cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

ART Andrew Wyeth





SNIP DOCU Wyeths World 1




Michael Palin in Wyeth’s World


For UK viewers only. Available until 5 Jan 2014



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December 30, 2013 Posted by | art | | Leave a comment

FILM JOURNAL Alphaville Issue 5 – Cinema in the Interstices





PHOTO Cracked_Concrete_01_by_RocketStock


click to enlarge



Alphaville : Journal of Film and Scene Media


Issue 5


Cinema in the Interstices





Cinema in the Interstices: Editorial


Conscious of the underlying significance of this term and its many interpretations within the context of visual culture, particularly as related to film and screen media, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media set out to provide a forum to explore the myriad of interstices that exist both within the medium of film and between film and other media, firstly in the form of an international conference held at University College Cork in September 2012, and now in a special issue of Alphaville dedicated to the topic.



Lot’s and lots to read.

I was drawn in by the word interstice. A wonderful sounding word which most people couldn’t pronounce let alone define. The editorials starts with:

The interstice: something empty, something minute—a crevice, a chink, a narrow gap—yet, in spite of this definition of something apparently slight and inconsequential, one perhaps may make the claim that the interstice serves as a foundational element of film. The “intervening space”, as the OED defines it, in its celluloid form provided the connection between multiple images, allowing them to run together to form the illusion of movement. While this interstitial black strip that imperceptibly framed the moving image is no longer a constituent part of cinema in its current digital format, interstices continue to proliferate in screen media, perhaps to a greater extent than ever. Indeed, just as cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography, this intermediality takes on a redefined role in the digital era, with the lines between cinema, television, art, video and new media becoming increasingly difficult to define.



And so I was off, thinking about black bars between frames of pellicule. Though I knew in my bones, chasing a few rabbits down their holes, this was the entre to a lot more things of interest and use among a whole swathe I probably wouldn’t understand or be bothered with. But how do you know till you read?

And so what exactly are the film things I am bothered with? Think, Think. One, how films are made, particularly cinematography and editing, aesthetics goes without saying (but there, I’ve said it), and the limits of film (and the sort of questions that cropped up when Godard started writing in the Cahiers and then made films himself which, if we use A Bout de Souffle, was often about how film was not up to the job he wanted it to do – and/or was dead and gone in the terms in which he saw it: in two words Eisenstein and montage. Godard a writer trying a new medium and as I see it often being disappointed and expressing this disappointment in his own films. Alright, I admit it, I’ve been trying Histoires yet again). Phew! How hard it is to attend to three things at once and have the added disadvantage of English subtitles. Perhaps better without enough French to read La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma de Jean-Luc Godard by Céline Scemama as a companion-piece to Histoire(s). My ideal: watch it first, then the transcription,then both together. But it becomes a study not an experience, where it has to be watched on DVD to stop it at will.

The start point – stimulated by the Alphaville editorial’s first para – was that black gap between each frame. Faux naively (sometimes the ridiculously obvious can turn up insights) I mused the black dividing lines had to be there because of the way a roll of film running through a camera exposed individual frames. A shutter or shutters opened to expose each frame and it couldn’t do it quick enough to have no gap between frames. Though of course even if that were feasible, with each frame abutting directly to the next, the separation of frames as they are by a gap might well be needed to help create the moving images at a certain speed of projection. Who knows – not many – if the movie would work projected without the few millimeters of black space?

It wasn’t there in order to. It was there because it had to be there, and then they found a way to get over these leetel black bars between frames by projecting the film at a certain speed both to eliminate them from perception, and eventually at 24fps to get a movie that wasn’t jerky as the early silent films were.

Then the assertion that

[..] cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography

made me think some more – and this is the first paragraph of the editorial! – what interstices were these exactly? That later.

The fourth wall. We know that cinema was distinctly theatrical in it’s beginnings. But surely, film rather than being in cracks between the traditional arts – once the theatrical style was left behind – was a new art form which superimposed itself on them as a whole, using them; or perhaps that the arts fed directly or indirectly into film, rather than the other way round. Or even that it parasitised on them or was in symbiosis with them. Or both. Or saprophytic. Or even commensal. But it did become the predominant – as in popular and wide-spread – art form the 20 century. Pretty quickly it was the flicks people went to see instead of music hall – certainly not art galleries or museums. Though come to think of it, music and film became close partners in a way that art and theatre did not. Theatre and ballet became favourite subjects of film and have remained so to the present day. Opera became the musical. But film technique has developed on its own.


Film Studies at University College Cork


Well, better start reading. Might learn something.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | 24 fps, art, À bout de souffle, Breathless, Cahiers du cinéma, cinematography, Eisenstein, film, Film and The Arts, film editing, film music, film [its techniques], film-making, Godard, perception | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM FRENCH BRESSON The Devil, Probably {Le Diable Probablément} (1977)

 

 

 

“The movements of the soul were born with same progression as those of the body.”
Montaigne*

 

 

The region 2 Artificial Eye DVD has a filmography but no extras.

This is my second Bresson. Though I’ve watched The Pickpocket on YouTube. I’ll probably get the lot for my collection, but Bresson’s use of amateur actors is still unsettling. Who hasn’t watched a Bresson imagining the parts done by professionals and been distracted from the film in the process? Having commented on his style after watching Au Hazard Balthazar, I feel a strong urge to do so for this film, in other words. And to make some progress in understanding Bresson’s purpose and meaning.

This time the word tableau(x) came to mind (if that is the right word…).  Yes:  tableaux vivant, which is sufficient to suggest where Bresson is coming from. He was a painter before becoming a photographer before becoming a film-maker. It is also interesting to learn how many other film-makers use/d tableaux vivant.

Maybe Bresson thought he could somehow ‘translate’ still tableaux into a moving ones. If so, I don’t think it always works because – as if a sort of phenomenological epoché** was required – the viewer is being asked to put away much of what exists in the real world. People cough, splutter, grimace, scratch, gulp, check on what others are looking at and saying, relive recent events by relating them to others.

Bresson’s characters are made to look into the middle distance even when talking to someone quite close-up.

The hardest thing to take in a Bresson film as a viewing experience is the artifice in the acting. But then again plays are often highly stylised and we don’t seem to mind that. Maybe it is all about what we expect and don’t expect about film, that cuts across Bresson’s purpose in many of his films. For me it does in Balthazar and The Devil, though not in The Pickpocket [YouTube ].

A problem – if one can call it one – is the intellectual pre-requisites these films seen to require, particularly the theology. Not dissimilar to needing a degree in art history in order to get the full benefit from looking at renaissance paintings. Maybe that’s just called having a proper education! Or is this leading inexorably to “some films are for a narrow elite” ?

Even a poor man’s guide through the wiki links shows that Jansenists were Augustinian, and Augustine didn’t believe an individual has the ability to chose to be good, so obtaining salvation without God’s assistance. I suspect – though what do I know? – Bresson is in the territory of the City of Man and the City of God. He places a character in the City of God in a film that is clearly in the City of Man.

The heresy of Jansenism, meaning here its denial of Catholic doctrine, is that it denies the role of free will in the acceptance and use of grace—that God’s role in the infusion of grace is such that it cannot be resisted and does not require human assent. The Catholic teaching is that "God’s free initiative demands man’s free response" (CCC 2002)[3]—that is, the gift of grace can be resisted, and requires human assent.

That came from wiki:Jansenism.

Eric Mahleb’s post The Absolute Realism of Robert Bresson, is a good stopping off point here, such as:

By his own admittance, Bresson never attempted to make realistic films (‘I wish and make myself as realistic as possible, using only raw material taken from real life. But I aim at a final realism which is not realism’). His aim was to reach a certain truth, a state existing beyond the simply visible and accessible. But in the process of aiming for this truth, Bresson necessarily proclaimed an interest in the real. This desire for reality did not constitute an end in itself, only the means by which to achieve this greater goal of truth.

Mahleb goes on to discuss whether Bresson was a Jansenist: he quotes Susan Sontag: “…all of Bresson’s films have a common theme: ‘the meaning of confinement and liberty’ “.

