Iga Stepien Feedback for Low Season

Iga Stepien is an artist filmmaker, and founder of Station to Station international film festival, she is currently studying for a Masters Degree in culture and film studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice
Since I saw Chris’ graduation film entitled Fade I have known that he is one of the most gifted, sensitive and mature filmmaker of the present-day cinema that I have met. I could see that he has found and mastered his own individual cinematic language and style; a very unique way of portraying the world through the transcendental ambience and storytelling. It’s one of the most difficult tasks: to create a universal reality; the one that can connect to any viewer on the emotional and even subconscious level; and the one that evokes an involuntary response (without using any cheap thrills or melodrama by the director).
We can’t deny that the most appreciated films in the history of cinema are the ones that we find difficult to explain using words; the ones we seem to fail to put in a logical order and a one-dimensional context in our squared minds (as Alan Watts explains in one of the series of his lectures, entitled Conversation with myself.)
It seems that as species we tend to try to translate all occurrences into very simple, organised, reasonable forms, however, we have always been drawn to and fascinated by the matters that we can not comprehend or explain with words, but that all of us, somehow, can feel and relate to. The primal, fundamental emotions that escape our cognition, such as for example fear (the one when the source isn’t really palpable). “What I’m afraid of is what I’m curious of”. Fear of the irrational and intangible is the kind of a feeling that any attempt of describing it with rational means is in vain – it is the type of emotion that drives one away from the source of fear yet at the same time intensifies the need to identify the source (Michał Biegański, Numinous).
In the Low Season, once again, Chris has managed to make me, the viewer, strongly connected to the character’s reality, in an ineffable, unexplainable and very emotional way. His unique and uncompromised vision of portraying the mental and emotional state of the character manifests itself in avoiding the established and conventional methods or symbolism (so often abused in films). Sometimes a director shows tears to present sadness, a broken glass to present anger or betrayal, or a kiss to present love (as Virginia Woolf has pointed out in her essay The Cinema). It gives one some clarity about the situation in the character’s life and it even may be convenient as a source of the entertainment, but it doesn’t light up the higher consciousness that would allow the viewer to grow internally through this experience. And by ‘growth’ I mean learning and discovering revelations about oneself. Each of us is trying to avoid the same river twice – conscious or not, we constantly reach for new and unknown stimuli to invigorate our spiritual, intellectual, physical or even psychic side (Michał Biegański, Numinous).
I have a feeling that Chris has studied very thoroughly what the character’s complex emotional and mental state means to himself, how he, as a human being (more than a filmmaker at that point) has made sense of what is going on. His detailed observation of the elements that build the state (its palpable displays and demonstrations) has allowed him to take that ‘essence of the states’  and personify them through the character, his background (his environment); he gave them flesh and blood (and society’s most iterative outfit – the suit); creating a character full of humanity that only a sensitive and mindful creator could bestow on him. Knowing the essence of these states by unmasking the emotions and colours and ambience and rhythm that accompany them, Chris was able to create the reality just as we feel it for real in our lives – on the subconscious, ineffable multi-dimensional level. Maybe we are not aware of it, or we don’t admit it, but our experience of reality is very often interrupted and blurred. Especially while dealing with traumatic situations, anxiety and depression.
Here the black and white, minimalistic visual form has its right and justified place. The rhythm and sound of the film is another element that builds the state that is quite indescribable. Again it makes me think of the Numinous, presented in films of such directors as Andrei Tarkovsky. Numinous is an ambiguous experience and it touches on the indescribable – it cannot be expressed by means of anything else, just because it is so primary and elementary a datum in our psychical life, and therefore only definable through itself. We can only capture the meaning of the numinous by recognising its elements ( Rudolf Otto, The Idea of The Holy; Michał Biegański Numinous). To me personally, one of the most significant element of such feelings in Low Season is the out-of-body-experience, as well as the dissociation and living as if ‘beyond time’. The tracks of our memory and time passing get really fuzzy and indistinct when we are in the low season; of depression or a temporary break-down. We can even observe ourselves as through somebody else’s eyes, from above, we dissociate so much. We look at the places we’ve just been to in an obscure surprise (-What an absurd!). We know time is passing by and we can hear our footsteps, however, we’re already somewhere else or we’re not there yet or – what’s really interesting – it’s already all happened and is in the past. The silent loneliness screams.
The character, in my interpretation, doesn’t find any consolation in others’ happiness or the beauty of nature and the world (there’s the feeling of a bittersweet innocence of the boy playing with the cheerful dog; same as the empty house of joy or the young musician on the street). It’s almost as the director tried to give him the last impulse to change his road. But he has passed the point of seeing it, it doesn’t give him joy or hope anymore. He doesn’t see it anymore because the fog of his state has covered the view. Or maybe he has actually been comforted by the sight? Maybe he’s needed it before he goes? Maybe he had to see that the world will go on with beauty and hope in it? His face seems to look a bit neutral (yet moved?) As if he’s made up his mind and there is no way back; we can’t see any hesitations, guilt or second thoughts. The ambiguity of these scenes gives us a wide meadow of understanding the film in our own way – and that is wonderful.
By the end of the film, while you already have your thoughts about what happened, there’s a ‘palatable’ surprise (I’m using that word because somehow the darkness of the film does not overwhelm or bring the viewer down- it rather feels very savoury and sublime). To me, there was a question, but a question to which an answer was unnecessary. Has the note been found by another man – who – in his suit and elegant shoes – is the same man? There is a feeling of a silent and subtle solace, that ‘you’re not alone’, even though the circumstances of such solace are dreadful. Despite the darkness, Low Season is very uplifting to me, maybe because of that chance to connect with those ineffable states and feelings, in myself and also outside. Paradoxically the film about the terrible loneliness is making the viewer feel less alone.
Another brilliant thing is the possibility of several meanings of what the story is about. It doesn’t seem to be only a story of one man’s decision, but the character can be a representation of our whole modern society – in elegant suits and shoes, surrounded by crowds every day, yet isolated and drowning in loneliness and inability to connect to others. Especially the scene of the empty room built specially for people to socialise and play games together – now looking like a ghost town – even the camera seems to be a ghost (while probably everyone plays alone at home?). It shows the problem of the effects that modern technology has on the society these days, we live very separate lives and it drives us mad. This reminds me of the film Red Desert, in which, 53 years ago, Michelangelo Antonioni has portrayed the problem of the feeling of isolation of an individual in the industrial world. The main character is struggling to cope with the effects of industrialisation and the lack of the contact with nature on her psyche, developing neurosis, depression and feelings of dissociation.
But there could be another conclusion regarding Low Season (a bit darker), when in the house of joy the music and sounds of coins (?) actually gave me the thrills, so that the joy and especially that kind of joy seems just pointless and scary and absurd, when you look at it from close. Maybe the real joy is outside; in interaction with people and also with nature? Even the stream of water seems to go separately from the man standing in front of it (as well as the passing of time). After all, our society seems to push nature aside, to live by itself, isolated from our worlds. The scene of the man walking down the stairs, to me, represents a way down in life. His decision at the cafe (with the brilliant scene of his eyes-wide-open, awaken from the numbness) seems to be a sudden impulse, but I have a feeling that is has been growing in him for a long time. The song at the end also gives us a little hint for another interpretation: Life is but a dream. There are dream-like elements in the film, yet too real to be only a dream. These are some of my thoughts, as the film provoked a lot of interpretations, but the most important to me was the feeling.
The rest that the mind is trying to put in a logical order and comprehend, is also a great virtue of the work (very thought-provoking), but not the first one in the row. The first and most important thing is the feeling that the film has given me. There is actually no need to explain it in words and answer the questions – the answers will never be resolved because this film is not ‘finite’ – it’s alive and that’s the beauty and the ‘eternity’ of it. In Sculpting In Time by Andrei Tarkovsky we find out that the individuality of a director manifests in the rhythm and the feeling of time in his work. Low Season is a perfect example. One of the best short films I have ever seen. And as an international independent film festival organiser, I have really seen a lot!
Iga Rita Stepien

Embodiment part 3: Temporality

As I have mentioned elsewhere the framing and choice of shots for Low Season has been very deliberate and measured process, some have evolved particularly those involving movement and some have stayed precisely as I first envisaged.

I would like to look at questions of time and its representation and manipulation in Film as this is truly the essence of the medium and what differentiates it from all others, including stills photography.

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Comes up again and again in my work and study, I am simply in awe of his work, he also wrote well on the subject of time and his book Sculpting in time gives us a clue to the importance he placed in the temporal. He is arguably the greatest exponent of time in film exploring in his work both in technical and metaphoric and linguistic sense the concepts and power of perceived time. He used long take cinema for what he believed to be its honesty, and truth in the depiction of the world and his films deal with memory and space explored always with a temporal twisting brilliance. In fact, he describes Cinema as “The search for lost time” (Tarkovskiĭ and Hunter-Blair, 2012)

I have made no bones about the fact that I wanted to shoot long take as part of this film, something inspired by Tarkovsky in the first instance, and although the takes used are actually quite short in duration the inspiration for movement remains, however, it is in the edit that we see in particular the full sculpture of time in a film and it is not just through the cuts, duration, placement of shots that the film develops its rhythm. the rhythm as Tarkovsky argues is about time pressure running through the shot (in other words what is occurring in the frame) and this is determined by the style of the shot (Tarkovskiĭ and Hunter-Blair, p117, 2012)

Rhythm also functions as much more than just duration or pace in a film it is nothing short of the heartbeat of the film, It dictates how we choose to convey the message and how we feel the film.”The dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image is rhythm, expressing the course of time within the frame”(Tarkovskiĭ and Hunter-Blair, p113, 2012)

I mostly agree with the master here, however, his opinions on long-take being the ultimate description are also up for debate. there are no absolutes in art or film in my opinion. and Rules simply exist to be broken. This is why I am still in love with the long take as a style, and often choose to shoot in this style, however, I tried to look at what constitutes a break from this, what happens when we cut and slash into these smooth sequences of continuity. This must, of course, be for a reason, and When I tried the technique in my graduation film ‘Fade’ (2015) It was to show a conflicting understanding of both time and reality as experienced by the character and the audience, I was seeking to challenge the dominant narrative  function of linear time and memory. I believe it achieved what I set out to do, however, the style of editing is not to everyone’s taste, and can initially be harder work for an audience, it means often that repeat viewings are necessary to grasp the flow of narrative logic, but it describes not just an accepted and external view of the world that we agree on for the sake of reason and practicality, It screams at the borders of rationality, were our true memories of experience are melting down, and rational thought is slipping.

I have had to, and I stress the had to, do the same in this film I tried the sequences in a more rational flow of cause and effect of linear movement from a to b, and the film simply did not work, it betrayed itself and stubbornly sat like a dead thing immobile, lacking life and rhythm. It was only after I found the rhythm from the guts of the film itself that the film could live and breath, this meant the editing of time had to reflect back on the state and style of the shots but also the internal state of the character. all had to align.

“The consistency of time that runs through the shot, it’s intensity, or ‘sloppiness’, could be called time-pressure; then editing can be seen as the assembly of the pieces on the basis of the time pressure within them. Maintaining the operative pressure, or thrust will unify the impact of the different shots.”(Tarkovskiĭ and Hunter-Blair, p117, 2012)

Im not saying that all of the shots are the perfect length, there are a thousand ways to edit one film, but they reflect the process character theme and soul  of the work. as does the painfully long walk into the sea. It is the only remaining true long take shot, and the time pressure holds for the duration, it is designed to go deliberately beyond the comfortable length of watching, the tide forced this situation of course.

But this was the reality presented to the camera, therefore it had to be held and I think In a way this uncomfortable duration is perhaps the strongest element of the film, I feel it every time I watch it! It makes me wince, I am actively willing Tip to “get under the bloody water” but it is here that even with the music swelling to climax I hope that I have pushed the image closest to breaking point, to make the audience feel the uncomfortable just for a moment, to not betray the reality of what We are witnessing even if it not real!

“The long take can be defined as an uninterrupted – and in Tarkovsky’s case usually slow-paced-cinematic shot which lasts longer than the conventional editing pace of the film. The long take remains open and refuses to be closed (edited), striving towards continuous presence. It invites the viewer to put aside the narrative framework and to contemplate time in its pure form- to locate ‘TIME within TIME'” (Skakov, p2-3, 2012)

In conclusion, if we were to compare and contrast this style to the intellectual montage pushed by Sergei Eisenstein in the 1930s then we see Montage come up against the unbroken reality of the moment. As I say, I don’t believe either constitutes in of itself a more honest or truthful way of showing a subject or the world, and This is because the means have to be justifiable to the ends or the intention, they have to serve the film. Long take describes only one vision of the world, only one way of perceiving memory, it is astoundingly beautiful, it is possible that this flow of time is how Tarkovsky perceives the world I don’t know, but it is not how I do, In fact I would suggest that a series of long takes and montages is probably closer to an approximation of this, depending of course on the circumstances for how I am perceiving time at that instant, fast or slow broken or unbroken.

