “say”, but also to be admired: there is a visual, architectural construction, which breaks up into an infinite number of particles. Not mere virtuosity but new possibilities. It is against the backdrop of such a disjointed dialectic made up of borrowings, structures, giving back, loans, and impositions, that independent filmmakers work. It is within this dialectic that they build their poetry and their narratives.
Films to be read? A poem to watch? The verbal elements are moulded: their visual qualities are brought to the fore through bold deconstruction. From this point of view, among others, Takahiko Iimura’s deletions are an illumination. He uses the film as a surface where the characters scroll across so as to upset normal syntax. The image has no content, and makes no pronouncement. There is just speech, the edge of visible speech. Warner Nekes, who has an anthology from 1966 to 1985 dedicated to him, developed a “towards the light” figurative writing. It moves along a narrow threshold between signifieds and signifiers, to muddle common sense. Ken Jacobs’ “in three-D” is magnificent, intent on unravelling the puzzle, understood as a general challenge to signs, he creates an alienating story. He stretches the film, with overlappings and alterations. Work relying exclusively on the use of celluloid.
5. “The festival of emotions”(8)
This year too, the Independent Film Show will become an experience: that of the ideological scope and the aesthetic value of the films, the property of the medium - never thought of otherwise - of the possibility to perceive the sense of duration, mysterious extent of time. And lastly, the extraordinary nature of the imperfections and graininess of celluloid, which can only be enjoyed here.
1) G. Bettetini, Tempo del senso, Bompiani, Milan 1979, p.73
2) A. Gance, Le temps de l’image est venu, Alcan, Paris 1982, p.64
3) R. Barthes, En sortant du cinéma, in «Communications», 23, 1975
4) C. Metz, Semiologia del cinema: saggi sulla significazione del cinema, Garzanti, Milan 1972, p.78
5) F. Casetti, L’esperienza filmica e la ri-locazione del cinema, in “Fata Morgana”, n. 4, 2008
6) S. Kracauer, Theory of film, Oxford University, N.Y. 1960, p.56
7) V.Trione, Innamorati (e traditori) del cinema, in, Corriere della Sera 30 agosto 2011
8) A. Bazin, Che cos’è il cinema?, Garzanti, Milano 1999, p.11
9) R. Barthes, En sortant du cinéma, cit.