The last part of Mahleb’s paragraph containing the Sontag quote says:

Certainly, his films are very much about seeking freedom from our bodies, bodies that constrain and restrict us in an earthly way, bodies that are subjected, poisoned and influenced by the diseases of society. Deterministic and fatalistic, Bresson’s characters have little to hope for in life except to reach Grace and the salvation it brings. Yet, it would be misleading to interpret this determinism (if one can truly talk of determinism in the context of Bresson) as necessarily pessimistic since Grace represents the ultimate, the absolute state to be reached, and thus, a positive deliverance from a society morally corrupt. Bresson does offer a way out, a dialectical escape from negativity. While the subject matters of the films may leave one with a sense of gloom upon their initial viewing, the feeling of hope and joy that underlies most of his work should more than compensate for it, as long as one is able to reach and see beyond the initial layer of ‘surface’ negativity. For instance, suicide, which occurs in several of the films, should not be looked upon as a cowardly act that ends a life but rather as an acceptable means of deliverance that enables one to reach a state of betterment. Upon watching Mouchette, we are left with no choice but to accept Mouchette’s decision to end her life as the only logical step, one that provides us with a feeling of understanding and almost complicity.

I find that very useful. Charles too in The Devil, Probably, “commits suicide”. The best touch in the film is right at the end: his friend shoots him in the back with the pistol that Charles has given him, just as Charles is about to explain exactly when he wants it to happen. He is shot in mid – sentence. We never learn what he finally wants.

 

Ronald Bergan, author of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict, wrote a fascinating article in The Telegraph (13 August 1999), The filmmaker’s filmmaker, in which he quotes Bresson :

An actor, even a talented actor, gives us too simple an image of a human being, and therefore a false image.

Bresson seems to have this the wrong way round. Great actors always put something extra into film which brings it to life, even if we sometimes recognise they are too good to be true. Art needing artifice? For the ethologists among you, an actor can almost act as a supernormal  stimulus.

 

image

 

And yet one sees what Bresson means. The robotic, two-dimensionality of the amateur acting simplifies the process, so that we watch (attend to) particular features of a story in a certain way dictated by the director. But as I watch Bresson I feel he does not really add anything by taking away as often as he thinks, as he must have felt so strongly he did.

To me Bresson is coming from an art aesthetic – as well as the ascetic – which he felt convinced would work in film. Though happy to watch his films because I accept his method, and want to understand his message, it never makes for comfortable viewing. It is possible to get the point of what he does without coming away with a sense of commitment: but that sense is what makes something a work of art. Who wants an exercise in film? And yet. Film is a broad spectrum. Indulging in an analogy: in the electromagnetic spectrum the human visual sector is very small. Bresson seems almost to be overlapping into the UV or infrared.

 

image

 

#

By some fluke, having two monitors and a good speaker system, there was during one viewing, a serendipitous, wildly just right juxtaposition of a FaceBookers video soundtrack running on one screen in synch with the final scene in The Devil, Probably on the other, in which Charles leads his friend to the cemetery he has chosen to die in. (In some Bresson films, there seems no point in worrying about plot spoilers, which says a lot about the style: documentary and yet not documentary; always an essay about film.) Putting a selection of popular music to the film as happened here by chance (a  5-minute short/music video by Mohamed Al Ajami accessible in FaceBook) would radically transform even what many watchers or re-watchers of Bresson are calling outdated, and without a single visual edit. Not Bresson, but interesting. It shows how the relative quiet in Bresson shows up the starkness of the amateur acting. Music, louder music, whether meant to be responded to the characters or diegetic, seems to take away some of this, and yet not detract from the story. Just make it more bearable.

Bresson can never be out of date despite this remark because he deals in universal themes.

#

Bergan begins his piece with:

Robert Bresson is among the few film directors who have an adjective named after them. Like Capraesque and Hitchcockian, a whole world is immediately conjured up by the epithet Bressonian.

which is true.

He continues:

One definition of Bressonian reads: "Derived from the films of French director Robert Bresson, to describe a pristine, formal photographic style of cinema in which expressionless, non-professional actors personify the Catholic themes of transgression, redemption and grace. "

Samuel Cooper in his blog, Boredom is Always Counter-revolutionary, writes of The Devil, Probably (8 February 2010)

Rewatching Robert Bresson’s Le Diable, Probablement (The Devil, Probably 1977) recently, it struck me that this is a film out of time; or, more precisely, a vision that is neither today’s prehistory nor a premonition of tomorrow. By which I do not mean so much that it is either ahead of its time or behind the times. Instead, having chosen to distance themselves from an immediate engagement with the corporeal present, the film’s characters are suspended between the past and the future. They reject the status quo, but also they reject any alternative or any action against the status quo, resulting in an unhappy limbo of nihilistic conservatism.

Metapsychology online review.

Richard Hell gave a pre-screening talk on 9 November, 2002, at the YMCA Cine-Club, NYC.

In it he says:

Speaking of God, you have to when talking about Bresson. His movies feel spiritual, in the least cornball way possible. My personal definition of God is "the way things are" and that’s what it seems to me Bresson’s movies are about, as is just about all interesting art one way or another. But once you start learning about Bresson, you discover that he’s a Catholic and much is made of his beliefs in that line. Of course most French people are Catholics and it’s said that once they get you for your first few years they have you forever. Rimbaud used to write "God is sh–" on park benches. Truffaut saw Hitchcock as a Catholic filmmaker. But apparently for at least a significant part of his life Bresson was what is called a Jansenist. I know hardly anything about Catholicism though I’ve been doing a little research. There are two things I’ve found mentioned most often about Jansenism. One is the belief that all of life is predestined, and the other is that it’s possible to achieve grace but the attainment of it, the gift of it, is gratuitous–grace doesn’t necessarily go to the so-called "good." Personally, as perverse as Catholicism has always seemed to me, at this stage of my life I don’t find those beliefs strange at all. Naturally Bresson resisted being classed as a Catholic artist in a way that pretended to explain his movies. There’s an interview with Paul Schrader where Bresson gets very impatient with Calvinist Schrader’s presumptions about him. But Bresson doesn’t make a secret of his belief that life is made of predestination and chance. At first glance to many this will seem impossibly strange, but I think it can also be seen as something simple and clear and ordinary, namely a kind of humility and mercy, a kind of forgiveness and compassion, and also as even obviously true. Look at history. Has all the talk, or rather all the doctrine, changed anything? No, people are who they are and things happen as they must. It’s nobody’s fault and it doesn’t change. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s God. Or the devil, probably. It’s just how things are.

Here is the pdf of the Interview Bresson gave to Paul Schrader in 1977:
Robert Bresson, Possibly. Schrader had written a book, Transcendental Style in Film. In 1972 Bresson wrote to Schader after reading it. The interview followed and was published in Film Comment.

* This a two-part interview with Tim Cawkwell, who wrote a book called The Filmgoer’s Guide to God. Tim Cawkwell’s Cinema is his own website for essays on a variety of films and directors. The interview is long and in two parts.

In part 2 they get on to Bresson proper. But it is worth reading the whole thing from the beginning.

One quote just to whet the appetite of those like me who ‘need to know’:

One of the most arresting things for me that Bresson said is in that famous Godard/Delahaye interview: He’s asked if he’s a Jansenist and he replies “Janséniste, alors, dans le sens de dépouillement…”, i.e. in the sense of “privation”. I think he means because he’s austere and not florid, not flamboyant. He’s a Jansenist in the sense that he has an austere, stark, subtractive style. If he wants to show someone opening a door, he shows a hand on the door handle. He doesn’t show the whole figure, or the whole door.
But immediately following that Bresson says Pascal is so "important for me". So he’s not really a Jansenist here. It’s Pascal who’s important for him. Then he adds “but he’s important for everybody” and you think, “Yes but how many people have read Pascal?”

The whole of the rest of part 2, at least a 1000 words, deals with Bresson, Jansenism, and Pascal. Which leads right back to what I said at the beginning of this post: a hunch from scant information that it was St. Augustine’s theology.

Cawkwell then goes on:

Pascal argues in favour of the theology of St Augustine. He rejects two groups, the Molinists — whom no-one’s ever heard of — who were followers of Cardinal Luis de Molina (1535-1600) and who argued that God has a conditional will to save all men generally. Pascal didn’t like this because it excludes God from free will. It makes it sound like all that humans have to do is to be good and deny evil and they’re saved, so why bother with God. And at the other extreme is Calvinism. In creating men and women, God made them by an absolute will without prediction of their merit. God sent Jesus to redeem those he wished to save and to give them his grace and salvation. And God deprives of grace all those he’s resolved to damn. Pascal calls this ’insupportable’ and he’s absolutely right. It’s dreadful. You couldn’t possibly go through the world thinking “I’m going to Hell, and there’s nothing I can do about it”.
Pascal follows the Augustinian position. Cutting a long story rather too short, he interprets this as God willing absolutely to save some people and willing conditionally to damn others; that salvation comes from the will of God and damnation from the will of man.