I will not stray too far into Soviet montage here, I have previous writings blogs and films that explore in much more detail, however, it must be said that its main purpose of one plus one equals three kind of shot follows shot to create third meaning, can in a lot of instances be seen to be very manipulative on the part of the filmmaker. Hitchcock made exceptional use of this technique in a great deal of his films, it is unerring.

However, the reason I love the work of Tarkovsky so much is for the freedom allowed for the audience to find their own way into the work, the much-vaunted democracy of image. This is where I think believing in a totality of either systems or styles can reach limitations. As Tarkovsky says the time pressure and therefore the style must fit the piece, if they do not  describe the events in a certain way, they become dishonest they do not fit anymore,  therefore surely we must choose to fit, and if it suits, use them both as the need arises, Oh how terribly postmodern of me!

In Low season I tried to keep the takes intact, but it was to no avail the reality of the character demanded those breaks in time, we need to see that his mind and memory are becoming broken through fatigue confusion and isolation, He has stumbled onto the fundamental problem, of human existence, self-awareness, I this is taken in an over analytical loop toward its conclusion, if we are unable to control the mind from folding back in on itself continuously, we literally break our own narrative.

It is the narrative or the story/stories that we tell ourselves that seems to mark us out as a species, It is critical that these narratives or stories we tell ourselves and agree on by mutual contract with other humans, make some sense to us, without it we are lost, and Madness engulfs us. This is not to say that madness should be seen as a fallen or broken state, indeed It could be looked upon as glimpsing the true state of reality,  that is chaos. For most minds relying on a fragile constructed ego, this is simply too much to bear.

We need the stories that we tell ourselves, they are the roots that hold us in the garden of our created and shared reality, however peeping over the back fence now and again at the wild patch, the chaos outside, is perhaps a dangerous necessity, if only to remind us of our thin understanding and hold over perceived reality.

Therefore to show a tiny fragment of this was my mission, not to propose a medically sanctioned depiction of a supposedly diagnosable mental state, but to sculpt a recognisable poetic truth, to show in image and sound the make up of broken thoughts and memories reflecting an ego fracturing under multiple crushing realisations, A narrative that is beginning to disintegrate, it may reform, reconstitute as another version of the story, or it may not, but to attempt to achieve this  was to deliberately hack at the perceived passage of time, to  manipulate within the edit this strange formless clay, to at least make honest the attempt, to sculpt in time.


Allen, S. and Hubner, L. (2012). Framing film. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Armes, R. (1976). The ambiguous image. 1st ed. London: Secker & Warburg.

Farmer, R. (2010). Jean Epstein. [online] Senses of Cinema. Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/great-directors/jean-epstein/ [Accessed 14 Oct. 2017].

Hunger. (2008). [DVD] Directed by S. McQueen. Ireland, UK: Film4.

Kappenberg, C. and Rosenberg, D. (2013). IJSD Volume 3 2013 After Deren: Full Issue. The International Journal of Screendance, 3, pp.101-102.

Keiller, P. (2014). View from the train. London: Verso.

Meshes in the Afternoon. (1943). Directed by M. Derren and A. Hammid. Hollywood: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid.

Robinson in Space. (1997). [DVD] Directed by P. Kieller. UK: BBC.

Skakov, N. (2012). The Cinema of Tarkovsky: Labyrinths of Space and Time (KINO: the Russian and Soviet Cinema Series). 1st ed. I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited.

Tarkovskiĭ, A. and Hunter-Blair, K. (2012). Sculpting in time. 13th ed. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

YouTube. (2017). Maya Deren’s Film Philosophy. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/fblCLnugDpc [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) Dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid [BFI Sight & Sound] silent. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nzWZomOYmQ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

Embodiment part two space, place, and the photogenie


If the embodiment of the inanimate and everyday object is a key to poetic description and sought for connection with an audience in ‘Low Season’, which is certainly what I have been experimenting with, then the situation of these elements within the space that they occupy becomes the other dominant factor that has informed this work, I have for some time been interested in spatial relationships, looking at non-place in other blogs here: http://wp.me/p83grS-lj where I briefly went back over the writings of Marc Auge, and Michel De Certeau, some of these ideas I have incorporated or explored in previous work, however the poetic embodiment of the spaces that my character moves through and this nexus between body and space has, I believe reached a new synergy of research and practice within Low Season.

It is not a simple task to describe all of the layers here or the scales within which this is intended so I will look at this in more detail in the evaluation.  However if in brief, we are looking at both a wider sense of belonging or not belonging in a larger physical community space or society, then I hope Low season begins to make more sense. The choice of an off-season seaside town devoid for the most part of people is, of course, the beginning of this building of this character environment relationship, this is followed down through the individual sequences as he moves through the individual spaces, showing confinement in space, leading to isolation and loneliness,  and a physical form of descent within the internal and external world of the character was critical.

The blurring of the Physical/Mental landscape combines to create rich metaphor for deeper readings of this piece. It is of intense interest to me that not only the way of thinking about film but its spatial relationships have been reintroduced to me by Patrick Keiller a filmmaker I discovered some years ago through his work ‘Robinson in Space’ (Robinson in Space, 1997)   ‘Kieller’ uses spaces and places so suggestive of absence in his films that we feel the spaces as if they were alive or embodied. He has the rare talent of taking the seemingly mundane image and writing into it or allowing us to write into it all manner of things. 

‘Keiller’ in his insightful and engaging book ‘View from the train’ “(Keiller, 2014) traces the use of the familiar space in cinema, its potential for connection, and its origins in impressionist and surrealist art and literature.

“Popular cinema is a conservative industry, so films are rarely a vehicle for the initial artistic rediscovery of a place, but the sight of a familiar space in a film can momentarily banish the sense of marginality that haunts even the most central urban locations. (Keiller, p141, 2014)

‘Keiller’ goes on to compare this phenomenon as a transformation enabled by the combining of fiction and the ‘photogenie’ As theorised by Jean Epstein (1897-1953 (more on this elusive term later), Keiller compares the draw of the familiar for audience thus; “And is very like the attraction that led audiences to sue up to see themselves on screen in the factory gate and other local films that were exhibited at fairgrounds all over the North of England in the 1900s”. (Keiller, p141, 2014)

Jean Epstein, filmmaker and theorist


If this is the hook that makes us stop and look, it is in the ‘Photogenie’ a theory proposed by the French Impressionist filmmaker and theorist Jean Epstein (1897-1953) that the transformation takes place, It appears to have many variations in definition but  here Robert farmers essay in the journal senses of cinema seems to give us a broad understanding of the term;

Depending on our perspective, photogénie is either an approach to filmmaking, or it is a way of thinking about film. It is perceptible in the filmmaker’s attitude towards the medium, and our understanding of the medium. Photogénie does not literally exist in the film, except in a metaphorical way designed to encourage us to take a more active part in the cinematic experience and to gaze more deeply at the screen”. (Farmer, 2010)

It is this sense that I wish to explore in my films and have strived for both in theoretical research and in technical practice, It still feels a little pretentious to be using the word ‘poetic’ in conjunction with my own work, but this is a personal demon I shall continue to confront.

The potential for this poetic connection within the commonplace still remains a powerful and persuasive draw, and despite the risks, it is an area I will continue to attempt to explore in my work. Keiller summarises this potential for cinema thus:

“The desire for a poetic experience of ordinary, everyday phenomena was central to Surrealism and many other strands of Modernism, from Baudelaire or even De Quincey onwards, but it was perhaps most readily achieved through photography and cinematography” (Robinson in Space, 1997)

The surrealist’s and impressionist’s of early cinema continue to leave a deep impression on me chiefly because they were still looking actively at the possibilities of the medium of film, cinema had not yet become entirely dominated by the entertainment industry, there seemed other possibilities. In these early years the spectatorship of film also appears to have been a more open quest, the simple narrative may well have been well established and becoming increasingly industrialised in North America, but it seems that the potential that silent cinema had laid bare for the moving image was still so full of youth and vigour, whilst still forming as an art It could be argued that perhaps the novelty of moving image itself allowed this space for a genuine counterpart to commercialised narrative cinema. The Cinema then as a medium, now so synonymous with  ‘entertainment’ escape and commercialisation should be seen to have various other potential outcomes… 

It is not perhaps the place to lament the passing of some perceived halcyon time for cinema here, but it is of interest to me as a filmmaker that the ideas of what cinema could be at his time still seem so fresh and pertinent, containing more than simply inspiration, they are mines of ideas, both theoretical and technical, that in many cases  lead off down pathways that are still not fully explored.

 I would like to explore further some Key texts I have turned up in this research that I am currently unable to get access to (minus buying the prohibitively expensive books) These include: ‘The shadow and its shadow: surrealist writings on the cinema’, Paul Hammond, and also: ‘Paris peasant’, Louis Aragon. I am intrigued by Aragon’s early writing on cinema, and the extracts I have read,  suggesting someone with an amazingly flexible and creative mind, It seems he was just a little too dreamy and mythical, perhaps holding onto impressionist  and romanticist sensibilities to be taken too seriously by the more hardcore surrealists of the time.

It would be very hard for me to finish this blog when poking around in the surrealism and poetics of cinema without mentioning one very strong influence from several years ago, much like Steve McQueen, her work has embedded itself deeply into my consciousness, her name? Maya Deren (1917 – 1961) ‘Meshes in the Afternoon’ (1943)

Whether her work can be truly considered a work of surrealism is not a debate I wish to be embroiled in here. Regardless of positioning this short film remains for me one of the most influential works I have ever seen, the edit alone is a mesmerising puzzle box of temporal trickery, and the mature and foreboding use of framing is beyond the merely descriptive. ‘Meshes in the Afternoon’ (1943) for me is one of the great masterpieces of visual poetry. Derren’s use of the body in space alone is worthy of continued study and admiration.

Most of all Maya Deren manages to not just theorise the idea of poetics in the visual elements of moving image, she breaks it down and then applies it to her work as a discipline: The movement of body within the frame, the discipline of framing, looking at unusual angles to film from, the manipulation of time and space.

“Deren’s aesthetics builds on a visual poetics and an economy of form and brings this together with a depersonalization of movement and a stylization of gestures. The constructive elements constitute a basis for a film form that, according to Deren, differentiates itself from documentary on the one hand and literary film on the other. This aesthetic also combines with an ethics to provide the artist with the opportunity as well as the obligation to create a reality on screen according to her own vision, a mythical reality that transcends individual experience and the every day.” (Kappenberg and Rosenberg, 2013)

She was a great exponent of the ‘Amateur movement’ in America at the time,  this is as far as you can get from how we use the term now, as 2nd rate sloppy or shoddy. In this period it was seen as an essential freedom for arts and crafts, to move into a self-funded and non-commercial space where the work could reflect the true intentions of the artist away from the financial pressures of commerce.

It deeply influenced my work 3 years ago and continues to fascinate with its mysteries and tonal and visual brilliance.

The recent big discovery for me comes in the form of Jean Epstein, his fascinating definitions and ideas of ‘photogenie’, Is this the result that I am seeking in my work? Are the constituent parts that I mention in these blogs a part of reaching toward this? I can only surmise, and allow the space for the audience to come to there own conclusions or feelings. Cinema must continue to be located in that liminal space between minds.

 I will hopefully find a copy of ‘senses’ to download as a pdf soon.

In part three I will look closer at the framing and temporal aspects of cinema and how this influences my direction and work.


Allen, S. and Hubner, L. (2012). Framing film. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Armes, R. (1976). The ambiguous image. 1st ed. London: Secker & Warburg.

Farmer, R. (2010). Jean Epstein. [online] Senses of Cinema. Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/great-directors/jean-epstein/ [Accessed 14 Oct. 2017].

Hunger. (2008). [DVD] Directed by S. McQueen. Ireland, UK: Film4.

Kappenberg, C. and Rosenberg, D. (2013). IJSD Volume 3 2013 After Deren: Full Issue. The International Journal of Screendance, 3, pp.101-102.

Keiller, P. (2014). View from the train. London: Verso.

Meshes in the Afternoon. (1943). Directed by M. Derren and A. Hammid. Hollywood: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid.

Robinson in Space. (1997). [DVD] Directed by P. Kieller. UK: BBC.