The rest of part 2 deals in detail both with the theology and an analysis of Bresson’s various films.

 

** page 45 of  Husserl’s Phenomenology by Dan Zahavi

explains epoché :

 

SNIP epoche explained


February 11, 2010 Posted by | art, film directors, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Robert Bresson, Ronald Bergan | | Leave a comment

ART Eugenie Scrase’s Trunkated Trunk



BBC TV 4-Part series, School of Saatchi.

The winner was Eugenie Scrase, with Trunkated Trunk.





In the first programme she introduced herself with a previous work consisting of a whistle attached by a short string to a towel rail. No one dare say it quite but she was clearly taking the piss*. It becomes how well an artist can keep a straight face while spieling more than anything else, nowadays, it seems.

*SEE He was taking the piss by Patrick West, NewStatesman 13 December 2004, a short piece on Duchamp’s Fountain on it being declared by a 2004 panel of art experts the most influential piece of modern art.

School of Saatchi: Episode 4 (final) (Blog: Arts in the right place)

My late entry for School of Saatchi:




Theory of Art 1.7



was created unconsciously/doodlingly while discussing**  Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain in connection with the  final part of  the TV programme School of Saatchi. The set up took 1 minute ( forgot to clean the specs…though the dirty lenses may be deemed significant in some way), the photograph 1 minute, and the download to PC a further 3 minutes.  Finally, within 10 minutes of ‘conception’,  I used my webcam in Skype to show my art to the person I was discussing Duchamp with.

If we tease out what can be called art – using the minds of philosophers as much as artists and art historians  – one of the first elements tp clear up should be the question, “Is the effort that goes into the art important?”

The time taken to think up and execute a work of art is not important aesthetically. But comparing a monumental sculpture that took a year to finish with a Picasso doodle whipped off in seconds, one usually ends up mentioning the titanic effort involved in the former, and the seemingly minimal effort in the latter, together with the assessment of the art as art.

{** I asserted the urinal was as much art as any other deemed so.  I suddenly saw something I had not thought of before: Duchamp chose an object (he had an almost infinite choice of designed and manufactured items) that would immediately repel but subsequently attract, somewhat akin the two heads/vase visual illusion. The urinal’s proper use (he teases us with a renaming in the title) makes us say first it cannot be art; those who then epoché this inescapable fact of response are able to accept that it is a beautiful object which has been chosen by the artist to demonstrate, in art, the difficultly of defining art.

The problem has been that a whole string of artists from then up to the present day have repeated, mostly less elegantly, what Duchamp did. Maybe they think they are saying something special with their art, but I don’t think for the most part they are: a found object is pretty much a found object in art philosophical terms.}

I wonder how many people see that the urinal is placed on its back and therefore being viewed from above?  Is that artistically significant? Perhaps there was no other way to place it on its pedestal without adding something that would detract from the simple lines of the object.




Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz



Wiki: Fountain (Duchamp) mentions Beatrice Woods point:

Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

Now that a lot more psychological-cognitive-neurological science has passed under the bridge this doesn’t quite seem so on the point. The urinal really is more like a visual illusion, flickering in our perception between what it is and what the artist is asking us to see it as (complicated by Duchamp using it as as an essay on What is art? at the same time) as well as playing games with the “R.Mutt  1917”).

The length of time it takes to produce what the artist is intent on producing shouldn’t have any bearing on its artistic quality. Though some artists take forever to finish a single painting – I particularly like the palimsest school: those who repeatedly paint, scrap off the paint and paint again – something found on the beach slipped in the pocket and later presented as art








is as much art as the skillfully painted painting, sculpted sculpture or film installation. That might be said to be because it is the finished object which is presented to us that counts. No sensible artist would present a half-finished painting or an incomplete installation.

The Standford Enclyclopedia of Philosophy has a comprehensive entry on The Definition of Art that begins:

The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy. Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy. The philosophical usefulness of a definition of art has also been debated.

One of its suggestions is that:

…the phenomena of art are, by their nature, too diverse to admit of the unification that a satisfactory definition strives for, or that a definition of art, were there to be such a thing, would exert a stifling influence on artistic creativity.

[SEE section 3. Skepticism about defintions]

I wonder if art students read such things, or even a dictionary definition of art.  If art students and artists do not philosophise about art….

The artist Michael Newberry


Blind



includes a set of aesthetic commentaries by various authors.

There is a link to a YouTube of  his A Manifesto.

In his essay Aesthetic Commentary: Post-Postmodern Art,  philosopher Stephen R. C. Hicks,   writes:

The art world had reached a dead end. When it looked out at the world through the eyes of Picasso and Munch, it saw nothing of value. When it looked at what the reductionists had produced, it saw that nothing uniquely artistic had survived. Collectively, the leading members of the art world had decided that art has no content, that it has no special media or techniques, and that the artist has no crucial role in the process. Art became nothing – or a statement of nothingness.

The summary conclusion was announced, infamously, by Marcel Duchamp.

Asked to submit something for display in 1917, Duchamp sent a urinal. Duchamp of course knew the history of art. He knew what had been achieved – how over the centuries art had been a powerful vehicle that called upon the highest development of the human creative vision and demanded exacting technical skill; and he knew that art had an awesome power to exalt the senses, the minds, and the passions of those who experience it. Duchamp reflected on the history of art and decided to make a statement. The artist is not a great creator – Duchamp went shopping at a plumbing store. The artwork is not a special object – it was mass-produced in a factory. The experience of art is not exciting and ennobling – at best it is puzzling and mostly leaves one with a sense of distaste. But over and above that, Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on.

Hicks then continues in the next paragraph:

Art by its nature is about the significant. To the extent that art is an expression of the artist’s being, it expresses what the artist thinks and feels to be significant. To the extent that art is an act of communication, it is a statement to an audience of what the artist thinks and feels to be important. When an artist decides to devote a week, a month, or a year or more of his life to creating This rather than That – he is saying that This is worth his time and effort. When the artist presents the results of his efforts to an audience, he is telling them that his creation is worthy of the time and effort of their contemplation. We do not waste our time on the insignificant or ask others to waste theirs – unless we wish to express the significant belief that nothing is significant.


Other sources

The Richard Mutt case: looking for Marcel Duchamps’ Fountain



December 16, 2009 Posted by | art, Duchamp | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ART Why is that art?



Why is that art? A review essay

by

Olga M. Hubard

International Journal of Education and the Arts



March 25, 2009 Posted by | art | | Leave a comment

Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay




asparagus-1880




My greatest pleasure was asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk.


Pinter interests me mostly because of his screenplays. Wiki: Harold Pinter lists them.

In 2007, I was checking out Proust and rediscovering and enjoying re-listening to my cassettes of the 1995 BBC Radio 3 version of The Proust Screenplay, which was never made into a film. Coming across Vermeer’s View of Delft recently has brought me back to my tapes and reawakened my fascination with how Pinter tackled Proust.

In 1972 Joseph Losey asked Pinter to do a screenplay. Pinter had written the screenplay for Losey’s, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967 and The Go-Between (1970 ). Writer, director, translator and BBC person, and Proustian, Barbara Bray was involved in the Proust project.

They say The Go-Between was his best, but my favourite Pinter adaptation, till learning of his Proust, was his adaptation of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), directed by the late Karel Reisz. Wiki: French Lieutenant’s Woman (film) explains the history of the script development. Not many people who loved the book thought the dual story idea effective. But Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as the actors does sort of take the role of the author’s interjections by forcing us to leave the story in a similar way.

Looking at Pinter’s later interpretation of Fowles might shed light on how he tackled Proust. These litnotes on the book may help if you are re-watching TFLW. I haven’t yet found a screenplay of TFTW. And so far, I’ve not come across anything substantial online about Pinter and Fowles. All in due course.

As transcribed from the audio tape the first few lines of The Proust Screenplay, adapted for radio by Michael Blakemore, aired on BBC Radio 3, 24 December 1995, illustrates a sparkling nodule of Pinter’s genius as a screenwriter:

{ [..] is actual sounds not narration. }

YELLOW SCREEN

[sound of bell]

OPEN COUNTRYSIDE. A LINE OF TREES SEEN FROM A RAILWAY CARRIAGE. THE TRAIN IS STILL.

NO SOUND.

MOMENTARY YELLOW SCREEN.

THE SEA SEEN FROM A HIGH WINDOW. A TOWEL HANGING ON A TOWEL RACK IN FOREGROUND.

NO SOUND.

VENICE. WINDOW ON A PALAZZO SEEN FROM A GONDOLA.

NO SOUND.

MOMENTARY YELLOW SCREEN.

THE DINING ROOM AT BALBEC. NO SOUND. EMPTY

EXTERIOR OF THE HOUSE AT THE PLACE DE GEURMANTE, PARIS 1921. AFTERNOON. A MIDDLE-AGED MAN, MARCEL, WALKS TOWARDS THE HOUSE.

In the middle of writing this post, I have acquired the book, which has the beginning:

1. Yellow screen. Sound of a garden gate bell.
2. Open countryside, a line of trees, seen from a railway carriage. The train is still. Quick fade out.
3. Momentary yellow screen.
4. The sea, seen from a high window, a towel hanging on a towel rack in foreground. No sound. Quick fade out.
5. Momentary yellow screen.
6. Venice. A window in a Palazzo, seen from a gondola. No sound. Quick fade out.
7. Momentary yellow screen.
8. The dining room at Balbec. No sound. Empty.

#

If I had been set the task of writing the screenplay and was re-reading the book and around the subject, coming across The Death of Bergotte {The Captive}, one of Proust’s alter egos, and that his second to last dying words were,

“Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall.”

I doubt I would have come up with that yellow screen. Possibly a scene with Bergotte uttering the words as he sank down on the settee, but not a screen full of yellow!

When you learn {1}, what Proust thought of the painting and see the words Bergotte is made to utter it is not hard to see why Pinter found it irresistible.

And it was important to find such a key because  A la Researche is much concerned with art and the Arts as well as being the journey a writer travels in time and memory to get to the point where he at last decides to begin writing. It’s a literary conceit for such a man as Bergotte to think of an artifact, a human creation – something at one remove from life yet as real to him – rather than a person or event or even some equivalent of Denis Potter’s “blossomiest blossoms“. But it works for me. Or, maybe if we look up famous last words, thinking of a painting might not be uncommon. Perhaps we should all have one ready in case we get mown down by that big red bus: “The Girl in the P….”

Pinter’s screenplay (not the working script – we don’t really know what would have gone into final cut of the Losey film, let alone what anyone else who might have tried it after Losey would have made of it) eschews the detailed art and art aesthetic which saturates the book, except in so much as the film itself would have compactly demonstrated, visually, much of what Proust believed about art.

There is some dialogue or voiced thought about art. A Botticelli is mentioned to compare a woman to. There is brief dialogue such as

CHARLES HAVE YOU MET THIS YOUNG MAN?

I HAD NOT SEEN SWANN FOR A LONG TIME. AND ASKED MYSELF WHETHER IN THE OLD DAYS HE USED TO CLIP HIS MUSTACHE. FOR I FOUND IN HIM SOMETHING ALTERED. IT WAS INDEED THAT HE HAD GREATLY ALTERED BECAUSE HE WAS VERY ILL.

HOW DO YOU DO.

I’M AMAZED THAT YOU REMEMBER ME SIR.

OF COURSE I DO. OF COURSE I DO.

ARE YOUR PEOPLE WELL?

THEY ARE THANK YOU.

[Guermantes]

CHARLES, YOU’RE AN EXPERT, I WANT YOU OPINION OF THIS PAINTING. WHAT DO THINK OF IT? I’VE JUST SWOPPED IT FOR A COUPLE OF MONET’S. I THINK IT MIGHT BE A VERMEER. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

DIFFICULT TO SAY…

OH, COME ON, WE ALL KNOW YOU’RE AN EXPERT. YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK ABOUT VERMEER, AREN’T YOU?

HARDLY A BOOK. JUST AN ARTICLE ABOUT ONE PAINTING.

VIEW OF DELFT?

YES.

MARCEL: THAT PATCH OF YELLOW WALL..

YES.

PATCH? WHAT PATCH MARCEL?

MARCEL! [me: Swann recognises Marcel] OF COURSE!

MARCEL: I THINK IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PAINTING IN THE WORLD.

[G:] I’VE PROBABLY SEEN IT. BUT ANYWAY, CHARLES, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THIS PAINTING WAS.

[S:] A BAD JOKE.

OH, WOULD YOU.

Pinter includes his version of the Red Shoes scene after this dialogue.

I haven’t yet found in the Pinter script a full-blown Proustian rumination on life and art, but the way Marcel responds to his environment, for example in the repeated shots of the steeples (and three trees) and how from the train they change their positions relative to each other, is the mind of the artist (whether writer or painter, who knows exactly?) at work, as much as it is a man comparing what he sees with what he remembers seeing.

Stanley Kauffmann in an article, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu: The Proust Screenplay, re-published in 2005 when Pinter received the Nobel prize (and originally published in 1977),  asserts it is “incomparably the best screen adaptation ever made of a great work”, and explains this has been achieved by “deliberate omission and imaginative recomposition.”

The play of the film of the novel explains how Pinter’s script eventually ended up in a stage version. I’d like to see the working script of that.

It bears repeating: there is probably not a screenwriter in the world who, handed Proust with a brief for a standard length film, would not start at the beginning, or soon after, with some lesser image, perhaps of the pesky dunk your madeleine episode, in the belief that it crystallised the essence of Proust. Pinter saw it differently. He didn’t fall for it. In the book the tea cake doesn’t start Swann’s Way, but it is near the beginning [ p.50]. Pinter resists, with the merest tinkling of a spoon by a waiter at the house at the Place de Guermante hinting at, but not telegraphing, an activation Marcel’s involuntary memory.

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A page with the View of Delft with the virtual magnifying glass is re-linked here.  There is a post in didyktile, a little patch of yellow, which has both a brief explanation of Proust/Bergotte and the Vermeer, and two versions View of Delft, one which expands to full size, the other which shows the right section where the yellow wall might be. There is also a link to the Web galley of Art, which includes Vermeer. It’s an obsession with one sunlit yellow wall (or two, or three) but it might be instructive to look at the others and wonder if Proust might have taken as much interest in light in Vermeer as a whole.

There is a newer “petite pan de mure jaune” at the exceedingly good essential Vermeer.com

For more Vermeer light there is a slide-show of 38 Vermeer paintings at Slideshare.

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Many who have not read Proust might be surprised by how much art is in the book. The blogroll in Moleskine Modality has a section on Proust, including links to the individual Gutenberg e-books. If you don’t fancy reading the whole lot but want to get an idea of the art in Proust, check out the e-texts using FIND in your browser.

But what to search on? ‘Artistic’ does a pretty good job of getting close to the sections of the text where Proust waxes about art or the Arts. But take this review, Pictures worth a thousand words, of Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust, published in 2008, and make a list of some of the paintings mentioned in A la Researche, et voila vous êtes dans l’action. Note the drawing by Paul Helleu of Proust on his deathbed. On the NYT review page there is slide show of four of the paintings in Proust, with quote from The Book. Look at the first one and you’re in Balbec on the beach, courtesy of Whistler!

Another review of the Karpele in New Statesman, The eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, is also a source of painters names (and about Proust and art).

An interview with Lorenzo Renzi, author of  Proust and Vermeer: An Apologia of Imprecision, gives more fascinating suggestions including the observation that he tends to go for nature and landscapes and that View of Delft was Vermeer’s only exterior.

In Consciousness, art and the brain: Lessons from Marcel Proust [a .pdf file] Russell Epstein looks at Proust as the first neuroscientist. Proust’s approach to art is explained clearly and concisely.

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Time Regained mentions a translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies seen on the bookshelves of Baron Charlus. Proust translated the book into French with the help of his mother who was better at English than he was.

Marcel Proust – Ephemera site
has English translations of Proust on Ruskin, an obituary of Ruskin, and much more.

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Pinter is the voice of the screenplay in the BBC Radio version, which was adapted for radio by Michael Bakewell.  That deep-voiced narrator of the script really does make it special. After all he wrote it. Let’s hope the BBC re-air it as part of the inevitable retrospective of his plays and the films he scripted. And that someone gets the it out on DVD, pronto.