Skakov, N. (2012). The Cinema of Tarkovsky: Labyrinths of Space and Time (KINO: the Russian and Soviet Cinema Series). 1st ed. I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited.

YouTube. (2017). Maya Deren’s Film Philosophy. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/fblCLnugDpc [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) Dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid [BFI Sight & Sound] silent. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nzWZomOYmQ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

An interesting article on Henri Bergson’s theories, on cinema and time

Eclectic & Serious Film Criticism

Time, Bergson, and the Cinematographical Mechanism

Henri Bergson on the philosophical properties of cinema

by Donato Totaro Volume 5, Issue 1 / January 2001 46 minutes (11271 words)

Back in the early days of cinema, 1907 to be precise, Henri Bergson became one of the first philosophers to incorporate cinema into a philosophical discourse. His use of cinema was relatively inconsequential, merely a clever and topical analogy to demonstrate the method by which the intellect grasps knowledge of reality. The context for this discussion was Bergson’s epistemological dualism of the intellect and intuition, perhaps the philosophical area he is best remembered for outside of his views on time (durée, or duration). Cinema may have played a minor and secondary role in Bergson’s philosophy, but the argument I will put forth is that the broader philosophical and cultural context out of which it grew bears remarkable relevance for contemporary film theory and aesthetics. And not because of the increasing importance in recent film theory of Gilles Deleuze who owes an enormous debt to Bergson but because Bergson was the first to give philosophical expression to the ‘idea’ of cinema: moving images. The purpose of this essay will be to draw out the precise contextual meanings Bergson gave to cinema and how they can help us to understand some of the fundamental, and fundamentally philosophical, properties of cinema: movement, fragmentation, and time.

The “Cinematographic Mechanism

In several essays and in the final chapter of Creative Evolution (1907), Bergson employs what he calls the “cinematographical apparatus” as an analogy for how the intellect approaches reality. This analogy appears within Bergson’s epistemological dualism, where intuition is placed alongside the intellect as a means of acquiring absolute knowledge. According to Bergson “movement is reality itself” (The Creative Mind 169). The intellect is by nature a spatializing mechanism, which means that to acquire knowledge it employs concepts, symbols, abstraction, analysis, and fragmentation. Hence the intellect can only express movement reality itself in static terms. It “substitutes for the continuous the discontinuous, for mobility stability….” (The Creative Mind 222-223). Bergson likens this process to the cinema apparatus. The camera begins with a real movement, breaks it down mechanically into a series of static single frames and then returns the movement through the projecting apparatus. The movement that we see is a reconstituted illusion. Bergson writes:

Such is the contrivance of the cinematograph. And such is also that of our knowledge. Instead of attaching ourselves to the inner becoming of things, we place ourselves outside them in order to recompose their becoming artificially. We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality….We may therefore sum up…that the mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographical kind (Creative Evolution, 332).

In effect, in Bergson’s epistemological system, the intellect is best suited to the study of inert objects, immobility and being, and intuition to the study of movement, change, and becoming (duration). Intuition is the process used to understand the flux of reality, while the intellect gives us a necessary, pragmatic grasp of reality. This dualism of intellect and intuition seeps naturally into Bergson’s views on art. Although Bergson never articulated a theory of art, he came closest in his treatment of comedy, Laughter. Throughout this wonderful monograph Bergson holds art in high esteem because it can communicate a more direct vision of reality. For most non-artists, the pragmatic necessities of everyday perception act as a ‘veil’ over reality. Through intuition and a ‘disengaged’ vision, the artist can lift this veil and offer us a privileged view of reality. The intellect, because of its pragmatic nature, thickens the veil between reality and consciousness. The logical consequence of Bergson’s cinema/intellect analogy is not hopeful for anyone envisioning cinema as a high art form: cinema can not communicate ‘reality’. Before even thinking of moving onward to discuss Bergson in the context of film theory, this negative analogy must be addressed.

Bergson’s position on cinema as a Platonic Form-like process is implicitly made in other writings. In the essay “The Perception of Change” Bergson claims that the art best suited for representation is painting: “…nowhere is the function of the artist shown as clearly as in the art which gives the most important place to imitation, I mean painting” (The Creative Mind, 159). What about film? Does Bergson purposively neglect film’s representational power because it “spatializes” reality? This point has important consequences for film theory. It appears that Bergson believed that film, because of its mechanical nature, can not be human enough, in the tradition of the great painters, to give its audience a privileged view of reality. With painting Bergson believes he is selecting the art that achieves the best balance of artistic intervention and mimetic capability. From the same text as above, Bergson says: “The great painters are men who possess a certain vision of things which has or will become the vision of all men.”

On the contrary, two great film philosophers, Andrei Tarkovsky and André Bazin, take this same impression of the artist being able to achieve a deeper, inner sense of reality, but replace painting with film. Both Tarkovsky and Bazin accord an intangible element to the mechanical agency of the camera (a certain level of objectivity, a psychological factor, an element of chance) but the camera’s mechanical agency is not the sole defining feature. Arnold Hauser makes a similar point in The Sociology of Art: “A process which is photographed and projected onto a screen is still not a “film,” for an artistic form is not the product of a mere medium….” (621).

Tarkovsky fully believes, as does Bergson, in the ability of the artist to achieve a higher vision, but the difference is that he does not place restrictions or create a hierarchy according to the nature of the artistic tool. Since the politicization of film theory in the early 1970’s it became a sort of theoretical litmus test for critics to take to task as naive and reactionary Bazin’s notion of the ontology of the photographic image. Bazin’s critics noted that the camera is not an impartial, neutral observer outside the influences of culture and politics. Years earlier critics were using the same argument to disprove cinema’s claim to being art, stating that cinema can not be an art because it is a mechanical representation of the world. It is interesting that Bergson, who predates these early critics, criticizes film within his philosophical context in a way similar to this early film philosophy criticism.

The consequences of this for realist film theory has been important. I will not delve into this much-traveled theoretical debate but will merely raise a few points. Firstly, if we accept the phenomenological apologies that have been made for Bazin, the seminal realist film theorist, then we can believe that Bazin never meant, in the strict cause and effect fashion, that the camera records a politically and culturally “neutral” reality. As Igor Korsic argues in his book Suspended Time: An Analysis of Bazin’s Notion of Objectivity of the Film Image (1988), critics of Bazin’s cinematic ontology have been guilty of theoretical “incommensurability.” In other words they have misunderstood him or not met him on his terms (which are essentially phenomenological). Korsic claims that Bazin’s notion of objectivity is best understood as “ambiguous objectivity” and not in the naturalist sense. If we follow the evolution of film theory on this question we can see a 180-degree turn from the camera as mere mechanical reproducer, to the camera as anything but a neutral observer. The truth is probably somewhere in between and depends on the context, the sensibility of the artist and the definitions used (of objectivity, subjectivity, reality).

Bergson’s critique of film is unique because he goes beyond merely stating that the camera apparatus is a machine. Film functions in a manner similar to the way the intellect takes “snapshots of reality.” (Hugo Munsterberg would use a similar point to demonstrate that film was an art.) Can Bergson’s appraisal of film be discounted as easily as that of the critics who doubted film as art? There is a slight difference in their respective intents. Early film critics were lobbying against the possibility of film being considered a legitimate art form. Depending on your sensibility, Bergson’s project may be more damaging, because by equating film with the spatializing intellect film becomes “incapable” of re-presenting real time, duration, and hence reality. If this Bergsonian hypothesis is accepted then a filmmaker can not affect an audience, or can not intuit, on the same level as a painter or composer. Bergson’s comments on film can not, I believe, be countered in the same way that Munsterberg, Arnheim, and company countered the early critics of film as art. It must be countered on its own terms.

Before beginning my rebuttal, or re-appropriation of Bergson’s cinema project, a deeper understanding of Bergson’s use of the cinematographic mechanism is necessary. In the following lengthy quote Bergson uses film as a metaphor for the “unreality” of spatialized movement. I’ll quote the passage in its entirety:

For that is what our habitual representations of movement and change hinders us from seeing. If movement is a series of positions and change a series of states, time is made up of distinct parts immediately adjacent to one another. No doubt we still say that they follow one another, but in that case this succession is similar to that of the images on a cinematographic film: the film could be run off ten, a hundred, even a thousand times faster without the slightest modification in what was being shown; if its speed were increased to infinity, if the unrolling (this time, away from the apparatus) became instantaneous, the pictures would still be the same. Succession thus understood, therefore, adds nothing; on the contrary, it takes something away; it marks a deficit; it reveals a weakness in our perception, which is forced by this weakness to divide up the film image by image instead of grasping it in the aggregate (The Creative Mind, 17-18).

The context of this quote, taken from an essay entitled “Growth of Truth: Retrograde Movement of the True” from The Creative Mind, is a discussion of the inadequacy of understanding time in a deterministic line that eliminates freedom of the will and deprives evolution of its creative nature. At first glance the passage appears baffling. Does Bergson mean that running a projector at one hundred times the proper speed (16, 18, or 24 frames per second) would not effect the projected image? One would have to assume his familiarity with the basics of the projecting system and assume the contrary. In the same essay Bergson refers to duration as “novelty” and “unceasing creation.” Could it then be that what he means is that even regardless of the projection speed or after repeated screenings the images remain (relatively) the same, that there is no change? The most sensible reading of the passage, I belief, is that Bergson was not referring to the representational nature of the images, but the recording process. And that regardless of what speed the film runs at, the content of the individual frames will not change.

A passage from the final chapter of Creative Evolution partially titled “The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion”, throws light on the earlier passage. Bergson states that, theoretically, it would not take a boy any time to reconstruct a picture puzzle because the picture is already conceived before opening the box. It may take X amount of minutes on the first try but less on subsequent occasions. The process could be sped up to the point of it being instantaneous, and it would not effect the outcome of the picture because it is already given. This parallels the line in the earlier quote stating that the speed at which the film is run does not effect what is being shown. Bergson is using these examples as microcosms of the static, mechanistic, teleological, or Platonic conception of reality. In this schema the only quality that time has is length. Bergson then compares the boy with his picture puzzle to the artist with his/her blank canvas. Bergson says that “to the artist who creates…time is no longer an accessory… it is not an interval that may be lengthened or shortened without the content being altered” (369-370). Duration, understood as consciousness itself, plays an integral part in the outcome of the artwork. The distinction that Bergson makes throughout this final chapter comes down to “time-length” versus “time-invention” (372).

Now that we fully understand how Bergson is employing the cinematographical method we can summarize his critique of it in the following:

  • A film, once made, is already given, therefore time does not play a “creative” role. Film is similar to the mechanistic conception of reality, like the picture puzzle or the calculability of pool balls on a billiard table.
  • The cinematographic process is like the intellect in that it takes “snapshots” of a passing reality. The movement is only an illusion generated by the projector. Movement does not exist in the images but is thrown back into them. Film is a spatialization of time/reality.
  • Duration, the essence of reality, does not play a part in the cinematographic process because the process involves a “succession” and not “interpenetration” of static images.

Before beginning my counter-argument I would like to stress that Bergson’s critique of cinema, if it could be called that, is always as an analogy for what he really wants to critique, the intellect. It never goes beyond the “cinematographic process.” Ultimately, as I will later demonstrate, this provides a means to salvage cinema from the anti-spiritual, anti-poetic, intuitive, temporal label that Bergson attaches to the pure intellect. Since, for his purposes, Bergson only employs part of the cinematographic apparatus (camera and projector) he overlooks many elements which, when brought into the fold, weaken his argument.

I’ll begin with the first stated critique. There are two points that Bergson omits to note in this argument: 1) the creative process involved in filmmaking and 2) the incompatibility of using the picture puzzle and cinematographic method as interchangeable analogies. The point of the analogy between the picture-puzzle and the painting is that time plays a role in the latter but not in the former. Regardless of how much time it takes to reconstruct the puzzle, the picture will not be effected. Bergson uses the same logic with film, but time plays much more of a determining role in the film process. Whether it takes the boy one second or one day to reconstruct the puzzle bears no consequence on the picture. With the cinematographic process, however, time can not be given such an arbitrary value. The time in which the film is “recreated” (projected) must match the time (speed) at which it was filmed. Running it ten times faster may not effect the property of the film strip (which is part of Bergson’s point), but will play havoc with what is seen on screen. The role that time plays at this stage is purely technical rather than creative, but, nonetheless, more of a determinant than that played in the picture-puzzle.