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So if Marcel (and Proust mentioned the smell of asparagus in his own chamber pot as perfume) gets excited about asparagus, why not start with a flash of a close up of a painting (which turns out to be a Manet) of an asparagus instead of yellow representing the Vermeer?

Karpele gives a nice example of how Proust could twist his own encounters with art to the ends he needed for his novel. His friend Ephrussi once admired Manet’s small painting A Bunch of Asparagus (1880). In his eagerness to purchase the work, Ephrussi sent the artist 200 francs more than the asking price of 800. Manet responded by dashing off and dispatching to him a picture of a single stalk of asparagus to even things up.

Paintings in Proust reproduces both images with a passage from Le Côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way). This third volume of the novel was Proust’s attack on the shallowness of French upper-class society, embodied by the aristocratic Guermantes family. Here, the Duc de Guermantes is incensed at the suggestion that he should buy a painting of a bunch of asparagus. The price, he declares, is extortionate. “Three hundred francs for a bundle of asparagus! A louis, that’s as much as they are worth, even early in the season.” With the same paintings as touchstones, Ephrussi’s gesture of generosity has been transformed into a parable about the tight-fisted philistinism of the aristocracy.



[Source: The Eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, New Statesman, 16, October 2008]


For additional information about asparagus, Proust and artistic inspiration read what there is of the GoogleBook of:

By Ulrich Finke

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Pinter decided on a well-lit patch of yellow on a famous painting to represent Proust’s aesthetic concerns (and of course, memory). What a pity we cannot see it expressed in a completed film of Pinter’s screenplay, which will surely have gone beyond the screenplay in the process of trying to make yellow filling the frame of the camera, and the screen, and the few flashed of yellow thereafter, and what flowed from it in the script, realisable cinematographically. It has to be shown to relate to Bergotte in some way, and yet on my listening (the book of the script in on the way to check) the patch of yellow could be connected to Marcel the narrator and Marcel the character. Well, yes you say, it is, because Marcel the narrator considers Bergotte the novelist. Yes, but whose memory is the yellow patch? Bergotte’s. So either Pinter didn’t get that bit – not likely – or he knew he had to show (in a few flashes) the connection between Bergotte’s dying words and Marcel/Marcel’s examination of Vermeer.

Tom Lubbock in examining Vermeer’s View of Delft, does it from the Proust angle, says:

The passage suggests that the little patch all by itself, the sheer precious substance of its painting, so dense and luminous, is what transfixes Bergotte. But the picture suggests otherwise. It’s only within the whole view that this patch – suddenly brighter and purer than you’d expect, and with its yellow animated by the adjacent reds and blues (Vermeer always a great one for the primaries) – blazes out. It’s not a self-sufficient and extractable gem. It’s an integrated effect, a climactic note.

In other words, Bergotte dies under an illusion. His illusion is normal enough. With any climactic note, we tend to feel that it can be isolated and extracted – that its power and preciousness lie somehow within itself, rather than depending on that to which it is a climax.

But this is why it’s such a good image of the man’s fading consciousness and will to live. Bergotte wants to see this detail as a separately precious thing, something he can isolate and grasp in his hand. Yet he can’t – any more than can hold on to this last precious moment of his life.

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A lesser man than Pinter might have ended up with :

CLOSE UP OF MANET’S “SINGLE ASPARAGUS”

BRUSH STROKES CLEARLY VISIBLE.

[SOUND OF BELL]

etc.

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Georges Bataille: “The solitary asparagus of Manet is not a still life like others: although still, it is, at the same time, lively.”

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(Buy all your favourite art images from Allposters) – that’s where the single asparagus painting came from.)

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There are wonderful things to play with online for writers trying out ideas. Here, for example, at Research Project- Painting Techniques of Impressionism and Post-impressionism, it is possible to closely examine the string tying Manet’s Still Life with Asparagus. I wonder what Pinter might have made of that! Check out the full report in the ‘pdf. There are sets of amazing close-ups of the textures of the painting.

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It will be apparent, if you have got this far, that the impetus for my Notes on Pinter’s Proust gathers around the question of questions : [1] Can Proust be adapted to film or radio? (The Book is the Book, and that is that, etc.), [2] In what way has Proust been adapted, [3] What is the best medium for an adaptation? [4] Can one judge the quality of Pinter’s or anyone else’s adaptation of Proust without understanding Proust? (Well of course not, but there are things to grasp in a film of Proust without a complete understanding, which I do not claim to possess.)

The All-England Summarise Proust Competition.

A worthwhile Proustian digression in the search for lost answers to these questions, particularly Q.4, is the In Our Time BBC Radio 4 programme on Proust.

One of the the experts on the programme, Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English at Queen Mary College, London, in talking about her novel Albertine, touches on some of the problems of adapting Proust through changing him. I picked up on one phrase which I think is useful both in looking at the novel, its interpretation, and in adapting the story: “……the expectations of a Proust-literate readership.”

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And, now, for something completely outstanding, the more traditional (non-Pinter) BBC radio adaptation. This is not a Pinteresque interpretation, and yet, and yet, can the adapters not have spent some time enjoying the Pinter radio version? It follows the story faithfully and in detail. Get a few minutes in to it, and one should be saying to oneself this is the medium to do it in. Why bother attempting film?

The Pinter screenplay as radio was effective. But why hasn’t someone had a go at making the film or as TV (yes….)? And then we could compare the results. Even if brilliantly done, it would be of limited interest: mostly to those who had already read the book, or at least attempted it, or, even less at least, who had read about it and knew the main characters, author’s intent and how it was achieved. [….pretentious but lazy readers.]

Perhaps film is useless in getting over the story Proust wrote. Any attempt at brevity simply sending the viewer of the film who didn’t know the basics into a spiral of increasing incomprehension.

There is the Jeremy Iron’s Swann’s Way. But that’s a cop-out because Swann’s Way is regarded as the easy option.

There is Raoul Ruiz’s Time Regained, starring Catherine Deneuve, based on the final book, Le Temp Retrouve. The article which lists other film attempts and scripts, including one for Visconti, reckons the Ruiz did a reasonable job.

“In filmmaking, like in painting you have the story and you have the picture. In the story, one thing comes after another. In a picture everything happens all at the same time. I thought what was worthwhile from the filmmaking point of view in
Proust was the fact that these two functions are reversed. We expect Proust to basically tell a story and he produces a picture. He tells us about very intense moments in a minimalist way. And when expect him to produce a picture he tells it to you. He sees someone standing still and then tells you all about the story behind that person. That’s what the film depicts. I would have liked to have done even better but that aspect is indeed a priority in the film. We have this strange Proustian emotion which fascinates many people including me. One is moved, you don’t know why. You feel like crying. And you don’t know why. Nothing serious has actually happened.”

Raoul Ruiz

Reading Kevin Hagopian in Film Notes: Time Regained, discussing the Ruiz, it is clear one better assesses what the Pinter could have been through other attempts to bring the book to life in film. Simply: one needs to study the films made so far to re-assess the Pinter script.

Then there is Chantal Akerman’s La Captive.

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The Pinter radio adaptation doesn’t represent what it would be as film. The narrative voice provided by Pinter himself gives much more orally delivered information that the film would do. For example, would dates and Marcel’s age be included on screen? When you hear Pinter say, “Marcel aged 21”, you forget that this might not be in the film.

Proust in the novel is perfect: in film almost impossible: through radio very acceptable. Proust filtered through another fiction {=meta-meta-fiction} – novel or film – is likely to be even more successful than radio renderings which attempt faithful renderings. That is purely and simply because there is no obligation to present “the case for Proust” in full through another novel. Characters can quote Proust, discuss Proust, claim Proust effects (or effected) their lives, without the novelist – who may be a kind of Proust the narrator/Marcel the narrator if he wishes – claiming to be adapting or ‘doing’ Proust. Is this not what the attempts at film have tried to do? Well, not quite. Pinter’s screenplay and the BBC 6 -parter tried the whole, in different ways, others have tried parts.

I argue the imagined Pinter film would be almost exclusively for a restricted niche audience defined by those already mentioned categories of people (readers of the book and those who know what it was about but who either hadn’t finished it or had given up), rather than by people who didn’t have any pre-knowledge of the story. This is not to say that un-Proustian ignoramuses would get nothing out of the film of Pinter’s script (or from the more recent Proust films), but it would almost certainly be too little about Proust’s book. Certainly the non-Pinter BBC radio series worked well, in part because it was an almost oral-aural ‘transcription’ made possible by its length.

I love radio, and I think Proust would see the point of an aural meta-filter through which we the listeners have to re-construct his characters and absorb the ideas. In my view, the complexity – both of structure and ideas – comes over better in the listening than in reading. This may be about how the brain retains and organises. All we need is a 36 hour word-for-word radio version to prove the point.

But there will be an argument there – because Proust is also examining what is possible in the novel, in his novel, as well as the other things he is attempting – that this aural/text choice is mere preference. A test is to try a very long, difficult passage from the book and its equivalent in the BBC 6-parter (if there is one…). The audio might be somewhat filleted, but it might still be a reasonable comparison. Try to find a section of the serial that is pretty intact. I’ll have a try.

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Can radio or film can do the better job?

Despite the fact that Pinter’s Proust was written filmically, unless a film is the length of Bela Tarr’s Satantango, it won’t truly reflect the book. The BBC radio adaptation is roughly 6 hours long and in some ways comes near to the book because long stretches of complex combinations of action and thought are woven into it. As an example, the part in Time Regained where Marcel overhears soldiers talking was very well done in the radio version, with all sorts of overlaps, both in conversations and in memory and thought.

Another candidate in the audio category (a strong contender for ultimate Proust medium after text), is Neville Jason’s Naxos production. Here he writes about his Proust: Life and Work of Marcel Proust. Putting his and the BBC radio 6-parter in a head-to-head might be instructive. I haven’t listened to the Jason, but an extract in a radio interview he did a few years ago, shows he did all the parts himself. If you don’t like his voice, it will not save his version no matter however well filleted and done. The BBC radio serial with a great cast, is really beautifully done. Corin Redgrave as Charlus.

A personal note: I used to see Neville with his thick sheaves of paper when he came to his holiday home in Norfolk. I had no idea he was working on an audio abridgement. Nor that he took 6 years on the project. I knew he was an actor and I once said I was writing something. He volunteered to read my stuff. Maybe I should have overcome my fears and let him have a look. If he managed to abridge Proust satisfactorily he could have planned and organised the Normany landings in 1944 all by himself.

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Emily Zants, a retired professor, has put online what she calls an adaptation of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, titled The Social Aquarium.

Those of you who know your Proust (again: by direct immersion or secondhand) will immediately lock into the Balbec restaurant scene in the Zants. Why, you might be asking, didn’t Pinter use that? Yellow screen? What’s the point of that? Aquarium. Now, that’s more like it: fish, different types, each analogs of people in the restaurant and, by implication, each exemplar radiating out, reflecting other characters and character types in the novel. What was Pinter thinking? How can he possibly have missed it? Well, he didn’t: there is section in which Marcel complains about the people in the restaurant, but we do not know how the film of Pinter might have presented this visually.

An answer to the problem of what to emphasis in a compacted, re-imagined Proust is succinctly explained by Claude Reich, a reviewer in the Amazon site of the new book on Proust’s art by Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust (Thames & Hudson, £25), is:

[This book is all the more important to the understanding of Proust as] he himself acknowledged that “La Recherche” was a work whose theme was the birth of an artistic vocation in the narrator’s soul, the novel itself being the result of this birth. He {Proust} also wrote that ” my book is a painting”

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Pinter read the book, read about the book, read the experts, debated with Proustians like Barbara Bray [pdf], {2} and then decided this was a book about art as much – no, more than – the ethology of French aristocratic society (and Dreyfus) at the turn of the 20th. century. And yet, his screenplay in dialogue concentrates mostly on Marcel, family and the elite! No way round it. So we are left only with the art being represented visually: both art and Marcel’s observation of things that he, in effect, tells us are indistinguishable from art, things that arise from within himself as a word expression of art itself.

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Film: Proust: time-waster? tells us a little of the process Pinter went through which I have up till now guessed at.

“Working on A la Recherche was the best working year of my life,” Pinter later claimed. He had steeped himself in Proust, visiting the author’s old haunts and taking copious notes while reading the book. “For three months I read A la recherche every day … but was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task of such magnitude.”

Nevertheless, the critics admired his adaptation. “It’s a beautiful working model in which Proust’s million-and-a-half words have been brought lucidly down to 455 shots,” enthused the New Statesman, but no financiers were found to bring that tidy model to life.

The article by Goeffrey Macnab, deals with Pinter in the context of films that have been made.

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Though Farms, trees, and bell-towers: The “hidden meaning” of triads in Proust’s “recherche”, is just an extract, there is enough to see again Pinter’s script, to re-enter Pinter’s preoccupations with Proust. I will add here the script sections reiteration of the three trees, three spires, seen at different times, or remembered, when the book of the script arrives, which should be any day now.

93.

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Proust’s novel is about other things apart from memory, time and art such as photography (in the sense of mechanical capture and reproducibility), speed (he had a chauffeur driven car in which he whizzed hither and thither) and possibly film (though many say not, that he was not a great watcher of films, the book certainly reads like film). This summary of The Aesthetics of the Windshield: Proust and the Modernist Rhetoric of Speed, gives a hint of where that goes.

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Returning, finally, to Pinter’s Proust – an encomium – it may seem the little patch of yellow was the thing on which he hung his whole adaptation. Not true. There are more little bells than yellow screens in the script. To see what he is doing, listening to the audio version is a clearer way of showing the whole process. In a clever Pavlovian trick, he links the yellow to the sound of the bell, then leaves the yellow behind, till, right at the end he brings it back.

The bells are the sound of the garden gate at Combray. This sound is in turn linked to

…Was not nature herself from this point of view, on the track of art, was she not the beginning of art, she who often only permitted me to realise the beauty of an object long afterwards in another, mid-day at Combray only through the sound of its bells, …

and Marcel’s (and Proust’s) bed-side bell.

Marcel at the end of Time Regained:

…I had jumped out of bed and had stood in my nightshirt
by the window through which the moonlight shone, until I heard M.
Swann go away. My parents had accompanied him, I had heard the door open, the sound of bell and closing door. At that very moment, in the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, I heard the sound of my parents’ footsteps and the metallic, shrill, fresh echo of the little bell which announced M. Swann’s departure and the coming of my mother up the stairs; I heard it now, its very self, though its peal rang out in the far distant past. ‘Then thinking of all the events which intervened between the instant when I had heard it and the Guermantes’ reception I was terrified to think that it was indeed that bell which rang within me still, without my being able to abate its shrill sound, since, no longer remembering how the clanging used to stop, in order to learn, I had to listen to it and I was compelled to close my ears to the conversations of the masks around me. To get to hear it close I had again to plunge into myself. So that ringing must always be there and with it, between it and the present, all that indefinable past unrolled itself which I did not know I had within me. When it rang I already existed and since, in order that I should hear it still, there could be no discontinuity, I could have had no instant of repose or of non-existence, of nonthinking, of non-consciousness, since that former instant clung to me, for I could recover it, return to it, merely by plunging more deeply into myself. It was that notion of the embodiment of Time, the inseparableness from us of the past that I now had the intention of bringing strongly into relief in my work.

And let us not forget Pinter’s waiter’s spoon. And so marvel at his yellow screen. And bells.

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Maybe Proust before the culture machine by Michael Naas [Culture Machine, Vol 1 (1999) ] will find itself a better niche in these notes later. For the meantime, let them rest here.


asparagus-in-autumn


Asparagus leaves in autumn



February 7, 2009 Posted by | art, Literature, screenplay | , , , , | 1 Comment

Concentrating on Kieslowski: A second viewing of Three Colours Blue



This post is not really for those who have not seen the film.

kieslowski

I’m always shooting the same film!    [..] authors are always writing the same book.





Blue for the second time, a week later, and all the extras in the Artificial Eye DVD of Three Colours. Editor Jacques Witta [2} {3} , says at one point Red should follow Blue.  After watching all three for the first time in the standard order, I felt that too, before seeing Wittas’ comment — mostly because White was not a film I really want to watch all through again so soon, and then maybe only to run through certain sections. And despite each film overlapping at certain points and Red having an ending which recapitulates all three films.  Without knowing the main character in White, the end of Blue would be harder to understand, but the reason for wanting Red to follow Blue is as much about it needing greater examination.  Some reading had suggested it was harder.