Even if we allow Bergson this point, we can not disregard the incompatibility on which the analogy rests. The interchangeability of film and the picture-puzzle rests on unequal terms. In the case of the analogy between the picture-puzzle and the artist/canvas Bergson commences at the start of the process, with the picture in its many pieces and the canvas blank. With film, however, he begins with the film already made, given. He completely neglects the role that time plays in the creative filmmaking process. There is certainly as much uncertainty on the filmmaker’s part as to the outcome of the film as there is on the painter’s (and arguably much more considering the joint nature of film). By beginning with the film as given Bergson is automatically placing it on the “negative” side of the analogy, rather than on its proper ledger, the “positive” art side. Because film involves a mechanism that Bergson can use as a wonderful analogy for the way that the intellect spatializes, fragments, and abstracts, it is bound to this “negative” side of his dualism.

I will address the second critique by way of Bergson’s own diffusion of Zeno’s paradoxes. Many thinkers have explained Zeno’s paradoxes in different ways. Bergson’s attempt can be used to question his appraisal of the cinematographic mechanism. By applying uncompromising common sense and logic Zeno attempted to reveal the contradictory and paradoxical nature of change and movement. In this metaphysical arena Zeno sides with Parmenides (reality is fixed and unchanging) over Heraclitus (reality is flux and change). In one of his paradoxes Zeno offers the logical deduction that the tortoise, once with a lead, could never be surpassed by the much faster Achilles because each point along the way is infinitely divisible. Each advance Achilles makes is matched by the tortoise’s own, with the space remaining between them infinitely divisible, ad infinitum. Bergson claims that this remains a paradox only when the movement, the race, is treated like space and is divided into an infinite series of movements rather than the single movement that it is. Bergson anticipates how Achilles would explain away the paradox: Achilles would simply describe the race as taking one step followed by a second, a third, and so on until he surpasses the slower stepping tortoise. When both movements are treated as indivisible wholes then the paradox is removed. (Zeno’s paradox of the arrow is solved likewise by Bergson. You can not treat the object moving with the act of movement itself.)

Can not Bergson’s own explanation of Zeno’s paradox be applied to his labeling of film as a spatializing mechanism? Bergson claims that film, because it is only an illusion of movement provided by the interrupted (the black strip in between each frame) and timely coded projection of individual static frames, is not an indicator of reality, is not a true movement. But isn’t this only the case when the projector stops and we see the individual frozen frames? Isn’t this similar to what Zeno did with the race between Achilles and the tortoise? If the film is left to run uninterrupted from the starting line (the first frame) to the end can it not be taken as one complete, indivisible movement and as “real” as the race? The statement “succession adds nothing” does not bear truth in film. The filmic illusion of space, movement, and time comes alive, in the end, out of a finely tuned, precise ordered succession of static images. The movement is whole and complete, not unlike the final outcome of a carefully worked out musical composition. A movement that is broken down (spatialized) through mathematics or logic, like Zeno’s paradox, is not a spatialization of the same order as a properly running film. If a film is stopped, slowed down or accelerated beyond its original order, then a claim for spatialization can be made. If it is left to run its proper course then film remains on the same level of metaphysical art as any other.

For Bergson the key to reality is that all change (time and movement) should be treated as indivisible. Time broken down is spatialized time and not duration. True time and true reality does not consist in states, since
states imply immobility. Certainly film is only an illusion of movement, but for film to exist there can be no immobility. (Not to mention that the illusion is only one of degree, since normal perception, as Bergson himself argued in Matter and Memory, also has its share of illusions.) If there is, the illusion is shattered. Once this is done you have forced spatialization onto film in the same manner as when a whole movement is broken down into several. I will now proceed to Bergson’s third reservation: the inability of film to appropriate duration. This dictum has the most intriguing consequences for film theory.

A still photograph spatializes time by freezing the present; a photograph becomes what is impossible in reality: the present as a razor’s edge. Cinema is based on photography but completes the process by returning movement to the image. On the screen objects move, people move, and the image (camera) moves. To think of film as a series of individual static frames is no different than thinking of a Bach concerto as a series of notes strung together. Bergson’s definition of duration as the present pregnant with the past has no better analogy than the cinema. On its own a film frame is relatively meaningless beyond its mere denotative content, but as they flow through the projector gate they come alive.

According to Bergson memory, as well as time, is forever growing and “pregnant.” Memories are not forgotten, only stored and subject to the whims of perception and recall. Consciousness is similar to time, duration and memory: it is ever frugal, so nothing is “lost.” The time and consciousness of yesterday lives on in the time of today. Likewise the frames of a film remain stored after they are seen and there is no absolute present in any one frame. At 1/24 a second a frame is not perceptible to the naked eye. Therefore accumulation plays an integral part in cinema. In Time and Free Will (1889) Bergson defines duration as “the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former state” (100). Duration is the “undercurrent” of human personality (Kumar, 334). In her article “What Bergson Means By “Interpenetration” Karin Costelloe points to interpenetration as the key to duration and to an understanding of Bergson’s philosophy. She describes interpenetration as an indivisible element that is part of what Bergson takes to be in constant flux and change: duration, real time, consciousness, life. Interpenetration is a process whereby “the nature of what comes after only finds its explanation by reference to what came before” (148).

The relationship of one film frame to the next can be seen as analogy for interpenetration, as can be the general principles of montage. In interpenetration “the parts depend for their qualitative character upon their connection with the whole of the rest of the process” (Costelloe, 149). Interpenetration is contrasted to independence or discreteness. Costelloe says that duration, life, movement or consciousness can be treated independently, that is abstracted (as the intellect does), but when they do, they are falsified or taken out of their “natural habitat.” When Bergson treats the cinematographical process as static frames independently aligned in succession he is falsifying film. The frames of a film interpenetrate in much the same way as musical notes. In Time and Free Will Bergson uses music as an analogy for duration: “…as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another” (100). Seeing that interpenetration plays such a pivotal role in duration, film can not be excluded from its realm.

There is yet another way that film can be salvaged from Bergson’s critique (in his terms) and brought into the realm of real time and duration. In the same article Costelloe discusses the experience of a man listening to the same musical piece twice. Although the piece remains the same, the second listening is different on the basis of it containing the first hearing. Bergson’s theory of change and duration is in fierce evidence here. Each subsequent hearing of the same musical piece will be different because the state of the person evolves. The piece, now familiar, may be attended to with indifference, boredom, disinterestedness, or perhaps a heightened interest. The past hearings are not forgotten but have merely “gnawed” into the person’s consciousness and “left their mark.” Why can’t this same process apply to film? Subsequent viewings of films often reveal more or, sometimes, unfortunately, less. The preconceptions of a previous viewing will always assume a role in the subsequent viewing. When the viewings are separated by large gaps of time the change is often staggering. Other times the difference is subtle. The state of the person at the moment of viewing can likewise effect the perception of a film (tired, sad, agitated, etc.). If the indicator of duration and change rests on the individual consciousness perceiving the art work then film can not be neglected because, regardless of its mechanical process, the film will still “grow” and “gnaw” into a person’s consciousness. Like the repeated musical piece, the film is merely an interpenetrating part of the whole process, that being consciousness.

Bergson’s comparison of the cinema mechanism to the intellect may work fine as an analogy but weakens when pushed. The fact that a film remains relatively unchanging once it is made does not detract from the creative filmmaking process or the time anew that each viewing may give. By the same reasoning, the speed at which a record is played does not change the actual song. It will distort the sound, in the same way that an improperly projected image will alter what is seen, but the record in its sleeve and the film in its tin remain unchanged. Any artwork once completed becomes, relatively speaking, eternal. The “time-invention” takes place during the creative process and, depending on the art, again each time it is viewed by a changed consciousness (and a changed collective or social consciousness). More importantly, Bergson neutralizes both the content of a film and film’s unique aesthetic potential for dealing with time. Contrary to Bergson’s views, film can be seen as the “temporalization of space.”

Why then does Bergson prematurely discount film as art? Granted it provides him a pleasant and topical analogy for the intellect, but he remains blind to the potential cinema as an art would soon show towards areas that are dear to him: memory, consciousness, flux, movement, and time. Considering that the quotes referred to covered the years 1907 to 1934 we can not conclude, as does Gilles Deleuze, that Bergson’s views were conditioned by early cinema’s relative lack of formal complexity. (Remember that Bergson died in 1941, the year Citizen Kane was made.) Deleuze recuperates Bergson based on the historical match of Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution with the era of primitive cinema (1896 and 1907 respectively). He claims that early cinema’s lack of narrative complexity, emphasis on the fixed frame, and lack of montage denied Bergson the possibility of seeing cinema’s potential to represent time. As Deleuze writes, “The evolution of the cinema, the conquest of its own essence or novelty, was to take place through montage, the mobile camera and the emancipation of the view point, which became separate from projection. The shot would then stop being a spatial category and become a temporal one, and the section would no longer be immobile, but mobile. The cinema would rediscover that very movement-image of the first chapter of Matter and Memory“ (Cinema 1: Movement-Image, 3). Not only does Deleuze fall short of representing the complexities of early cinema, but overlooks the fact that Bergson did live long enough to see cinema mature, and did not revise his early views on the cinematographical mechanism. Largely because they served their purpose fine (as a metaphor for the spatializing intellect).

The answer to why Bergson discounted film rests in and can not be separated from his philosophical prejudice, which can only be understood in its context. Bergson stood as a fierce antithesis to deterministic philosophies reigning at the end of the 19th century such as mechanism and finalism. Bergson lived and wrote in a period marked by relentless scientific progress. This escalation of science and technology altered the shape of the collective consciousness. Where time was once an abstract entity in one’s life, advancements in movement (transportation and communication) brought the question of time out in the open as a tangible element (something to save, to fritter away, to consume, to collect). For the first time since Kant’s rebuttal of the Newtonian laws of fixed, homogenous time and space, time was fiercely spatialized beyond the inner self. Sparked by his poetic and artistic sensibility, Bergson took it upon himself to counter the pervasive determinism of the late 19th, early 20th century. The nineteenth century onslaught of socialized machinery and technology was part of Bergson’s attack. Bergson states that we are all first and foremost social animals and, as typified by Jacques Tati’s Bergsonian vision, an individual stops being a healthy member of society once “the mechanical becomes encrusted upon the living.” It is only natural then, that Bergson would be unflattering and indifferent to the first art that “did not develop…from a popular art, but from an experimentation with a technical discovery which was completely alien to art” (Arnold Hauser, The Sociology of Art, 1974, 621.).

Therefore, Bergson’s resistance to mechanism and distrust of technological progress blinded him to the artistic potential of film. He fell prey to the genetic fallacy. He strongly believed that art gave humanity a reprieve from the falsified utilitarian reality we live with; unfortunately his vision of art did not include film. However, where Bergson’s vision falters, (or is short-sighted) others take over. For example, Andrei Tarkovsky, equally opposed to mechanism and technology, carries the Bergsonian vision over to film:

Cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality…. In cinema man’s innate drive to self-assertion finds one of its fullest and most direct means of realisation. A film is an emotional reality, and that is how the audience receives it -as a second reality (177).

Even Lewis Mumford, one of the more intelligent technological critics, realizes the Bergsonian potential of film: “…the motion picture synthesizes movement through both time and space…it contributes something to our picture of the world not given completely in direct experience….Without any conscious notion of its destination, the motion picture presents us with a world of interpenetrating, counter-influencing organisms: and it enables us to think about that world with a greater degree of concreteness” (342-43).

Bergson distinguished between matter, body, and brain (the inorganic) from spirit, consciousness, and mind (the organic), but always admitted their need to be united. This is why he felt the need to propose a mediated state between realism and idealism in Matter and Memory by demonstrating that the brain, the seat of idealism, is also composed of matter. Remove matter and the brain goes with it. Even matter has a minute element of duration. For Bergson matter in fact is expressed as energy, which itself can be best expressed as pure motion. Therefore matter may not be as ‘immobile’ or static as we think. “Matter, for Bergson, is best conceived as energy, and energy is the ultimate form of motion; thus the shapes of material objects are not properties of the objects but are ‘snapshots taken by the mind of the continuity of becoming’ (Marta Braun, 278-79). Author Braun quotes Bergson: “All division of matter into independent bodies with absolutely determined outlines is an artificial division” Matter and Memory, 259). In Bergson’s view of reality, then, matter is in a constant flux of becoming, and it is only out of our sensory perception that immobility is present. Here we can see Bergson’s inversion of Plato’s illusory view of time. With matter also in constant movement, time becomes in fact the very foundation of reality.