I have a tendency to watch a film cinematographically, missing many story details. I find it very easy to be caught up with some technical aspect or structural element of the plot: perhaps sets of equivalences, or counter-currents created through image and voice-over, or image and music.  I made up my mind, when watching Blue the second time, to focus on the story and the cinematography equally: to make sure not to miss anything in the story; to revisit the technicalities I was now familiar with:  I knew when and where they were coming.

I could tell you the story all the way through now in detail – not true the first time through concentrating too hard on film-making and aesthetics. Even after the first viewing, despite Three Colours: Blue being so highly praised – a master work – it might, despite its artistic merits, the blueness might be seen as clunkily executed: as if film technique stood proud from the storyline. The question is whether Kieslowski could have made Blue without the blueness. Or Red without the red. Do we really want red cars and shops signs?

There may be an inherent tendency, in the response to any film, to flip from total absorption and acceptance to awareness of technique, and back. The director may want you to do this.  I like the idea of being deliberately distracted and having to force myself back to what matters, whether is is in prose, poetry, music, art or film. In this film, for example, suffusing the whole field of view with blue in the swimming pool scenes, the brain cannot not but become occupied with the fact of the director is choosing to telegraph an emotion or interior state, while at the same time trying to examine the actor trying to express the emotion. The thing about film is that colour filters can be used so they will be used!  If a writer tried to prime his reader with “The whole scene was suffused with blue..” or “Julie felt her whole world turn blue…” it would never be considered technique in the way that using some cinematographic trick can be. The written expression of an interior state is often much more successfully executed than a filmic representation of it. With film, the immediate distinction between a filter put between viewer and actor in a scene as a device, and it being meant to signify something interior is not always immediately obvious.

As Scott Deskin says here of Red,

It has little to do with the vague symbolic notion of the French virtues that are supposed to make each film cohere, but it is enjoyable and emotionally satisfying.

In Blue, the blue motif is expressed in the use of blue camera filters, blue objects and blue reflections {listed in James Berardinelli’s review}. There can be moments – as I felt in the second viewing – when you tend to be leap-frogging from blue to blue and so not totally enfolded, immersed, in the story.  There is nonetheless a clever three-for-one: the clever, artistically satisfying use of blue, plus the automatic psychological and emotional response to the use of blue for telegraphing for mood, plus the understanding of meaning and how it fits into the main character’s feelings and responses. This is what makes Kieslowski a master.  In this interview Kieslowski gives insights into how he saw himself as a film-maker, which seem relevant to understanding what Kieslowski ends up with in his finished films.

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In the first viewing, certain features caught my attention, such as the fades to black and the way the music was played out loud, but was meant (I thought obvious to anyone, but maybe I’m wrong) to be in the heads of Julie and her husband’s composing associate Olivier as they ran fingers along scores.  I was impressed by this finger following the score, because I can’t read music.  And yet, in the simple music played, I was able to!

You get two for one: the music is on the soundtrack, but you are being shown (not told) there is really silence in the room as the two composers imagine the music from the score. If one can do that, how magical! And how impressive that film can show it in a way a novel probably can’t. I can’t play a tune in my head, so I was wondering what it was they were ‘hearing’ when they looked at the score.  A hint there of deaf Beethoven composing and playing without hearing his own music. And the notion of one being what one leaves behind, heightened here by it being beautiful music. Plus, as if there were an argument here in a visual explanation, of music allowing one to get as close to a dead person as anything, or maybe more: can writing, a diary, a painting, or some photographs or some home-video without the sound do as good a job? A viewer might watch that and be asking what she is going to leave behind and how it will be responded to.

Here, something I took up in looking at Bela Tarr’s long takes,  that slow film allows the viewer to escape from the film being watched. The fast-cut action movie is not designed for this, except in that one might identify with the hero or anti-hero.  In a slow movie there is space for individual, personal, interior journeys. The great director builds this into a film. Kieslowski says he is happy with there being many interpretations of his films. SEE again the interview.

To me, a sub-story in Blue is a treatise on music itself and how wonderful it must be to compose. Other things too, such as music being a greater solace, a greater stirrer of emotions than other art,

What passion cannot music raise and quell!  ~  John Dryden

than other human artefacts.  (Music is prominent in the earlier The Double Life of Veronique: the Polish Weronik, a singer; the French Veronique, a music teacher. There is the fictional composer, van den Mayer who reappears later in Red). Kieslowski himself, in the extras on this Three Colours DVD talks of his obsession with the idea that the notes are out there in the world, and so it shouldn’t be surprising (the pavement flute-player sequences in Blue reprising this from Veronique.) that the same or similar music would be sure to pop up, convergently, in different places.

Whether others might have picked up on the music the greatest of the arts theme, I don’t know. I see that if your going to leave something behind, music is a good bet. But it is more: that music is inherently more emotional than, say, art or literature. It optimally – or maximally – serves the interests of the plot in reviving the natural feelings of Julie the widow.  Perhaps others might concentrate on the music itself and the themes underlying its use in the film, such as Julie at last being able to bear to read a score her dead husband created, (at the beginning of the film she is intent on throwing his scores away) and to take up again her own creativity through it, which at the beginning seemed to unbearable because it heightened realisation of her loss.

SEE Gareth Rees in this short summary and comment on Blue.

#

Dan Schneider reviews Blue from a Miramax version of the set, which includes an extra not in the Artificial Eye version: comment by Kieslowski ‘expert’ Annette Insdorf.  Take to heart his remarks:

It is a very bad commentary, one of the worst I’ve heard. Like many of the worst Kieslowski critics, she expends far too much energy alternately masturbating over filmic minutia, and over-analyzing it to the point of absurdity. As example, she speaks of the blackout moments only coming to Kieslowski in the editing stage of the film, and not being in the original screenplay – an interesting observation, but goes into no greater depth as to the significance of the moments, nor how their provenance has any relation to the moments themselves. She similarly goes on and on about far too many other differences between the screenplay and the finished film, rather than detailing what is actually on-screen.

but don’t let puzzling over matters of fade to black over story line seem trivial, if that’s what you’re into.  Films like Kieslowski’s are always as much about film as a particular film: about what one sets out to achieve and the end result. Kieslowski himself often talks about this. To be honest, when seeing Julie’s first blackout – realising the face at the moment before the fade reappeared a few seconds later in exactly the same position – it was not obvious to me this represented Julie having a blackout.  I thought at first it was a devise to hold up the narrative.  (I think, but can’t be sure, having read around the film so much, that I also thought, on first viewing, this was something that came at the editing stage not in the script. This is mentioned by the French editor in the extras.)  Why Julie’s face hadn’t moved on when it came back seemed to be wrong!  Why wasn’t she a bit further on….as in when you find you have driven up to a road junction and entered the traffic, with no clear recollection afterwards of whether you looked left or right before joined the flow of traffic or how you changed the gears. If  that’s Osessive Film Minutiae Syndrome, I plead guilty.

DS also says of Insdorf:

…there is a preciousness and superficiality to the whole commentary, as if we are watching a miracle occur, rather than an explicable work of art.

{My emphasis}

Sometimes it can seem we are watching a miracle and a work of art. Sometimes neither miracles or works of art can be explained completely.

#

There are two distinct strand of film-watcher, those who are completely story orientated, for whom cinematography is irrelevant or of minimal interest – what did it mean, how did it say it, was it well told – and those who are interested in how film is used to do the telling, as against how prose might do it.  There is no rule you can’t combine examinining the cinematographic technique while you are understanding the story, or even watch one film in different modes at different times.

#

Watching Kieslowski make me wonder about whether it is possible just by watching a film, to know if it was an original script or a script based on a book.

#

There are novels it has proved hard or impossible to translate into film. Mann’s The Magic Mountain is often cited. There was an English language TV adaptation,  and a 1982 German effort, (IMDb) Der Zauberberg, and there are quite a few scripts that lie gathering dust. The comment in the IMDb covers the dilemma well.

#

In the UK, on BBC2 TV, there have been two documentaries on loss, grief and mourning: Michael Portillo’s Death of a Schoolfriend and Moran Mathew’s three-hour long The Fallen shown on Saturday 15 November 2008.  For me these are handy companion pieces to Kieslowski’s Blue.  One, because they show the different approaches to mourning and loss in documentary and fiction, and, two, the documentaries show the elements from which a director like Kieslowski could create a character like Julie.