Film is unique in relation to the idealism-realism split. It is obviously matter and inorganic, but its immediacy, vibrancy and mimetic strength bestow it an organic and “alive” quality. Cinema does the same ‘error’ as human perception, which is why Deleuze sees Bergson’s philosophy as a form of ‘disguised’ film theory. Where society in the late 1800, early 1900’s was concerned with movement and time, cinema was the culminating expression of that concern.

Multiple Bergsonian Film Theories

1) Bergson’s Image as Model for Gilles Deleuze

The question Gilles Deleuze poses in his film philosophy is whether cinema is the newest, perfected version of that age old Platonic illusion of the static Ideas, or an expression of a new type of movement and duration? Ancient philosophy gives time the quality of an illusionary double of the transcendental Ideas. Modern science breaks time down as points within or “any-instances-whatever”. For Deleuze movement-image occupies a transitional phase between these two moments in philosophy. Cinema in its infancy, the apparatus of cinema, is like the “any-instances-whatever”, static frames in time. All that is necessary for the projector apparatus to return movement to the static images is constancy and uniformity from one “instance” to the next. According to Deleuze, both assessments of movement and time are in the end equal. The ancients reconstitute movement through “eternal poses” and the moderns through “immobile sections”. The problem in both cases is that the “Whole” is already assumed, already given. And when this is done, movement and time no longer exist. The Whole can never be assigned or constituted, for it is always “Open.” Duration is always opening up to a ceaseless continuity. The movement-image and time-image is broken down into sets (immobile sections of time, static shots or static moments), the movement that translates that set to the whole (the mobile section of the whole, montage), and then there is duration or the whole (time-image). “Duration suggests that temporal change inheres in things, in the state of things. This changing state is what Bergson and Deleuze call the whole, such that movement expresses ‘the change in duration or in the whole’ (Movement-Image, 8, quoted in András Bálint Kovács, “The Film History of Thought,” The Brain is the Screen ed. Gregory Flaxman, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).

Bergson uses ‘image’ as a new term to navigate between the duality of idealism and realism. It is this work on the ‘image’ in Bergson’s most complex work, Matter and Memory, which inspired Deleuze to say that Matter and Memory was a book of hidden film theory which prefigures cinema: “The shot would then stop being a spatial category and become a temporal one, and the section would no longer be immobile, but mobile. The cinema would rediscover that very movement-image of the first chapter of Matter and Memory….there is also the thesis of Matter and Memory, mobile sections, temporal planes …which prefigure the future or the essence of the cinema” (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, 3). And in turn it is Bergson’s discussion of the ‘image’ which informs Deleuze’s theory of the cinema image.

Bergson uses the image as a meeting point between perception and reality. Matter is the aggregate of all possible images, and perception a selection of these images as they pertain to the body (which is, of course, matter). As Bergson writes in his introduction, “Matter…is an aggregate of “images.” And by “image” we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing -an existence placed halfway between the “thing” and the “representation” (9). An image exists not only in the mind and not only beyond the mind. In the example Bergson gives, a man unschooled in philosophy would be surprised to be told that what he sees in front of him exists only in his mind, but be equally surprised to be told that the qualities of the image he sees (color, texture, density, etc.) exists only in the image and independent of his mind. Every image has ‘pictorial’ qualities, which are the contributions made by individual senses (perception, desire, need), and ‘factual’ qualities, which are those inherent in the image (size, shape, density, color, etc.). In almost every case, the latter is shaped, to some extent, by the former. So the image exists in itself and as we perceive it, since everyone’s own privileged image of the world is part of that same matter (aggregate of images). The body is our personal center of the image world, or the privileged image. Bergson relates this inevitable subjective component of perception in the following sublime (and hauntingly cinematic) passage: “Here is a system of images which I term my perception of the universe, and which may be entirely altered by a very slight change in a certain privileged image -my body. This image occupies the center; by it all others are conditioned; at each of its movements everything changes, as though by a turn of a kaleidoscope” (Matter and Memory, 25).

Bergson relates this to the question of the body and the soul in the following manner: pure memory (image unseen, uncalled for by perception) = soul; pure perception (image unrelated to memory, in direct contact with image) = matter. Perception is dependent on sensory-motor mechanism: action necessary to our daily existence. It is present directed. Memory is mental, hooked in to the past, and less tied to pragmatic needs. Though they co-exist and largely shape each other, in their pure virtual states they belong to the realms of matter (perception) and mind (memory). (An example of the latter in its pure state is dreaming, or daydreaming, or drug induced states.)

Bergson’s duality of perception and memory forms the source of Deleuze’s movement-image and time-image. In Bergsonian terms, the aggregate images (matter) of cinema are broken down into movement-images and time-images. The movement-image, like pure perception, is regulated by the sensory-motor action that responds to the demands of perception (the brain which acts as the nerve center of action). In the classic movement-image actors are placed in narratives that require direct and immediate action to situations and problems. The time-image, like pure memory, is disconnected from the pragmatic needs of pure images, which leads to a breakdown in the sensory-motor mechanism. Action becomes paralyzed and characters become unable to move toward positive, goal-directed action. Which is why time-image becomes the domain of the journey narrative, dream states, and narratives marked by disconnected flights of fancy. Hence out of Bergson’s attempt to solve the duality of mind-body with the intermediary states of perception and memory, grows Deleuze’s theory of the cinema image. In the movement-image time is at the service of the pragmatic necessities of narrative movement. Time ‘loses’ itself in the mechanics of narrative. In the time-image the linked fusion of movement to narrative action breaks down, leading to moments where time is not at the direct service of narrative movement, and for brief moments we are presented with pure images of time.

2) Bergson’s Durée (Duration) as A Model for Film Analysis

A projector must go forward, it can not “contemplate” the past… but images can. The film image, along with film’s formal and aesthetic capabilities, (including everything that is involved up until the film is ready for screening) is the element that Bergson neglects to consider and this is where cinema becomes so strongly Bergsonian. The poet and philosopher T.E. Hulme, an avid Bergsonian, also believed that interpenetration was a key to an understanding of duration. What technique can better duplicate interpenetration than the superimposition and dissolve, or cleverly used depth of field composition? On another level, editing that appropriates the inner state of the protagonist can also be seen as duration at work. What other art can visualize consciousness, the essence of duration, as well as cinema? Whereas Deleuze begins with Bergson’s concept of ‘image’ to construct his film theory, I would like to shift the emphasis over to Bergson’s duration to see what the consequences may be for film theory.

Bergson distinguished between two types of time, spatialized time and real time (which he called Duration). Spatialized time is time that is conceptualized, abstracted and divided. Duration is time that flows, accumulates and is indivisible. The metaphor Bergson most often used to describe Duration was consciousness (and personal identity), a form of “I think, therefore time endures.” Duration rests within the consciousness of a person and can not be “stopped” or analyzed like the mathematical conception of time as a line. Our true inner self, our emotions, thoughts, and memories do not lie next to each other like shirts on a clothesline but flow into one another, one sensation gnawing and overlapping into another. “Inner duration exhibits no sharp (i.e. spatial) breaks from one moment to the next. Its components (our different memories, passions, sensations) interpenetrate and can not be sharply distinguished. Duration can therefore not be measured” (P.A.Y. Gunter, 19). Unlike space, which according to Bergson is homogeneous, static, infinitely divisible, and absolute, Duration is indivisible and can not be measured in a numerical, mathematical fashion. [1] Bergson articulates the difference between Duration and clock-time as follows:

When I follow with my eyes on the dial of a clock the movement of the hand which corresponds to the oscillations of the pendulum, I do not measure duration ….I merely count simultaneities …. Outside of me, in space, there is never more than a single position of the hand and the pendulum, for nothing is left of the past positions. Within myself a process of organization or interpenetration of conscious states is going on, which constitutes true duration. It is because I endure in this way that I picture to myself what I call the past oscillations of the pendulum at the same time as I perceive the present oscillation.( Time and Free Will, 107-108)

Just as one can not gauge the intensity of an emotion with a numerical value (more or less angry, happy, etc.), Duration escapes being extended into spatial conceptions. But, even Bergson admitted that, “there is hardly any passion or desire, any joy or sorrow, which is not accompanied by physical symptoms; and, where these symptoms occur, they probably count for something in the estimate of intensities” (Time and Free Will, 20). Therefore even internal phenomena that can not be quantified numerically, have visible correlatives.

Throughout his career Bergson adapted and evolved Duration to fit the respective field or subject of inquiry (in his case from psychology-psychophysical, to metaphysics, to biology and evolution, to new physics and cosmology, to religion and morality). Applying Duration to cinema theory and analysis does not necessarily imply a wholesale acceptance of his philosophical system. For example, I can not agree with Bergson’s semantic labeling of spatialized time as being “not real,” “unreal,” or any “less real” than Duration. There is also an absoluteness to Bergson’s terminology that can leave one intellectually paralyzed. This is evident in the epistemological method Bergson believes is best able to understand Duration, intuition. Even if one is willing to accept intuition, it is difficult, if not impossible, to articulate the role it plays in an intellectual or analytical endeavor. For example, while Bergson would agree that it is perfectly natural for the mind to break up (analyze) change into its component states, the very term “states,” which implies immobility, destroys the essence of change, movement, and “real time” (Duration). With regard to this paradox of philosophical ideal and pragmatic practice, Karen Costelloe writes, “For all practical purposes these mathematically constructed continua make a useful substitute for reality. But Bergson maintains that they are only substitutes and that interpenetrated wholes are not composed of even an infinite number of discrete units (Karin Costelloe, 145).

Bergson calls on Duration to do a great deal across his philosophical system. He also defines it in such subjective terms that it sometimes becomes very opaque. These criticisms aside, Duration remains a richly provocative term that encapsulates most of the qualities that comprise a human understanding of time (ceaseless change, irreversibility, interpenetration, memory, co-existence of the past in the present). Without assuming all the implications of Bergson’s Duration, some of which would, as noted, be prohibitive to any analytical pursuit, the following aspects of Duration can be profitably incorporated into a philosophically-based textual-formal, critical-analytical method:

  • Change: To quote Ted Honderich, “time is the dimension of change, a fact which distinguishes it from the three dimensions of space.” To emphasize the state of “Becoming” Bergson adds the adjective “ceaseless” to change, but change alone will do as an important gauge of the multiple temporal dimensions of a film (used alongside Deleuze’s “set,” which underscores the informational change within a shot). Implicit in change is the notion of movement, which should also be an important aspect of any textual-formal analysis concerned with time and temporality.
  • Interpenetration: Karen Costelloe defines interpenetration as the process “in which the parts depend for their qualitative character upon their connection with the whole of the rest of the process” (Karin Costelloe, 149). Adapted to film, interpenetration is the process whereby the discrete formal parts of a mise-en-scene work in unison to render the shot’s temporal whole.
  • Novelty, Creativity, Unpredictability: These terms, dear to Bergson’s understanding of Duration, can in certain cases, play a defining or interpretative role in the textual aspects of a film. Creativity/novelty bears an important relation to change. For Bergson time was the province of unexpected change with the potential for creation.2 For example, a long take can unfold in such a way as to introduce the novel and the unpredictable and become an example of “creative time” at play. Though Bergson avoided any negative associations with creative time, there is also the possibility of time to (thematically) become a negative force.

If using these intertwining terms (interpenetration, change, novelty) I am not arguing for their scientific validity in analyzing the brain or consciousness, but that they hold explicative value in the formal and textual properties filmmakers employ to express film time. For example, the metaphor of “interpenetrating” psychic states that Bergson uses to visualize Duration may be impossible to empirically justify; but we can clearly and rationally discuss how two formal qualities work together (interpenetrate) to affect narrative or thematic time.

Duration can also be discussed within a broader concept of aesthetics and style. Art Historian Arnold Hauser, once a student of Bergson’s, explains how Bergsonism informed the zeitgeist that gave rise to modern art:

The Bergsonian concept of time undergoes a new interpretation, an intensification and a deflection. The accent is now on the simultaneity of the contents of consciousness, the immanence of the past in the present, the constant flowing together of the different periods of time, the amorphous fluidity of inner experience, the boundlessness of the stream of time by which the soul is borne along …. In this new conception of time almost all the strands of the texture which forms the stuff of modern art converge: the abandonment of the plot, the elimination of the hero, the relinquishing of psychology, the ‘automatic method of writing’ and, above all, the montage technique and the intermingling of temporal and spatial forms of the film…. The agreement between the technical methods of the film and the characteristics of the new concept of time is so complete that one has the feeling that the time categories of modern art altogether must have arisen from the spirit of cinematic form….(Arnold Hauser, 1958, 239)

The formal shape given to this Bergsonian conception of time (Duration) by artists working within the respective limitations of their medium (painters, writers, filmmakers) is, in itself, a subject worthy of a book. However, the question here becomes, how would one ideally characterize Duration in cinematic formal terms? The qualities Bergson gave to Duration, defined above by Hauser, can be easily seen at play in the long take sequence that records real time or a simultaneous representation of different points in time. However, since Bergson so strongly associated Duration with consciousness, a complete cinematic rendering of Duration would also include editing that links subjective accounts of past/present, memory/perception, fantasy/reality, and dream-time/real-time. Modern art (1880-1920) also often assumed one of either two extreme formal methods to appropriate the flux-like state of Duration: extreme fragmentation or organic wholeness. This dual formal interpretation of Duration can be seen in modernist literature, with the use of long, run-on (long take) or short, staccato (montage) sentence structure to suggest a temporal or durational flux (George Bluestone, 59-60). Or in modernist painting, with the minimalist use of color and design that suggests wholeness or indivisibility (long take), or the “all-at-once” collage or multi-perspective technique (montage).

George Bluestone discusses cinema’s potential to render Duration at a level more fundamental than long take/editing with his notion of “motion in present” and “perfect continuity”:

…we note that the motion in the film’s present is unique. Montage depends for its effects on instantaneous successions of different spatial entities which are constantly exploding against each other. But a succession of such variables would quickly become incomprehensible without a constant to stabilize them. In the film, that constant is motion. No matter how diverse the moving spaces which explode against each other, movement itself pours over from shot to shot, binding as it blurs them, reinforcing the relentless unrolling of the celluloid….So powerful is this continuity…that at times we tend to forget the boundaries of both frame and projected object. We attend to motion only. In those moments when motion alone floods our attention and spatial attributes seem forgotten, we suddenly come as close as the film is able to fulfilling the essential requirement of the time-flux -the boundaries are no longer perceptible. The transience of the shot falls away before the sweeping permanence of its motion. Past and present seem fused, and we have magically accomplished before us a spatial analogue for the temporal flux (George Bluestone, 1957, 59-60)

Still, according to Bluestone film, “ultimately fails, like the novel, to render what Bergson means by the time-flux.” While at the same time Bluestone says, “film, above all other non-verbal arts, comes closest to rendering the time-flux” (Bluestone, 1957, 60). As is evident, there is no clear-cut or singular answer to my initial question, how would one ideally characterize Duration in cinematic form? Cinema is the ultimate time-space art because time and space assume properties of the other. Time is spatialized because we can move about it as in space, and space is temporalized by cinema’s dynamic elements (moving camera, slow/fast motion, extreme lenses, etc.). The first person who made this aesthetic observation was Erwin Panofsky in 1934, who said: “These unique and specific possibilities can be defined as dynamization of space and spatialization of time. This statement is self-evident to the point of triviality but it belongs to that kind of truth which, just because of their triviality, are easily forgotten or neglected” (Panofsky, 218) [3]. As editing and the long take are both capable of temporalizing space and spatializing time, both are capable of rendering Duration. What makes the long take perhaps a more appropriate fit for Duration is that, whatever temporal effect it manifests compression, ellipsis, distention, real time it does so within a continuous, “indivisible” shot (time). In any case, the aim here has not been to duplicate or justify exactly what Bergson meant by Duration, or give it a definitive cinematic meaning, but to speculate on a Bergsonian film theory beyond (or alongside) Deleuze’s, while offering a theory that can be used as a guide to formal-textual analysis of film.

3) Bergson’s Intuition as a Model for Film Experience

Cinema at the ‘moment’ of its invention can be understood as the next phase in a centuries long investigation of time, light, and movement through the confluence of art, entertainment, science, and, of course, thought (shadow play, the camera obscura, optical toys, motion analysis, photography). Which is why Deleuze saw cinema as providing an image of movement in relation to thought, and why he saw Bergson’s Matter and Memory, written in 1896, as being infused with the idea of cinema. Other people have discussed the Bergsonian implications of ‘movement’ and ‘thought’ within other artistic contexts. Writer Mark Antliff places this late 19th century, early 20th century fascination with representations of time and movement within the context of Cubism and early 20th century modern art. In his book Inventing Bergson, Antliff discusses the aesthetic and political influence that Bergson (and Bergsonism) had on Cubism and Modern art. Like other writers on Bergson and Modernism, Antliff concentrates on Bergson’s dualities of duration/ spatialization and intuition/intellect and the effect it had on the process of artistic creation:

In Bergson’s philosophy, every expressive medium, whether it be plastic, literary, or musical, is the end of a process whereby the inner, manifold self becomes spatialized through the process of self-representation. Pyschologically, such externalization is manifest in the transition from a highly emotive and alogical state to a non-emotive, rational state of mind. The temporal analogue for this change is the transposition of indivisible duration into a multiplicity of moments each external to the next, whose divisible state veils their inner interpenetration. This fragmented self is both rational and adapted to social life. Thus it becomes evident that all forms of self-representation would seem self-defeating -inevitably the profound self is refracted and impoverished through the very mechanism of self-representation. Nonetheless, there are degrees of spatialization within these modes of self-representation. (Antliff, 48).

The first part of this quote is a perfect description of what Deleuze means when he says that movement-image gives us only an indirect image of duration, and not duration itself. Any form of expression external to the inner self becomes, by design, a spatialization; a fragmentation of the whole (duration). The aim of every artist is to ‘minimize’ the spatialization that is an inevitable component of every external manifestation (words, images, symbols, etc.). So that, for example, the words spoken by an average person will normally spatialize, but the words used by a poet work against spatialization. And an image, being more durational than a word, is more conducive to self-expression and revelation of the inner self than the word; with, in Bergson’s hierarchy, sound (music) being more conducive to duration than sight. Antliff continues on how an artist must work if they wish to maximize Bergsonian duration: “But our translation of words into images, and images into an original artistic intuition, can only occur if such verbal imagery provokes an alogical and dynamic state of mind in the reader’s mind” (49).

The point of this “alogical” alignment of imagery is to place the viewer in a state of mind as close as possible to Bergsonian ‘intuition.’ And in this we can also see a correlation between an artist attempting to achieve duration and a film attempting to achieve a time-image. As Antliff writes:

Thus the image, as a literary tool, can draw us towards apprehension of the inner self, for which it is the emotional equivalent. [Quoting Bergson] ‘No image will replace the intuition of duration,’ but these same images ‘can direct consciousness to a precise point where there is a certain intuition to seize on’. To guide consciousness, the writer selects images which are as “dissimilar as possible”; they must bear no logical relation to each other [my emphasis]. In this way the mind can be drawn into a particular alogical disposition described as a kind of attention or degree of tension signaled by the emerging interrelation we posit to connect these images. In grasping their interrelation ‘in spite of their differences,’ our mind has moved from an extensive or intellectual state to an intensive or intuitive one. Thus we arrive at the state of ‘attentive tension’ that characterized the original intuition underlying the images, and what Bergson termed ‘the unity of the directive idea,’ the mental counterpoint to our qualitative sense of physical direction (50-51).

There is a striking link to Deleuze’s time-image in the above quote which I placed in italics: “images which are as dissimilar as possible [and] bear no logical relation to each other.” Deleuze notes an identical process in the shift from the movement-image to the time-image, where the rational sensory motor link is broken down and replaced by the ‘non-commensurable’ edit characteristic of the time-image. With the breakdown of the sensory motor mechanism the temporal relationship between shots becomes ‘non-rational’ and ‘non-commensurable.’ Which does two thing: 1) like the viewer in front of the Cubist canvas, it places the viewer in a position of having to rely more on their sense of intuition (rather than an intellectual understanding of the narrative) and 2) by dislodging the edit from the hierarchy of action and movement, it erases the link that acts as a divisible, spatializing element of time. This latter point needs some clarification. The classic match cut on action or movement is traditionally seen to camouflage itself and preserve continuity either in time or space (or both). But I will argue the contrary, that these edits, even if mechanically ‘seamless,’ in fact call attention to the joining of two disparate images and function as demarcation zones (immobile blocks of time or “any-instances-whatever”). This is what Deleuze means when he says that in the movement-image time is at the service of movement. By not relying on these sensory motor edits the film opens itself up to the whole (duration) and the time-image becomes possible.

Antliff continues by noting that the Cubist artists Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger interpreted Bergsonism into a theory of the canvas so that, “the spectator, ready to establish unity himself, may apprehend all the elements in the order assigned to them by creative intuition, the properties of each portion must be left independent, and the plastic continuity must be broken up into a thousand surprises of light and shade [quoted in Du Cubisme. Paris, 1912. Trans. Robert L. Herbert. ed., Modern Artists on Art. New York, 1964, 1-18]. “Thus the Cubists breaks up the canvas’s unity in such a way as to allow the spectator’s own “creative intuition” to “establish unity,” and so ascertain the painter’s integral and intuitive conception. The canvas’ existence as an “organism” is ascertained through a mental process wherein the beholder is led “little by little toward the imaginative depths where burns the light of organization” [Gleizer, Metzinger, ibid, 5]. The unity implicit in the work of art also resides in the mind of the beholder” (52).

In short, when an art is constructed ‘logically’ to appear alogical, it is up to the viewer to think in an alogical way to intuit what the inner unity/logic is. Some of this can, I think, be used to construct a profound Bergsonian philosophy of cinema and how certain formal qualities such as free form montage or the long take can be used to ‘maximize’ duration/intuition and temporalize space. It maximizes duration, which is the intuition of the world, of our deep inner selves. For example, in a Bazinian sense, the more ambiguous the drama of a shot, and the more likely the viewer is to maximize intuition. Also, with lingering, contemplative long takes (as Mark Le Fanu suggests in his essay on the long take), there is a stronger possibility for a viewer ‘losing’ themselves into an inner, intuitive experience where we may gleam images or impressions of ourselves that we would not otherwise -like a waking dream state but guided by the images we are seeing and less irrational than a dream. The film critic Philip Lopate understands this process when he discusses the experience certain films create for him as a viewer which appropriates a state of profane meditation:

It may sound farfetched to speak of watching a movie as a meditative discipline…but parallels do exist. There is a familiar type of meditation called one-pointedness, which focuses the meditator’s attention through the repetition of a single sound or mental image. Yet another meditation practice encourages the sitter to let thoughts fall freely and disorientedly, without anchoring them to any one point. …At first I used to resist my mind’s wandering during such films, thinking I was wasting the price of admission. But just as in Buddhist meditation one is instructed not to brush aside the petty or silly thoughts that rise up, since these “distractions” are precisely the material of the meditation, so I began to allow my movie-watching mind to yield more freely to daily preoccupations, cares, memories that arose from some image association. Sometimes I might be lost to a personal mental thread for several minutes before returning with full attention to the events onscreen; but when I did come back, it was with a refreshed consciousness, a deeper level of feeling…. certain kinds of movies -those with austere aesthetic means; an unhurried, deliberate pace; tonal consistency; a penchant for long shots as opposed to close-ups; an attention to backgrounds and milieu; a mature acceptance of suffering as fate -allowed me more room for meditation. (78-79)

(For a longer discussion of this ‘contemplative’ stare’, see : Staring into the Soul: Sokurov’s Povinnost)

In conclusion, Bergson’s philosophy of time sprouted from the same ‘moment’ of great social, cultural, technological, and scientific change that gave rise to cinema. In 1824, thirty-five years before Bergson’s birth, the scientist Peter Mark Roget first describes the phenomenon known as persistence of vision. Two years later Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre and his associate Joseph Nicéphore Niépce produce the first photographic image of time. The years leading to Bergson’s birth witnessed an explosion of optical toys and experiments centered on mechanisms which prefigured the illusion of the cinematic apparatus: continuous movement attained with light and speed. While Bergson was graduating from university, Étienne-Jules Marey’s invented the “chronophotographic gun,” literally a gun to “photograph time.” Years later, their tenure at Collège de France overlaps by four years (1900-1904). Six years after the introduction of Standard Time and Frederic Taylor’s ‘time study’ experiments with ‘scientific management’ (1883) Bergson writes his first book, Time and Free Will, a plea against the period’s intense fragmentation and commodification of time. A year after the Lumiere brothers’ famous train and H.G. Wells’ writing of The Time Machine, Bergson writes Matter and Memory, his painstaking account of movement, perception, and memory. The Modernist artists of Bergson’s time were quick to use his philosophical ideas of time and movement as inspiration for their art. The cinematic quality of the Italian Futurist art can be seen as a direct result of their attempt to capture the flux and energy of time with a static, plastic art. Bergson attempted the same with the written word and thought. Cinema completed the process by adding movement back to the reality of the ‘image’ to become the first art “to take an impression of time” (Tarkovsky, 62). Time is present in all art in one form or another, through either narrative, movement, theme, form, or spectatorship. But, as Gregory Currie argues, cinema is unique because it represents time by means of time: “Film is a strongly temporal art; it cannot but represent time by means of time” (103). Bergson was the first thinker to articulate the mechanism of cinema in its broadest sense: as ‘moving matter.’ With such a symbiotic link between Bergson’s ideas and the ‘idea’ of cinema, we can see why Deleuze refers to Bergson as cinema’s first ‘film theorist.’ It has been nearly a century since Bergson first talked about cinema, both directly and indirectly. This paper has been an attempt to introduce Bergson back into the ‘thought’ of cinema.