Coincidently, Gary Findon,  Portillo’s school friend who took his own life at 15, was both a talented musician and had composed. More striking is how his teenage compositions were thought lost, possibly burnt by his father in an attempt to blot out the memory of his lost son. The scores were found by Mrs. Findon on top of a cupboard during filming. The last scene is Gary’s younger brother, a flautist, playing for the first time one of Gary’s compositions to the parents.  They have spent 35 years trying to bury Gary’s memory, but now in their later years have been able to do what Julie does in the film! There is a question, therefore, as to how Julie is able to turn her life around so quickly. Kieslowski’s answer is in the words of her dead husband’s now finished “Song for the Unification of Europe”, with words from 1 Corinthians 13, in Greek. There is an earlier scene where Julie and Olivier are collaborating on the unfinished score. She picks a  book off the shelf and shows him where the words come from: 1 Corinthians 13.

Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s film Three Colors: Blue (1993) draws many images and themes from 1 Corinthians 13, including allusions to appearances (“seeing through a glass”) and musical sounds. The Song for the Unification of Europe at the center of the story sets an abridged version of the original Greek text.

The rhythm of the Greek fits the music.

In a previous scene – Julie confronts her husband’s lover, Sandrine, who she only learns about after his death – she sees that Sandrine has learnt from him that she, Julie, is always capable of love, as in agape.

The Fallen shows a  kaleidoscope of ways in which members of the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan cope with their loss. It also shows a common thread in people not being able to forget and not being able to stop crying. Gary’s parents, too, admit on film they continued to mourn his loss, with in tears, for 35 years.

refs.

Kieslowski

Three Colours Blue

A review by Noel Magahey, which includes three still from the Artificial Eye DVD:

(1) Julie/Binoche in swimming pool with hands over ears, to block out the sound of the music she is hearing in her head!

(2) Face of Julie/ Binoche: in the extras or elsewhere, Binoche explains that she did not think it necessary for her to be shown naked in the love scenes. Hence, here about to make love to Olivier, she is shown framed from shoulder up exactly as it is in the film.

(3) Famous sugar cube shot. In the AI extras, Kieslowki uses this shot in a master class to discuss length of shot. He explains that a normal cube might take 7 or  8 seconds to such up the coffee, so he obtained on which did it in 4 .5 seconds.  What he doesn’t say is the whole scene – cut to cut – takes about 8 seconds. This would explain why he wants only 3 or 4 seconds for the imbibition!

(4) One of the shots of a music score, showing the pin focus and blurring around as the score is scanned by the camera, so that (presumably) only the notes being ‘heard’ are in focus.

His summary: a film of great beauty – in image, in coherence of concept and in brilliance of execution. It is the work of a true and undisputed master of the cinema.

Demystifying Three Colours Blue

by Anthony Leong

A detailed  review

Kino Kieslowski

links to dissertations, article and poetry

Links to reviews from IBDb

Blue

Review Roger Ebert

Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red (1993-1994)

Review Roger Ebert

Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue: Not Merely An Essay On Grief

Jugu Abraham

Analysis of the opening of Kieslowski’s film, Trois Coleurs: Bleu
By Matthew Sharpe

Three Colors: Blue

A Film Review by James Berardinelli

Three Colors Blue

Review by Dan Schneider

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So

A Film Review by James Berardinelli   (The DVD has a documentary with this title filmed by Kieslowski’s friend)

Edinburgh Film Society have reviews of Three Colours as a whole and individual reviews of each film.

Film

What is a Plot Point?




November 17, 2008 Posted by | art, film directors, film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Music | , | Leave a comment

Woman with a Hat – Henri Matisse



Madame Matisse’s Hat by T J Clarke in London Review of Books, August 2008



August 20, 2008 Posted by | art | | Leave a comment

Wood on Chekhov



What Chekhov Meant by Life by James Wood

Catching up on some of the newest links in 3 Quarks, saw mention of Wood’s essay in

Nobody’s a CriticOr they’re at least terrified to be one.

The Wood was not linked to but luckily the title came up in a Google.



July 18, 2008 Posted by | art, criticism, fiction, Literature, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Jacob Collins



Jacob Collins

An essay by James Panero in The New Criterion, Radical un-chic, introduced me to Collins.

Rather than just write, “I know what I like”, in a semi-disguised way, here is a 2006 interview with the artist himself, also from New Criterion.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | art | Leave a comment

The Fourth Hunger


Art, humanity and the ‘fourth hunger’.

Half-awakened, humans are constantly engaged in a battle to make sense of the world and our experiences within it. And a great work of art, especially music, helps us to do just that.



December 9, 2007 Posted by | art | Leave a comment

Shibboleth



Own up, how many of you could use the word properly in a sentence? I’ve heard and seen it used many times, but it didn’t seem to be a word I needed to investigate for everyday use. When I first looked it up, about three months ago, what stood out for me was the Biblical origin:

Wikipedia says:

It derives from an account in the Hebrew Bible, in which pronunciation of this word was used to distinguish members of a group (the Ephraimites) whose dialect lacked a /ʃ/ sound (as in shoe) from members of a group (the Gileadites) whose dialect did include such a sound.

For anyone with an imagination, permutations on this theme abound.

It was not etymology which came to mind when I saw a wonderful photograph of a school girl sitting between two cracks in Wood’s Lot, drawing the crack. Because my eyes weren’t really focusing well, I thought for a moment she was sitting between two jagged sculptures, drawing, engaged, transported. When I realised it was Tate Modern, the pleasure of seeing her so engrossed did not change. Instead, I thought along the lines of this post which I discovered immediately afterwards from Inversion Layer:

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth: a presence not an absence

This at one stage critically mocked work, has really captured people’s imagination. The photograph in Flickr titled Along the Crack, demonstrates the engagement people have with it. I also like the blurred image, Focal point of the crack. (Are any of them wondering how it was put there and what happened to the original floor? A year ago I walked on the smooth floor below the ‘helter-skelters’). The way I respond to this at one level is: here is a creation which demonstrates more graphically than looking at a painting, how people respond to art: every combination from children getting feet stuck to adults skirting around, slightly embarrassed. But who knows what the skirters did a few minutes later? Perhaps even they were getting down to it too – as only children know how to properly from their hearts. Maybe the children, by doing what they do in response to the crack, are setting the example to the adults, who might have forgotten how to respond instinctively, for fear of seeming unknowledgeable, or some such other hang-up about art. Why not a mourner lying one one side of the crack?

It is also interesting to think that some may see Shibboleth as abstract while others that it is representational, allegorical; it is in any case metaphorical. Maybe as they wander around, they swap and change from one form to the other. Others might see, as I am beginning to, despite not having visited it, that a work of art can be both abstract and not, while at the same time demonstrating the difference between the two; even showing, in the reactions and thoughts of people – more than what is there on the ground, the activity of individuals being essential to the work itself – a series of gradations from one art form to the other. Sure, it’s a play thing too.

Is there such a thing as epistemological of art? By that I mean art which by its nature forces the mind to think of so many things that the brain goes on a journey into what it knows.

::

My art epistemological education begins with:

Art and Epistemology from The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Psycho-epistemology of Art – A discussion of an Ayn Rand essay of that name

and

“That is All I Know of Him . . . ” Epistemology and Art in Melville’s “Bartleby” By Nancy Roundy

::

There is a danger with so many ideas flowing from Shibboleth that the artist may end up being accused of having her cake and eating it: with so many interpretations why should she bother to explain what it is that stimulated her to build it in the first place? What it meant to her might be swallowed up in what those who have seen it or photos of it, churn out about its significant or meaning to them.

::

When hill walking with a friend in Andalucia a few years ago, we came down from a summit with an incredible view

spain-andalucia-montejaque-3-peaks-2-nov-06.jpg

but lost the track. The way we took down nearly ended in disaster when we were forced to walk over a steeply down-slopping section of exposed limestone, often over razor edges, not dissimilar to this in the States:

cw_limestone_intrusion.jpg

source: {1}

Once, half way across this sheet of rock, with little prospect of clambering back up it, I did slip a boot down a crevice and panicked for a moment thinking it was stuck, or perhaps that one boot would have to be left behind, with all the complication that might bring.

November 20, 2007 Posted by | art, epistemology | Leave a comment