1) How one precisely defines space and time is dependent on one’s position and the discipline involved. For example, most physicists will accord these same spatial qualities (homogeneous, divisible, etc.) to time (hence the term space-time). Bergson escapes this scientific definition of an absolute time by relating time to the personal and the human (consciousness, living organism, and creativity). To say Bergson is “wrong” in doing so neglects the important historical context of Bergson’s position: writing against the tide of late 19th century, early 20th century determinism and the economic and industrial spatialization of time.

2) To be accurate, the creative act is not necessarily caused by time, but is its medium. To quote Andrew J. Reck, “Causality is performed by the process, the events, the agents, and not by time, though of course they need time to produce their effects. Time, then, is not the cause of the work; it is rather then medium in which the work is done….If time is creative, then equally it is destructive” (“Bergson’s Theory of Duration,” Tulane Studies in Philosophy, 8, 1958, 47). In Bergson’s process philosophy, however, he stresses Duration as a positive energy in reality. As noted, Bergson’s glossing over of time’s “nihilistic quality” (Reck, 47) must be seen within the social and cultural context of late 19th century, early 20th century materialist and determinist views of time.

3) As Arnold Hauser noted, Panofsky’s terms ‘spatialization of time’ and temporalization of space’ clearly have the earmarks of Bergson.

Works Cited

  • Antliff, Mark Inventing Bergson: Cultural Politics and the Parisian Avant-Garde. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993).
  • Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Trans. F.L. Pogson.1889. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.
  • “Laughter” in Comedy. Intro. and Appendix Wylie Sypher. 1900. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1956, 61-190.”
  • Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. 1896. (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1988).
  • Bergson, Henri. “An Introduction to Metaphysics” in The Creative Mind. Trans. Mabelle L. Andison. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946).
  • Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. 1907. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911).
  • Bergson, Henri. Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays. Trans. H. Wildon Carr. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920).
  • Bluestone, George. “Of Time and Space.” In Novels into Film. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1957), 45-64.
  • Bluestone, George. “Time in Film and Fiction” in Perspectives on the Study of Film, ed. J.S. Katz, 1971.
  • Braun, Marta. Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey. (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  • Costelloe, Karin. “What Bergson Means By Interpenetration” in Proceedings of the Aristotlean Society 13 (1912), 131-155.
  • Currie, Gregory. Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinsom and Barbara Habberjam. 1983. London: The Athlone Press, 1986.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: The Athlone Press, 1989.
  • Gunter, P.A.Y. Henri Bergson: A Bibliography, revised 2nd edition (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University, 1986).
  • Hauser, Arnold. The Sociology of Art. Trans. Kenneth J.Northcott. 1974. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 621-634.
  • Hauser, Arnold. The Social History of Art, Part 4: Naturalism, Impressionism and the Film Age. Translated by Stanley Goodman. New York: Vintage Books Edition, Random House, 1958, 239.
  • Hulme, T.E. Speculations: Essays on Humanism, and The Philosophy of Art. ed. Herbert Read. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1936).
  • Korsic, Igor. Suspended Time: An Analysis of Bazin’s Notion of Objectivity of the Film Image. (Stockholm: University of Stockholm, 1988.
  • Kumar, Shiv K. “Bergson’s Theory of the Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies 6/4 (1960-61): 325-336.
  • Le Fanu, Mark. “Metaphysics of the “long take”: some post-Bazinian reflections.” P.O.V. 4 (December 1997) [journal on-line]; available from http://www.imv.aau.dk/publikationer/pov/Issue_04/section_1/artc1a.html;
  • Lopate, Phillip. Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: essays and criticism from a lifelong love affair with the movies. (New York ; London : Anchor Books, 1998).
  • Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. 1934. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1963).
  • Panofsky, Erwin. “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” in Film Theory and Criticism, 3rd ed., ed. Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).
  • Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. Translated by Kitty Hunter- Blair. (London: The Bodley Head, 1986).






Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of ACQQ (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 5, Issue 1 / January 2001 Essays film theory, gilles deleuze, henri bergson, memory, people_bergson, temporality





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© 1997 – 2016 Offscreen, ISSN 1712-9559


Notes/references from FoucaultPOWER/KNOWLEDGE Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977

These constitute readings and extracted quotations from research conducted over the summer  they essentially are background research for continued investigation into the ideology & power.

POWER/KNOWLEDGE Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 Michel Foucault Edited by COLIN GORDON Translated by COLIN GORDON, LEO MARSHALL JOHN MEPHAM, KATE SOPER


we might describe as an insurrection of subjugated knowledges. By subjugated knowledges I mean two things: on the one hand, I am referring to the historical contents that have been buried and disguised in a functionalist coherence or formal systemisation. Concretely, it is not a semiology of the life of the asylum, it is not even a sociology of delinquency, that has made it possible to produce an effective criticism of the asylum and likewise of the prison, but rather the immediate emergence of historical contents. And this is-

p82 Power/ Knowledge

-simply because only the historical contents allow us to rediscover the ruptural effects of conflict and struggle that the order imposed by functionalist or systematising thought is designed to mask. Subjugated know ledges are thus those blocs of historical knowledge which were present but disguised within the body of functionalist and systematising theory and which criticism – which obviously draws upon scholarship- has been able to reveal.

On the other hand, I believe that by subjugated knowledges one should understand something else, something which in a sense is altogether different, namely, a whole set of know ledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.

I also believe that it is through the re-emergence of these low-ranking knowledges, these unqualified, even directly disqualified knowledges (such as that of the psychiatric patient, of the ill person, of the nurse, of the doctor-parallel and marginal as they are to the knowledge of medicine-that of the delinquent etc.), and which involve what I would call a popular knowledge (Ie savoir des gens) though it is far from being a general commonsense knowledge, but is on the contrary a particular, local, regional knowledge, a differential knowledge incapable of unanimity and which owes its force only to the harshness with which it is opposed by everything surrounding it-that it is through the re-appearance of this knowledge, of these local popular knowledges, these disqualified knowledges, that criticism performs its work.

However, there is a strange kind of paradox in the desire to assign to this same category of subjugated knowledges what are on the one hand the products of meticulous, erudite, exact historical knowledge, and on the other hand local and specific knowledges which have no common meaning and which are in some fashion allowed to fall into disuse whenever they are not effectively and explicitly maintained in themselves. Well, it seems to me that our critical discourses of the last fifteen years have in effect discovered their essential force in this association between the buried knowledges of erudition and those disqualified from the hierarchy of knowledges and sciences.


In the two cases-in the case of the erudite as in that of the disqualified knowledges- with what in fact were these buried, subjugated knowledges really concerned? They were concerned with a historical knowledge of struggles. In the specialised areas of erudition as in the disqualified, popular knowledge there lay the tnemory of hostile encounters which even up to this day have been confined to the margins of knowledge. What emerges out of this is something one might call a genealogy, or rather a multiplicity of genealogical researches, a painstaking rediscovery of struggles together with the rude memory of their conflicts. And these genealogies, that are the combined product of an erudite knowledge and a popular knowledge, were not possible and could not even have been attempted except on one condition, namely that the tyranny of globalising discourses with their hierarchy and all their privileges of a theoretical avant-garde was eliminated.


Screenings and future opportunities

My attempts to get my work screened has gone on quietly behind the scenes for some time now, Thanks to Iga Stepien mentioned elsewhere, and the fantastic Station to station, not only has my work had an opportunity to be seen, and continue to be seen in various cities throughout Europe. But also It has given me valuable connections and dare I use the dreadful term; ‘networking’ opportunities. This has been a real confidence boost and Continues to be a great collective venture that I intend on being even more involved in further down the line.

There is a possible opportunity next year to co-host a station to station in Cornwall or Devon, I have been in contact with Iga she has made me aware of what is needed, so We shall see what occurs, I have already started to look at potential screening spaces in Bristol (Cube cinema) Plymouth (PAC) and Exeter (Phoenix). The problem remains for all of them, either convincing them to rent the space gratis! Or far more likely to find a donator or sponsor to cover the costs.

So it will be cap in hand and off to see if any potential sponsors are willing, Iga managed to secure funding through the film arts course at PCA for the Warsaw event, so This will be my first point of call, this is early days on the whole planning, but we are thinking about potential dates in April…TBC…

As to screening my own work, as I say I have put considerable effort into the festival package that has gone out to a variety of events, it is updated and as such forms the front line of my attempts to get work out there. I chose Film Freeway as my portal to screenings as it has a huge array of world festivals as direct links to the site, most of the big ones. What this means Is that you upload the film and material once, and then depending on the requirements of the given festival you can tweak it or add a covering letter and Apply to as many festivals as you wish, or can afford!

I currently have three of my films uploaded to film freeway, these are ‘Fade’ (2015) my graduation piece. ‘Reddance’ (2015) and ‘Smoke room’ (2014) I have only tried to enter ‘Reddance’ into one festival Biedromo international experimental film and video festival, and it was not accepted.

Fade on the other hand has been entered into a variety of festivals After a lot of rejections, and I mean it is 7 not including making the last round of Aesthetica short film festival, and then not making the cut. (this entry was made on my behalf by the pca film team).

Chris Lake Fade one sheet

So getting used to this and not giving up until now on ‘Fade’ It is with great pleasure that I find it has been accepted into The BLOW-UP ARTHOUSE FILM FESTIVAL,  as an official selection, but none the less feels like some acknowledgement of the work and all of the effort and thought that went into it. What it means in reality, apart from the award laurels I can tout on my Vimeo account and promo material, and the IMDb entry. Is that the film will be screened in its entirety to an extended panel of judges, In a cinema space, not a public screening, but at least it will be seen by professionals and will be judged on its merits, they will then vote on whether it will become a finalist in the competition.

It is a strange one because know that I have a sniff of the competition I now, of course, want my film to become a finalist, I am of course hoping above all that it gets a public screening, But some gratification can be taken from the achievement so far.

Below is the email received this morning:

Dear Chris Lake,

This is an automated email to notify you that the BLOW-UP FILM FEST has updated the judging status of your submission to an “Accepted” (Official Selection). Congratulations!


Please, note: according to the festival Rules & Terms, “Accepted” status doesn’t mean that your film will be screened at the festival. The Accepted status, is a great achievement. It entails that:
• Your film has passed our arthouse film quality threshold;
• It is accepted into the competition part and now eligible for a nomination;
• You get free festival event admission benefits;
• You can list your film on IMDB;
• You can use the festival laurels on your promo materials: link >>

Dates & Deadlines:
1. The Announcement of the award winners: October 17, 2017. (this has been changed to the 21st)
3. Awards Ceremony: November 12, 2017.
4. Film screenings: November 12-13, 2017. Only the award-winning films get a guaranteed screening at the BLOW-UP FILM FEST.

You are welcome to attend the awards ceremony and the screenings: more info >>

All Official Selections, Nominations, and Awards will be listed on the festival website by the end of the year.



The project has been selected to be included in the festival.


I am particularly pleased that it is the Blow up Festival because It seemed at least like the logical place to aim for with my work, they are an interesting festival non-profit and seem genuinely passionate about film. I have copied some of the blurb over below which says it all really, it reads like a list of my film heroes and inspirations. So fingers crossed, I should know by the end of the month.

“The BLOW-UP ARTHOUSE FILM FESTIVAL links the most creative artists together with very intelligent audiences for its annual festival of narrative and documentary films, shorts, animations, experimental films, and student work. The Festival was named after the Michelangelo Antonioni’s iconic film “Blow-Up”. The festival is a non-profit tax exempt organization.


We believe that a story driven by a genuine expression can stimulate new thoughts that have the power to promote the fundamental principles of humanism, expand creative frontiers, stimulate new levels of compassion, and even lead to social change. The Festival welcomes serious, independent films aimed at a specific audience rather than a mass-market consumer. We would like to see films made primarily for aesthetic and philosophical reasons rather than commercial profit. The festival would like to approach the calibre of films made by such great directors as Eisenstein, Antonioni, Fellini, Tarkovsky, Godard, Truffaut, Pasolini, Kurosawa, Buñuel, Norshteyn.



The BLOW-UP FILM Festival is an organization devoted to the discovery and of arthouse filmmakers and audiences. The Festival pursues goals to support, and inspire film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new creation. We also support established Arthouse filmmakers who already attained a major contribution to the art of filmmaking.”

‘Fade’ is also entered into the Berlin Experimental Film Festival and I should know in late November If it has been accepted. Below is the text from the site and a link:

‘Berlin Experimental Film Festival focuses solely on Experimental films of all kind from all around the world. The Festival takes place at Kino Moviemento, the oldest Cinema in Germany, founded 1907 located in Kreuzberg in the middle of Berlin. 

We are looking to once again present a weekend packed with Experimental films of all kinds – no less than ten hours of pure Experimental Cinema in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere where the Festival becomes a meeting point for filmmakers, film organizations, enthusiasts and audience to meet at. 

We first and foremost seek bravery and a lust to experiment and express using the medium of Film, regardless if the filmmaker is an amateur starting out or an established professional. Whether it’s a personal vision of the artist being portrayed or an artistic investigation of any thematic or technique the key for the festival’s program is the experimental method and the personal approach of the filmmaker. 

Regardless if its a quiet sensitive film about personal pain, an angry roar against society, a light-hearted documentary about a grandmother, a visual portrayal of sound itself or an insecure attempt to wander into an unknown sexuality – the Experimental Filmmaking as such is what the curated program is be built upon.”


Cube Cinema Bristol:

Is an early opportunity in November to get some response to ‘Low season’ the Cube cinema In Bristol hold regular open nights for film screenings just “bring your film and they will slap it on” as they say.

I am definitely keen to gather a wider reaction to the film, and particularly in a totally different setting. My only concerns are future film festivals, I sat on Fade for three years hoping to get into a festival and therefore holding off on making it freely available on Vimeo and elsewhere. Of course, this could be seen as overly precious! However the rules and regulations on some festivals are very strict, and some, (not all) demand not only Premiere status in there particular country or area, but also reassurance that the film is not freely available online, they also want to know if it has been screened publicly.

This may all sound faintly ridiculous for a short film of very little interest or marketability to anyone, I suspect that the festivals I would get into will care little about previous screenings, However, and I am not being precious here, I don’t know this for sure, so to be quite honest pragmatism has been the only true motivation in these decisions so far, I do wish to give my films the best chance of getting into festivals, because Of course I want to be judged by my peers, and I want audiences in cinemas to watch them. This is the dilemma then, with Fade I waited nearly 3 years and I t has now been screened and has at least nominal recognition from a film festival, Once the last one is up That’s It I’m totally happy to make it public on Vimeo for the 2 viewers it will probably get!

But as to Low Season, It leaves me in a spot, so I jealously guard it in the way I did with Fade, keeping it hidden from any views for years whilst waiting for some vain recognition from a festival? OR DO I get it out there and try to get it seen by as many different audiences as possible?

As of yet I do not have a proper answer, I know on the one hand the feedback from even limited screenings is important for me to develop as a filmmaker, the fact that someone is watching the work is great like it or loathe it as may be. But the longer term prospects of playing the financial popularity game that is the festival circuit, can not be entirely ignored if I am serious about pushing forward my aspirations as a filmmaker, to garner bigger and wider opportunities is simply about track record and reputation, and this Is simply why festivals still offer the elusive Kudos.  It a frustrating game, but the only risk I really fear is in making a film to get into a festival, If this looks likely to happen I will leave filmmaking and do something else entirely.


Station to Station Tallinn…?

The final note is back to Station to Station, it appears that another event could be happening in the Estonian capital city of Tallin, this is as yet to be confirmed but the plan would seem to be for the event to happen in December. Of course, Fade will be screened again, more viewers and exposure for the little short which is great!

My next move seems to be getting the film Low season into a screenable format and package for entering into festivals, More on this in the next post…

Embodiment 1: Tactility and engagement through the commonplace and mundane

images (1)

Trying to explain the plot or narrative of this film before I could simply show them, has been a very telling and interesting exercise, It goes a little like this: “well essentially the film follows a guy having a cup of tea in a cafe and then he walks around a bit in an off-season seaside town, then he sees a boy and his dog on a beach and then he strips off and either goes for a swim or potentially drowns himself”….”Errrm, not much happens really”

I have never been very good at describing or vocalising my work and it must be said this film has not made the task any easier! However, when faced with reactions that range between glazed incomprehension and mildly indulgent sympathy, It does focus one back onto this question of what is this film about? what constitutes it, and how and why does this fairly mundane sequence of events describe anything?

My influences are in this post, postmodern world of constant and violent media assault, quite eclectic, I am able to trace and keep track of the major ones, but it must be said that just occasionally some of them slip past the net of comprehension unnoticed and worm there way into my consciousness to emerge later in my practice, this I think it is fair to say is normal (whatever normal is) and It makes for interesting connections and discoveries in more formalised research later on down the line.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog this film has been in my head for a long time now, its earliest mind fragment possibly emerged in 2014 whilst I was still finishing my undergraduate studies. So I had feelings and influences that have fed back into the mix for a long time. This means when I make a connection like the one I want to explore here, it is impossible to entirely separate the timings and reactions, and say with absolute certainty which came first the chicken film or the egg inspiration. They are of course bound up in life and intertwined into the context and making of this film.

I really want to look at one of the most simple elements of the film, which is the mundane and everyday activities shown, in particular, the tea serving and drinking sequence. I hope It is true that I have chosen to shoot it in an engaging way, however the main point is not the shot or movement itself, this is designed to lead the viewer into this world, yes, but it is not even the baton passing of the tea to our character or the imbibing of the liquid symbolising the shift from external to internal that I want to discuss here.

No, It is the commonplace activity of sitting in a cafe and drinking a cup of tea, this mundane activity is broken down into its constituent parts has more to say than just ritual, (and ritualistic I wanted it to be). In essence, it is trying to locate within the commonplace a connection visually to the audience, the mundane itself acting as an agent to alignment, to comprehension, and hopefully to an instinctive tactile sense of engagement.

The idea of looking at everyday objects within film to produce this effect is not new Toni Ross looks at this very thing in an engaging chapter of Framing Film: Cinema and the visual arts. (Allen and Hubner, 2012)

In the chapter entitled ‘Resonances of Nineteenth-Century Realism’ In Steve McQueen’s Hunger, (2008). He discusses a particular scene in the film in which a prison officer in protective clothing mops the floor outside the prison cells of the infamous Maze prison, the camera is fixed and this long take shot where we see the prison officer moving from the end of the corridor slowly and methodically toward the camera. Ross Observes; 

“During these moments, all of our attentions channelled towards the flows of liquid, the mechanical movements the anonymous sweeper, and syncopated sound of this activity. Such close observation and     temporal distension of uneventful rituals of life in the Maze intermittently interrupt those passages of Hunger where the actions of characters take centre stage.” (Allen and Hubner, 2012, p172)

He goes on to look further at how the use of abstract close-ups in the next shot of the liquids on the floor which McQueen called later the ‘battle of the liquids’ focusing on the proximity to the object of scrutiny this being the liquids themselves has the effect of not just distilling the human struggle into abject excretions fighting the bleaching power of state internment, but a deeper connection reached for;  “McQueen Sacrifices optical clarity and depth vision in order to immerse the viewer in visual and sonic sensations” (Allen and Hubner, 2012, p172)

Ross goes on to discuss the effect of the infamous Speech of Margaret Thatcher over this image, powerful in its ability to hold back its judgement and allow us to make our own connections. It is for me in the close-ups and the banality of detail that I wish to make my points, I remember watching this film some years ago again as an undergraduate, and what struck me most about this scene then, was its temporality, The power still lies for me in holding that shot of the sweeping guard for a painful amount of time, we are not just subjected here to a painful and mundane act, we literally feel we have our noses rubbed in it, the smell emanates from the screen.

The time McQueen allows for this shot to play out also had one other very powerful effect, and here I disagree slightly with Ross, it doesn’t or shouldn’t mesmerise us merely with the liquids as they swish up the corridor, our focus is deliberately but slowly brought back to the doors that line the corridor, the guard swishes the liquid under certain doors and not others. It is my suggestion that this break in rhythm is our clue to the humanity that lies hidden behind every cell door, and this combined with the realisation that these men are dying, adds up to an incredibly powerful sequence we have been invited to feel to relate, then to ponder and to think deeply about. It hit me like a punch in the stomach, notably all of this stems from the commonplace, the details of the banal.

In my own film the sequences are simple we follow a man as I said inhabiting the spaces of a seaside town, his actions in themselves are mundane, particularly in the details, the rituals if you will, of smoking and drinking. I was reaching for a tactility in the shots, through the use of sound and familiarity, to bring feelings of the solidity of these objects. once this was established the intention was to then start breaking away with the edit and the course of events, from this assumption of safe and solid reality, into an alignment of feeling with our characters changing state and disconnection from reality.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 19.28.25

We must root our reality somewhere, why not in a cup of tea? Ross describes this as; ‘The real is produced as a constellation of sensory effects manufactured by the film-maker that intensify visceral dimensions of the film-viewing experience.’ (Allen and Hubner, 2012)  This visceral connection is what I have been reaching for in low season, and an area where the logic of narrative is rendered secondary to the sensory connection with our characters world and therefore his emotional plight. Again In his reading of ‘Hunger’ Ross observes; ‘Spectators of hunger are addressed subjects immersed in Oscillating waves of sensory feeling as much as translators of narrative meaning’ (Allen and Hubner, 2012)

I am not trying to draw strict comparisons here between McQueen’s masterpiece and my own short piece, they are wildly different, however in dealing with subject matters that are both reality-based and can be considered politically or socially hard-edged or difficult to portray. In my case human states of desperation, loneliness and isolation which could also be read as mental health instabilities and suicide.

It felt to me that the most honest and powerful approach was to not get buried under character narrative, McQueen, of course, finds a balance between this and is dealing with historical events, he also has the course of an entire feature to describe and situate the events in a myriad of ways and with mixed methodologies of intense dialogue, temporal challenges, and visceral bursts of violence combined with more abstract visual and auditory description. In Low Season I am trying to describe complex and deep human emotion, trace a journey both internally and externally and make allusions to social issues using metaphor and poetics in just over 5 minutes!

Over a decade ago art critic Okwui Enwezor put forward the idea that in McQueen’s work we as an audience have two ways of seeing: ‘One through the conventional optical mode of simply watching, and the other by “physically (haptically) seeing the film through the whole body, as illusionistic sensations’ (Enwezor, 1999, cited in Allen and Hubner, 2012)

This dualistic way of being invited into a piece of visual work, of course, has its origins outside of the world of cinema In other arts particularly painting. In this chapter Ross is drawing comparisons with Nineteenth century realist painters such as Adolf Von Menzel, looking in particular at his painting ‘Fur coat on a sofa’ (1859) It easy to see the corporeal qualities to this image that are talked about, But what further interested me was not just visual embodiment, but the idea put forward that because the spatial relationship between coat and sofa are unrealistic in terms of scale, and the positioning of this huge swathe of fur is such that it appears to be looming in frame, about to topple toward the spectator, this, of course, makes for a further level of embodiment in the inanimate object. (Allen and Hubner, 2012) Does this freeze the painting between stillness and motion?


The power of this haptic bodily connection is so relevant in film because we are able to seek this in a series of images strung together, complete with movement in the frame, and of course with the power of sound. The ‘Tea ritual’ shot early on in the cafe has one other element I would like to align and suggest connections with here, and that is of the characters hand reaching forward to pick up the spoon, I was very happy with the proximity of this shot to the camera, I felt when I saw the results that it is a singular moment where perhaps the potential for the connection physically with the audience actually comes very close to being a literal thing, like the fur coat of Menzel poised to fall out toward the viewer, in moving image we can actualise this movement and push this proximity boundary and  literally reach out toward our viewer.

The point of this short blog has really been to trace some of the ideas processes and practices that inform my work, some of these may have come in at least partially under the radar, as although I sought the effects mentioned here, old connections had to be reformed, the power of Watching Steve McQueen’s film for the first time, and the tracing these old links offers more than a mere a nod of gratitude or a neat reference point of process It also becomes a note to self to track closely the deeper impressions of masterworks on my own practice.

The banal, the commonplace has power, we connect because we recognise and then we can feel.

In part two I would like to look further at the spatial connections again the commonplace and the banal, but paying particular attention to the embodiment of space, in micro and macro sense.